How and why should we forgive?
Corrie Ten Boom and her family were sent to Auschwitz for sheltering Jews during the Second World War. She describes how a guard humiliated her repeatedly during her time in prison. He stripped her naked, mocked her and spat upon her. She hated him. When the war was over she left Germany vowing never to return. Years later she received an invitation to deliver a series of talks in Germany. With a certain reluctance she accepted. Her first talk was on forgiveness. While speaking, she saw in the audience the same prison guard who had humiliated her. There was no way he could have recognised her now, but she recognised him. His face was beaming, displaying the signs of a man forgiven by God. When she finished he came up to her and said, 'Ah, dear sister Corrie, isn't it wonderful how God forgives?' He extended his hand in friendship. She said, 'All I felt as I looked at him was hate. I said to the Lord silently, 'There is nothing in me that could ever love that man. I hate him for what he did to me and my family. But you tell us that we are to love our enemies. That's impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for you. So if you expect me to love this man it's going to have to come from you, because all I feel is hate.'
'Put out your hand, Corrie,' the Lord seemed to say. It took all of the years I had quietly obeyed God in obscurity to do the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I put out my hand.' She then said, 'It was only after my simple act of obedience that I felt something almost like warm oil being poured over me. And with it came the unmistakable message: 'Well done, Corrie. That's how my children behave.' And the hate in my heart was absorbed and gone. And so one murderer embraced another murderer, but in the love of Christ.' 1
Is it unreasonable to require people who have been fully pardoned of sins to forgive others their sins? (Granted, it is only by divine grace that we are able to forgive.) The Bible says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32) It's that little expression - just as - that requires our attention. How has God forgiven us? We need to know because that is how we are to forgive. God gives us a full and complete pardon. What does that mean? It means that God treats us as if we had never sinned. Before him we are sinless. We are never made to feel uncomfortable in his presence. We are his children, his family.
Our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us reflects the forgiveness God has so graciously extended to us. Just like Corrie Ten Boom, we can do it by God's grace.
1 Rebecca Manley Pippert, Hope Has Its Reasons (Harper San Francisco, 1991), p 189