When we refuse to for­give, we are play­ing God

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - NEL­SON PRICE

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.


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