Over the next two days I’m going to share a glimpse, a single, yet powerful moment, in the life of a sister in Christ, one who has walked a deeply dark and painful road. A road which could have scarred her to the point of death, and yet, it did not.
Many of us carry excess baggage from our own pasts because of insults and injuries to our souls. Dear sisters, today’s Victory Call and tomorrow’s, I will share a story which is meant to convey an accurate picture of what forgiveness can and does look like. We need these reminders often, simply because we are human, and as such, we are never NOT in need of remembering grace upon grace upon grace. –Stephanie Dale
“The Face of My Enemy”—by Corrie ten Boom
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavy-set 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 and moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. The year was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
This 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. And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says, ‘NO FISHING ALLOWED.’”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, collected their wraps in silence, left the room in silence.
And that’s when I saw him working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat, the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
The place was Ravensbruck, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the cruelest guards.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze. “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard 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 again and again needed to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow, terrible death simply by 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.”
Stephanie D. Paul serves as part of the Addiction Recovery Team at America’s Keswick as Director of Women of Character. She has been married for over 30 years to Sesky Paul who is a graduate of the Colony of Mercy. They have two grown children.
Her single focus in ministry at Keswick is to image Christ in grace and truth to wounded and hurting women, encouraging them to make Jesus the truest Lover of their soul and the One in whom all hope lies.