On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was gunned down by a deranged fan, Mark Chapman. Still at the prime of his life at 40 years of age, it was a great tragedy for many millions of people, especially Yoko Ono, his widow. She has recently taken out full-page newspaper ads, suggesting that December 8 should become a worldwide day of forgiveness. She said that those who are suffering need to forgive, and the world needs to experience the healing power of forgiveness.
However, she admitted that she herself could not yet forgive Chapman for what he did. “I don’t know if I am ready yet to forgive the one who pulled the trigger,” she said. Thus she sees the need for, and importance of, forgiveness, but is not herself able to forgive, at least not yet.
Another woman who also experienced great suffering, tragedy and injustice in her life, and yet was able to fully forgive, was Corrie ten Boom (1893-1983). This remarkable woman and her family were involved in the Dutch underground, and helped to save many Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
Many people were rescued by Corrie and her family, until they were betrayed by a Dutch informant. They were taken prisoners in 1944, and stayed in several prisons in Holland. Later she was moved to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück, Germany. It was in this camp that Corrie’s sister Betsie died. It was a horrible place. She lived in a large barrack room which had been built to house 400 people, but there were 1400 prisoners crammed into it. The conditions were appalling and the treatment of the prisoners despicable. It was her strong Christian faith that helped her endure the torture, brutalisation and degradation of life in a Nazi concentration camp.
Through a miraculous turn of events, she was released at the end of 1944. A week after her release all the women of her age in the camp were killed. After the war she actively preached the gospel throughout Europe, especially speaking on the power of forgiveness.
While preaching in Germany in 1947, she was approached by one of the cruellest former Ravensbrück camp guards, a Nazi Officer who had abused her and her sister during imprisonment, and assisted in the death of other prisoners. He told her he had become a Christian and proceeded to ask Corrie to forgive him. As he reached out his hand towards her, Corrie was understandably quite reluctant. Then, in obedience to God, as she extended her hand towards him she felt the surge of the Holy Spirit pour through her in a supernatural act of forgiveness. She later said, “For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
Corrie was able to forgive, and to forgive totally, because she had an encounter with someone who had completely forgiven her, Jesus Christ. It is when we personally experience God’s forgiveness that we in turn are free to forgive others. We are exhorted in scripture to do so: “forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). But we do not have to forgive on our own power. The Holy Spirit in us helps us to do what we would normally not even want to do.
It was Christ who said as He hung dying on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave his captors and tormentors, even though he suffered a horrible crucifixion and death. And he suffered and died although completely innocent and free of any wrongdoing. He suffered so that our relationship with God might be restored. Our sins nailed him to that cross, yet he willingly took our place in order for reconciliation to become possible.
It is this supreme example of forgiveness that Yoko Ono needs to learn about, and experience for herself. One can understand her reluctance to forgive. But other people who have endured even worse suffering and injustice have managed to forgive. Not by their own strength, but by the help of God, who extends a hand of forgiveness to us all if we will turn from ourselves, our sin and our pride, admit our need, and receive His forgiveness.
Yoko Ono is right. Forgiveness is a powerful force of healing. I hope that she will experience firsthand the love and forgiveness that God offers us in his son, Jesus Christ.