After speaking about God’s forgiveness at a small church in Munich in 1947, Corrie ten Boom saw a balding, heavyset man approaching her. She recognized his face immediately.
Ten Boom was imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War after the Nazis discovered she and her family were hiding Jews in their home in the Netherlands.
The man approaching her was a guard at Ravensbruck, where thousands of women were executed or died from the camp’s deplorable conditions. Ten Boom’s sister Betsie died a slow death in Ravensbruck.
The man, who did not recognize ten Boom, extended his hand and told her he was a guard at Ravensbruck.
“But since that time, I have become a Christian,” he said. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
Ten Boom stood frozen and speechless. How could she forgive a man responsible for so much death?
Matthew 6:14-15 came to her mind: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart,” she later wrote. “But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
Ten Boom forced herself to take the man’s hand, and when she did, her body was flooded by a healing warmth that brought her to tears.
“I forgive you, brother!” she said. ‘’With all my heart!”
Forgiveness is contrary to human nature. Ten Boom forgave a cruel man who participated in genocide, but how many of us have been unable to forgive a friend or family member who simply hurt our feelings or wronged us in some way? We want justice when we have been wronged, but it is not our place to jucge others.
Jesus said, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
Forgiveness is an act of obedience, and as ten Boom says, it is an act of the will. When Jesus hung on the cross, bloody, beaten and on the verge of death, He looked down at His persecutors and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
God has forgiven each of us, and He calls us to do the same.
In his book “Forgive and Forget,” Lewis B. Smedes wrote, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”
Bitterness and unforgiveness can cripple us. How can we bear good fruit when our heart is filled with poison? When we continually dwell on past wrongs, we will never move forward.
James 3:11 says, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
In many cases, the person we are bitter toward is completely oblivious to our anger. Someone once said that harboring anger and unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.
After World War II, ten Boom ran a home for people who survived Nazi brutality. She noticed an interesting phenomenon among those survivors. Those who forgave their enemies were” able to rebuild their lives, regardless of their physical limitations, but those who held - on to bitterness remained invalids.
When we obey God and chose to forgive someone, we must trust God to work on our emotions to make the forgiveness complete. That is never easy. It takes a lot of prayer, but the Great Physician will be faithful to mend your heart. .
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
Think about it.
Is there a someone in your life you need to forgive?
Paul Leavens is the Minister of Lindsay Christian Church. Visit the church website at www.lindsaychristianchurch.org.