A Life of Forgiveness, Listening to Joseph

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. (Rom 12:17a)

This is difficult to live out. The opportunity to repay evil with evil is certainly there since we live life in a fallen world. We are sinned against and we , in turn, sin against them.  But when someone wrongs or hurts us with their words or actions, it’s actually an opportunity. It is at this point that we must decide if we will add sin to sin – ours to theirs.

A sinful response is tempting, but ironically, our hearts would then become the place where their sin is cultivated and reproduced. Do we really want to follow their lead? Since it directs us into outright disobedience against a loving God, why would we choose to follow them away from Him? Let’s consider someone who chose not to repay evil for evil:

The life of Joseph shows us a different way of responding and answers the question of what it looks like to live a life of forgiveness when we are touched by evil. Joseph was his father’s favorite and this undeniable fact prompted his brothers’ resentment. Scripture records their responses to him in strong terms: “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.” (Gen 37:3-4)

To make matters worse, Joseph’s dreams demeaned his brothers as they who were older bowed down in submission to him, the youngest of them all. Scripture records the fruit of their envy and jealousy as they conspired to kill him (Gen 37:11, 18) and then sold him into slavery instead. Sins of the heart will not remain hidden.  Envy, jealousy, and hatred will find expression in words and deeds.

Through slavery in Egypt, false accusations of sexual assault, and the unjust imprisonment that followed, Joseph’s life moved from one crisis to the next. In each situation, the consequences were undeserved and yet in the midst of it all “The Lord was with Joseph” (Gen 39:2, 3, 21, 23). In each difficulty, Joseph found favor with those in authority over him, and “whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen 39:23). Joseph reminds us that suffering is not always the result of personal sin.

As a young man who was unjustly sinned against by almost every significant person in his life, Joseph retained his faith in the God who was allowing it all to unfold.

In his later years, when Joseph was again confronted by the brothers who had so grievously wronged him, the opportunity for revenge presented itself. The events are recorded in detail as the brothers came before him with their request to buy food for their hungry families. The life circumstance of every person was now completely reversed, for the powerful were impoverished and needy. And as they bowed before him, the youngest of them all held their survival in his hands. Dramatic, isn’t it?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” They came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Gen 45:4-8)

Here we finally have our questions answered. How could Joseph suffer such life shattering crises and remain faithful? How could he not become bitter and resentful toward all of those who had wronged him? How could he not turn his back on the God who allowed it all to happen?

Joseph knew that despite his brothers’ intentions, God had actually been the one in control. God’s plan to preserve and deliver could not be undermined by the wicked hearts of men. What seemed like a series of meaningless experiences of suffering was actually God’s provision for the very ones whose hatred had initiated that suffering through the very person they wronged.

God’s ability to use suffering for His purposes is not limited by the evil intentions of men who initiate it.

As Joseph brought his family to be with him in Egypt, they experienced the blessings of his life spilling over into their own as God kept them alive “by a great deliverance” (Gen 45:8). “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered. Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to their little ones.” Gen 47:11-12

We know that even when someone sins against us, this is not a justification for a sinful response. But are you willing to believe that, in your pain, God is actually working out a greater purpose? Are you willing to believe that He is preparing to proclaim Himself though you to the very people who wronged you?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)

Want to dive deeper? Download Cheryl’s Personal Worksheet, Living a Life of Forgiveness.