For me, one of the most difficult disciplines of the Christian life is forgiveness.
And you know, God never lets me off the hook for it. Someone will wrong me in what I think is an unforgiveable way, and I think, “Not that, Lord. Surely You won’t require me to forgive that.”
There are some things that we know no person would blame us for if we didn’t forgive. But I know in my heart-of-hearts that God does, in fact, require me to forgive even the most egregious wrong against me.
One of the most powerful accounts of forgiveness I’ve ever read is from Corrie Ten Boom’s book, “The Hiding Place.” She and her sister, Betsie, were Christians thrown into concentration camps for hiding Jews in their home during WWII. Her sister died, Corrie lived. The encounter she describes is of her meeting a guard who tortured her, years later on a speaking tour. He approached her after her talk, and she recognized him instantly. He didn’t remember her, but said he had since become a Christian and asked for her forgiveness.
“And I stood there,” she writes, “I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” ...
“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. “Jesus, help me!” 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.”