Forgiving the sins of Ravensbruck

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

A touching story is told by Corrie Ten Boom, who had watched her sister Betsie die as a result of maltreatment in Ravensbruck Nazi prison camp during World War II.

After the war Corrie travelled the world sharing about her experiences and preaching forgiveness as a way to peace.

One evening, after giving a message in a small, church in Munich, she was approached by a man whom she immediately recognised.

He was one the SS guards in the camp responsible for the brutal treatment of her and her sister. As he approached, she felt anger and hatred rise up within her with real vehemence.

This shocked her because she had not been aware of these forces within her.

The man spoke: “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there.” She realised that he did not remember her. But she remembered him, and she was horrified to be talking with one of her captors.

The man went on to say: “I have become a Christian now. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.”

He extended a hand towards her, asking “Will you forgive me?” She was frozen to the spot. Her hand would not move.

In her desperation she prayed silently “Jesus, help me!” She woodenly thrust out her hand, with no feeling at all.

And then she felt a warmth flood her, and by the grace of God she found herself saying, and meaning it: “I forgive you, with all my heart!”

That man had been given the most precious gift, which he did not deserve – the gift of forgiveness. He went away with his burden lifted.

Corrie, too, had found a deeper freedom within herself through making a decision by the grace of God not to be governed by her feelings, but to forgive her brother from the heart. When discussing the imperative to forgive we need to avoid any glib statements.

Life can have some enormously tragic twists to it. We can be bewildered before “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, laid low in “a valley of tears and a world of sorrows”.

What life dishes up to us sometimes seems totally unbearable.

Understandably we rage against God, against whoever has injured us, and, worst of all, against ourselves.

The Good News is that there is a way through, but it is not easy. It in some way involves hanging with Jesus on the Cross, allowing him to absorb our pain in his own body, while gaining the inner strength to “breathe again” and pronounce the liberating words of forgiveness.

This is an extract from Fr Ken Barker’s book His Name is Mercy.
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