Corrie ten Boom was a middle-aged Dutch woman living in occupied Holland during World War II when, together with her sister and their elderly father, they were arrested by the Nazis for sheltering Jews.
The horrific imprisonment and the unspeakable cruelties they suffered at the hands of their brutal captors claimed both the lives of Corrie’s father and her sister, Betsie. Having survived the concentration camp, Corrie found she had to come to terms, not just with her own horrific experiences, but with the need as a Christian to forgive her captors. In this excerpt from a sermon, she explores both questions.
The source of our strength is Jesus Christ himself; and his cross shows us that we can accept suffering as a part of God’s plan for this world. When I was in the concentration camp, one of the most terrible things that I had to go through was that they stripped us of all our clothing and that we had to stand [naked]. The first time was the worst. I said [to my sister], “Betsie, I cannot bear this.”
Then suddenly it was as if I saw Jesus at the cross. The Bible tells us that they took his garments and he hung there naked. I knew he hung there for me – for my sins! And in my suffering I understood just a fraction of the suffering of Jesus Christ and that made me so thankful that I could bear my own suffering. Truly, “love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
Some people are afraid to look at the cross. Are you? Don’t be afraid. Of course, the cross is terrible. It is terrible how Jesus suffered. We simply can’t describe it in words. But you still must not be afraid to look. For if you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would still have suffered for your sins. “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my sins rolled away, it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I have guidance all the day.”
“Will you forgive me?”
Some time ago I was in Berlin and a man came to me and said, “Ah, Miss ten Boom, I am glad to see you. Don’t you know me?”
Suddenly I realised who that man was – he had been one of the most cruel overseer guards in the concentration camp where I was imprisoned. But he said to me, “I am now a Christian; I have found the Lord Jesus. I read my Bible and I know that there is forgiveness for all the sins of the whole world and that includes my sins. I have forgiveness for the cruelties I have done. But I have asked God’s grace for an opportunity that I could ask one of my victims for forgiveness. And so, Fraulein ten Boom, now that we have both been forgiven by God, will you forgive me?”
He held out his hand, but I realised that at that moment I could not forgive him. I remembered the suffering of my dying sister, Betsie, through him. But when I saw that I could not forgive, suddenly I knew that I myself had no forgiveness! Do you know that Jesus himself said that? “When you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, your heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins,” (Matt 6:15). And I knew, “Oh… I am not ready for Jesus’ coming because I have no forgiveness for my sins!” But I was not able to forgive this man. I could not! I could only hate him for what he had done!
And then I took one of these beautiful texts, one of these boundless resources from the Word of God, Romans 5:5, which says: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.” And I said, “Thank you Jesus that you have brought into my heart God’s love through the Holy Spirit who is given to me. And thank you, Father, that your love is stronger than my hatred and unforgiveness.”
That same moment I was free, and I could say, “Brother, give me your hand.” And I shook hands with him. And it was as if I felt God’s love stream through my arms. You’ve never touched the ocean of God’s love so much as when you forgive your enemies!
Can you forgive? No. I can’t either. But he can!