In 1945, a liberator of the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp, picked up a crumpled note, on which this prayer was written:
“O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruits we brought, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.” (ODB May 6, 2020).
It is hard to imagine a victim of such abuse, seeking God’s forgiveness of her abusers. Nazis had exterminated 50,000 women in Ravensbrück during the Second World War. But this is the nature of forgiveness—of God’s forgiveness toward us—and our forgiveness toward others.
The natural response to abuse is to become bitter and resentful. However, unforgiveness is extremely costly. It is like a prison without bars. It leads to an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. Offering forgiveness is not forgetting—it is remembering without anger.
People who do not forgive are locked into events of their past. Offering forgiveness is not approving what happened, but choosing to rise above it and get beyond it. Forgiving allows the offended to go on despite the offense. It serves to release the offended from the control of the offender.
After Nelson Mandela was released, following 27 years of wrongful imprisonment, he refused to step out of the prison, until he was sure he had forgiven the people who had put him there. Mandela said his failure to forgive would mean he would walk out of one prison, into another higher prison without bars. He knew that greater imprisonment would follow him the rest of his life. He discovered that forgiveness was the way to find freedom from hurts of the past. (The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela).
Sin is the root of the problem but forgiveness is the solution. What does God say about it?
The Principle of Forgiveness
If we had no sin, we would need no forgiveness. Since the entrance of sin into the human family—failures, abuses, evil, and sin of every form, have plagued the offspring of Adam. Sin affects us all. It is at the core of every offense committed by the human family because, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin came to us by way of our common ancestor, Adam, so, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Sin is rampant and repeated, and its effects are universal and dominant.
Though we are active in sin, God is aggressive in forgiveness. “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3, 4). David wrote, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5).
The Prospect of Forgiveness
That guilty sinners can be completely forgiven is a wonderful prospect. When laden with sin, forgiveness is almost too amazing to consider. Yet, God is anxious to forgive, and, His forgiveness is complete, pervasive, covering all sins, past, present and future. David wrote, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Jesus promised there would be no condemnation—forever—to any who believed in Him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and will not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
This kind of fantastic biblical truth aligns with Paul’s words, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We rejoice with the apostle John that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This fact is true because, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation [satisfying sacrifice] for our sins; and not ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
The Practice of Forgiveness
God can forgive us because He loves us, and sent Jesus to die for our sins, paying the ultimate price. For, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Because of that, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7, 8).
Not only does God forgive our sins, because of the payment of His Son, He expects us to forgive others who sin against us. In the model prayer, Jesus taught to pray for God’s forgiveness, while forgiving offenders (Matt. 6:12-15; Luke 11:4). Christians are to forgive others because they have been forgiven themselves, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whosoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).
Take a moment to reflect on these Scriptures and ask God’s help in forgiving those around you. Though it is difficult to forgive others, God’s Word encourages us to show them the same grace and forgiveness our Heavenly Father has shown us. Forgiveness is extending grace to people who do not deserve it…in the same way God gives His grace to us, who do not deserve it!