Genesis 50:15-21 (ESV)
God's Good Purposes
15 When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
I recently read the novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It is a powerful story about life and death, love and relationships, art and identity. However, there is a tragic theme that runs throughout the novel and that colors everyone and everything—the refusal to forgive. The refusal to forgive others and, indeed, the refusal to find forgiveness for one’s own self and one’s own circumstances paralyze the story’s characters in a tragic cycle of hopelessness, despair, and searching after one empty amusement after another. By the end of the novel, I was quite depressed by it all.
What a contrast there is between the story described above and the story of Joseph and his brothers in today’s reading from Genesis! If anyone had the right not to forgive, it was surely Joseph. Years before, Joseph’s brothers had thrown him into a pit, leaving him for dead. Sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph thrives and, through a dramatic turn of events, Joseph’s brothers end up before him face-to-face, begging for forgiveness. The story ends not with Joseph sending his brothers away empty-handed, giving them what they surely deserved, but rather with Joseph graciously forgiving them and generously providing for them and their families. The story ends with a beautiful act of love and grace, an act that frees Joseph and his family for the future rather than binding them to their past.
To forgive others and to find forgiveness for one’s own self and for the circumstances of one’s life is hardly easy. In fact, it seems to go against every grain of our sin-filled selves. And yet, the refusal to forgive and to receive forgiveness imprisons us in the past. The giving and receiving of forgiveness frees us for the future. God in Christ has forgiven us fully, freely, without any cost to ourselves. As God’s fully forgiven people, we are now no longer trapped in the fates and furies of life, but are free to forgive others and, in forgiving others, to live fully in the freedom of God’s grace.
Lord Jesus, you have forgiven me—fully and freely. Free my heart from the grudges and resentments that paralyze me so that I might fully and freely forgive those who have wronged me.
Written by Pastor Greg Busboom Lead Pastor firstname.lastname@example.org