Thursday’s Thought – Corrie Ten Boom on loving our enemy

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him – a balding heavy set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands.  People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.  It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture.  Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.  “When we confess our sins” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.  And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says, NO FISHING ALLOWED.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe.  There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947.  People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others.  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 pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man.  I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin.  Betsie, how thin you were!
The place was Ravensbruk, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard – one of the most cruel guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein!  How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.  He would not remember me, of course – how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt.  I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbruk in your talk,” he was saying.  “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “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 your lips as well.  Fraulein,” – again the hand came out – “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there – I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven – and could not forgive.  Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there – hand held out – but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For 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.”
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.  But forgiveness is not an emotion – I knew that too.  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 had 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.”
For a long moment we grasped each others 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 the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”

– Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp For the Lord (originally published in Guidepost magazine.)

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9 Responses to Thursday’s Thought – Corrie Ten Boom on loving our enemy

  1. Mrs. Parunak says:

    This is one of the most powerful quotes in the whole book. I have thought of it often in the years since I read The Hiding Place, and it was moving again as I read it here. Such an example!

  2. motherhen68 says:

    This is very powerful. I have the feeling that the Lord is calling me out. Earlier this week, the daily readings were for forgiving your brother 77 x 7. I actually read that day twice, Mon & Tues, but I made a mistake on Monday and read the wrong day. Now you have this blog post.

    It’s easy to ask Christ to help you forgive. But when do you know you have forgiven the person you want to forgive? Is it when you no longer get angry when you think of the things they’ve done to you? Is it when you no longer laugh at their misfortunes? Is it when you no longer want to gossip about them? Does Jesus give you “brownie points” for just trying to forgive? :)

    Pray for me as I try and forgive the ones who have hurt me the most.

    • Rina says:

      Meghan, one of the things I love about the interaction between Betsie and Corrie is that Corrie was so far “behind” her sister in so many spiritual things, and yet God used her in such a huge way! It just goes to show that God does, indeed, use vessles of clay.
      Motherhen, you’ve aksed a really important question and I’d really like to take a little while to pray about it before I write a response. It’s something I’ve often struggled with as well, and I’d like to have the opportunity to answer this question – both for your benefit and for mine.
      Mrs. P, I love the fact that she says “the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” This is a much-needed reminder for me.

  3. michelle says:

    HI Rina! I awarded you the Sisterhood Award, come check it out! Also, please feel free to link my posts anytime,you sweet thing! Have a lovely night!

    • Rina says:

      Michelle, I’ve left a comment on your blog to thank you for this, but I’ll say it again here. Thank you. It’s going to take me a little while to pass this along, but I will as soon as I can!

  4. I read this book aloud with my daughter last year for the first time and had to stop so many times due to the tears of joy, conviction and sadness at the horrific things that happened to God’s people. I love this quote you posted, talk about learning how to forgive!

    I felt like I learned so much from Betsy especially. I pray I would have a heart like her, which truly was Jesus’ heart and eyes that he gave her. Amazing!

  5. I love Corrie Ten Boom! God has really used her to inspire me. (One of those great cloud of witnesses spoken of in Hebrews 12:1.)
    Thank you for the great reminder.
    In His love,

  6. motherhen68 says:

    Rina, I look forward to your response. :)

  7. One of my favorite books ever is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom! I read it a year ago and it has changed the way I think about many things. And I love this story of how God enabled her to forgive that guard! Over the last year, I’ve thought of that example often when I feel like something is too hard to do. There is so much to take away from the teachings of Corrie Ten Boom. I’ve been planning a blog post on her.

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