Thursday, October 01, 2009

Forgiveness Involves Remembering--Ask Joseph

Joseph's amazing statement in Genesis 50 to his brothers--the ones who tried to kill him by leaving him in a ditch in the desert, those guys--is resounding in my ears. How do we forgive and really mean it? How do we actually go beyond forgiveness and move to reconciliation?

The key verses happen at the end of Genesis when Joseph, now become upwardly mobile in Egypt, is heading up the food distribution and his brothers, who are starving because of famine, have come asking for some food. Just to repeat: these are the brothers who tried to kill Joseph. Using a translation suggested by the Jewish Study Bible, here are verses 19 and 20:

But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I a substitute for God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
I've been pondering this response. I think the turning point for Joseph was that he remembered his God and specifically that God is working for good even when human beings are working for evil. One point I don't want to miss is that Joseph doesn't call his brothers' actions good just because good ultimately happened. How many times have I heard this--"Don't worry about what they did. It's fine. I all came out ok in the end, didn't it?" To be frank, duh! That's what a good God does--God brings good out of evil. But we should never call evil good.

More importantly, Joseph remembers that he can forgive and even reconcile with his brothers because of God's guiding hand. It's not that different from what Paul several hundred years later, "We know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Good for Paul. It's also good for Joseph--a trickster, not always a honorable in his actions--but someone who finished his life well. (The next verses in Genesis 50 narrate his death.) He reconciled with is family. Ah, but can we remember that fact when we've been hurt? That's the big question.


Jaclyn said...

I recently heard that "Forgiveness says: I release the offense, so I don't judge the person and harbor bitterness in my heart in light of what the person has done.
Reconciliation says: I address and resolve the issue that caused the offense."
Forgiveness is so much easier to do than reconciliation! But must be done!
Jaclyn :-)

GCootsona said...

I found a nice article on forgiveness today, that takes things from a slightly humanistic perspective, but it's not hard to translate into a Christian framework:

Kathryn said...

I find that sometimes I need to remember some aspects of an event so that I can learn not to walk back into bad situations. But I need to release all of the details into God's hands, eliminating the weight of remembering them. God has been so faithful in forgiving me so much that He will be much better at dealing with the details than I. I love that He said that He will remember those things forgiven no more. Not that He is forgetful but that He actively chooses not to bring things up against me again. This is part of what I need to copy.

Anonymous said...

I noted that Joseph realized that to forgive also meant standing in God's place. I wrote an article about this called "The Arrogance of Forgiveness" base on Paul statement in Corinthians 5.
Bill Jackson-Oroville CA