A lesson on Forgiveness:
Corrie ten Boom is a world changer. She lived in one of the darkest times of humanity yet was able to be a light shining bright for Jesus Christ. Her life shouts what forgiveness is in Christ and how we can forgive others because we have been forgiven of much.
Corrie ten Boom was born in the beautiful country of Holland. Her father was a watchmaker and life was good for the ten Boom family.
Her parents raised her and her siblings in the ways of the Lord. At age five, Corrie came to faith. Family worship was consistent in the home. Many of the lessons she would learn in family worship would impact her and prepare her and her siblings for what awaited them. Her father taught them that there is love that one needs to have for God’s people, which would later motivate the ten Boom family as they worked with the underground network to save Jews from the Germans.
As a teenager and young adult, she was zealous in sharing her faith. Corrie and her sister Betsie started a club for young girls where they would disciple them.
The first bombs were dropped in Holland in 1940 and their lives would never be the same.
As the German occupation grew worse, the need to help the Jews intensified. Corrie determined in her heart and before the Lord that she wanted to help God’s people, the Jews. It started with one, and then quickly grew to a point where a network needed to be created to help so many Jews in their area. They were coming from all over Holland to receive help from the ten Boom family and all those who were willing to put their lives on the line to help.
On February 28, 1944, Corrie, her sisters Betsie and Nollie, her father, and her brother Willem were arrested and taken to the police station. As they spent the evening together, Corrie’s dad Casper prayed these words from Psalm 119:114, 117, “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word…Hold me up, and I shall be safe.”
Corrie never saw her dad again. She would later learn that he passed away a few days after that, in prison. Corrie and Betsie were taken to a prison in Holland.
The lessons of forgiveness were not just spoken but exemplified.
One day Betsie had disturbing news for Corrie. Through other prisoners, she had discovered the name of the stranger who had betrayed the ten Booms and who had caused such pain ever since. The man’s name was Jan Vogel. The meeting is summarized in 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness:
As Corrie later wrote, “I thought of Father’s final hours, alone and confused…of the Underground work so abruptly halted…And I knew that if Jan Vogel stood in front of me now I could kill him”
But Corrie was astonished at Betsie’s reaction to the news. Unlike Corrie, she was completely free of anger. Finally Corrie asked, “Betsie don’t you feel anything about Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Oh Yes, Corrie! Terribly,” Bestie replied, “I’ve felt for him ever since I knew—and pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”
Thinking of her sister’s words that night as she tried to sleep, Corrie began to wonder if Betsie, in her gentle way, was reminding her that in God’s eyes, she was guilty too. Didn’t Jan Vogel and she both stand before an all-seeing God? And according to Jesus’s standard in the New Testament, they were both guilty of murder because, Corrie wrote, “I had murdered him with my heart and with my tongue.” She prayed that God would forgive her, as she now forgave Jan Vogel, and asked God to bless his family. [i]
Corrie and Betsie were moved from one prison to the famous Ravensbrück concentration camp in Northern Germany. They would be forced into a boxcar with several other women. It was cramped, dark, and stuffy. They did not receive water or food for four days. At Ravensbrück they faced intense suffering. They stood out in the cold for hours, were forced to do hard manual labor, while receiving very little food. In Barracks Eight they would sleep on wooden slats with spoiled hay infested with fleas. The sisters’ hidden Bible was sweet relief for them during this extreme abuse.
At Ravensbrück there was another big lesson on forgiveness that was shown to Corrie by her sister Betsie as Eric Metaxes shares in the book 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness:
One day when Betsie was able to lift only the smallest shovel of dirt [she was sick], a guard began to make fun of her. Betsie tried to laugh along with them but only succeeded in infuriating the guard tormenting her. The guard picked up her crop and struck Betsie on her neck and chest.
In a blind rage, Corrie grabbed her shovel and went for the guard, but Betsie stopped her before the guard had a chance to see her. [ii]
At Ravensbrück Betsie and Corrie would think about ways they could help all the victims from the Nazis and how they would open up houses to help care for them. Betsie told Corrie, “I pray every day that we will be allowed to do that! To show them that love is greater.” Not until later did Corrie realized that while she had been thinking of victims of the Nazis, Betsie was thinking of the Nazis themselves.
A week before Christmas, Betsie was so ill that she could not move her arms and legs, and was later moved to the hospital. She reminded Corrie that, “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” Betsie died right before 1945.
Corrie was released January 1, 1945, from the concentration camp. She found herself reunited with her family and would spend the next three decades telling people her story. Her story is more than just enduring as a victim through intense suffering at the hands of the Nazis. Her story is of God’s forgiveness of sins and that we are called to forgive those who harm us. Many people heard her story and came to receive the free gift of forgiveness given by Jesus Christ.
In Corrie’s writing, The Hiding Place, she retells the story of speaking at a church in Germany in 1947. At the end of the service a man approached her to greet her and right away Corrie realized who this man was. He was one of the vicious guards at Ravensbrück. He was pushing out his hand to shake hers. Corrie recounts:
“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 remember Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there…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 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?
Corrie stood there wrestling with this before her and knowing that only Jesus could help. She remembered that forgiveness is an act of the will—not an emotion.
“Jesus help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
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 other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. [iii]
The lessons on forgiveness from Corrie’s life reminds us that we have forgiveness offered freely to us. The Bible tells us that “if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 ESV).” The forgiveness that we have been given is the same forgiveness we can offer to others (Colossians 3:13). Corrie ten Boom is a world changer.
Book to Read:
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
[i] Metaxas, Eric, 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN 37214
[iii] Ten Boom, Corrie, Guidepost Magazine, 1972, Guideposts Associates, Inc., Carmel, NY 10512.