Thinking about Forgiveness...
What I Learned From Corrie ten Boom
On “What I Learned From…” days, I hope to tell you about all kinds of people, places, and things that have been impactful and encouraging to me. A perfect start is with a woman named Corrie ten Boom - you have probably heard of her, but I would love for you to know her better. She was Dutch, and lived from 1892-1983. Her entire life was remarkable, and you can read all about it in a book called The Hiding Place.
She and her family were strong Christians who harbored many Jewish people during the Nazi Occupation of Holland during World War II. Because of this, they were eventually betrayed by a neighbor, arrested by the Nazis, and subjected to horrible, brutal treatment in prisons and concentration camps. But the amazing thing is that she and her sister experienced the miracle of God with them in the middle of that horrifying time...
They saw real love, faith, and hope shine in spite of the almost unimaginably torturous circumstances they found themselves stuck in. Everyone, everywhere should read The Hiding Place to hear an account of that time of history. It will help us to be grateful every day for the freedom we have now.
Corrie actually lived through the war and went on to preach all across the world about the healing and hope of God. She went into some of the darkest prisons on earth and preached to those inmates about the power of God and about His love and forgiveness. She had a tremendous ministry and taught so many important things for the rest of her life. Her time in the concentration camps allowed her to see that the words of Jesus that we can all read in the Bible are not just words - they are reality and truth.
She related one particular instance when she preached her message at a church in Germany soon after the war. After the worship service, many men and women came to greet her and thank her, but then she saw one man who was very familiar. He was one of the prison guards from the concentration camp she and her sister suffered in, and where her sister actually died - he was one of the people who had treated thousands of others so horribly. He was coming towards her, in his Sunday suit with a smile on his face, and with his hand extended towards her. He did not remember her, but she plainly remembered him. He thanked her for her wonderful words of encouragement, and expressed how grateful he was to know that God would forgive him. She found herself literally having to practice what she preached, but could not seem to make herself shake his hand.
Corrie explained her thoughts in that moment, “I knew forgiveness not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. 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.
‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so 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.
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ 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”
Forgiveness it not a feeling or an abstract concept, it is a real and powerful act that we can experience through Christ. Hurt and bitterness do not have to keep us in a death grip, even when brutally wrong things have been done to us or by us.
Terrible things happen in this life - being a Christian does not mean an immunity from suffering. The miracle is that there can be life and freedom in spite of circumstances, found in Jesus who is God with us.
Do you find yourself trapped in the agony of being unable to forgive yourself or someone else? Are you bound by bitterness and frustration that are tangled up with your experience? Unforgiveness holds a power over us that keeps us from ever moving forward in life. Holding on to a hurt or offense festers like a sore and turns into bitterness, which chokes out life and freedom like a weed.
I encourage you to pray like Corrie prayed, and ask God to help you to forgive. It is not a feeling, meaning that you do not have to wait until you feel better about the situation or person. Forgiveness is a choice, an act of the will, and you can do it. God will help you today, and He will help you again tomorrow and the next day - as long as it takes. Don’t let the bitter memory of whatever happened to you strangle you any more. Be free today through Jesus, who graciously gave His life for our sins and made true forgiveness possible.
PS - you can find so many tremendous books by and about Corrie ten Boom - I really encourage you to read as many as you can. You can also discover a treasure trove of sermons and interviews with her online. She was a giant of the faith, and we can learn so much from her life and experience.
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Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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