Corrie Ten Boom tells of the day she met one of her former death camp guards in a church immediately after World War II. After giving a lesson on forgiveness, she was approached by the former guard who asked Corrie to forgive him for the terrible things he had done to her and her family.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. 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.
Forgiveness is extremely powerful, not to mention difficult. All of us have been hurt. For some, the hurt can be unbearable. The world can be mean, hateful and ugly. After all, our Master told us it would be so.
One of the hardest disciplines to practice is forgiveness. It is especially difficult for those who have experienced terrible abuses. The difficult hurts of past experiences can shape our lives in dramatic ways and leave us with wounds that are difficult to heal. A person who does not forgive most often becomes bitter, envious and selfish. Many times without even knowing it.
Yet, our Master promises something quite different.
Forgiveness is a touchy subject because it forces us to do two things; deal with past experiences…and learn to let them go. The power of forgiveness is that it more often frees the person that has been hurt than it does the offender.
How does one forgive? How should we deal with past hurts, no matter how deep? It is not easy. But it is a “command” from our master, one that takes place through the rejuvenation of our spirit.
Renew the mind. We are called to have the mind of Christ (Php 2:5). That is because the only way to live life the way Christ designed for us tis to have his mind. Anything else is of our own making. Without the mind of Christ, nothing else will make sense. After being beaten beyond recognition, humiliated and spiked to a piece of wood, Christ was still able to say “Father, forgive them”. We are being developed to have that same mind for the same purposes, namely, to forgive.
View life from a spiritual perspective. While we physically live in a fallen world, the disciple understands real life takes place on the spiritual plane. This can be one of the most difficult concepts to understand. However, without an comprehension that we are fighting an unseen enemy, we will never grow in the manner in which our master hopes us to. People can be extremely evil. The person who sins against us is being used as a tool from the evil one. This can be either willingly or unwillingly. However, once we begin to grasp the idea that all of life is lived in the Spirit, eternity and life begin to make much more sense.
Look at your offender with empathy. Notice I said empathy, not sympathy. Empathy simply means trying to experience the emotions and thoughts of another person. Look at your offender and see the pain and emotional struggle in their life. The hurt which people direct at us is a reflection of the pain in their life. Of course, this is not an excuse. It is simply a way of understanding…not condoning. Once we can see what draws a person to act in a certain way, the more we can begin seeing some of the cause of the hurt inflicted by that person toward us.
Take control and try to make amends. As the person who has been hurt, you are the one who has the power to control the situation. Approach the offender. Depending on the situation this can be very traumatic and difficult. Yet, two things happen when you do that very thing. First, it grows us closer to God, especially if the offender is a believer. It also allows us to move on to maturity in Christ. A person not willing to forgive cannot mature in things of the Spirit. Watch your words during a trying time. Hurtful words, even if well deserved, can prolong forgiveness…and even quite possibly leave you having to ask for forgiveness.
Look inside. In many cases (not all) an offense can reveal weaknesses in our own life. Years ago, a co-worker did me harm even though I had done nothing to them to bring about the offense. But the ordeal revealed certain hidden weaknesses within myself. That experience opened my eyes to some areas in my life that needed improvement. Believe it or not, I am grateful I underwent that trial. And while that person does not realize it, they helped me grow in Christ.
Know the difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. “Forgive and Forget” is a false and harmful saying, Forgiving simply means you have chosen to no longer living IN the hurt and bear no hatred toward the person. You can most certainly draw barriers and boundaries around the person, especially if that person is a continual offender. Forgiveness means you have decided to move forward…even if it means a big scar remains. Pethaps that is why God allows our bodies to have physical scarring. It serves as an example of the spritually scarring and healing process.
Count the times you have offended. It is easy to see ourselves as the victim. However, as I stop and count the number of times I have offended or hurt someone, I begin to realize that I am guilty of many things of which I need forgiveness.
Live well. My wife has a saying I love dearly. “living well is the best revenge”. While it may sound a bit flipant, there is some great truth in that statement. This does not mean pretending all is great. It means we are looking forward and not in reverse. The more we decide to experience the great things God has before us, the more it heaps “coals of fire” on those who like causing us problems.
Ask God for the grace of forgiveness. Corrie Ten Boom understood that forgiveness is gift, or grace, from above. Forgiving someone for spreading gossip about you is tough enough. Forgiving someone for participating in the killing of your family brings forgiveness to a whole different level. But in the end, both require God’s powerful grace. Remember: Grace is the power from the Holy Spirit to accomplish the purpose God has set before you.
Discipleship is not easy. It takes a desire to be like or Master, Jesus Christ. But learning to forgive can mean the difference between a life of joy or one of bitterness. Forgiveness can open up a whole new world of joy and is strong enough to overcome the evil one’s stongholds.
So powerful that it can forge stronger relationships..even between a prisoner and death camp guard.