The above picture is of a women’s dorm at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp where Corrie Ten Boom and her sister imprisoned for hiding Jews in their home during WW2. They had lived in Holland and were turned in to the German authorities by a neighbor.
Betsey died at Ravensbruck along with many other women. Her father and brother died at a different concentration camp. Corrie alone survived the imprisonment.
After the war ended, she was released, and began to share her story of her family’s life, imprisonment, God’s love, and forgiveness. She began by sharing her story to small gatherings and later traveled the world sharing her story well into her 80’s.
Corrie was confronted by a Nazi commander after a speech in Germany, who she recognized from Ravensbruck. (Part 1) Staring into his face she was confronted with forgiving of a very real past enemy, at least in part, responsible for her sister’s death.
I was sitting in a Juvenile court room waiting to be questioned about a youth in an upcoming case. The judge was preparing to sentence the 18-yr old sitting in front of him when he asked the 2 men in the row ahead of me if they had anything they wanted to say. The two men stood, and then I heard the words, “I forgive you.” One man’s father died in the traffic accident caused by the 18-yr old, the other lost his wife. And yet they said, “I forgive you.” How were they able to do that?
Forgiveness under these difficult circumstances would seem to be an impossible task, and yet Corrie and these two men were able to forgive.
I am aware of many people who have held onto unforgiveness for long periods of time, even decades, for minor violations. I do believe they feel justified in their unforgiveness, reasoning the harm done them was enough to support their position.
I have worked with victims of sexual and physical abuse, women repeatedly abused by their husbands, and men and women who were betrayed by an adulterous affair, with the spouse leaving the marriage for their new lover.
As a Marriage-Family Therapist who has counseled in all of these different circumstances, I understand the pain they feel. I also understand how forgiveness would be difficult for any one of them. And yet I have heard the words, “I forgive you.”
Many things in life can be done that can cause a person to feel harmed by something someone said or done, even for things people feel should have said or done to show compassion or understanding. It doesn’t matter whether the offense is big or small, intended or unintended; when offended a person has a choice how they are going to respond, what they are going to do.
In Corrie’s life the need to forgive came out when she was approached by a formed enemy, and in the lives of the two men in court that day, there was irreplaceable harm that had been done, but forgiveness was needed to move forward with their lives. Corrie’s sister, the one man’s father and the other man’s life could not be restored. Forgiveness is a choice. Bitterness is too.
The Greek word for forgive is related to a debt. It is seen in the often-recited Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It is also related to forgiving sin. The concept of personal harm becoming a debt that must be paid may explain why people hold onto unforgiveness.