“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.” There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, and, in silence left the room. But, that’s when I saw him, and it came back with a rush: the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me; hand thrust out “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. The man would not remember me; one prisoner among those thousands of women? “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there. But since that time, I have become a Christian. 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. Fräulein, will you forgive me?”
I, whose sins had every day to be forgiven by God–could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow, terrible death solely for the asking? I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. But I had to do it–I knew that the message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
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. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. As I did, tears came to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” (Paraphrased from the article published online in Guideposts: “Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness”)
Someone once said, “Forgiveness is the relinquishment of the wish to see punishment metered out to another.” We have all suffered at the hands of others, some in tragic situations, and others in lesser more minute ways.
However, if un-forgiveness remains in our heart, it will breed bitterness, hatred, violence, illness, depression, and sometimes suicide. The longer we hold on to our anger, the longer we give power to those who have harmed us. Also, if the memory continues to play in our mind, we will continue to feel victimized indefinitely.
Elisabeth Elliot, who forgave the men who killed her husband, once said, “Only forgiveness frees us from the injustice of others.” When I heard this quote, I realized that freedom is what I wanted after years of harboring resentment over someone’s sin against me.
Frankly, there have been situations in my life that I didn’t want to forgive. Then I recognized that my reaction had turned into pride. “How dare you harm me? I’ve done nothing wrong!” Granted, I may not have done anything wrong to warrant the original treatment, but I allowed that circumstance to seduce me to respond incorrectly.
Why should we forgive? As Corrie ten Boom said because God commands us to forgive. In Matthew 6:15 the Bible says, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
In Elisabeth Elliot’s sermon on forgiveness, she gives four ways to forgive others:
1. Be straightforward with God on how you feel—He already knows. 2. If somebody asks for forgiveness—forgive him or her right away. 3. If someone doesn’t ask for forgiveness, forgive in a private transaction between you and God. 4. Pray for the opposition, either for their salvation or that God will convict them of their sin.
Finally, forgiveness requires a great deal of bravery. We know this because it is precisely what Jesus Christ did for us. He bravely suffered the verbal, physical, and torturous abuse of those who hate him, and then, He gave up His hands to the guards to nail to the cross. Afterward, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Therefore, Jesus is the example of forgiveness.
So pray with me today, and ask God to show us if we are living in the bondage of un-forgiveness. Then let’s pray that God will help us settle the matter either face to face or privately in our hearts.