Corrie Ten Boom famously spent the last year of the war in the Ravensbruck concentration camp for women after her family was caught hiding Jews in their home. She lost her father shortly after their arrest and her sister died in the camp. Following a speaking engagement in 1947, she was approached by a former guard whom she recognised. He asked for the very forgiveness he had just heard her speaking about, having now become a Christian.
The confronting scene brought her to a frozen moment of indecision. A surge of emotion overcame her and she initially ignored his outstretched hand. She struggled to accept the need to let the pain go, desperately asked for God’s help, which brought her along a journey of forgiveness that is still just as relevant to us today. Here’s how.
1. The decision to forgive begins as an act of the will
Finally taking his hand in hers, Corrie announced that she forgave the guard with all her heart. Deciding to forgive is only the first step on the journey, but an important one that is within our control. The verse that helped prompt the obedience that defied contrary emotions was from Matthew 6:15, where Jesus asks us to forgive others so that the Father might forgive us. This is not dependent on their repentance, either!
Although she was sure that her response was genuine, Corrie would nevertheless continue to wake in the middle of the night, exasperated at the thought that she could not be free of the emotion which then resurfaced in other injustices.
Despite having believed that she had sincerely released herself from the prison of unforgiveness, she sought God’s help once more. It came through some advice is essential for aligning our heart with our head.
2. The heart to forgive comes after you stop ‘holding the rope’
A pastor helped Corrie understand the predicament by taking her to his church’s bell tower. He explained that the bell would ring loudly as the long rope leading up the tower was pulled. But even after letting go of the rope, he explained, it would continue to ring.
It’s the way forgiveness works. The noise of past hurts and injustices will keep ringing in your head for a while, even after you have submitted your emotions to Christ, but it is a sound that gradually fades. You just have to be sure that you stop holding the rope.
In a sense, it is as we take captive the plaguing thoughts and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) that we surrender their power. Casting all our cares onto Jesus is possible, knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Again, we have to take ownership over what we dwell on.
3. Releasing others from their obligation to us brings emotional release
Releasing others from their obligation to us, even for clear wrongdoing, is easier said than done. It is especially difficult when Christians, who should know better, aggrieve us. In the end, though, we cannot control others’ perceptions or actions, only our own responses. We can pursue discussion (the sort that values the relationship over being right), and then solution-focused mediation, but we cannot make people respond the way we think they ought to.
Corrie further tells of burning letters from friends who had offended her, when their correspondence was actually her ‘evidence’ of their wrongdoing. She had learned that the steps to true freedom were ones she was empowered to take by absolving others in her heart, whether or not they were aware of it and whether or not they ever apologised (Matthew 18:35).
Our own journey of forgiveness requires us to let go. We journey on in faith-filled obedience, even while the bell of offence stirs its cacophony of sound in our minds, having us perhaps second guess whether we really have been released from its echo. Of course, the Devil would love nothing better than to tempt us to ring that bell and keep us anchored to our emotions, knowing that these can keep a powerful hold on us. The release in our heads precedes the release in our hearts, without which it is hard to step into true freedom.
Sometimes, therefore, we just need to make a choice. Is it time for you to stop letting the Devil yank your chain?!