World history records sadistic, cruel offenders since the beginning of civilization. One such person was a Nazi guard who wreaked havoc on Corrie ten Boom and her sister, both prisoners in a German concentration camp during World War II.
Corrie and her Christian Dutch family were arrested for offering sanctuary to the Jews in Amsterdam when Hitler rounded up Jewish people and sent them to his death camps. Nazi guards killed Corrie’s mother, father, and sister. Corrie somehow survived the ordeal. And she thought she had forgiven her Nazi abusers.
After the war, Corrie received invitations to tell her concentration camp experience in churches around Europe. In her testimony, she urged her audiences to forgive those who caused them past hurts.
One Sunday night at a church service in Munich, Corrie stayed to talk to the people who had just heard her testimony. In the crowd, she recognized the former Nazi guard who had abused her. The very sight of him made her sick to her stomach, and she froze. The guard also recognized Corrie. He walked up to her, smiled, and held out his hand. Corrie kept her hands close by her side. She dared not shake his hand. Corrie trembled as he told her he had found a new faith in Jesus Christ. “Fraulein,” he said and looked her in the eye, “if you can forgive me then I’ll know what you say is true, that God forgives me.”
Corrie had to make a choice. She had just spoken on forgiveness. Yet, at that moment, she discovered she was incapable of forgiving this abusive guard who had caused her so much pain. She remembered his cruel mistreatment and wanted to turn her back to him and leave him standing in the church aisle unforgiven for his monstrous sins.
“In her mind’s eye she could see her father and sister, who were both killed by the Nazis. She’d wanted to forgive what had happened to her . . . [but] this moment brought insight as to why she’d been unable to do more than speak hollowly about forgiveness. She was daily reliving the horror of the camp. In that moment, too, Corrie knew that she would continue to be haunted by old feelings and memories if she did not move beyond them. This was her chance . . . but could she do it?”
Her arm remained frozen at her side. But Corrie knew that God had forgiven her. She also knew that, as a Christian, she must forgive this man. It would be the hardest thing she ever had to do. Corrie bowed her head and said a silent prayer. She begged God to give her the grace to forgive this former Nazi, the same grace God had extended toward her.
After her prayer, Corrie felt a new sense of strength in her heart, a fresh desire to forgive this offender who had once so brutally beaten her. She looked him in the face, reached out and clasped his hand, and gave him the gift of forgiveness.
“In that moment,” she later wrote, “something miraculous happened. A current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”
Corrie no longer saw this man with human eyes. She suddenly saw him with God’s eyes. Yes, he had wounded her. He had caused her and her family unbelievable pain. But God had forgiven him and brought him into his family. He was now her brother in Christ. Love filled Corrie’s heart for her newfound forgiven brother. From that day forward, her testimony-her words about forgiveness-took on new energy and new meaning.
After the war years, Corrie took care of other victims of Nazi cruelty. She loved them, cared for them in her own home, and urged them to forgive their cruel captors. She made a remarkable discovery about the benefits of forgiveness. She saw that “those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and discovering the true meaning of forgiveness 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.”
You need not spend time in a German Nazi concentration camp in order to understand the massive hurt other people can cause you. You may be suffering right now. Hurts are real and deep and significant whether they include imprisonment and physical torture, or a husband’s or child’s lie or betrayal.
The Bible teaches us to forgive people, like the Nazi guard, who have purposely caused unnatural or shocking cruelty to us. God’s Word also teaches us to forgive people like unappreciative children or selfish husbands or hateful coworkers, who dish out day-to-day abuses. Only with God’s help can you and I forgive those who wound us or hurt those we love.
Do you know someone you need to forgive? Has a parent, spouse, child, sibling, neighbor, employer, employee, church member, or stranger hurt you? We all have enemies. As you have, no doubt, already discovered, we can’t live long in this world without the need to forgive an offender.
Adapted from Cultivating a Forgiving Heart by Denise George. Copyright © 2004 Zondervan, used with permission.
Denise George is the author of numerous books, including, Tilling the Soul, Cultivating a Forgiving Heart, Come to the Quiet, and God’s Heart, God’s Hands. She contributed to The Women’s Study Bible and The History of Christianity video series. s She has written more than 1500 articles for magazines, including Guideposts, Christianity Today, Redbook, and many others . Denise speaks internationally at seminaries, colleges, churches, and retreats. She and her husband, Dr. Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, live in Birmingham, AL. They have two grown children.