Have you ever known you needed to forgive someone but seemingly couldn’t?
Has anyone ever told you that you needed to forgive another person?
Forgiveness does not always come easy. That may be an understatement for you. I know it has been true for many of my counselees over the years. I remember a young man who was sinned against at a fairly young age. He was innocent. Yet, someone still chose to manipulate, use, and exploit him. He still bears the scars from this sinful person’s choices. When he came to counseling, he had no desire to forgive. In fact, he would categorize his feelings toward this other individual as hate. Then why did he come to counseling? He was struggling in life and someone suggested that he see a counselor to better get a grip on his emotions and attitude. As we began to talk, the conversation did not take long to get to these egregious sins against him. Over a few weeks, he began to desire to forgive but seemingly couldn’t.
Joseph was sinned against in many ways. The story begins in Genesis 37. He simply and innocently told his brothers and dad his dreams. His brothers hated him for it. They threw him in a cistern, then sold him as a slave.
Once in slavery, he rose in power in his new slave-owner’s house, only to be sinned against by the man’s wife. As a result, he was thrown into prison.
After being unjustly thrown into prison, he rose in power again, such that he became one of the rulers of the prison. One day he helped two men out by interpreting their dreams, Pharaoh’s former chief baker and chief butler. Three days later the chief butler was released and given his former position again in Pharaoh’s court. Joseph asked the Pharaoh’s chief butler to remember him once he was out and serving Pharaoh again, but instead the butler forgot him for two whole years.
One night, though, the Pharaoh had a series of bad dreams which made him very upset. It was only then that his butler remembered Joseph. Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams and rose in power to become the second person in command in all the land of Egypt. He oversaw the collection of grain in preparation for seven years of incredible famine. At this point, 20 years had passed since initially being sold into slavery by his brothers.
The famine was intense. Joseph’s brothers, the ones who initially sold him as a slave to the Ishmaelites, came looking for grain. After a series of events over another two-year time period (Genesis 42-44), Joseph revealed to his brothers who he was. Notice what he said to his brothers (Genesis 45:3-8):
3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. 4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
Did you catch his explanation and ultimately his reason for being so willing to forgive?
Joseph recognized God’s providential plan.
Although the text does not tell us the process Joseph went through to fully grasp God’s plan for His life, by this point of the story, Joseph clearly had a grasp on how God’s providential plan works. Joseph understood that although there were a number of personal sins – for which people were responsible – committed against him over the 22 years, ultimately those sins worked in God’s providential plan to put him right where God wanted him.
Personal responsibility – yes. “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.” The brothers had broken God’s moral will by selling him into bondage. They had committed evil against him, his family, and his God. They were responsible. The brothers recognized their own personal responsibility. Judah remarked, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (Genesis 44:16). They were responsible to Joseph and before God.
God’s providential plan – yes. “…God sent me before you to preserve life… And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God…” (Genesis 44:5, 7-8). God perfectly used the personal sin of one to work out His providential plan for another. Joseph saw the hand of God working throughout this circumstance.
The connection is a mystery and incomprehensible. How does God use your own personal sin and the personal sin of others in His providential plan? The Bible does not give us those details. It is a mystery. In God’s sovereign control, He miraculously fits those things together. What do we know? God knows the totality of our days before we ever live the first one (Psalm 139:16) and God does not tempt us to sin or make us sin (James 1:13). In the Bible, God’s providential plan is a statement of fact without further explanation of how the intricate details play out, which in turn is to produce in us trust and worship.
Like Joseph, see God’s hand in your circumstances. The first step toward forgiveness, when forgiveness seems hard, is to recognize that God is providentially using whatever sin it was against you to work out a plan to both benefit you and others. How does it benefit you and others? At the very least, as you respond to the sin, it helps you become more like Christ – which is God’s goal for every Christ-follower (Romans 8:28-29) – and helps those who observe you to do the same. However, who knows what other good things God has already planned for you as well? It took Joseph 22 years before he saw the totality of what God was doing after his brothers sold him into slavery.
Because you don’t know the totality of God’s providential plan, it is essential that you understand God is at work in your circumstances – even though you can’t see the totality of what God is doing. Instead of bitterness, resentment, and hatred, develop an attitude of forgiveness since you realize that both personal responsibility and the providential plan of God work together for your good and God’s glory.
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What other narratives in the Bible connect human responsibility and God’s providence so clearly? (Hint: there are many, but one especially good one!)
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