He was hardly able to catch his breath after rising to his feet in what seemed to be a nightmare. Just moments before, he was struggling to break free from the tight grip of his enemies without success. Not only was he outnumbered; he was also overpowered. In the heat of the day and in the middle of nowhere, there he stood in the bottom of a pit without any hope of escaping. He began to fear that this unknown location would become his unmarked gravesite. The man in the pit is Joseph and his enemies are his older brothers. Joseph was treated with special favor by their father Jacob and the jealousy of his older brothers had reached its boiling point. They would’ve killed their younger brother except for the favourable alternative of selling him as a slave to some Ishmaelite passerby’s. (The story is told in full in Genesis 37-50).
When it comes to forgiveness, the closer the offender the deeper the offense. The most consistent meaning for the word ‘forgive’ in the bible is ‘to pardon’ or ‘take away.’ Before we can forgive others its important for us to realize that we too have been forgiven.
“As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12
“…You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19
“My child, be of good cheer because your sins have been forgiven.” Matthew 9:2
According to Gary Chapman: “Forgiveness removes the barrier and lifts the offense. Repayment is no longer required.” Many of us are familiar with what it means to forgive. I would like to now transition to what forgiveness is not.
Four things forgiveness does not do
- Forgiveness does not destroy our memory
Some think that to forgive means to forget but this is not true. In fact, it’s highly unlikely to forget an offense. Although we no longer meditate on the experience in our conscious mind we cannot help that it has been stored in our subconscious memory.
- Forgiveness does not remove consequences
Just because we are forgiven does not mean that we will not be held accountable to suffer the consequences. Forgiveness says ‘from here forward your record is clean’ but it does not exempt us from the repercussions of our actions. There are some violations that require the involvement of civil authorities and members of churches should not ignore this reality when it’s necessary.
- Forgiveness does not rebuild trust
In a relationship it takes time to establish trust and after trust is broken it takes effort to rebuild it again. No one should expect the foundation of trust to remain the same after an offense. Forgiveness says it’s possible for trust to be restored but it does not guarantee it.
- Forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation
Some relationships are severely strained as a result of different violations. After forgiveness is given, reconciliation does not automatically follow. Sometimes the offense reveals that a healthy relationship between the involved parties is unlikely. Forgiveness does not mean we will be as close as we once were. If we choose not to continue the relationship, that doesn’t make the act of forgiveness less authentic.
Sometimes people ask for forgiveness and sometimes they don’t. If you’ve been offended and the other person has not acknowledged it then you should communicate how you feel to them. By communicating how their actions affected you an opportunity is created for the other person(s) to acknowledge their wrong. Sometimes we don’t know when we have offended others. Nevertheless, even if a person refuses to admit that they were wrong you can still forgive and release them to God.
As we conclude I would like to return to the story of Joseph. Years after being sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph learned to depend on God and was promoted to second in command in Egypt. When a famine flooded the land guess who traveled from afar to seek mercy and food to prevent them from starving to death? It was the same brothers who betrayed him when they were younger. The reunion was beautiful and Joseph gave the most admirable example of forgiveness I’ve ever seen next to Jesus dying on the cross. I’ll close with this:
-”Perhaps Joseph will hate us and may repay us for what we did to him.” Genesis 50:15
-“Do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:24
Forgiveness is as much a benefit for the other person as it is for you. The best way to learn to forgive is to choose to forgive.