The Hard Work of Forgiveness: Genesis 42-50

I have struggled with writing today’s post in the same way that I struggle with its topic.  I tend to “write” while driving – not literally, but I think posts, speak them out loud, and sometimes put a word or two on a post-it note to remember my thoughts.  In my driving this week, I played with today’s post in my mind and wanted to focus on anything but forgiveness.

I preferred to focus on God’s preservation of his people even though the odds looked stacked against it.  I considered how I could look at the reunion between Joseph – thought dead to his father – and his family.  I even wanted to “study” a bit on the lands of Canaan and Egypt and what they could represent in our lives.

All of these ideas fit these passages.  All of these themes lend themselves to great revelation, relevance, and reaction (like that alliteration?).

But another theme tugs on my heart and bids itself to be written.

I struggle with the topic of forgiveness because I do not forgive well, willingly, or without wondering whether one (it sounds like a ‘w’!) should.

I wonder because the concept of forgiveness, by its very nature, reveals a need for it.  In other words, a betrayal, hurt, or “crime” has occurred against me, and forgiveness now calls for me to release the “criminals” from any hold that I have over them or expectation of amends that I have from them.  I can no longer require that they live in an expression of guilt for their crimes nor can I expect that they do anything to make it right.

And this is hard.

However, when I compare my life’s experiences with Joseph’s, I find that my circumstances are nothing close to his.  Although – as I shared in Thursday’s post – my family has had its share of strife, none of my siblings have thrown me into a pit and sold me into slavery.  I have not been wrongly accused and spent time in jail.  My pain, though real and needing time on a therapist’s couch to mitigate its impact in my life, pales in comparison.

And yet I struggle with forgiving others.

Joseph’s example of forgiveness challenges me in the same way that the life, death, and resurrection of  Christ challenge my thinking.

When his brothers showed up – vulnerable, hungry, and desperate – Joseph had a choice to make.  He could have sent them away to die.  He could have interfered with God’s plan of creating a great nation from Israel.  He had that power.

Yet he chose to forgive.

And in choosing, he was reunited with his father, met his younger brother, and assisted in the will of God to preserve a nation.

The decision blessed Joseph personally.  The decision blessed Israel as a people about to be born.  And the decision blessed us, for through it God worked to send Christ to bless us, to save us, and reunite us with Him.

The act of forgiveness is hard but comes with little regret.  By releasing the others from any hold we have on them, we release ourselves from the anger, hurt, and despair that hold us in bondage of the memories and the feelings of the offense.

Harboring angst toward another builds walls between us, creates friction among us all, and hurts community.

Forgiving each other builds bridges (“over troubled waters…” – sorry, had to do it!), restores relationships, and builds community.

While forgiving is hard, the benefits are great.

Who is God prompting you to forgive today?  How do you deal with overcoming the struggle to forgive others?  What benefits have you seen from forgiving others?


Author’s note: Please, please, please do not hear in this post that forgiving others means that we should open ourselves to repeated hard.  Boundaries are necessary alongside of forgiveness.  There are several good books and articles about this balancing act, and I encourage readers to seek them out as they pursue forgiveness of people who have brought physical or emotional harm in their lives.