Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Heartache of Forgiveness

"Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them." (Genesis 42:6-7a)


The memories had always been with him. Though it had been over thirteen years since he was handed over by his brothers, his heart still ached with bitterness. Things were better now. He had been sold into slavery. Made a servant in a high ranking official's household. Placed in charge of all of his master's house. Accused of immoral crimes he didn't commit. Locked in jail. Given discernment to interpret dreams. Released from prison. And now, Joseph was second in command over all of Egypt. His success was astounding.

Yet, his heart was still aching with bitterness. The success could not soothe the sting.

Selling grain during a severe drought came easy for Joseph. He had been granted, by God, the wisdom to portion out and sell the stored grain when the famine came. He knew the people would continue to come to buy grain. Yet, he was ill prepared for the heartache that this day would bring. As he looked into the distance, he saw strangely familiar faces coming to buy grain. His heart, as if it already knew, had begun to ache again--even before he allowed himself to recognize the faces before him. It was his brothers coming to him for help.

Joseph's story of forgiveness is a great inspiration for all of us. What is often overlooked in the midst of the celebration of reconciliation, however, is the heartache that preludes it. Joseph doesn't react in the most Christ-like manner when he speaks to his brothers. In fact, Joseph was far from being Christ-like. He was downright mean. He allowed the ache of his heart to give him a sense of hateful entitlement. His first responses were: 1) he accuses them, three times, of spying on Egypt, 2) he places them in custody for three days, and 3) he accuses them of stealing a silver cup that he planted in their midst before they departed for home.

Yet, even in the midst of the heartache, Joseph continued to struggle for a forgiving heart. Even when the pain of his heart stung the sharpest, he desired forgiveness.

Joseph's forgiveness struggle should be a great encouragement to all of us. True forgiveness doesn't mean that we no longer feel the pain. It doesn't require us to have a PhD on the subject. The lesson of forgiveness, in the closing chapters of Genesis, teaches us a very important lesson that we need to know about ourselves and the heartache of forgiveness: We don't have to be perfect forgivers in order to forgive perfectly!

So, if you have been struggling to forgive a former/current spouse, an estranged brother/sister, a fallen minister, and/or an apathetic father/mother, take courage! Forgiveness is often accompanied by the heartache of reconciling a painful, past experience with a person who, even in their absence, still causes our hearts to sting. Yet, we can remember Joseph. We can remember how he fought through the heartache. We can remember how, though he wasn't a perfect forgiver, he forgave perfectly.

May God bless you! And, may he give us the strength to forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave us! (Ephesians 4:32)