“If I forgive someone for the wrong they have done, does it release them from all the consequences?” I was asked after speaking on Forgiveness on a recent Communion Sunday in our Church.
I realized that when you speak about our necessity to repent of any bitterness and hardness in our hearts and to release forgiveness to a person who offends or hurts us, it brings up many questions. Do I have to be reconciled with them only to have them hurt me again? What about what they did to me? Will there not be any consequences to them? Do they get away free?
If there was ever anyone who could have harbored unforgiveness to the people who had wronged him it was Joseph. He had been betrayed by those closest to him, his family, to the point where they had sent him off to be a slave and wrote him off for dead. (By the way, it is the people who are closest to you that will hurt you the most, because they have a deeper place in your heart)
But years later, when from the position of blessing God had given him, he had provided for them, they came to him in fear leveraging the dying words of their Dad to secure their safety. Which reveals that as kind as Joseph had been, they still lived with the guilt of what they had done and been robbed of peace and security. (Genesis 50) It is interesting that when Joseph was faced with what every offended person wishes would happen to those who have wronged them, what his response is. I have played out scenarios’ where those who have deeply hurt me would come to me in pure repentance and I would be in a place where they needed what I was or had and I could make their lives miserable by my response. God sets Joseph up to have the perfect revenge; he could have sentenced all of them to slavery at the very moment or exacted any punishment on them he wanted. God put him in a place of such power he could have had complete revenge and justice on his enemies! Few of us, if any will have that perfect of an opportunity to see what our response would be! Joseph’s was an interesting response and showed that a great work had been done in his heart by God.
He didn’t gloat, he didn’t rejoice, he didn’t say “I told you so”. He wept! This shows that he had allowed God to do in his heart exactly what Christ is asking us to let Him do in our heart.
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”* NKJV
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. NKJV
“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”* NKJV
He is asking us to allow Him to change our hearts to have a heart of forgiveness and leave the reconciliation (Joseph did not go after his brothers to be reconciled, he let God work that into their hearts) and the consequences to God.
We have a God of justice who knows how to work in the hearts of each one of us to bring us to repentance. It is not our job! We have enough work just dealing with our own heart before God. You can see that Joseph had learned to see that God can and will redeem everything if we let Him and not harbor bitterness in our hearts for those who have offended us. (Hebrews 12:15)
Joseph had grown to know God through his trials and offense in complete trust. He was sure that he served both a God of mercy and justice. Otherwise he could not have had the response he did and then comfort them with the reality of what they did and what God was able to do with it in his own life and the lives of others.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. NLT
Who knows in what ways God will use our hurts and offenses to the comfort and even the salvation of many lives if we will forgive our offenders from our heart.
I am asking God to help me trust Him in the same way and to help me forgive those who have hurt me, then leave the consequences and the reconciliation to Him. That is what God does best isn’t it? Reconciling us to Himself and others.