Forgiveness by Living
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering — our comradeship, our loyalty our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.
~ Prayer found by a Russian soldier
on May 17, 1945, in Ravensbruck
concentration camp, on a piece of
paper pinned to the body
of a child.
This prayer, which we sometimes use in the Daily Devotion, had a profound impact on me when I first read it. It pretty much did me in for a good five or ten minutes. Even now, I have to try not to cry when I read it.
Once we begin to take forgiveness seriously, when we work on forgiving others towards whom we feel any anger or shame, we come to the point where we realize that it doesn't matter whether they have apologized, changed their ways, or showed the slightest indication that they know they did something wrong and regret it. It is irrelevant. When you read about the crucifixion of Christ, or the martyrdom of Steven (in Acts 6 and 7), one thing they have in common is that they prayed to God to forgive their murderers while the murder was occurring.
Christ said, famously, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24) Stephen — who took the duty to follow Christ's example to the utmost — said “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” at the moment he died. (Acts 7:60).
But this prayer from Ravensbruck, a killing camp for Jews and Polish Christians, adds a wonderful dimension, both to the act of forgiving others and to the repeated entreaties in the Epistles to take joy in our suffering. Suffering can be utterly negative; or it can have a very positive dimension, especially when we suffer (in part or whole) for our faith. Our suffering, in patience and forgiveness, is the most eloquent testimony we can give as to the strength of our faith.
To live a good life, including enjoyment, productivity, and laughter, as well as patience and obedience during tribulation, is a way to forgive those who injured us. It shows that the injury was less powerful than Christ.
And if you doubt it, answer this question: Which was more powerful, the Nazi killing machine that snuffed out that child's life, or the Spirit of God, which wrote down that prayer?
Let the fruits of my life be the forgiveness for all who have injured me. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer