With a cold, bitter heart she saw the man approach her, the cruel guard at Ravensbruck. Corrie ten Boom, who survived extreme hunger, abuse, freezing temperatures, witnessed the slow death of her sister and the mental horrors at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp during WW II, came to a decisive moment. Now, after the war she had returned to Germany to speak about God’s love and forgiveness to those who were still hurting and struggling.
The man put out his hand and said, “‘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. Fraulein,”—again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?’ It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me [Corrie] it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do…” Yet with a quick prayer for Jesus to help her, Corrie slowly stuck out her hand and the love of God gradually filled her heart. With tears in her eyes she said, “’I forgive you, brother!…With all my heart.'”
“I forgive you”. Why are these words difficult to get out of our mouths sometimes? It’s hard to forgive when we are hurt unjustly or hated directly. Like Corrie, we think, “I just can’t forgive that person, you know what they did to me?” Unforgiveness breeds a desire to get even and that leads to a heart filled with bitterness and resentment.
But thankfully, the story of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is the story of love, the story of forgiveness. Only perfect love can forgive. And that perfect love comes from a perfect and Holy God who decided to forgive us.
On that day of darkness, when Jesus was unfairly nailed to a cross as a criminal, although he was innocent, God expressed his perfect love for all people. With a broken heart, in physical pain, verbally abused, with little breath left in Him, Jesus whispers to God:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:43)
There was no reason to forgive except a love that was so deep that God seems to say, “I will let Jesus pay the price for your rebellion, your sin, so you can know how much I love you.” God’s own word says:
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”” Hebrews 8:12
Without the cross, we would be hopeless like that guard with his outstretched hand. Waiting, hoping, desiring forgiveness, a touch of love, after all the cruel things we have done and thought in our hearts against God. And God says, “I forgive you.”
If you have experienced that forgiveness from God’s love, like Corrie, then in love forgive those around you. Those who have hurt you. Those who are your enemies, Yes, those who have “ruined” your life. Slowly reach out your hand to that person. Ask Jesus to help you. And experience God’s love like Corrie towards that guard:
“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 then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.”
[Holocaust Victim Forgives Captor, Citation: Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord (Berkley, 1978), pp 53-55]
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13