When Jesus commands us to forgive those who have sinned against us, we have a tendency to question just how far he would have us go with extending such forgiveness. Surely the Savior didn't have Corrie ten Boom forgiving those who cruelly persecuted her and her family--those who were responsible for the deaths of some of her closest family members--in mind, did he?
Yet, he so clearly teaches, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25).
Until World War II, Corrie ten Boom had lived peacefully in her home in the Netherlands with her father and sister, Betsie. When the war broke out, Corrie and her family began hiding Jews in her father's home. Betrayed by a fellow countryman, the family was sent to prison where her father died. After being separated for a time, Corrie and Betsie ended up in the same place in Germany, the notorious prison camp--Ravensbruck.
Sadly, Betsie also died while in the camp, her body unable to tolerate any more of the poor conditions and cruel treatment. After a clerical error, Corrie left Ravensbruck and returned to Holland.
No one would have blamed Corrie if she had never returned to Germany. It was a miracle that she left Ravensbruck alive. But it was Betsie who suggested that they someday would, in fact, return. One night, in Ravensbruck, while lying face to face on a small cot, Betsie shared what she knew God had told her: that they would be back to share the love of Jesus. Even under Corrie's protest, Betsy insisted God would take away the bitterness and fill their hearts with God's love.
As Corrie rested her hand on Betsie's beating heart, she realized how close her sister's heart was to God's. Corrie wrote, "Only God could see in such circumstances the possibility for ministry in the future-ministry to those who even now were preparing to kill us."
After Betsie died, Corrie returned to Germany in order to bring the message of God's love and forgiveness to those left behind in war torn Germany just a few short years after her miraculous release from Ravensbruck.
When she had finished her talk, a man came forward to speak with her. Corrie recognized him to have been a guard in the prison camp, a man she described as "one of the most cruel guards."
He complimented her speech and proceeded to offer her a handshake. He did not seem to remember Corrie, when he told her that he was once a guard at Ravensbruck. He explained that the Lord had taken a hold of his life and he was now a Christian. He said he knew God had forgiven him, but he would like to hear that Corrie also had forgiven him.
Corrie describes the scene in her book Tramp for the Lord:
"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there--hand held out--but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who had injured us. 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses,' Jesus says, 'neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.'
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. 'Jesus, help me!' 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. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, 'because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.'"
What a story! What a vivid portrayal of God's miraculous work of grace in the hearts of His people! It is a lifelong work in progress. Even after being able to forgive a cruel Nazi guard through the Holy Spirit, Corrie says "I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me and on to others. But they don't." At eighty years old, Corrie still knew that she must draw fresh from God each day for good feelings and behaviors. Forgiveness is a miracle that we must ask God to work in our hearts each day.
Corrie summarized this best when she wrote: "Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. The forgiveness of Jesus not only takes away our sins, it makes them as if they had never been."