Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie endured horrible brutalities and imprisonment in a concentration camp during World War II. They were arrested when the Nazis discovered the Ten Boom family hiding Jews in secret rooms in their home in Holland.
You may have read Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, or seen the movie based on her story. She tells about the cruelties she and her sister suffered at the hands of the Nazis in a concentration camp called Ravensbruck. Betsie died a terrible death in the camp, and Corrie writes very movingly about the war, her family’s commitment to helping the persecuted Jews, and life and forgiveness after Ravensbruck.
Corrie Ten Boom spoke on the topic of forgiveness at a church service in Munich in 1947, just a short time after the war ended. It was customary in those days for people to silently get up and leave after church had ended. At the end of this particular service in 1947, however, Corrie noticed a man walking toward her. She recognized him. Although he was wearing a brown hat and overcoat, she could immediately envision him wearing the familiar blue uniform of a Nazi guard, complete with a visored cap with skull and cross bones and a riding crop at his hip.
The man stuck out his hand and told her he had indeed been a guard at the camp where her beloved sister had died. He told her that he had since become a Christian. He knew that God had forgiven him—could she forgive him also?
“I Forgive You, Brother!”
Years later Corrie wrote that the bitterness of her whole experience at Ravensbruck flooded in on her again as she looked at the man’s outstretched hand. She thought of her sister Betsie, and of the heartbreak and humiliation they had endured together. And yet, she writes,
I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses’.
It’s a beautiful story. She took the man’s outstretched hand and, miraculously, she was able to feel the forgiveness she offered:
Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. 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!’
Corrie Ten Boom found in the midst of her grief that the Lord was her hiding place. In the experience of the blessing of God, she found a sanctuary.
How to Enter the Sanctuary of the Lord
We can also find this sanctuary in the experience of confession and repentance.
How is it that, because you are forgiven, you’re somehow in a place of sanctuary? Think about it for a moment. To be forgiven means that now you are back in a covenant relationship with the Lord your God. You’re trying to walk in the ways of the Lord, and walking in the ways of the Lord means that you’re walking in the paths of life, not in the paths of destruction.
To follow the will of God is to place yourself within a sanctuary of protection. It’s a fallen world and bad things will still happen to good people. But I promise you, the way of adultery, the way of lying, the way of cheating, the way of violence, the way of arrogance, is the way of destruction. To walk in the ways of the Lord our God doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but it does mean you’re in the path of His will. You’re in the sphere of His sanctuary and protection.
People subject themselves to a great vulnerability when they willingly and knowingly walk outside the will and purposes of God. Jesus told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test…” (Deuteronomy 6:16) We put God to the test when we think things like, “I would never steal, but this company doesn’t pay me enough, so I’ll just take a few little things.” We force a test upon the Lord our God when we make decisions like, “I would never be unfaithful to my spouse, but it’s OK for me to tear them down verbally in front of others.”
God’s mercy and forgiveness are so unbounded, so extensive, that the Scriptures make it very clear that they are not only something that we experience, but also something we must extend to others.
What Does This Forgiveness Mean for You?
There is an inextricable link between the forgiveness we are willing to extend, and the forgiveness we receive. Some people will not be changed by an offer of forgiveness, but we are still called upon to forgive. Our Father who is in heaven longs to hear our own repentance, and He will forgive us because the extent of His mercy is so great. He will forgive us, as it says in the Lord’s Prayer, “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
The kind of mercy that will finally bring us into the heavenly kingdom is the same mercy that enables us to forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgive, as your Father in heaven has forgiven you.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon delivered at Kingsland Baptist Church on June 9, 2013. A video of his original remarks may be viewed here.