The Biblical book of Genesis outlines mankind’s beginnings on earth. Starting with the accounts of the creation and the fall of man in the first few chapters, Genesis continues to chronicle the origins of God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin. The final 13 chapters, from 37 through 50, are an account of the story of Joseph. Joseph’s story is rich and compelling, and much more than merely inspiring a musical, Joseph’s story foreshadows God’s ultimate plan of redemption which was fulfilled in the life of Jesus. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to read it and then come back and finish reading this post.
I want to focus on one aspect of Joseph’s remarkable story, and that is forgiveness. When Joseph forgave his brothers it inspired them to repent and then reconciliation was possible. This made a way for the entire family to be preserved during the famine and ensured the survival of the nation of Israel and the continuation of God’s plan of redemption for all mankind.
First Step toward Forgiveness–Gratitude
It is worth noting that there was a process involved for Joseph to arrive at the place where he was able to forgive. Considering the enormity of his brothers’ transgressions, it is amazing that he was able to feel anything but contempt and a desire for revenge for all the suffering they caused him. At their first meeting I believe that he did feel contempt and a desire for revenge as all the painful memories of what they did to him flooded his mind. The first time they came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph recognized them instantly but pretended he did not know them, and he treated them harshly. I am sure that his longing to know the welfare of his father and younger brother Benjamin kept him from fully enacting revenge, and hearing of their welfare filled his heart with gratitude. And even though he was grateful to hear good news of his father and younger brother, he did accuse his older brothers of being spies and threw them in jail for three days. Gratitude is the first step on the footpath toward forgiveness as gratitude reminds us that there is something good even in the midst of the bad.
Second Step toward Forgiveness–Compassion
The second step on this footpath is compassion–recognizing and seeking to relieve another’s suffering. Joseph’s compassion for the suffering of his family back in Canaan was stronger than his desire for revenge, so he released his brothers to return home to feed them, but he kept Simeon in jail to guarantee that the brothers would come back with Benjamin. The brothers believed that these troubles came upon them because of their past treatment of Joseph, and they expressed their guilt and regret over how they treated him. They expressed regret but not remorse. The felt regret in that they feared further punishment, but they did not feel remorse for the pain they caused Joseph. Even so, their regretful expression touched Joseph’s heart and he began to weep, and his tears were a salve on his emotional wounds that began to soften the hardness of his heart toward them, and as his heart healed, he was able to take the third step on the footpath toward forgiveness.
Third Step toward Forgiveness–Acceptance and Meaning
The Bible does not record what was going on with Joseph between the time of his brothers’ departure home to Canaan and their return to Egypt with Benjamin. Based on his declaration to his brothers when he revealed himself to them (Genesis 45:1-15), I think that during this time in between there were more tears shed and prayers prayed so that Joseph could gain understanding of God’s plan in all of this.
During this time as he gained understanding, Joseph was able to accept that there was a higher purpose for everything that happened to him. Joseph was able to accept that these events, as negative as they were, were all a part of God’s plan to preserve the lives of his family. Joseph was able to find meaning through this acceptance and thus was able to come to a place where he could finally forgive his brothers and let go of the hurts of his painful past.
It was Judah’s sincere expression of remorse for the pain they caused their father by the harm they inflicted on Joseph that was the breaking point for Joseph. Judah demonstrated a true change of heart. Joseph could no longer contain himself and declared his forgiveness for them and laid out the plans he had in place to provide for his family in Egypt now that he was in a position to do so. Joseph already forgave them, and he designated the land of Goshen for them to settle long before they arrived with Benjamin. When the brothers knew they were truly forgiven, they were able to move forward toward repentance and reconciliation.
The Footpath toward Forgiveness is paved by:
The Footpath toward Forgiveness is by no means a simple road to travel. The footpath is rugged and uneven. It is unpredictable and full of unforeseen obstacles. We must be aware of where we are placing our feet at all times lest we trip, slip, or fall. We cannot rush. It takes time to forgive and let go of the hurt with the intention of never taking hold of that hurt again. We must accept the fact that throughout the process we will be hurt again and again by the same people, and with each new hurt we may need to start over with this process of finding a reason to be grateful in the moment, being reminded about the suffering of others and our need to be compassionate, accepting that there is a greater purpose and a deeper reason they hurt us, and to discover the meaning of it all.
We also need to recognize that those who hurt us are themselves people who are in pain. We must also accept that we may be the cause of their pain, and we must allow them all the time that they need to travel this footpath for themselves to find it in their hearts to forgive us. If we can be humble enough to realize this, we can help those who hurt us in their journey by showing them kindness, which will in turn enable us to forgive and bring healing. After all, being kind is much better and more rewarding than being right.