“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. 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’ ” (Genesis 45:4,5).
AS IMPORTANT AS IT IS TO MAKE FORWARD PROGRESS, WE OFTEN PUT OURSELVES IN A POSITION WHERE IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO DO SO. We paralyze ourselves by failing to forgive. Having done little to rid our hearts of resentment, we find that our minds do little but replay the past. Energy that should be spent building a better future is wasted debating our case and demanding apologies.
But consider Joseph. His brothers had sold him into slavery, an act that was not only unjust but treacherously so. He might have spent the rest of his life looking for a chance to settle the score for this grievance, but instead he was eager to extend forgiveness as soon as possible. What can we learn from him?
To forgive others, we don’t have to wait until they seek our forgiveness. When Joseph forgave his brothers, they had done little to show that their sorrow was of a godly sort, and they certainly had not asked for his forgiveness. Yet Joseph saw the wisdom of extending his forgiveness unilaterally and unconditionally.
To forgive others, we don’t have to wait until they have received God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness and God’s forgiveness are two different things. To open the path to progress in our own lives, we may need to go ahead and forgive someone as Joseph did. God’s forgiveness, however, has some conditions attached to it, and two of these are godly sorrow and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8–10). It may be a long time after we have forgiven someone before they seek God’s forgiveness and receive it on His terms. During this time, we can release the part of the debt that is owed to us. We can simply turn the matter over to God, to be dealt with in His time (1 Peter 4:19). He can be counted on to do what is perfectly right.
Granted, there are times when it’s wise to await the other person’s repentance before God (Matthew 18:15–17; Luke 15:11–32), but even in these instances we can still let go of ill will and focus on reaching forward. When it comes to crooked things, it’s a lot easier to straighten out those in the future than those in the past.
“It is the act of forgiveness that opens up the only possible way to think creatively about the future at all” (Desmond Wilson).