In this powerful video Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor discusses the unimaginable horrors she faced at the hands of the Nazis at the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz. Within about a half hour of arriving she was separated from her mother, father, and her older sisters who she never saw again. Eva and her twin sister Miriam remained together only to be experimented on by Nazi Doctor Josef Mengele.
The sisters both survived the harrowing experience, although Miriam died in 1993 possibly due to complications related to the Nazi experiments.
However, Eva decided to forgive the Nazis who did her harm.
As she described both the act of forgiveness, and the great relief she has felt as a result it occurred to me just how unnatural forgiveness is. It almost seems to defy physics. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If metal spheres are hanging side-by-side from a pendulum, and one on the end is lifted and released, that sphere will collide with the others, and the force will cause the sphere at the other end to swing upward. Gravity forces that sphere to return, and the cycle continues.
Forgiveness seems to be absent in nature. If one animal lashes out at another, it will result in fear, and this fear will lead to fight, flight, or posture. The natural reaction to being hit is to hit back. It is to run. It is to cower and hope that your enemy relents. It is not to forgive. And that makes sense. Forgiveness is abstract. It is immaterial. Yet the change produced by forgiveness is material.
You have likely experienced forgiveness on some level before. Perhaps you have forgiven someone, or have been forgiven. You know that feeling of anxiety, that knotted feeling in your very core that won’t let go, won’t release. Whether you have wronged another, or have been wronged yourself, you know the feeling of tension that destroys any sense of peace you should have.
And if you have given or received this forgiveness you know the sense of relief that follows. It is a quiet peace, and the knot unravels and falls away. You can breathe again. Your mind is no longer in “fight or flight” mode. You can rest.
Of all the abilities bestowed upon mankind, I think forgiveness may be the most powerful. It is almost certainly the most mysterious. It is completely counter intuitive, completely at odds with our natural selves, but it works. It is hardwired into our DNA. It is a key that unlocks the chains of anger, hate, and despair, and lets them fall away.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that God also used forgiveness as the key to our salvation. Whether you know it or not, you have been forgiven. In dying on the cross, Jesus Christ accepted the punishment for your sins, and offered complete and total forgiveness for every sin you have ever committed, and ever will commit. This applies to all of us, because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
So how does this work? God has forgiven me, so I’m forgiven?
Go has offered you forgiveness. But your forgiveness must be accepted. Have you ever been forgiven for something when you didn’t feel you had done anything wrong? If that forgiveness is genuine it will bring the person who forgave you peace, but not you. If anything, it may make you angry, as you think, “I’ve done nothing wrong. How dare he imply that I did by forgiving me!”
To accept forgiveness we must acknowledge our sin. We cannot hide it, and we cannot hide from it. In scripture this is referred to as repentance. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.”
Repentance is the first step in believing in God. In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” To believe in God you must believe he is who he says he is, and that he has done what he has said he has done. How can you believe he has forgiven your sins if you believe you have not sinned? How can you believe he is God if his claims run counter to your own beliefs?
To accept the forgiveness of God, and therefore believe in him is to accept the peace, joy, and fulfillment that comes with it, and carries on into eternity. To reject this forgiveness is to hold on to the knot in the very core of your being, which will torment you for all time.
For those who have accepted forgiveness, and believe in God, we are called to not only be forgiven, but also to forgive. In Matthew 6:12 (part of the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus instructs us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Forgiveness is not finite. It is an unlimited resource, and we are not to horde it, or hide it, or withhold it. Rather, we are to give it out freely, knowing that we have been forgiven too.