It was about 40 years ago that I had the privilege of hearing her speak – and it definitely was a privilege! I had heard of her, but had never actually heard her before.
My wife and I were on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ at the time, serving at their then headquarters at Arrowhead Springs in San Bernardino, CA. Well-known people within the Christian community would often stop by, and it was not unusual for them to speak at Staff Devotions. She spoke three times, and I can still remember the main point of each of her talks.
Corrie ten Boom, along with her father and other family members helped Jews, Gypsies and others in the Netherlands escape the Nazi Holocaust in World War II . . . until a Dutch informant told about the ten Boom’s work. The family was arrested. Corrie’s father died ten days later. And Corrie – with her sister Betsie – was eventually sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany.
Ravensbruck was a death camp for women and children. More than 130,000 female prisoners were held there between 1939 and 1945. Of that number, only 15,000 – 32,000 survived. With few exceptions, all of the children in the camp died of starvation. In the autumn of 1944, the SS constructed a gas chamber where several thousand prisoners were put to death before the camp’s liberation in April 1945. Over 150 female SS guards with several dozen block overseers accompanied by dogs, SS men and whips oversaw the prisoners. By all accounts, they were described by survivors as brutal and sadistic. It was the pit of Hell on earth!
Corrie’s sister Betsie died in the camp on December 16, 1944. As the result of a clerical error, Corrie was released twelve days after her sister died.
For centuries, the Christian Church in the West has tended to view God’s nature through a lens inherited from the Roman judicial system. God is a Judge sitting on a heavenly throne ever ready to punish those who have fallen short of His standards.
It is a view of God that is not without warrant. When pleading with God about the fate of those in Sodom, Abraham asked, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” But, it is a view that misunderstands the kind of Judge God really is. Abraham, when asking his question, was making an appeal for mercy not retribution. He was pleading with God for the lives of his nephew Lot and his family.
Before her death, Betsie ten Boom told her sister something Corrie would never forget. It was a simple truth . . . with profound implications. It was a truth that the younger sister took to heart and often shared as she spoke in over 60 countries during the ensuing decades after the war. It was a truth that gave Corrie the power to defeat bitterness in her own heart and actually forgive a former Ravensbruck guard who she met in Germany three years after her release. Betsie told her,
There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still!
Betsie correctly understood the key characteristic of the One who created the heavens and the earth and brought all of His creatures into being. It is a quality that lies deeper than the ability to punish. It is a power far greater than the ability to destroy. The Apostle John understood it when he explained to his readers that God is love. The Apostle Paul understood it as well when he informed us that where sin did abound, God’s grace did much more abound!
But, it was Jesus who gave us the clearest image of who God is and what He is really like. When asked by His disciples how to pray, He did not tell them to address God as “Our Judge who art in Heaven . . .” He told them to address God as their Father who is in heaven!
How Deep the Father’s Love?
After the war, Corrie returned to her homeland and began to reach out to those who had been victimized by the war – including those who had cooperated with the Nazi regime. Instead of seeking vengeance on those who fell short, she focused on ministering to those in need. Instead of talking about God’s intent to punish, she spoke of His desire to transform. Instead of concentrating on God’s hatred for sin, she emphasized His love for sinners.
Corrie’s father, Casper ten Boom, was a wise man who taught his children well. Corrie often told stories of how he explained to her and the others in the family how they could trust God in every circumstance as their Heavenly Father. She was able to draw upon the wisdom of her sister and her father when she faced the most difficult event of her life!
It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. . . . And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. . . .'A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! . . . You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there. . . . I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?. . . But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’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.
In each of the three talks that I heard those many years ago, Corrie would drop in little nuggets of wisdom that provided insight into the true greatness of the God we serve. One that has stayed with me ever since was the lesson she learned from her sister Betsie –
There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still!
What about the pit of Hell?