Lifting a Burden

Have you ever had the joy of forgiving someone who had hurt you, but did not have the courage to ask for your forgiveness? That kind of joy comes from what we call living in the spirit of the Gospel. Because God forgives us daily, we are anxious to forgive others. Let us talk about this. It is something all of us need to hear.

Joseph is our example. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. He had ten brothers who hated him, which was understandable because of the favoritism shown by Jacob to Joseph. One day the brothers had an opportunity to sell Joseph to some Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him to King Pharaoh. Joseph soon won the favor of Pharaoh and was made a part of the royal court. There he served as what we might call the secretary of agriculture.

God had given Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. One day he interpreted a dream of Pharaoh’s. Joseph told the king that for seven years the crop would be bounteous. Then they would have a famine lasting seven years. So he recommended that, during the seven good years, a portion of the crop be saved for the more difficult times. Pharaoh accepted Joseph’s interpretation and appointed him to watch over the harvests.

When the famine came and others were starving, the Egyptians had plenty to eat. People from other countries flocked to Egypt to buy grain from Pharaoh’s surplus. Among those who sought food were Joseph’s brothers. When Joseph identified himself, the brothers were afraid he would seek revenge for what they had done to him. This could well mean the end of their lives. However, Joseph assured them he would do them no harm. All was well as long as father Jacob was alive. But then Jacob died, and the fear was revived in the brothers’ souls that Joseph would now kill them. It was then that Joseph spoke these famous words:

“ÔDon’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

What an example of forgiving someone who did not have the courage to ask for forgiveness! This scene has been relived millions of times since the day Joseph assured his brothers he had forgiven them. It should be the lifestyle of every person who knows what forgiveness in Jesus Christ is all about.

In our morning devotion, my wife and I read this heart-warming story:

“Bill Valentine was umpiring a game between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. Dave Wickersham was pitching for Detroit, and he had nineteen victories for the season. One more would be a sign of stardom. But it was not to be. After a close play, Wickersham tapped the umpire on the shoulder to ask for a time out. Touching an umpire is against the rules, so Valentine tossed Wickersham from the game Ð depriving him of his chance for a twenty-win season. For the next thirty-nine years, Valentine lived with a gnawing regret for booting the pitcher in that split-second decision. But he does not carry that regret anymore. Last year, Wickersham wrote the umpire a note, telling him he was in the right in his decision, and that he had no hard feelings. That note lifted a weight from Valentine’s shoulders.” (Taken from Our Daily Bread, October, 04). Isn’t this a modern version of Joseph’s story?

Why would Joseph’s brothers fear he would kill them? If they had been in Joseph’s place, any of them would have killed the brothers who had sold him. That was their reasoning as they visited with each other about what they considered the apparent danger to this lives. One would have said, “Think about what we did to Joseph. Now what would we do if we were in Joseph’s place? Likely any of us would say, ÔThis is my chance to get even with those scoundrels who wanted me dead, and we would have seen that the execution was carried out.

Like Joseph’s brothers, we live with a spirit of retaliation. It is a part of man’s fallen nature. To forgive a person who has hurt us badly seems unreal. Yet we long for the relationship between the two of us to be restored. Joseph wanted to forget the past and enjoy his brothers for as long as they lived.

“Well,” you might say, “this story does not seem to relate to our culture. People do not carry guilt around like once they did.” Don’t be too sure about that.

What about the parents who feel they have failed their children? The abuse of alcohol had hurt their relationship. Or they were always so busy with their own agenda socializing or working hard to provide the money that was necessary to raise a family on today’s high standard of living. The years had gone by and they were not there as they should have been for those kids. Think of the relief it would bring those parents if they received a letter written by the grown kids saying, “We forgive you. Let’s get on with life. We love you!”

Consider the guilt that could be in the soul of a person who was unfaithful to his or her spouse. A night spent with another person while the faithful spouse was at home. Then comes the day when the truth becomes known. The guilty spouse needs to hear these words from the other: “I forgive you.” Impossible? Not if you live with a forgiving heart, because daily you are the recipient of God’s grace.

Or think of the son or daughter who has broken dad and mom’s hearts. Then one day mother and dad send a message to the guilt-ridden heart saying, ÔWatching you destroy your life and waste the many opportunities you had was difficult. We are not trying to hide any feelings. This is from the bottom of our hearts. We love you. We want to enjoy you and your own family now. Whatever you did that hurt us is completely, 100 percent, forgiven. You are our son and daughter whom we love, and you make us proud.”

Guilt needs to be forgiven Ð first by God, and then by the person offended or hurt.

The Bible concludes the story of Joseph and his brothers with these words: “Joseph stayed in Egypt along with all of his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years. Then Joseph said to the brothers, ÔI am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised by oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'”

That happy time is for all our families if, in Christ, we have learned how to forgive others and to receive forgiveness from those whom we have hurt Ð whether it is God or man.