When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. ~Genesis 50:15-17 (NASB)
To forgive the pain someone caused me–that’s doable. But the damage done to a loved one? Not so much.
Our pastor’s been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, and Sunday he focused on Matthew 5:38-42. He talked about revenge and resistance and retaliation and rights and how an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is not directed toward the individual. It’s “a kind, good, and merciful” law, he said, designed for society’s administration of fair justice–for punishment that fits a crime. Unlike, he tells us, the three boys ages eight to eleven (in medieval England?) who were all hanged for stealing a pair of shoes.
The person above has served (and is serving) society’s just sentence, although the crimes committed against the vulnerable were oh so grievous–and yes, unforgivable–in my own strength.
Someone, I can’t remember who, once defined forgiveness as the “willingness to bear the pain.” Those words have clung to me for years like cat hair on my black wool coat.
“Forgive” in the verse above uses the Hebrew word, nasa, which means to lift up, to bear, to carry. Joseph’s brothers, it seems, are asking Joseph to bear the pain of their sin, to not seek revenge or retaliate now that their father, Jacob, has died. And Joseph weeps. Is this because after all these years he’s learned to turn the other cheek to the back-handed slaps of slavery and humiliation? Because he’s lifted up his eyes and seen God’s hand of mercy and salvation in the circumstances?
Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. ~Genesis 5:18-21 (NASB)
It came to me in church, and I scribbled it in the corner of the sermon outline, that maybe part of forgiveness, part of bearing the pain, is going the extra mile with the perpetrator. Of being willing to help bear the burden of hurt that person carries, pain that may have caused them to perpetuate pain. Because hurt people hurt people, right?
And unforgiveness is a heavy and bitter burden.
Just thinking out loud here…
God, evil slapped down and murdered your own son. You bore that pain. Yet His first words after they lifted Him up on the wood that bore His weight while He bore our sin weight were, “Father, forgive them.” Help us to see deep with Your eyes, to let go of resentment and the impulse to retaliate or seek revenge, though we may still have to resist and seek society’s judgment. Help us to remember that we do not sit in Your place and that the present results may yet preserve many alive.
Do you ever struggle with forgiveness?
Amen, Sandra. Like you, I’ve had a harder time forgiving when someone I love dearly is hurt, but really grasping the truth that, not only are we commanded to forgive, but that “hurt people hurt people.” The person who has hurt me and/or those I love is most often coming from their own place of hurt. And knowing that I have also hurt others out of my own hurt and experienced the forgiveness, grace and mercy of Jesus, how dare I withhold it from others – and only Jesus can help us do just that. Wonderful post, Sandra. Thank you.
And we need to remember that we’re never given a command without the resources to carry it out. I think one thing that makes it hard to forgive someone for hurting a loved one is a sense of betrayal. But if we don’t, aren’t we betraying Jesus?
Forgiveness is such a huge topic. I like how you pointed us to Joseph’s example, and to God’s forgiveness of us, which we don’t deserve…Forgiveness is a process and it was maybe about 20 years from the time Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, before he saw them in person again so he had time to process, to grieve, and to see God redeem his suffering. I really like the book, The Art of Forgiveness, by Lewis Smedes…it is a thin paperback.
Blessings to you, my friend 🙂
Maybe that’s another facet to forgiveness, Dolly. The time it takes to work through the process. I don’t remember Jesus saying it had to be instantaneous. Going to check out that book now. Thank you, friend. 🙂
I don’t think Jesus said it had to be instantaneous, but I think I have put that pressure on myself, and I have felt that sometimes based on what other people say or write, but not you (just to be clear)…I would love to know what you think of Lewis Smedes book…Appreciate you 🙂
Ah, Dolly. Maybe God allows some of that pain in order to grow our relationship with Him? I don’t know. I often think of Paul and how God called him even before he asked forgiveness. I wonder how (and if) all those loved ones of the Christians he murdered were able to overcome that pain. I wonder how he was able to overcome his own pain for what he’d done and how he was able to forgive himself. And did he? For once-and-for-all good? Or was it a recurring conversation between Him and Jesus? And how else could he ever have been such a living epistle of grace? Cuz I didn’t say it in this post, but forgiving myself is one of the hardest things for me and leaning on God’s sovereignty is what I need to do. Then there’s dear Corrie ten Boom–what an example of forgiveness. She’d never have had the ministry she had without all she’d gone through.
My past pastor posted something on Facebook about Paul McCartney refusing to forgive Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon. Paul said, “I think I could pretty much forgive anyone else. But I don’t see why I’d want to forgive him. This is a guy who did something so crazy and terminal. Why should I bless him with forgiveness?”
I did not realize that Mark’s father was abusive or that Mark had become a Christian and even worked for World Vision before he went off the deep end. But there was also some kind of even childhood mental instability apparently. Anyway,now he’s in prison for life. But isn’t Paul, perhaps, now in a sense imprisoned himself?
Hard stuff. I hope someone else will be able to chime in here with some wisdom.
I’ve ordered that book. 🙂
Lew’s book is a good place to look. It’s kind of a classic. He was my very first professor when I went to seminary – in a huge intro Ethics class. There are differences here between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is an internal process, one that takes time and prayer. And it is NOT the same thing as reconciliation, which may or may not happen when forgiveness takes place. I am thinking of egregious kinds of abuse here, when sometimes it is necessary to keep a no-contact rule in place.
Forgiveness is for us, first and foremost – not for those we forgive. They have their own processes to work through and we are not responsible for those. And sometimes those boundaries get all mushed up – it’s important to keep them untangled whenever possible.
Yes, I think Joseph needed every one of those years to work through his feelings about his brothers’ betrayal. And he tested those brothers good and thoroughly to see if they showed signs of change. If they had allowed Benjamin to ‘take the fall,’ who knows what Joseph’s response might have been?
This is a huge topic, Sandy, and I could say lots more, but I’ll leave it at this. If something I’ve said here raises further questions, ask away – but I’m not sure how many responses Disqus will allow before we might have to take this discussion elsewhere.
Oh, Diana! Thank you for this perspective. See? I knew I could count on you to untangle some knots. And now I’m really anxious to get my hands on this book by the first seminary professor who poured into you. This is kind of a God-stunner, you know?
Thinking of forgiveness as an internal process should make a big difference for those who struggle with it. And it’s something we can do whether the offender even requests it. And that it does not require reconciliation when it’s not appropriate. I’m already feeling lighter. Thank you for chiming in!
I’ll start a new string out here – by saying that Disqus is going wonky all over the web. Until about two days ago, I could hit the ‘subscribe’ envelope and it would immediately turn green with a check mark. That is no longer happening, and sometimes I get subscribed and sometimes, I don’t. So if you write back here, send me a note, too and I’ll come back over.
Thanks, Diana, for sharing your wisdom…and how cool that you had Lewis Smedes as a prof…and yes, this is a huge topic and it is important to distinguish bw forgiveness and reconciliation.
Really? Disqus is on the warpath again? We’ve been reconciled. I’m not much interested in going back into battle. 😉