Years ago a seminary student in Chicago faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago’s south side. One day a gang of teenagers got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang made him stop the bus so they could rob him and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. “It’s because I forgive you,” he explained. His request was denied, of course, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.
Forgiveness is not just a feeling but it is also a commitment of the will. We see that in Joseph with his brothers in several ways. He tells them to go back for their father and come back to Egypt to live. All of you, do not tarry, hurry back! Forgiveness does not look like, Well, I forgive you, but I never want to see you again. Joseph then told them he would give them a place to live and it would be near him. “I will provide for you,” he says. In effect he said, “I will make sure that by God’s provision you will live and not die.” There were 5 more years of famine. To send his brothers back with his “forgiveness” and an order to fend for themselves in Canaan would have been the end of them.
Forgiveness is not just a commitment of the will, but it is also a feeling! Because Joseph chose to forgive his brothers, God brought a warmth into his heart for them. We see that as he “kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” Derek Kidner wrote, “It was applied theology, God’s truth releasing the will for constructive effort and the emotions for healing affection.” After this, the Bible says, “his brothers talked with him.” What was that conversation about? We don’t know But I don’t think he was venting and rehearsing a list of all the ways they had hurt him. Oh, they had suffered for their actions against Joseph. Sin comes with consequences and is not without just punishment. But forgiveness looks beyond the sin to the sinner and the restored relationship that can now begin.
A couple married for 15 years began having more than their usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a slip of paper into a “Complaints” box. The boxes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in the hamper,” and more. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband read the slips his wife had written and reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same; each one said, “I love you.”