Corrie Ten Boom and the Healing Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an essential component of the Christian faith - Christ secured forgiveness of our sins through his sacrifice on the cross; we in turn receive this gift of forgiveness via faith in Jesus, and then the truth of our faith is shown when we in turn forgive those who’ve wronged us. In fact, Christ’s words on this subject in the Gospel of Matthew are direct and blunt:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
I lived in San Francisco from June of 2000 until June of 2005; the first three and a half years were characterized by two seemingly opposite things - my self-indulgent life of sin and debauchery, and Christ’s relentless pursuit of his one lost sheep. I may have strayed far from the Lord, but I never stopped feeling his tug on my heart, and slowly I began following the Spirit’s lead.
In the fall of 2002 this lead me (through the most unlikely, “only God could do this” circumstances) to Cornerstone Church in the Mission district of San Francisco. The first time I walked through the doors I immediately sensed (for the first time in almost 8 years) the love, power, and presence of Jesus and almost started weeping. I always sat alone, and spoke to no one - every time I entered that place I fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and would nearly run out of the door when the service was over. Sometimes I would stay away for weeks, other times months - but my heart couldn’t resist the genuine love I experienced there and I always came back.
One Sunday morning in the fall of 2003 Pastor Terry Brisbane preached a message on forgiveness, using the life of Joseph as an example from the Bible. Then he used an example from the life of Corrie Ten Boom; during WWII Corrie had been part of an operation to hide Jews from the Nazis in Holland. Eventually they were betrayed by a neighbor, and Corrie and her sister Betsie found themselves in a German concentration camp, a place filled with suffering, inhumanity, and evil.
After the war Corrie traveled around Europe, sharing her testimony and the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. In Germany she found she was unable in her own strength to practice what she preached; after a talk, one of the cruelest guards at the camp approached her. He’d become a Christian, and wanted to know if Corrie would now forgive him for the things he had done at the camp. She couldn’t do it; Corrie wrote, “And I stood there — I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven — and could not forgive.”
How could she do this impossible thing? How could she forgive the unforgivable? Only with God’s strength; Corrie wrote:
Standing there before the former S.S. man, Corrie remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will — not an emotion. “Jesus, help me!” she prayed. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” Corrie thrust out her hand. 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.
Back in the fall of 2003 I heard these words and was stunned - was it really possible to forgive like that? I carried such a heavy burden - not just the weight of my own sin and it’s consequences, but also the weight of so many wrongs that had been done against me. I was only 30 years old but already felt so, so tired and worn out; I remember thinking to myself on many occasions I would never reach 40 if this is what life was going to be like. I wasn’t quite ready to follow Jesus, but I left Cornerstone Church that morning with something I hadn’t had in a very long time - hope.
When the time finally arrived a few months later in January of 2004, the stage had been set for Christ to reclaim his lost sheep, and just like Corrie I found with the Spirit’s power and assistance the ability to both forgive and love those who had sinned against me. That same power is available to anyone who is a follower of Jesus. If you’re struggling with bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart today, do what Corrie did - cry out to God, and ask him to give you his love and forgiveness. You’ll find you have the strength to do the impossible - and unspeakable joy as well!