The Power of Forgiveness

The Power of Forgiveness

Overcoming Evil with Good

by Leslie Ludy | February 1, 2016

It was 1942.

The world was in turmoil as World War II broke out across the globe. Eighteen-year-old Peggy Covell waited anxiously at her home in America for news about her parents—missionaries to Japan who had fled to the Philippines after the war began. When she heard that the Japanese had overrun the Philippines, she feared the worst. She’d heard horror stories about how the Japanese soldiers treated their prisoners of war. Death marches, starvation, torture, and ruthless murder seemed to be the fate of most civilians who were unfortunate enough to be living in a country where the Japanese took over. What would happen to her parents in the midst of such cruelty?

Finally, the news came—and it was devastating. Her parents had been captured by the Japanese, found to be in possession of a small radio, and accused of communicating with the outside world. They were given a mock trial, declared guilty, and promptly beheaded.

As she heard the details of her parents’ final days on earth, Peggy was filled with bitterness toward the Japanese. Their reprehensible treatment of the two people she most loved in the world was inexcusable. How could she ever forgive such a wrong?

But as time passed, Peggy remembered the godly character and unshakable spiritual convictions of her parents. She thought about the last moments of her parents’ lives. Were they angry and bitter toward their murderers? With absolute certainty, Peggy knew that they had made the choice to forgive their enemies—even in the face of an unjust death.

As Peggy envisioned her parents forgiving their killers, something changed in her heart. The same God who enabled Peggy’s parents to love their enemies enabled her to do the same. 

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The words of Romans 12:19-21 became the motto of Peggy’s life:

Do not take revenge…On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (NIV). 

This eighteen-year-old war orphan did not just mentally forgive her parents’ murderers. Instead, she asked God to show her how to practically demonstrate the principle of “love your enemies.” Soon, the answer was clear. Not far from where Peggy lived, on the Colorado/Utah border, there was an internment camp for captured Japanese soldiers. Several hundred Japanese who had been taken by the Americans in various battles were being held prisoner there as the war continued to rage on. And those Japanese prisoners became Peggy’s mission field.

It was men like these soldiers—perhaps even friends and comrades of these very men—who had so heartlessly killed her parents. What better way to overcome evil with good than to show the love of Christ to the people she had once resented most? Peggy knew it would be impossible in her own strength. But leaning upon God’s enabling grace changed everything. As Peggy chose to obey God’s command to show mercy to her enemies, He gave her a genuine love and concern for them. She spent hours each week bringing them food and supplies, sitting and talking with them, reading Scripture to them, and showing kindness to the men in any way she could. Instead of wallowing in pain and bitterness, Peggy became a conduit for God’s supernatural, triumphant love.

Peggy never could have dreamed that her personal choice to forgive her parents’ killers and love the Japanese prisoners near her home would impact the entire nation of Japan. But God says that when a corn of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it produces much fruit (see John 12:24). And that is exactly what happened in the life of Peggy Covell.

In 1945, the war ended, and countless Japanese military personal were tried and punished by the Allies for their many vicious crimes against prisoners during the war. Around this time, a Japanese war hero named Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, who had led the attack on Pearl Harbor, set out to prove that these Japanese military men were being punished unjustly. He believed that every country treated its prisoners of war with cruelty, and that Japan should not be singled out and judged for their war crimes.

In the process of collecting evidence for this personal vendetta, Captain Fuchida interviewed scores of former Japanese prisoners to find out how the Allies had treated them during their imprisonment. One of the men he interviewed was a Japanese soldier who had been held in the camp near Peggy’s home. The solider told Captain Fuchida about the eighteen-year-old American girl who had showed such kindness and sacrificial love to him in the prison camp. Captain Fuchida was astounded. “Why would a young American girl show kindness toward her country’s enemies?” he wanted to know. When he learned the details of Peggy’s story, he was even more astonished and perplexed. 

As a Japanese warrior, Fuchida had grown up esteeming the principle of katakiuchi—revenge against one’s enemies, where a prisoner on death row would pray to be born again seven times in order to bring a sevenfold revenge upon his killers. The ability to take revenge had always seemed to him like the greatest measure of strength in a man’s life. Now, he was hearing about a different kind of strength: forgiveness. Could it be possible that the power of love was stronger than the power of revenge?  The question haunted him for months.

Then Captain Fuchida encountered a book written by an American soldier, Jacob Deshazer, who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese during the war and had almost died under their cruel treatment. But during his imprisonment, he had encountered the life-changing power of the Gospel, and had given his life to Christ. Now, he had returned to Japan as a missionary to pour out his life for the very people who had abused and tortured him during the war.

Captain Fuchida was shaken to the core by Peggy’s amazing example, and now by this American soldier’s incredible story. He abandoned his vendetta to defend the Japanese military against their war crimes and turned to a different pursuit—finding the source of this powerful love and forgiveness he had witnessed.

His search led him to a saving faith in Jesus Christ—and with it a completely new purpose and passion: to help the people of his country find the truth, as he had. He tracked down Jacob Deshazer and the two of them teamed up to share the hope and power of the Gospel with the Japanese people. Whenever the two men would speak together, Captain Fuchida told the story of Peggy Covell—the eighteen-year-old girl who had chosen to exchange hatred toward her enemies for the transforming love of Christ, and how his life had been changed as a result of her example. “Revenge has always been a major motif in Japanese thought,” he declared. “But I am here to say to you that forgiveness is a far greater moral than revenge.” The first time Fuchida shared this message and told Peggy’s story, seven thousand people listened raptly, and over five hundred came forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ. 

As Captain Fuchida traveled across Japan and shared about Peggy Covell, countless thousands came into the kingdom of God as they encountered a love that was so much stronger than hatred and revenge.

Little did Peggy know how much eternal fruit her simple act of forgiveness would produce. Just like the Biblical story of Joseph, God took what had been meant for evil in Peggy’s life, and used it for good as she surrendered to Him. Mercy triumphed over judgment—all because one young girl chose to trust and obey her Lord.

Many of us dream about making a big impact upon this world for Christ. We envision being involved in exciting missionary escapades or writing bestselling Christian books. And while those kinds of outwardly “big” forms of ministry can be effective and powerful, nothing compares to the world-changing impact of simply living out the Gospel in our everyday lives. Like Peggy Covell, we may never suspect that our personal step of obedience will reach beyond our own small sphere. Yet often, a simple act of love and forgiveness can become the catalyst for change in hundreds, thousands, or even millions of lives. Betsy ten Boom forgave her killers as she lay dying in a Nazi concentration camp, never dreaming that her story would one day be told to millions of people around the globe. The widows of the five martyrs among the Auca Indians forgave the men who slaughtered their husbands, never knowing that the entire world would soon respond to their decision with awestruck wonder. 

If you desire God to reach the world through your life, remember that it is not primarily through human strategy or talent that He will do so—but through the choices that you make before Him and unto Him in your daily life. Choices to love instead of hate; to forgive instead of resent; to give instead of take. Impossible? Absolutely, when you try in your own strength. But if you yield your heart, mind, soul, and body to the One who gave everything for you, you will soon find that you have access to a love that begins where human ability ends.

In her book Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom wrote about meeting one of the cruelest prison guards in the concentration camp where her sister Betsy died. It was after the war had ended, and she had just shared her testimony in a German church. The man came up to her after the service. He didn’t recognize her, but she certainly remembered him. “Thank you for what you shared tonight,” he told her. “What a blessing to know that God will forgive even me.”  Then he extended his hand to her in friendship.

Corrie froze, unable to take his hand or reply. All the old emotions—the anger, resentment, and indignation she’d experienced in the camp—came flooding back. She said, “I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”

As she silently prayed, Corrie felt God say to her heart, “You take the step of obedience, and I will supply the feeling.”  She reached out and shook the man’s hand. As she did so, the supernatural love of Christ flooded her heart. She saw him as Christ did. And her bitterness was replaced by love and compassion. She wrote, “As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. 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.”

Forgiveness is not primarily a matter of feeling, but a matter of choice—a decision to obey. When we simply say, “Lord, I choose to let this go; to give this offense to You instead of carrying it, and I ask You to bless my enemy,” God supplies the willingness, the love, and the compassion needed to practically live it out. When it comes to a decision of whether or not to forgive, we must remember that we ourselves have been forgiven and delivered from an eternity in hell. We did not deserve Christ’s unconditional love, but He gave it anyway. And He asks us to do the same in return—to forgive even those who are undeserving.

Are you struggling to forgive someone in your life? Unsure how to love someone who doesn’t deserve it?  Take hold of the nail-scarred hand that He offers you, and let Him gently lead you down this narrow road. When we choose to become conduits of His astounding, transforming love, the world will be turned upside down.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.  
Romans 12:20