When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”

So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin — the suffering they caused you. ’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him. Then his brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.[1]

Grudge holding is a norm

            In this story, after their father’s death, we read that Joseph’s brothers were still under the impression that he had not forgiven them. Whether or not he had, this reveals something about the human condition. We are fallen creatures and it is difficult for us to forgive people who have wronged us. Since Adam fell and placed blame on his wife, who herself differed blame to the snake, forgiveness has been a scarce quality in the whole of humanity. We experience this problem even today. Here are a few examples:

  1. After the release of the movie, American Sniper, I heard numerous people say and saw them share on social media that they wanted to “go kill some Muslims” or something similar because they have perceived a certain group of people as perpetrating certain atrocities against others. While I believe that militant extremism needs to be dealt with, I also believe that we should act toward all people with love, which necessarily means that our first response must be forgiveness.
  2. When someone with political or religious power makes a mistake, that mistake is held in the spotlight for years, even if that person apologizes or recants.
  3. When someone speaks badly of us or of those who hold similar beliefs, we shut them out, cut them off and begin to attack their belief system, worldview or their person.
  4. When someone hurts us physically or emotionally, we desire for them to be hurt as well.

This mentality is so prevalent within the human race that each of us can list numerous personal examples even in our own lives. I can be honest and admit that my struggle for forgiveness as I am writing this relates to the great persecution perpetrated by groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. They are murdering my brothers and sisters (God’s people). I know that God desires that I forgive them, but I have not been able to do so. This is where I fall short. While I should support campaigns against these groups and punishments brought against them, I should not hate them for what they have done or what they continue to do. I should forgive them and speak against them according to God’s Word and not according to my own emotion.

As people, when we fail to forgive others no matter what they have done, we are ruled by that unforgiveness. That unforgiveness literally becomes a god to us and we become idolaters. God is the only God. This is why I should forgive others.

 

God is in charge of circumstance

When I allow my unforgiveness to control me, I insinuate that the people around me, particularly those whom I have not forgiven, determine the purpose of my life. This simply cannot be true because it is God and only God who is Lord over circumstance. In the story of Joseph, God had a purpose for allowing all of the negativity in Joseph’s life. Joseph himself acknowledged that it is God’s place and God’s place alone to determine purpose for the circumstances of any man. God planned the evil committed by Joseph’s brothers for the good of two peoples (the Israelites and the Egyptians).

When people wrong us, we do not know what purpose God may have for allowing it. If God chooses to allow something for a purpose that He has determined, we should not harbor anger or unfogiveness toward someone. They can only act because God allows them to, and God has a purpose for everything that He does. God certainly has the power to use any situation or circumstance to accomplish His purposes.

 

Why we can treat others well

The reason we can treat others well and the reason we can forgive others is because they do not rule over us. Added to this is the fact that God, in His mercy, chose to forgive all the sins of men through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Mark 3:28). If God chose to forgive me for the wrongs that I have committed against Him, surely I can forgive all those who have ever done wrong against me. This is especially true when I consider the fact that God has already forgiven them, through Christ. If God has already forgiven my enemies, why haven’t I?[2]

[1] Genesis 50:15-21 (HCSB)

[2] Yes God has forgiven the sins of men through Christ. This means that the only thing that keeps each one from God is himself. All we need do is call upon the name of Christ in order to be reconciled with God forevermore. While God is a God of forgiveness, He is also a God of justice. If anyone is not in Christ, then he will receive a just punishment for his sin because he chose to keep his sinfulness even though God forgave him for it. A just punishment for any sin is an eternity separated from God. The is the worst torment any man could ever endure.

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