In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom and her family witness and experience great injustice as they shelter Jews in their house during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Although Corrie is often angered by the behavior of those around her, she tries to resist these feelings, believing that as a Christian she should not hold grudges but instead forgive those who have harmed her, even when it seems impossible to do so. Corrie argues that forgiveness is not only an act of kindness towards a wrongdoer, but an opportunity to mimic the behavior of Jesus, who forgave his persecutors even though they tormented him and sentenced him to death. Ultimately, Corrie believes that by forgiving others she can access the divine presence that often seems inaccessible in daily life.
Corrie’s brief love affair, one of the most important events of her adolescence, provides an important lesson on forgiveness that she will draw on as an adult. As a teenager, Corrie falls in love with Karel, her brother Willem’s friend from seminary. During the weeks of celebrations for Willem’s wedding, the two become very close, walking every day and discussing a shared future, although Karel has not explicitly proposed. Eventually, Willem gently explains that Karel is being duplicitous; he cannot marry Corrie because his parents are determined that he marry someone wealthy. Shortly afterward, Karel visits the house with his fiancée, never acknowledging that he knowingly allowed Corrie to develop feelings for him.
Corrie is devastated and everyone in the family believes that Karel has behaved badly, but Father comforts her by encouraging her to trust her feelings to the Lord, saying that “whenever we cannot love in the old, human way … God can give us the perfect way.” Corrie asks God to “give me Your way of seeing Karel.” Shortly afterward, Corrie attends her sister Nollie’s wedding and reflects that she herself will probably never marry; however, she finds she’s able to think of Karel without “the slightest trace of hurt” and to pray for him sincerely. She believes that her ability to love Karel selflessly is a gift from God, something that brings her closer to the divine.
During her imprisonment, Corrie grapples with forgiveness in much more difficult terms, as within the harsh environment of the concentration camp there isn’t “on a human level, anything to love at all.” At this time it’s Betsie, imprisoned alongside Corrie, whose forgiving nature remains the most steadfast and who reminds Corrie of the importance of practicing forgiveness. Whenever Corrie expresses anger about the guards who abuse them or the people who stand by while they are imprisoned, Betsie reminds her that they are suffering internally, and that they should pray for them.
For example, Corrie can’t stop thinking about Jan Vogel, the spy who turned her family in. When she asks Betsie if the thought of this man bothers her, Betsie replies that she can’t stop thinking about “how dreadfully he must be suffering,” and that she prays for him regularly. Later, Betsie and Corrie are digging trenches in the snow when a guard mocks Betsie for working slowly and slaps her in the face. Corrie is murderously angry, but Betsie just laughs with the guard and turns her face away. This gesture clearly parallels the famous Biblical moment when Jesus advocates that one should “turns the other cheek” instead of fighting their persecutors. Betsie’s ability to forgive, even in the instant when someone is harming her, thus allows her to access the divine in a way that Corrie feels she cannot.
Although Betsie dies in Ravensbruck, Corrie spreads her sister’s teachings after the war by promoting forgiveness and reconciliation between Holocaust survivors and perpetrators. Giving up her own house to former members of the NSB (the Dutch Nazi party that collaborated with German occupying forces), who are now shunned and reviled by Dutch society, Corrie practices forgiveness in her own life, caring for the very people who turned her in to the Gestapo.
Corrie also runs a separate institution for Holocaust survivors outside Haarlem. She realizes that, in order to live fulfilling lives, these people don’t just need to recover physically but have to overcome their anger towards their former abusers. While most survivors are understandably reluctant to embrace Corrie’s suggestions about reconciliation with the NSB, eventually they soften and even behave charitably, in one case bringing carrots from their garden to the NSB shelter. Corrie’s description of this moment as a “miracle” suggests that, through the difficult act of forgiveness, survivors have come in contact with God, which they would not have been able to do otherwise.
After Corrie becomes well-known as a public speaker, she starts to address church congregations in Germany, where “the hunger was greatest” for forgiveness. One night, she recognizes a former S.S. guard from Ravensbruck, and his face reminds her of Betsie’s suffering there. When the man reaches to shake her hand, she feels so “angry … and vengeful” that she can’t return the gesture. But as she prays to Jesus for help in forgiving him, she feels her arm grow warm and move on its own accord. For Corrie, this moment is not only a good deed but a moment of direct interaction with Jesus himself.
As Corrie grows older, she realizes that forgiveness is valuable for several reasons. It allows formerly hostile people to put aside their differences and work together for the benefit of society, and it also allows people who have harbored resentment to live happier and more fulfilling lives. Most importantly, it allows people to mimic the behavior of Jesus in everyday life, thus bringing them as close to God as possible.
Forgiveness Quotes in The Hiding Place
God loves Karel—even more than you do—and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.
And then, incredibly, Betsie began to pray for the Germans up there in the planes, caught in the fist of the giant evil loose in Germany [...] “Oh, Lord,” I whispered, “listen to Betsie, not me, because I cannot pray for these men at all.”
Some joined the NSB simply for the benefits: more food, more clothing coupons, the best jobs and housing. But others became NSBers out of conviction. Nazism was a disease to which the Dutch, too, were susceptible, and those with an anti-Semitic bias fell sick of it first.
“Betsie, don’t you feel anything about Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew—and pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!”
The knitters of Barracks 28 became the praying heart of the vast diseased body that was Ravensbruck, interceding for all the camp—guards, under Betsie’s prodding, as well as prisoners. We prayed beyond the concrete walls for the healing of Germany, of Europe, of the world—as Mama had once done from the prison of a crippled body.
When mention of the NSBers no longer brought a volley of self-righteous wrath, I knew the person’s healing was not far away. And the day he said, “These people you spoke of—I wonder if they’d care for some homegrown carrots,” then I knew the miracle had taken place.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.