By Chip Sekulich, TwelveStone Chaplin
Forgiveness can be a painfully difficult but life-changing choice. Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) was a Dutch activist during the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. She worked tirelessly to hide Jews from arrest and deportation driven by her Christian faith. Her strongly held belief was in the equality of all human beings before God led to her imprisonment, along with many of her family in a concentration camp.
Corrie and her sister Betsie were interned in the notorious Ravensbrück Women’s Prison Camp in Germany. Without fear, she and her sister held secret Bible studies for the women in their barracks using a smuggled Bible. Betsie died in the camp, and though Corrie carried on the Bible studies, she grew to hate her captors – especially one of the Nazi guards who had made it a point to torment Corrie and her sister.
After the war, she traveled and spoke to different groups about her experiences as a Christian struggling to survive in a Nazi Prison Camp. She spoke of seeing God’s hand bless her in spite of their circumstances and how through the secret Bible study, several women came to faith, trusting Christ as their Savior before being led away to their deaths. In 1947, during one of her “talks” in Munich, Germany, she felt very strongly guided to speak on the topic of God’s unfailing willingness to forgive us no matter what sins we may have committed. Afterward, as the crowd quietly filed out, one man pushed against the flow of those leaving the room and made his way up front.
She recognized him immediately… it was him, the very man who had tormented her and her sister. He stood in front of her with his hand extended toward her he began to speak:
“A fine message, fraulein. How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
He didn’t recognize her, but Corrie knew exactly who he was.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he said, “I was a guard in there. But since that time,” he went on, “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?”
Her sister Betsie had died there; did he really think that he could erase that, just by asking? She wrestled with reaching out to him. Scripture came to mind, where Jesus said, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Corrie did not have the strength, nor desire to forgive this man. She prayed to herself, “Jesus, help me. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
Corrie herself described what happened next: “…woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”
She cried, “I forgive you, brother! With all my heart!” She went on to say, “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Thinking about this incredible story, is there someone that you and I need to forgive today?