7. Corrie Ten Boom—A Portrait of ForgivenessRelated Media
This article is an edited transcript of Susie Hawkins’ audio message on Passionate Faith. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.
We are finishing our series today called, “Passionate Faith on Display, Portraits of Significant Women in Church History. What we have wanted to do is look at women, many of whom we did not even know or know much about. We wanted to look at their lives, find out what they did, why they were important, and what their contributions were to Christian history and to the world at their time. Then we sought to draw a parallel out of Scripture, and give birth to the theme of their lives or the most important impact they made.
The visual we have been using is that we are in a museum and we are looking at an exhibition. In this exhibition, there are large portraits of these women. So, we stop every week to look at a portrait of these women. Now remember, we have talked about the whole idea of how history was recorded. Up until the time of the Reformation and the time of the printing press, unless they were in a convent, women did not know how to read or write. All we really have is what a few women who could read and write wrote. Primarily these were women in convents, or what men wrote about women. So, in the early years—the first, second, third and fourth centuries—we do not have an overabundance of information, but we do have some.
We talked about Perpetua who was a portrait in courage. She was the first young woman female martyr. She and her servant Felicity were martyred in Carthage in the arena by a wild animal. We talked about her courage. We talked about Monica, the mother of Augustine. She was the portrait of a praying mother with how she seemingly prayed that boy into the kingdom of God, literally chasing him across the Mediterranean. She believed that God was going to use him and he did turn out to be the greatest theologian of the Church to this day. We talked about the Catherine’s, portraits of compassion. Catherine of Sienna was a Medieval mystic. We talked about her life and how she worked through the Black Plague and how she worked for reform within the Church. We talked about Catherine Booth who worked with the poor in the west end of London. She brought the gospel to them. We talked about Katie Luther, really the first modern pastor’s wife, and her portrait of service and what she had to put up with. That was really a fun study, wasn’t it, because she was just so spunky and playful! Susannah Wesley was a portrait of perseverance. She had to persevere not only in difficult times with children and with the very times in which she lived, but also in a difficult marriage. She did not have a soul mate to comfort her and to walk with her. She had a difficult marriage. Lastly, we talked about Amy Carmichael, a portrait of sacrifice. Her life was typical of a number of women missionaries in that particular time such as Lottie Moon, Ann Judson, and Mary Fletcher. The whole group of them really led sacrificial lives. They gave their lives to take the gospel to heathen lands.
Today, we are talking about Corrie ten Boom, a portrait of forgiveness. There are quite a number of extraordinary women to choose from to try to narrow down a study like this to just seven women. One of the reasons I wanted to do Corrie ten Boom is that I am so afraid that her memory has been lost. How many of you in this room have never heard of Corrie ten Boom? About half of you last week had not heard of Amy Carmichael. That tells me that we are not telling these stories enough. This is a huge part of our Christian heritage and these women have made enormous contributions. We need to know who they are. Everybody needs to know who Corrie ten Boom was.
Corrie ten Boom lived during World War II. She was a devout Christian woman, a Dutch holocaust survivor. She and her family hid Jews in their home in the Netherlands in Holland, during World War II. Her story was told in a movie called, “The Hiding Place.” She wrote a book about that. You can rent that movie. I highly suggest that you rent that movie if you have never seen it. Jeannette Clift plays Corrie and Julie Harris, an English actress, plays Betsy. This tells the story of her family and of what happened to her in World War II.
We will get into her story very quickly in just a minute. First though, I want to mention that Corrie was a very prolific writer. She wrote a number of books. Her writing came on the scene as a new genre, really, of Christian writers. These were women devotional writers in the 1960-70’s. Catherine Marshall was one of those writers. Corrie was another. Anne Ortlund was one of these writers, as well as Anita Bryant. Some of you might remember these writers. This was before there was Beth Moore. This is before Anne Graham Lotts. This is when women writers and speakers were not that well known or that popular. Corrie’s thrust with all of her writing is about her experiences and how Christ can enable you to love and forgive. He can meet your needs no matter where you are in your life.
Corrie was born in 1892 in Holland. She worked with her father, her two sisters and her brother in a watchmaker shop. She was the first licensed woman watchmaker in Holland. Her brother, Willem, was a pastor. Even before the Resistance Movement hit the scene in Holland he was writing papers against the German Nazi Gestapo and the whole idea of the final solution in Germany. He was working with Jews in Germany. He was the one who taught Corrie, Betsy and their father the system of hiding people. There was a very elaborate system on how to do this.
They were a very devout family, Dutch reformed. Betsy and Corrie never married. They were very, very close as sisters. They held Bible classes every week for children and they also did a lot of work with mentally-challenged children. She called them the feeble-minded children. Of course, there were not any state programs for these kinds of children or families at this time. So, they did a lot of ministry in that area.
Casper ten Boom, their father, was very, very devout student of the Old Testament and he strongly believed that the Jews were God’s chosen people. The first time a Jewish person came frightened to their house, needing a place to hide, he said to this elderly woman—who was literally trembling—that God’s people are always welcome in this house. Through that experience, a woman was sent to them and that began the hiding place. That is the name of our story and, of course, it is literal. The hiding place was the room where they hid Jewish people, but it is also metaphorical, of course, in that Christ was her hiding place as she went through much difficulty.
As persecution began to increase, they began to take in more and more people into their home. They had carpenters come and build a little hideaway. Corrie tells the story of the difficulties, for example, of even feeding these people. There are so many stories to tell that it is very hard to just stick with one. She tells the story where right away she realizes they would need more food. She knew a man who worked for the government who was in charge of the food rationing cards. He had a child who was mentally challenged and was in one of her classes which ministered to this family. One night she went unannounced to his house, just basically to beg him for some ration cards. At his house, she says she opened her mouth. He just looked at her and seemed to know what she wanted. He asked how many do you want? She opened her mouth to say five and she said, “I want a hundred.” She said I do not know where that came from as he was so surprised but he did not bat an eye. He just counted out a hundred, handed them to her and from that point on she would just go to him, no words were spoken, and he would give her the ration cards. That was what her life was like. They observed the Sabbath with their Jewish prisoners who were there and they were also able to share their faith with them.
When Corrie was eventually turned in by a person who came to them saying that they had an elderly Jewish woman who needed hiding, she said of course she would help and made arrangements. They then were turned in and sent to prison.
She tells a story, and you may see it on “The Hiding Place,” that when she and Betsy were taken into the prison they were stripped and going through what we would call security now. She had her little Bible and she wanted to take in her little Bible with her. So she just asked God that she could somehow get that little Bible in. She did not need anything else, but she needed that little Bible she was holding. The people were lined up and they were being searched. This is such a striking story. Her heart was beating so fast! Then the woman in front of her caused a commotion and was pulled out of line. Corrie then slipped on through. So, she had her Bible with her!
They were first in a couple of other cells but then she and her sister went to the dorm in Ravensbruck. It was a horrible, horrible situation. It was a place built for 200 women but which now had over 1,200 women. They were all jammed together and scrambling for beds and for straw. She said the barracks was filled with so much lice that even the guards would not come in there because they were so bad. Becuase the guards did not come in, Betsy pointed out to her one day, they could have as many Bible studies as they wanted. So we praise God for the lice! Betsy was really the angel in the whole ordeal. Corrie struggled a little more with ordinary human emotions. It is a beautiful story of how they ministered and brought the love of God to a very, very, very dark place.
In one of her stories, she talks about coming out on a freezing cold morning for roll call. Some of the women were so weak they would fall. They could not stand up and, of course, they were beaten, which would really help them stand up! (sarcastic) She said you just do not know the darkness. That day Betsy was weak, saying to her, “Corrie, we are in hell. We are in hell.” The despair and the darkness of the morning and the weeping and crying, it was horrible. But, they heard a bird and she looked up and circling around the women was a skylark. It was singing. She said for about the next month every time they went outside for roll call that skylark would circle around them singing. She said it was as if God was saying, “My mercy is in the heavens. Look up. I am still here.” Just a skylark. That in itself strengthened her and strengthened Betsy and the other Christians in the group to take their minds off the sufferings of this time and to look up. One of her famous sayings is, “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
She was released from prison after several years on a clerical error. She found out later it was a mistake. The next week all the women her age were exterminated. When she got out, all she wanted to do was go home and try to begin to tell her story. So, she went home. She was 50 something years old when her ministry began. A single woman, an older woman, with some health problems, but she began to tell her story, her testimony, about love and forgiveness and how God can carry you through these kinds of situations. She spoke here in Dallas at First Baptist I think in the 70s. I want you to hear a story about forgiveness that she is famous for, but I want her to tell it herself.
I was not at peace with men. Sometime ago I was in Berlin and after a meeting there came a man to me and said, “Don’t you know me?” Suddenly, I saw that man that was one of the most cruel guards of whole Ravensbruck. My dying sister had suffered through him, but he said, “I am so happy that I can tell you I am a child of God. I have a Bible at home. I have asked Jesus to come into my heart. I have brought Him my sins. All my cruel sins that I have done and now I have prayed God: Give me the grace that I can ask one of my very victim’s forgiveness. That is why I am here. Fraulein ten Boom, I want to be forgiven. And he would shake hands with me and I could not. I thought of how my dying sister had suffered through his cruelties, but I knew from the Bible that Jesus had said if we do not forgive, the Heavenly Father will not forgive us our sins. I know from the Bible that hatred means murder in God’s eyes, but I also know from the Bible what to do with my murder. I said, “Oh, Father, forgive me in Jesus’ name my hatred. Then I can claimed my text Romans 5:5 Thank you, Jesus, that You have brought into my heart God’s love through the Holy Spirit which was given to me and thank you, Father, that Your love in me is stronger than my hatred. That same moment I could shake hands with that man. And it was as if I felt God’s love stream through my arm and I said, “Brother, I forgive you everything.” You’ll never touch so the ocean of God’s love as that you love your enemies.
Have you difficulty with forgiveness? Can you forgive that woman that has stolen the love of your husband? Can you forgive the man that have stolen the love of your wife? You cannot but He can. Claim Romans 5:5 and you will have forgiveness and love for these persons and then you are free. For forgiveness is such a great joy and liberation and it is possible for every one of us. Some of you have not such very great things to forgive, but you know, I had difficulty with a little, no, not a trivial of thing but was not so terrible. Christian friends with whom I worked had done something very mean against me and there was resentment in my heart. I said, “Lord, You have given me the grace that I could forgive the murderers of my beloved. Now, it is not difficult, Lord, to forgive these Christian friends who have done these mean things. It was not difficult and was all right, but at 2 o’clock in the morning, midst of the night, I awoke and I thought “my how in the world is that possible when I think, ‘my friends.’ What have I done for them and they have…?” I said, “Lord, there it is again! You must help me. Take away my resentment. Help me to forgive and love them.” And, the Lord did and I slept well. The whole day was good. But the next night, again at 2 o’clock, I awoke and I thought, “My, now in the world when I think of ‘my friends, my friends’—Christian friends—what they have done!” I said, “Lord, there it is again. Help me to overcome that resentment.” And the Lord did and it was all right. But believe it or not a third night, again in the midst of the night, I awoke and I thought “what have my friends…” I was a little bit in despair and that day I met an old minister. He said, “Corrie, when I have…I’m a minister in a little town and on Sunday morning I myself ring the church bell, “ding dong” and then everyone knows the church door is open. But, when I ring the church bell, there comes a moment that I stop. After I stop, always there come “ding/dongs, ding, ding and ding-dong.” It doesn’t matter if they do not belong to the rest. Now have you brought your resentment to the Lord? If it comes again the feeling of resentment, then you just say, “Lord, that is a ding-dong that do not belong to the rest.” My, that helped me. That really helped me.
I hope you could understand her, with the “ding-dongs.” Could you understand her? The church, the man, the little preacher would ring. The pastor would ring the bell at the church and then he would stop ringing the bell, but it would continue to slow down. That is the ding-dong. Then, she is saying that even after you forgive and you really mean it and you ask God to help you do that, there are still some ding-dongs. Right, isn’t that true? There are still memories and there are still times when you say, Hey, wait a minute. I wanted to use this particular example of Corrie’s because I do not believe that she could have been as used as she was in God’s work were it not for her forgiveness. She could be a portrait of every one of these qualities we have talked about. It is really all summed up in her life. You could go a million different ways with her story, but that is what I want to emphasize.
The scriptures tell us that if we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others. I appreciate her honesty in this area. She goes on later to tell a little bit more about her story. She was writing “The Hiding Place” with John and Elizabeth Sherrill and they were talking to her years later after all of that. John Sherrill said to her I know your story about the Christian friend. Is that not true how a person, a guard, that was one thing to forgive, but your Christian friends was another? Cannot you see that this is so typical as that it would be much more difficult to forgive. So, he said, “Corrie, did those friends ever think and would they ever come to you and ask for forgiveness? Did they ever ask you about it?” She said, “No, they never did. They never thought they did anything wrong.” He said, “Really, are you sure?” She replied, “Yes, I have it in their letters in my file cabinet in black and white. I can show you exactly what they said and what they did.” He said to her, “Corrie ten Boom, are you not the one who talked about forgiveness?” She talked about how John and Elizabeth Sherrill stayed with her until she found those papers. She tore them up in little pieces and threw them in her coal stove in her house to burn, to complete the forgiveness. She is famous for saying that when God forgives us, He casts them into the deepest ocean. He then puts a sign which says no fishing allowed. That is the saying the John Sherrill brought back to her and said what about that sign. You are fishing. She admitted that was right.
Corrie’s ministry lasted over 30 years. She spoke in more than 60 countries. Her gospel message was the saving power of Christ and His forgiveness. Corrie was not recognized for the longest time. Basically, Christians who worked in the Resistance Movement did not receive a lot of recognition immediately after the war. But, Corrie was honored by the State of Israel. If any of you have been to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, there is a garden area called the “Garden of Righteous Gentiles.” There are trees planted for the families of Gentiles who helped hide the Jews in the underground across Europe.
I want to tell you something really interesting. She died on her 91st birthday, which was 1983. She had a tree planted with a sign on it, “Ten Boom Family, from Amsterdam, Holland.” We happened to have a group there. It was 1992 and it was the year of her 100th birthday. We were touring Yad Vashem, which we rarely have time to do, but we were there. The tour guide said the strangest thing happened. There was a terrible, terrible thunder and lightning storm over Yad Vashem a few weeks ago. A tree was struck by lightning and it was Corrie ten Boom’s tree. The storm happened on her 100th birthday. I would not have believed that. I would have just thought that was a preacher’s story. I promise you I would not have believed it for one minute, but I saw it with my own eyes. When we were there a couple of years ago, her tree is much smaller than anybody elses in the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles because it had to be replanted. I am not putting any meaning to that, but it is just Corrie ten Boom and that is why you need to know who she is.
So, her message, her portrait speaks to forgiveness. In Greek the word forgiveness means to send away. That is why her illustration of sending your sins into the deepest ocean is so appropriate.
This week we talked about Passover and the Passover celebration that Christ was celebrating. You may remember in the Temple worship what one of the rituals was that the Jewish people would go through. The priest would take a goat and symbolically place all the sins of the people on that goat. The goat then would be sent away in the wilderness. Do you remember what that goat was called? The scape goat. It was sent away. That is the literal picture that God gave His people of their sins being forgiven. They were sent away.
Scripture tells us that we must forgive if we want Christ to forgive us. I am going to ask Dr. Bingham about that next week. I have some questions about that. Yet that is what the scripture says over and over and over again. I do not know about you, but I wish to have as much forgiveness as I can possibly get, right? That tells me then that I do not have the right to hold sins against people. If I want Christ to forgive me, I must forgive.
Secondly, we must ask as long as we are asked to forgive. I thought about this in this way for the first time when I was working on this lesson. You know when Jesus said you have to forgive seventy times seven, which, of course, we know was a way of speaking saying we have to always give forgiveness. After I listened to Corrie’s story about the ding-dongs, I thought maybe Jesus is talking there not so much about that many offenses, but maybe you have to forgive 490 times the same thing. You follow me, the dings and dongs? It comes back to you and you have to say the word, “I forgave that. I gave that up to You.” Do it over and over. Again, it is a process. It really is. That is one thing I appreciate about her and her honesty in that way. That does not mean when you give forgiveness to a person like that that you do not retain some boundaries and some standards yourself. There are healthy ways to do that. The verse she quoted in Romans 5:5 is so key, “The Holy Spirit is given to us that the love of God will be shed abroad in our hearts.” Listen, that is the only way we can do it. It is the reason we have the Holy Spirit—to enable us to do things that we cannot do ourselves. She could not forgive that guard. Could you forgive someone who beat your dying sister? They took her body and threw it into a room. Corrie had to go later and identify the body in a corner which was filled with a mass of limbs and naked women’s bodies. That is how she saw her sister for the last time. Now, that takes some forgiveness. Why could she do it? Because she realized the love of God, given by the Holy Spirit, was in her heart and could be extended to this man.
The last thing I want to say about forgiveness is this: that we cannot wait for repentance from the party that has offended us until we forgive. That is usually what most of us do. When they come to us and ask us for forgiveness and to tell us they are sorry, then we will forgive. Well, you know, sorry to say, my friends, that is not biblical. What did Jesus say? “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.” Our attitudes toward others is to be an attitude of forgiveness, an attitude of forgiveness. That is one of the marks of a true believer. A true follower of Christ. Maybe repentance comes and maybe a relationship can be restored to a degree—depending upon the event. Maybe it never can be. Maybe that person has died. Maybe that person like her friends never does see anything they did wrong. That is not our business. Our business is to be sure that we do not have unforgiveness, hatred or resentment in our hearts. I think Corrie of all the qualities she had, her portrait of forgiveness is the message of her life. She said this, “Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. The forgiveness of Jesus not only takes away our sins, it makes them as if they had never been.”