Ilsa had a problem. In fact she had many problems. No wonder, I thought, when I heard her story. During the Second World War she was a very young Jewish woman in Eastern Europe. On one occasion she was badly burned. She had been wrapped in bandages so that she resembled in her words a “wrapped up mummy”. The Russian forces were approaching her district and people were deeply afraid. The Russians arrived and began to enter dwelling after dwelling.
Then came a day she would never forget. She was with another young woman in a home. Soldiers entered and barely glanced at a “mummy” lying in a corner of the room. They directed their attention to her friend. Soon her friend had been stripped in front of her and became the victim of multiple rapes. Ilsa however was left alone. The incident left her with what some call “survivor guilt”. She had “survived” such terrible evil while her friend was so badly physically and emotionally damaged.
As the months went on she became a victim herself of many atrocities. Somehow she survived the war. She eventually emigrated to Australia. Some years later she heard the Christian gospel about Jesus the Messiah who had died to make forgiveness available to those who wanted to know peace with God. Deeply moved she opened her heart to Jesus in a real surrender. Years later she developed a life-threatening cancer. Her Pentecostal pastor was not all that sure about healing. So he humbly suggested that she come to the Healing Ministry in St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney to see if we could help her.
When I met Ilsa she was in a bad way. Feeling sick because of the cancer. Depressed because she had been so badly treated in Eastern Europe and she still had so many memories coming back into her mind. Feeling “guilty” because she had “survived” when so many of her family and friends had not. Feeling disappointed because she had hoped her faith would have made her a much happier person.
It was a privilege to be able to minister to her with the blessing of her pastor. I was able to share some of the truths about forgiveness that we will meet in these series of articles. I shared from Ephesians 4:31-32 about the love of God in forgiving us completely in Christ and how we could be released through that experience to forgive those who had sinned against us, Eph 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. If God forgave us completely in Christ then we needed to completely forgive those who had hurt us as well. God could give us the grace to do so.
Ilsa realised that there were some people she needed to forgive. I suggested that she get a notebook and let the Lord remind her of people she needed to forgive. She could then write down their names and also the specific things that needed to be forgiven. Then we could work through the notebook together as she forgave the people of all the things they had committed against her. I remember her saying as she left, “I’ll just get a little exercise book. I don’t think there are all that many people that I’ll need to forgive.”
We arranged to meet several weeks later. When we did meet two things struck me. The first pleased me greatly. She seemed to be so much happier and more at peace than when I saw her the previous time. The second didn’t bring me the same amount of joy. She wasn’t carrying a little exercise book. Rather she was carrying a large bundle of sheets of paper. She must have noticed me staring apprehensively at the size of the bundle of papers and said with a smile, “There were actually more people I needed to forgive than I thought.”
What I didn’t realise when she returned the second time was that she had begun the process of forgiving people. She had gone through many of the sheets of paper and forgiven the people involved and the sins they had committed against her. We were then able to work through the remaining names. I remember thinking as I heard her forgive certain people of specific sins against her, “I don’t know how humans can treat fellow humans so abominably. How do people ever survive such brutality and abuse?” I was amazed to find that that God had given her such a forgiving heart in such a short time.
Ilsa worked through the remaining sheets of paper and audibly forgave the people involved and the sins they had committed against her. Then we went outside and together we tore up all the sheets of paper. We placed them in a metal drum and she reached in and set them alight. We watched the papers burn. Ilsa stirred the embers with a long stick until there was only ash. She departed that day a different woman. She said as she left that she felt “so clean and so free”. It was obvious that something deep had happened within her. Several months later her Pentecostal pastor rang to say “I don’t know what you did but Ilsa is so different, at peace and feeling so much better in every way.” However we both knew that it wasn’t anything I had done. God had been at work in Ilsa enabling her to forgive all those people. He had also brought her quite amazing physical and emotional healing in such a short time. What God did in and through Ilsa He is able to do in today’s world.
In the articles to follow we will look at some significant Old Testament passages which describe how forgiveness operates in practice and the benefits of forgiving others. In many of these verses we will see what might be described as God’s “Word Pictures” to enable us to understand and appreciate more fully how amazing is His grace and power towards His people as He forgives them and enables them to forgive others.
(The above story is a true story but the names have been changed for reasons of privacy and confidentiality.)
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER by Groups or Individuals. (Added on Monday 8th August 2016)
Ques 1). We saw that Ilsa suffered from what is called “survivor guilt”. (The guilt one feels when something bad has happened to another person and we feel guilty because we didn’t suffer as they did. We survived but they didn’t.) Can you think of a situation where someone might feel that sort of guilt even when they were not guilty of doing anything wrong? (Especially in work, friendship or family situations)?
Ques 2). The passage from Eph 4:31-32 seems to give a simple message, “Forgive as God forgave you.” Is it as simple as that? If not, why could it be more complicated?
Ques 3). If we forgive those who hurt us in the past, do we need to tell them that we have done so? Why or why not? Do we need to tell some of our friends that we have forgiven those other people? Why or why not?
Ques 4). How would you try to encourage someone to forgive a person who had hurt them? What do you think would be some of the “Do’s and don’ts” as you tried to encourage them?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No. 012. Posted on Monday 28 February 2011