During World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie were arrested for concealing Jews and sent to a German concentration camp. Betsie died a slow and terrible death as a result of the cruel treatment she endured. Corrie survived the harsh treatment and was set free after the war.
A few years later, in 1947, Corrie spoke about God’s forgiveness at a church in Munich, Germany. Afterward, a man worked his way through the crowd toward her. Right away she recognized him as one of the guards who had mistreated her and her sister. He told her that he had become a Christian, and with his hand extended, he asked for her forgiveness. Time seemed to stand still. Corrie froze for a few moments. As she struggled with her feelings, she recalled the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” She knew she had to forgive.
She silently prayed, “Jesus, help me!” Then she put out her hand and shook the hand of her former tormentor. She said, “I forgive you, brother! With all my heart!” In her own words, she said that almost instantly she felt a “…healing warmth [that] seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.” [Her own account of this meeting is well worth reading. You can find it at www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/guideposts-classics-corrie-ten-boom-on-forgiveness.]
The day Corrie Ten Boom forgave her captor, she felt like a heavy burden had been lifted from her heart. It left her with a feeling of exuberance.
Perhaps you need a similar experience. Maybe your primary source of emotional energy comes from the anger inside of you about how you’ve been mistreated. That kind of anger only gives a temporary sense of exhilaration. In the long-run it may rob you of sleep, drain your vigor, and even make you into an angry person.
Here is another important reason why we should not let our emotions rule us. Everyone has a limited amount of emotional energy. If that emotional energy is wasted on things like fear, worry, or anger, there is less energy to experience the good things that God regularly provides for us.
For example, much of life’s weariness can be traced back to a problem with forgiveness. Unforgiveness undermines our friendships; it steals our joy; it keeps us focused on our past; and it saps our energy to live in the present.
British pastor Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” Unforgiveness extinguishes our joy in the present.
Let’s be real, though. Forgiveness sounds like a good idea, but it is one of those things that is easier said than done. Rest assured, though, it can be accomplished.
The goal is to let go of past hurts. In other words, we should stop dwelling on how we have been offended. That may sound impossible, but here is the key. We can let go of our hurts because Jesus has blazed a trail to forgiveness for us to follow. The journey to that forgiveness begins when we learn that WE have a great need for God to forgive us.
The Bible lays out this challenge, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
When God forgives us, He promises to never bring that sin up to us again. “… I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). God declared, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
That is how we need to be forgiven! When God forgives, He promises to never hold our sin against us. That is how our future eternity with a holy God is possible.
That’s the goal, but how do we forgive a person who hurt us and doesn’t seem to care? Forgiving a person who refuses to admit the wrong, or doesn’t seem to care about the wrong, requires that we exercise our faith in two ways.
First, we must trust that God will do what is best in the life of the one who hurt us. In other words, trust that God can and will do whatever is best for that person. If they need to be punished, that is God’s job, not ours. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Second, we must trust that our all-powerful, loving Savior will take care of whatever needs we may have as a result of someone else’s failure. For our relationship with God to be right, we must give our hurts to Him and trust His sovereign control over all circumstances, whether that person ever repents in this life or not
Notice a person can still have joy in the midst of being treated unfairly “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit… I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin…. You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7).
The joy of being forgiven gives us the ability to forgive others, and the energy to find happiness. “… Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).