Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
~ Matthew 6:12 (NIV)
Corrie ten Boom often thought back over the horrors of Ravensbruck prison camp and realized that it was hard to find forgiveness in her heart—the true Christian attitude for the former Nazis that would reveal through her the Spirit’s goodness. Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where allegedly more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium?
A few years later, Corrie was speaking in a church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the cruelest male guards of Ravensbruck coming to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. “I have become a Christian,” he explained. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
Conflict raged in Corrie’s heart. The good Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. “Jesus, help me. I can lift my hand. I can do that much.” As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart.” Later Corrie testified that “it was the power of the Holy Spirit” who had poured the love of God into her heart that day.
Philip Yancey gives a pragmatic reason why we must forgive that seems very foundational: forgiveness alone can stop the cycle of blame, pain as well as vengeance and violence. The meaning of the New Testament word “forgiveness,” he says, is literally “to release, to hurl away, to free yourself.” The only way to break the chain or cycle of hurtfulness is to stop and ask forgiveness. This allows a relationship to start over and begin anew. The Russian writer, Solzhenitsyn, believed this forgiveness is what truly makes us different from animals. Only humans can perform that most unnatural act of forgiveness that transcends the relentless law of nature.
The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative. A teacher once told each of her students to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. For every person they refused to forgive in their life's experience, they chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for one week, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to their desk at work. The hassle of lugging this around with them made it clear what a weight they were carrying spiritually, and how they had to pay attention to it all the time to not forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places…Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and it clearly is for ourselves as well!
RESPONSE: Today I will give myself the gift of forgiveness. Is there someone I need to forgive?
PRAYER: Father, I pray today for the power of Your Holy Spirit to enable me to release any cycles of hurtfulness in my life by forgiving others.