It’s one of the most remarkable stories of forgiveness I’ve ever heard.
It involves somebody who easily could have chosen not to forgive.
And who could have blamed her?
One man’s actions caused the deaths of not one — but four — of her beloved family members.
Yet with the help of God, Corrie ten Boom did something many people might consider impossible.
During World War II, Corrie was part of a God-loving family, who lived in Haarlem in the Netherlands.
Her family hid Jewish people from the Nazis and is credited with saving almost 800 lives.
But one day, a man came to Corrie. He said his wife had been arrested and was at the police station.*
He feared she’d be killed in prison.
The man said he’d found a policeman who’d run the risk of setting her free, yet he had no money to pay the officer.
Corrie didn’t have all the money the man needed, but told him to come back to her house in an hour. She asked all her friends to help.
When the man returned, Corrie gave him the money.
She was so happy — unaware that the man was a betrayer.
His wife wasn’t in prison. The Gestapo (secret police) had told the man to find out if it was true that Corrie was helping to save Jewish people.
The man figured he could do that — and make some money.
Shortly thereafter, the Gestapo surrounded the home where Corrie lived and she and her family were arrested.
Her father, who was 84 years old, died after 10 days in prison. Her sister, Betsie, died 10 months later in the notorious Ravensbruck concentration camp for women.
Corrie’s brother, also arrested, returned home a sick man and died after a year. His son died in prison.
After her arrest, Corrie was placed in solitary confinement and then sent to a German concentration camp in the Netherlands.
Corrie was still in the camp in Holland, when she was approached by a woman from her hometown.
She asked if Corrie knew who had betrayed her.
The woman told her it was the man whom she’d helped.
“There came hatred in my heart,” Corrie said. “But I knew that when you hate, you have no forgiveness yourself.”
What did she mean?
She may have been referring to Matthew 6:15, a Bible verse that has challenged Christians for centuries.
In this verse, Jesus says: “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
It’s a tall order, especially for people who’ve been so deeply wounded by others.
And it was something Corrie knew she couldn’t do in her own strength.
So she took her pain and hatred to the Lord and she claimed the Bible verse, Romans 5:5.
What does it mean to “claim” a verse?
To me, it means grabbing onto a Scripture — the infallible word of God — with everything I’ve got and trusting that this truth is meant for me.
Corrie claimed Romans 5:5, which states that “The love of God is shed abroad into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given to us.”
Then she gratefully prayed:
“I said, ‘Thank you Lord Jesus that you have brought into my heart God’s love — through the Holy Spirit — and thank you Father that your love in me is stronger than my hatred.’”
“That same moment, the hatred was gone,” she said.
Stop a minute.
Did you catch that?
Corrie knew God’s love was stronger than her hatred.
She’d later be sent to Ravensbruck and following her sister’s death was released due to a clerical error. That next week, other women her age were executed.
After the war, the man who’d betrayed Corrie and her family was sentenced to death.
Corrie wrote him a letter saying what he did resulted in the deaths of four of her family members and she suffered much in three prisons.
“But I have forgiven you,” Corrie wrote, “And that is because God’s love is in my heart through Jesus Christ and that is a little illustration of what can happen in your heart when you ask Jesus to fill your heart, when you bring him your sins — then he will make you a child of God and he’ll fill your life with his peace.”
Corrie wrote that she knew the man would die soon, but that he’d have nothing to fear.
“For when you belong to the Lord Jesus, you may depend on his promise,” she said.
That promise, she noted, comes from the Bible where Jesus said that in our Heavenly Father’s house are many mansions and that Christ has gone to prepare one for all who belong to him.
The man wrote back, telling Corrie it was a miracle she could forgive him — and if Christ could put such love and forgiveness in the hearts of his followers — there was hope for him.
He received Christ as his Savior.
A week later, the man was executed.
“But he was reconciled with God,” Corrie said.
And who had God used to bring the man to him?
Corrie — the woman who’d hated him with what she described as “a strong hatred.”
“You see the miracle?” she asked. “God could use me, because I brought that hatred to the Lord and he took it away and gave his love instead of that hatred.”
Can we forgive someone who’s hurt us so badly?
We can’t, but he can, she said.
“Claim Romans 5:5 and let the Holy Spirit fill your heart and you will experience that when there is forgiveness and love in your heart, then you are free and happy and you have peace,” she said. “Oh it’s so victorious to love your enemies and that is possible because the ocean of God’s love is available for us.”
Corrie mentions the importance of praying, reading the Bible, listening to the Lord and memorizing Scriptures about God’s love.
Now forgiveness can be tough — even for those of us who haven’t been hurt like Corrie.
I remember when, years ago, I spent a long time trying to forgive someone who’d hurt me more than once.
I’d ask God to help me forgive. I’d make a decision to forgive. I’d hear speakers say things like: “Hurting people, hurt people,” “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison, hoping it will kill your enemy” and “Forgiving doesn’t make what they did right, it just frees you.”
Eventually, I was able to talk that person. I started by apologizing and, in the process, learned that I’d inadvertently hurt that individual.
This person has had some really tough times in the last few years and I’ve found myself asking God to bless this individual.
If a negative memory starts to surface — which can happen when I’m tired — I quickly banish the thought and ask God to help me—and that person.
I started asking God to fill my heart with his love after hearing Corrie’s story.
And the other night, I thanked God for his love, which is stronger than any crummy, rotten thing that could worm its way into my heart.
For years after being released from Ravensbruck, Corrie would travel the world, telling about God’s love and writing books.
She died on her 91st birthday on April 15, 1983.
I never met Corrie, but her talks, which can be found on the internet, and her writings continue to inspire me.
Recently, I saw a photograph of her that I’d never seen before. She was looking upward.
She looked so happy.
It must be the radiance that comes when God’s love fills the heart, which is absolutely remarkable.
- A postscript: Like that man, you can receive Christ as your Savior by believing he died on the cross and rose again, repenting (turning from) your sins and asking Jesus to come into your heart.