Introduction

The year is 1944. Nazi Germany occupies Holland. An elderly watchmaker and his family are actively involved in the Dutch Underground. By hiding Jewish people in a secret room of their home, members of the Ten Boom family courageously help Jewish men, women, and children escape Hitler's roll call of death.

Yet one fateful day, their secret is discovered. The watchmaker is arrested, and soon after being imprisoned, he dies. His tenderhearted daughter Betsie also cannot escape the jaws of death at the hands of her cruel captors. In the Nazi concentration camp, she perishes. And what about Corrie, the watchmaker's youngest daughter? Will she live... and, if so, will she ever be able to forgive her captors, those who caused the death of her father and her sister? While she is trying to survive the ravages of Ravensbruck, one of Hitler's most horrific death camps, can anything sustain Corrie ten Boom? To what can she cling? Indeed, Corrie does survive. Her God sustains her. She lives the truth of these words...

"False witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27:12-14)

I. Definitions: The Many Faces of Forgiveness

Two years after the war, Corrie is speaking at a church in Munich. She has come from Holland to a defeated Germany, bringing with her the message that God does indeed forgive. There in the crowd, a solemn face stares back at her. As the people file out, a balding, heavyset man moves toward her—a man in a gray overcoat, a man clutching a brown felt hat. Suddenly a scene flashes back in her mind: the blue uniform; the visored cap with its skull and crossbones; the huge room with its harsh, overhead lights; the humiliation of walking naked past this man... this man who is now standing before her.

"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there," he says. "But since that time 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." He extends his hand toward her and asks, "Will you forgive me?" Corrie stares at the outstretched hand. The moment seems like hours as she wrestles with the most difficult decision she has ever had to make. Corrie knows Scripture well, but applying this passage seems to be too much...

"If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)

A. What Is Forgiveness?

Assume you need to borrow one hundred dollars to help pay a medical bill. You ask a friend for a loan and promise to pay it back at the end of the month. But when the time comes for repayment, you don't have the money. In fact, for the next three months, you still don't have the money. Then unexpectedly, out of the kindness of his heart, your friend chooses to "forgive" the debt! This is one facet of forgiveness. The Bible says, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another" (Romans 13:8).

"Everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43)

Question: "Is it possible to sin beyond God's ability to forgive?"

Answer: No. God promises to purify us from all unrighteousness, not just specific sins, but we need to first confess our sins. (Confess means literally "to agree"—to agree with God.) And if we agree with God about our sin, we not only admit we have sinned, but we also turn from our sins and turn to Jesus, entrusting our lives to the One who died for our sins.

"I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 1 will confess my transgressions to the Lord'—and you forgave the guilt of my sin." (Psalm 32:5)

B. What Is Forgiveness Not?

Misconceptions abound when the word forgiveness is mentioned. Some think forgiveness is the equivalent of excusing sin... saying that what was wrong is now right. Yet this is not the example of forgiveness that Jesus displayed. When He encountered the mob of men eager to stone a woman caught in adultery, He chose not to stone her; however, never did He excuse her. Instead, He said, "Go, and sin no more" (John 8:11 KJV). To help correct any confusion, you need to know what forgiveness is not!

"Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." (Proverbs 1:5)

A loose woman was caught "in the act," and the stone throwers were ready. The penalty for adultery was clear—stone the adulterers to death! Jesus challenged the stone throwers to examine their own hearts before condemning the woman's behavior. "The one who is without sin—you cast the first stone." No one moved. Then, after all the stones dropped—one by one—and the stone throwers left—one by one—Jesus focused His attention on the woman. He looked beyond her fault and saw her need. She needed to know the life-changing love of God. Unexpectedly, Jesus gave her a priceless gift—His merciful favor and forgiveness. (See John 8:3-11.)

"'Neither do I condemn you,' Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'" (John 8:11)

Question: "If I don't feel like forgiving, how can I be asked to forgive? That doesn't seem right."

Answer: Forgiveness is not based on a feeling, but rather on the fact that we—all of us—are called by God to forgive. Forgiveness is not an emotion, but is rather an act of the will. Therefore, what "seems right" based on feelings can easily be wrong!

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Proverbs 14:12)

C. What Does It Mean to Forgive Others?

Imagine that you are a runner and the race is an event in the Olympics. You have the right shoes, right shorts, right shirt. Yet, something is desperately wrong. Locked on your ankle is a heavy, black ball and chain! This weight is too heavy—you can't run the distance—you can't even qualify. If only you could figure out a way to free yourself... but you don't have the key to unlock the chain.

Then, on the day of the qualifying run, you are told that you already possess the key to freedom. Quickly, you free yourself, and, oh, what freedom! It is as though that black ball miraculously turns into a big helium balloon. The load is lifted.... The balloon is released.... The weight is "sent away." Previously, no one had told you that your unforgiveness was the black ball weighing you down. Now that you know that forgiveness is one of the major keys to freedom, you can run the race... and cross the finish line with freedom.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." (Romans 12:17)

"He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." (Proverbs 17:9)

Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12)

Question: "What can I do when I don't feel like forgiving?"

Answer: Whenever you don't feel like doing something you should do, examine your thoughts. While you can't control what your offenders do, you can control your thinking about your offenders. God gives us much counsel about what we should sift out from our thinking. Imagine that the Bible is a "thought-sifter"—a tool that helps us sift the thoughts that should not go into our minds. Evaluate your thoughts about those who offend you. Remember: Your thoughts produce your feelings. Do your thoughts naturally flow through "the thought-sifter" in Scripture below? If not, catch them before they pass through and sift them out! When you carefully choose what you will dwell on, your emotions will begin to line up, and you will gradually even feel like forgiving.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

D. Is Forgiveness the Same as Reconciliation?

No. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness focuses on the offense, whereas reconciliation focuses on the relationship. Forgiveness requires no relationship. However, reconciliation requires a relationship in which two people, in agreement, are walking together toward the same goal. The Bible says,

"Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3)

Question: "After we forgive someone, must we also try to be reconciled?"

Answer: The answer to this question is sometimes yes and sometimes no.

"Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered." (Proverbs 22:24)

E. What Is Divine Forgiveness?

Do you sometimes struggle with forgiving others? Understand that your awareness of how much God loves you and continually forgives you can be the catalyst to compel you to forgive others. Then you can actually forgive others with the Lord's "divine forgiveness."

"The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him." (Daniel 9:9)