One of the most difficult things a Christian will face is offering genuine forgiveness to those who have deeply hurt us. When Jesus commands us to love our enemies and offer our forgiveness to them it’s hard for us to believe that he knew what he was talking about. “Jesus didn’t know my dad” or “Jesus doesn’t understand the depth of my hurt.”
Yet, he does understand, and he commands we forgive precisely because he understands. Jesus knows that even the deepest wounds can heal through his blood. Which is why I love the story of Corrie Ten Boom’s encounter with the forgiving love of Jesus in her amazing book The Hiding Place.
Corrie Ten Boom worked against the Nazis in World War Two hiding Jews in her home. When she was caught, she was sent to a concentration camp where she was stripped of her dignity, saw her father and her sister (Betsie) die, and suffered more at the hands of other people than we could possibly imagine. This is precisely why her encounter with forgiveness is so memorable:
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.’ He said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.
I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Forgiveness can be hard, but it is not in our forgiveness “that the world’s healing hinges, but on his.” We are given the opportunity to participate in the love that Jesus extends to the world with our forgiveness. I find this a great encouragement: that Christ gives us the love we need to forgive as we practice forgiveness.
I don’t know what’s going on in your life, I don’t know who you are struggling to forgive, but I pray that you might find encouragement in Corrie’s story to see the forgiving love of Jesus in your life.
Image: Apdency, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons