The Power of Forgiveness
By LESLIE LUDY
Corrie ten Boom lay quietly on the hard wooden plank, covered with filthy, flea-infested straw, fighting back waves of nausea and claustrophobia. She lifted a weak hand to her feverish face. All around her, above her, and below her were hundreds of other female prisoners, crammed mercilessly on thin plywood slats, piled so closely on top of each other that it was nearly impossible to breathe, let alone move. Images of her comfortable, inviting home back in Holland darted in and out of her consciousness like a vague, distant dream. How long had this nightmare been her reality? It seemed like years since she had slept in a real bed with clean sheets or taken a bite of warm, nourishing food. Her mind drifted back to the unforgettable day when she, along with her father and her sister, Betsie, had been arrested for hiding Jews from the cruel hands of the Gestapo. Since then, she had been surrounded by inhumane torture, festering disease, and unspeakable pain and suffering.
After many long weeks in a dark and crowded prison cell in Holland, Corrie and her sister Betsie had been packed into a dirty freight car along with eighty other sobbing, suffocating women and hauled to Ravensbrück, the dreaded concentration camp in the heart of Germany. For four days the women were crammed tightly against each other in the pitch-dark, sweltering car without food or water until, at last, the train halted and they were herded into the camp by screaming prison guards with submachine guns. Corrie and Betsie had been told that conditions at Ravensbrück were bad, but nothing had prepared them for this. Fourteen hundred women had been forced to sleep in a concrete room that was made to hold only four hundred. The bedding hay was soiled and rancid. Eight putrid, overflowing toilets served the entire room, and to reach them they had to crawl over rows of the overcrowded, sagging platforms that served as the makeshift beds.
Roll call came at 4:30AM sharp, followed by an eleven-hour day of heavy labor as they listened to the bellows and screams of angry supervisors. Conditions were so terrible that hundreds of women died in the labor camp, including Corrie’s sister Betsie. And yet, through it all, Corrie leaned on Jesus Christ for supernatural strength to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. Instead of focusing on her own misery, she turned outward to the women around her to give them hope, comfort, and peace in the truth of Christ.
(Story adapted from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom)
After enduring unspeakable miseries, including the death of her sister, Corrie relied on the grace of God to forgive her enemies and become a living testimony of the power of God. When she was finally released from prison, Corrie began to travel the world and speak about His amazing grace.
A few years later…
One night, after sharing her testimony at a church in Germany, a man approached her. “What you said tonight greatly impacted me,” he said sincerely. “I have done many things in my life that I deeply regret. What a miracle to know that Christ is willing to forgive even me.”
As he was speaking, Corrie froze in shock. She recognized him. He had been a guard at the concentration camp where Betsie had lost her life – one of the very cruelest guards. And now he was extending his hand in friendship to her. All of the old emotions – the anger, resentment, and indignation that she’d experienced in the camp came flooding back. She found herself unable to take the man’s hand or even reply. She felt God challenging her to forgive him, just as she had been forgiven and washed clean by Jesus’ blood for her own sins:
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
“You take the step of obedience,” came God’s gentle reply, “and I will do the rest.”
So Corrie obeyed. She reached out and shook the man’s hand. As she did so, the supernatural love of Christ flooded her heart. She saw him as Christ did. And her bitterness was replaced by love and compassion:
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
(Story adapted from Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom)
Gleaning from Corrie’s Example…
As Corrie’s testimony proves, forgiveness is not primarily a matter of feeling, but a matter of choice; a decision to obey. When we simply say, “Lord, I choose to let this go; to give this offense to You instead of carrying it,” God supplies the willingness, the love, and the compassion needed to practically live it out. When it comes to a decision of whether or not to forgive, we must remember that we ourselves have been forgiven and delivered from an eternity in hell. We did not deserve Christ’s unconditional love, but He gave it anyway. And He asks us to do the same in return — to forgive even those who are undeserving.
I often think of Corrie’s amazing story of forgiveness when I am struggling to let offenses go. This past year, my husband and I discovered that we had been deliberately deceived by someone we had trusted, and there were moments in the process when I wondered if I’d ever truly be able to move past the anger and grief I felt. But whenever I begin to think that it’s truly impossible to forgive the person who wronged me, I remember the women throughout Christian history who, like Corrie, forgave in circumstances when only the supernatural grace of God could have enabled them to do so. It isn’t a matter of whether the other person deserves forgiveness or not. True forgiveness means leaning upon the grace of God to forgive others just as He has forgiven us. Whether they deserve it or not. If Christ can forgive me and offer me the grace I don’t deserve, how can I possibly refuse to forgive those who wrong me?
Nowhere is this principle better illustrated than in Matthew 18:22-35, when Jesus tells the parable of a servant who was about to be thrown into prison because he owed a tremendous debt to his master. Yet he begged mercy from his creditor, and the man forgave him the debt. Then that same man went out and found a fellow servant who owed him a small amount of money. Rather than offering the same forgiveness that he had received, he took the fellow servant by the throat, demanded the money, and even when the man pleaded for mercy, he refused to give it. Jesus is saying, “When you refuse to forgive those who wrong you – you are disregarding the great debt I have forgiven you. You are trampling upon the grace I have offered you.”
Corrie’s example reminds me that forgiveness is possible no matter what hurts I have experienced – not through human willpower, but through the supernatural, amazing grace of the One who forgave my great debt even when I did not deserve it. Her story of reaching out her hand to her enemy to forgive as an act of obedience, not emotion, is one of the most powerful examples of biblical forgiveness I’ve ever seen.
We must also remember that being a gracious, forgiving woman does not merely apply to the major offenses that have happened in our lives, but in the way we treat people on a daily basis. Long before Corrie came face to face with the former prison guard, she practiced loving and forgiving others on a daily basis, even in the worst conditions imaginable.
Every day we encounter rude, insensitive people. We come across undesirable, sinful people. We rub shoulders with arrogant, self-focused people. We take the brunt of others’ stress. There are two ways to respond; with nobility or with selfishness. A Christ-like woman does not take offense easily. She is not critical and judgmental toward others. She doesn’t turn down her nose at undesirable people. Rather, she’s a reflection of 1 Corinthians 13:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
These are not meant to be flowery words on a page. This is a beautiful description of Christlike love in action — a vivid picture of the way we are called to live no matter what our circumstances, as Corrie’s life beautifully illustrates.
Remember, if God can give Corrie ten Boom grace to forgive and love in a filthy prison camp and the power to extend grace to one of the men responsible for her sister’s death, He can certainly give us everything that we need to forgive the people who have wronged us.
Have you been deeply hurt by someone? Don’t worry about whether you have the strength to forgive that person or not. Simply lean upon the only One who does, as Corrie did, and you will become a channel of His supernatural grace!
*Note: To read more about Corrie’s amazing story, I highly recommend her books, The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord.