Forgiveness is a big issue all of us will have to deal with more than once in our lifetime. Everyone would at some point have to make the decision to forgive or not to forgive, to trust or to stop trusting, to remain hurt or to be healed, to remain trapped in the past or to move on with our lives. Forgiveness is powerful – It has the power to define relationships, and it has the capacity to define the how our lives turn out even after the relationships have turned sour.
I will not attempt to describe the full implication of the 7-letter word F-O-R-G-I-V-E; instead, I will summarize a popular story found somewhere in the Bible.
But before that, here are some of the words of Jesus regarding forgiveness:
In Luke 17:3-4: “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (NIV)
This is a Bible passage that leaves more questions than answers. Is Jesus asking us to be confrontational and rebuke those who sin against us? Why must our decision to forgive be linked to their willingness to admit their fault to approach us in repentance? If they do not repent, must we still forgive? What if they think they were not wrong? What happens if they offend us more than 7 times in a day??
In Matthew 18: 21-22: Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”. “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
Here comes the popular seventy-times-seven passage on forgiveness. I don’t even want to start counting up to 70 X 7 things that have been done to me by some individuals, because that would sound pretty petty. And the truth is that sometimes, a single act of betrayal is way weightier than 490 petty sins.
In Luke 23:33-34: “…they nailed him to the cross… Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
And here comes the big one. While He was still being crucified, Jesus was busy praying for the same people who were causing him untold physical harm. Even as He prayed for them, they still went ahead with another hurtful act! In short Jesus showed us by example that: even if the other guy comes to you and says “I’m Not Sorry”, You Must Still Forgive!!!
I believe this practical act of Jesus speaks more volumes than all His teachings on Forgiveness. It teaches us how to find healing, how to deal with the people who are hurting us even while they are still having fun doing it. Forgive even when they are not sorry. You forgive, not because of them, not even in spite of them. You forgive because unforgiveness is a self-made prison, where you lock yourself up and you throw the key away. You are the one suffering if you choose to dwell in the place of bitterness and unforgiveness. The day you forgive, you become free!!
The second big question is what to do with the person or group of persons that are offending us. Should we talk to them, reason with them, display to them how much they’ve hurt us, or confront them, fight with them, allow the law of natural justice to catch up with them, or maybe take the law into our hands? How best can we take revenge or make them pay and suffer just as much as they’ve hurt us? Can we just forgive and things would go back to how they were before? Or maybe we can pretend that it never happened? Should we take the path of forgive-and-forget or the path of forgive-but-never-forget?
While I don’t think there is a correct answer to dealing with the offending party, I personally believe that the wise person forgives, but they never forget. Yes it’s okay to forget the names, the faces, the events/strings of events, and so on, but the wise person must never forget the lessons learned! The decision to forgive and what you do with the offender is strictly a personal one and is deeply rooted in the context of what happened.
Which brings me to the Bible Story I promised to summarize earlier: It’s about Joseph. In the book of Genesis!
The story of Joseph is a popular one. It is a story well known and well loved by both Christians and non-Christians, with award winning songs and award winning movies. Yes, Joseph was popular for so many things; but I will highlight 7 prominent ones: he had a coat of many colors; he was a dreamer; he was sold into slavery by his brothers; he was seduced by Potiphar’s wife; he was thrown into prison; he rose to become second most powerful man in Egypt; he forgive his brothers.
He grew up knowing his father’s love. He became a confident teenager, intelligent and literate. And he had a beautiful relationship with his only full brother – Benjamin. He also grew up knowing hatred in it’s pure and undiluted form from his 10 big brothers. Step brothers. They hated him so much that “they could not speak to him on friendly terms” (Gen 37:4 NASB). The hated him because he was Daddy’s favorite. They hated him for his enviable dreams. They hated him for the way he talked about them. And yes, they hated him because of his coat of many colors. And the day the opportunity presented itself, they couldn’t wait to get rid of him. They sold him into slavery!!!
But the young man knew who did what. 8 out of 10 brothers decided to kill him. Reuben the first born tied to rescue him and said “let’s not take his life. Let’s throw him into a ditch instead”. The 8 brothers stripped him and threw him into a pit and sat down to eat. Judah the 4th born suggested that he should be sold to Ishmaelites and the 8 brothers felt it was a smart choice. And yeah. They sold him into slavery and made a fortune out of it.
Joseph knew his brother hated him, but he never expected that they would plot to kill him or sever him permanently from the life and home that were his comfort zone. He didn’t think they would ever watch him leave in so much agony and wouldn’t show a bit of emotion. His world came to an end and a dark world opened to him.
Fast forward. Twenty years have passed. He has survived slavery to the Ishmaelites. He has been hawked and resold to Egypt. He has been resold to Potiphar, the Captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. He has found himself in the corrdors of power, (of course as a slave). He has worked his butts up to the top (of course with God’s favor). He has become the chief servant. He has been lied against by the Madam and jailed for a few years. Even the inmates who promised to help him out of prison forgot about him!
And one day his fortune changed forever. Just another day in Prison and the warder asked him to come. Then he was cleaned. And shaved. And his clothes were changed. Air brushes. The best of make ups and mascara. With the finest silk of Egypt. He was meeting Pharaoh!!! He was meeting the most powerful man in Egypt. How come nobody warned him earlier? And the same day, Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man, the Prime minister of Egypt. He has just interpreted the strangest dream, and has provided an unusual strategy, the one that would make Egypt the most powerful country economically. And now he had the responsibility of changing the idea into reality, under the most convenient and most luxurious environment.
Another strangest thing happened, one that in no subtle way described how much pain and hurt his heart had carried over the past two decades. He did not bother to look for his family. He remembered his Father Jacob and his brother Benjamin. He knew the way back to his father’s house. At least, he could write a letter or send messengers to his home. But he did none of those. Egypt was his new home now. Zaphenath-Paneah was his new name now. And he now had a beautiful wife named Asenath.
In the 7 years of plenty, he had two children:
Genesis 41:51: Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” (NLT)
Whoa?? Did he just say ‘forget’? He made a decision to forget everything.
Genesis 41:52: Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my [affliction].”
And here, he made a decision to move on with his new fruitful life.
Both names were inspired by God.
Joseph is a symbol of forgiveness. But he also understands that association is not by force. He forgave. He forgot, but not the lessons learned, and he moved on!
You can choose to forgive. To forget the names and the faces. And most importantly, to move on with your life!!!
But God wasn’t done with him. It was time to have some form of closure.
The 7 years of global drought came, but Egypt was still prosperous. And without warning, out of the blues, he ran into the 10 wicked brothers!!! How he handled the series of events that followed showed a man that God had healed, a man who had found favor and who was willing to extend the goodwill to those who caused him untold hardship. Initially, Joseph didn’t want to have much to do with the 10 of them. He showed them the goodwill he could. He used all the tricks in the book to get his brother Benjamin back to him. And he did all he could to get rid of the others. But along the line, he noticed that God had worked in the lives of his brothers too. They were less selfish and more sacrificial. All he could say was: “God, why?”
God was testing him. And he did pass the test.
Joseph forgave his brothers, not because they were sorry, and not because they apologized. But because it was the right thing to do. He forgave them way before he ran into them, and when he finally met them, there was no iota of bitterness left in his heart for them. That is called Healing!
Joseph taught us great lessons on Forgiveness. Forgive no matter what. But let the lessons you have learned motivate you to succeed beyond your greatest dreams. Success remains the greatest revenge. Forget the faces if you must, but never forget the lessons learned. Show goodwill from a safe distance. If the opportunity for reconciliation or for closure presents itself, accept it with caution. If it doesn’t, move on with your life.
Great life lessons, I must say.