Grace, Healing, Relationships, Words of Endurance

When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Matthew 18:21-22

Corrie ten Boom lost her entire family in a Nazi concentration camp. She barely escaped with her own life. After the war, she spent her life preaching throughout the world about God’s love and forgiveness. And then one day, her message faced the ultimate test.

I saw him in a church in Munich – a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pile of clothes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. The place was Ravensbruck and the man had been a guard – one of the most cruel.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there. But since that time, 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 you as well. Fraulein” – again the hand came out – “will you forgive me?”

I stood there and could not forgive. My sister Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her death simply for the asking? He didn’t stand there long, but to me, it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. I had to do it – I knew that. And still, I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.

Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. You supply the feeling. And so mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And 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 God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Condensed from “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom.
Reprinted with permission from Guideposts Magazine (November 1972)
Copyright 1972 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512