The World News headline from May 26, 2012 reads:
“Nazi war criminal Klaas Carel Faber dies at 90 in Germany, still a fugitive.”
On the day the article was published, over 100 people responded with their comments. Most were too vulgar to publish in this magazine, but I included just a few mild ones for your perusal: “Why this monster was allowed to live that long is not justice, it’s a crime against humanity!” “Hopefully his death was a painful one!” “So long! Enjoy the heat!” “I HOPE YOU SUFFERED TERRIBLY BEFORE YOU DIED- AND I HOPE YOU CONTINUE TO SUFFER FOR ALL ETERNITY”….. and yet- it is still isn’t enough……” “The Nazi’s should NEVER BE FORGIVEN!!!” (World News msnbc.com)
There are multiplicities of scriptures that reiterate the importance of forgiveness. Nevertheless, mustering up a genuine compassion for those that have wronged us is difficult for most. We are delusional if we believe that implementing the proper technique or saying the right words to those individuals who have had atrocities committed against them will easily assist them in regaining any “warm” feeling towards their perpetrator, no matter how modest it might be.
YES, scripture informs us that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37) It’s simple, forthright, and seemingly uncomplicated. But is it really?
What does it mean when we vocalize “forgiveness” towards others and we continue to wrestle with feelings of anger, and those anticipated feelings of compassion do not immediately follow our prayer? How do we help hurting people understand that this absence of emotion doesn’t mean that something is wrong with them, or that God has forsake them because that missing reaction appears to signify that they didn’t mean what they said?
I would like to assert that the answer is not found in some magical humanistic technique. The answer is found in helping people understand that forgiveness IS possible…ONLY because nothing is impossible with God!
The power of forgiveness has never been about us. It’s humanly impossible for us to forgive by our own strength and fortitude…because forgiveness is first and foremost about God.
When we make the choice to forgive, we do this in spite of how we feel. Contrary to common belief, forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a conscious decision we make and see to fruition because of the grace of God that He so abundantly bestows upon us. When we choose to forgive, we are in actuality calling on God’s grace and asking Him to change our heart. What we are often saying is, “God, I know what I am saying and attempting to do is the correct thing—now, please God, let my heart ‘catch up’ with my mouth.”
In Isaiah 43:25, God says (referring to the Israelites), “I will remember their sin no more.” What does this mean? Is God saying that He forgets the sin? What I believe God is actually saying in this passage is that He chooses not to remember their sin. There is a difference. In the same way, saying “we forgive” someone does not mean that we will never remember the hurt they caused us. What it does mean is that by the help of God’s grace, He has given us the power to choose not to talk about it, or dwell on it and eventually, we choose to no longer remember it with a spirit of pain, anger, or hatefulness. This kind of power to forgive cannot be found in any counseling office, or from the abundance of self-help books found on the shelves at the corner bookstore. It can only be found in God.
Our ability to forgive only comes by the power of God’s life changing gift, the gift of His grace and mercy on our lives and because of this, He gives us the ability to love (and forgive) others, because He first loved us. (I John 4:19)
I’d like to share a story I read on the life of Corrie ten Boom, who had been imprisoned with her family by the Nazis for giving aid to the Jews during WWII. Her father and sister died as a result of the brutal treatment they received in prison. God kept Corrie through that time and after the war she traveled, testifying of His goodness, and establishing homes of emotional healing for both the afflicted and the afflicters. This is what she wrote about a remarkable encounter she had in Germany:
It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there-the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, my sister’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had spoke so often to the people in Bloemendall about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on Him. When He tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with that command, the love itself.” (The Hiding Place, pg 238)
By Beth Baus
Beth Baus is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Riverside, CA. She teaches for Apostolic School of Theology / Hope International University. Sis Baus attends Inland Lighthouse Church pastored by Rev. Larry Booker. To visit her website, go to www.ourhealthyfamilies.org .