When we refuse to forgive, we are playing God
Isubscribe to a small-town newspaper in which outlying communities have a brief weekly column. Most columns begin something like this: “We had a wonderful service Sunday ... ” or “The pastor had a good sermon ... ”
I want to pattern them on this occasion regarding a sermon I heard Sunday on forgiveness. All of us feel hurt, offended or vilified at a time. What are we to do about it? In answering that the pastor used the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused and imprisoned and rising to become governor of Egypt. You can read it in detail in Genesis 50.
There was a famine in Israel where Joseph’s brothers lived. Wisely, Joseph had the people of Egypt stockpile food for a forthcoming famine. In desperation, Joseph’ brothers went to Egypt to beg for food. They did not recognize the ruler before whom they bowed and begged as being Joseph, their wronged brother. He did recognize them and eventually revealed himself. They were mortified and trembled in fear for their lives.
Joseph had them in the crosshairs to do with them as he pleased. What an ideal moment for vengeance. The following is a narrative of what followed.
Instead of playing the “hurt card,” the Scripture phrases his response as,”you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Joseph in effect said, “God used what you did to me to make me who I am.” If I had not been a slave, I would not be governor.” In effect, that is what is going on amid our injuries. They may be very wrong, but they can help us to ultimately become better.
They begged for mercy. Joseph said, “Am I in the place of God?” Meaning God, not I, is your judge. Later in Scripture, God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Joseph trusted God to give them what they deserved, not he. When we refuse to forgive, we are playing God.
Is that how we respond when offended or injured? Or, do we think we are better at this vengeance business than God?
Joseph not only didn’t seek payback, he showed no bitterness. Forgiveness is the absence of animosity. Bitterness is a self-inflicted wound. Being wronged makes us bitter or better. We choose. You benefit when you refuse to let any offender hold you prisoner to an emotion they incited, bitterness.
Joseph knew his God was bigger than his hurt and He forgives.
True forgiveness means forgiving even when still being hurt. Jesus did it on the cross when he cried, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” The first martyr, Stephen, prayed for his executioners, “Lay not this sin to their charge.”
Through the years when engaged in counseling, I heard many say, “I just can’t forgive the person.” Often those same people under more pleasant circumstances quote the Scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If so, you can forgive.
In the model prayer is this statement, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” When we forgive we invite God’s favor.
We each have been and will be violated, offended, belittled, and as Joseph “sold into slavery,” the bondage of injustice. It is inevitable. We are wise to emulate Joseph and realize our injuries are simply preparing us for what and who we are to become. The choice is ours, to be bitter or better.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson L. Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.