Two Parts to Forgiveness
Our Old Testament reading for this past week came from Genesis 50. It is one of the final moments we read about in Joseph’s life. You remember the story of Joseph right? His father loved him more than his brothers, so they sold him into slavery so that their father would pay attention and love them. Joseph’s life goes from bad to worse as he eventually winds up in an Egyptian prison, only to be discovered by Pharaoh as having a special gift of interpreting dreams. After he rises to prominence in Egypt, Joseph is reunited with his brothers, whom he immediately recognizes. What follows is an incredible scene of grace and love as Joseph truly forgives his brothers and has them bring his father and other relatives down to Egypt to live with under his care. But all this happens before our reading in Genesis 50:15-21. In reality several years have gone by when the following events occur.
Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.”
Two important things in this passage stand out to me:
- Joseph already forgave his brothers years ago. As a result, Joseph is in a great place emotionally and spiritually. He is able to live, rejoice in life, love well – in no small part because he forgave and was able to move on from the horrible crime committed against him by his brothers. The brothers however have not received this forgiveness. They still live in fear and guilt for their actions. So much so that they need to make up a lie in order to try and receive mercy from their brother.
- Forgiveness is both an act and a process. In only minor offenses/sin can we just forgive and move on. In most cases (sometimes years) we need to continually forgive people so that we in our hearts can truly be freed.
This is why we read so much that there are two parts to forgiveness. The first part is to offer forgiveness (so that we ourselves can be freed from the devastation of sin). The second part is for our offenders to receive it (so that they can be freed from the guilt and devastations of sins that they have wrought).
Our broken human nature leads us constantly away from forgiveness and towards vengeance. Our hearts can often yearn for it (vengeance) even as we profess to forgive someone. Often this process of forgiveness can take time as we learn to give our hearts over fully to forgiveness and reject vengeance totally. On the flip side, it can take years for us to accept forgiveness and truly allow ourselves and our hearts to be freed from guilt. We need a constant reminder that we are forgiven because our identity is usually wrapped up in our own guilt and failures to such a deep extent that the words of forgiveness need time to actually penetrate our hearts. This is why forgiveness is both an act and a process. Something we need to both do and be committed to living out. When we are, then the grace of God truly shines in our lives.
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