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At times we all find it hard–if not impossible–to forgive those who’ve hurt us most.

corrie-ten-boomIn the mid-70s, not long after I became a Christian, I heard about a woman who had spent time in Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in her home during the Holocaust.  52 and unmarried, she had lived at home with her elderly father and older sister Betsie.  All three of them had been sent to concentration camps when the Nazis discovered they had been hiding the Jewish refugees.  The woman’s name was Corrie Ten Boom.

Corrie lost her freedom, her dignity, and her beloved sister and father in the span of a few months in those concentration camps.  In God’s providence Corrie was released due to a clerical error, just one week before the other women in Ravensbruck her age were executed.

After the war Corrie was invited to speak all over the world, and she tirelessly traveled the globe, thankful for every opportunity she was given to tell people about Christ.  She always marveled at God’s infinite mercy toward sinners like us.

She also knew that everyone who had received God’s mercy had no choice but to show mercy to others; and she knew from her own experience that wasn’t always easy.  In her book The Hiding Place she tells the following story:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room 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 had 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.

No one understood both the difficulty and the absolute necessity of forgiving others better than Corrie Ten Boom. I will be forever grateful for the example this humble, tireless servant of Christ set for me when I was a new believer.