Not Every Concentration Camp Is Surrounded By Barbed Wire

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The other evening when I was crafting the funeral message for the dear friend who went to be with the Lord on Saturday, I chose to highlight some of the life lessons that spoke volumes in the sermon of her life. She lived what she believed. She didn’t just articulate the principles and values found in Christianity; she lived them out in the context of where the rubber meets the road in everyday life experiences. Her ability to offer the gift of forgiveness to someone who had been responsible for much pain in her life was perhaps the most valuable life lesson she role modeled.

 

Everywhere you look, you find people pitted against one another with an ungodly resolve to keep their distance. At one time they were close, but now they’re not. They may be brothers, but no longer do they share a sense of family. Relationships don’t get repaired and the breach in connections grows deeper and deeper. The separation becomes a concentration camp experience that destroys and debilitates.

 

In yesterday’s blog entitled “What To Give Up” concerning Lent, I suggested: “Maybe, just maybe, giving up anger or disdain toward someone whose been offensive might be worthy of something to give up for Lent. Hopefully, by the time Lent is over, the freedom to live without carrying an unwelcoming or uncaring spirit might seem like too big a burden to pick up again. At least, I hope so”.

 

A thoughtful friend kindly responded to the blog. He entitled his response: “Three Thoughts On What To Give Up”. He went on to write:

 

The BEST post for the day ever. Thank you for this most significant and most timely message. I perfect sermon in the making I must say. I shall give up two things for Lent 2017:

(1) Consumption of wine and all alcoholic beverages (so I too will not trip when I walk)

(2) Anger or disdain toward someone whose been offensive

Carpe Diem,

Bob”

 

Letting go of anger or disdain toward someone who’s been offensive is a stretch for most of us. In fact, we are not often motivated to attempt to provide it without the Lord’s help and redirection. At any rate, last night as I thought about the number of people I know who proclaim their love for God, but who live life with something other than a loving spirit toward an estranged family member or previous friend, I thought about Corrie Ten Boom.

 

I think she chronicled her experience in her autobiographical book The Hiding Place, but I could be mistaken. That was well over four decades ago and it may have been in one of her subsequent books. She shared a vivid personal illustration with her own struggle related to forgiveness.

 

The General claims that I never part with anything. Once a book is placed in my library, the book has a forever place. While there is some merit to her observation, I could not locate The Hiding Place. However, I remembered enough details of her story that I found it electronically.

 

Her’s is a vivid story that highlights the disconnect between theory and practice when it comes to offering the gift of forgiveness. Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker and Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She was imprisoned for her actions and she and her sister Betsy were subjected to much mistreatment. In fact, Betsy died in the prison camp.

 

She writes of the experience: “It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear.

 

“It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.’

 

Long story short, it was the balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, with a brown felt hat clutched between his hands who was walking toward her. She could never forget that face. He was one of the prison guards that she clearly remembered from Ravensbrück.

 

She says of the experience: “It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,’ he was saying. ‘I was a guard in there.’ No, he did not remember me.

 

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. 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. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?’

 

“And I stood there–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.”

 

“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!”

 

We obviously do ourselves a great favor when we let go of the poison we have bottled up inside us. Even without the recognition, it is the silent killer in our life that is consuming the love that once was and replacing it with an emptiness that expresses itself in self-destruction. The benefit for the recipient of our forgiveness is only secondary. The person who benefits most is the one letting go of the anger.

 

All My Best!

Don

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