Skip to content


September 7, 2020

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done . . .” (Genesis 50:20)

Last week we zeroed in on the key role that love plays in creating places of refuge—especially in churches.  This week’s Scripture lessons emphasize the corollary to love: forgiveness.  No matter how much lip service you give to loving your fellow man, you cannot love someone if you are not willing to forgive him or her.  The people featured in next week’s Scripture lessons show us how to trust God and forgive others in very challenging circumstances.

Take Joseph for example.  His brothers defamed him, lied about him to their father, and hurt him for their personal gain.  Yet it turned out to be a blessing for him in the end. His brothers were so threatened and jealous of him that they threw him into a cistern.  Deciding not to kill him directly, they pulled him out and sold him to slave traders, not expecting him to live very long as a slave.  He was taken to Egypt and bought by Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials.  Potiphar came to trust him and put him in charge of his land and his household.  But Joseph was imprisoned after Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape.

 After being sold into slavery by his brothers and imprisoned on false allegations, it would have been understandable if Joseph had viewed himself as a victim.  But even in his enslavement and imprisonment he didn’t view himself as a victim.  Joseph remained faithful and patient and God blessed him. The prison warden recognized his capabilities and put him in charge of the other prisoners.  A few years later he came to the attention of the Pharaoh, and ultimately ended up being the equivalent of the Prime Minister of Egypt.  His rise to power in Egypt was the blessing that his brothers could not have foreseen when they sold him into slavery.  That’s what Joseph meant when he told his brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20).  Even after everything they had done to him, Joseph forgave his brothers and helped them during the famine that he had predicted.

Our love and forgiveness of others is modeled on God’s love for and forgiveness of us.  Like Joseph, David refused to buy into the victim mentality.  He was chased for years by Saul, and yet he still praised God who loves and forgives us: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit.” (Psalm 103:2-4).[1]  These Scriptures explain that we are to follow God’s example and forgive others as he forgives us. 

In the midst of life’s difficulties we are reminded that God will use even our trials for his purposes: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  We are assured that if we love God, he will work all of our experiences into his plan.  Nothing is wasted in God’s economy.  

Paul was no stranger to challenges and hardships.  He was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, and persecuted by Jews and Gentiles alike (2 Corinthians 23-25).  He adds: “And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.  I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights.  I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food.  I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of all my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11: 26-28).  

After all of that, Paul was still able to say “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty . . .  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Excerpts, Philippians 4: 11b-13). 

Even though we must deal with difficult people and circumstances in our lives, Paul warns us not to judge others, but to keep the faith: “Why do you judge your brother or sister?  For we will all stand before the judgment seat“ (Romans 14:10).  Peter asked Jesus “‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22).   Jesus’ point was that you don’t keep score—even in forgiving as many wrongs as seventy times seven, or 490 times.  Other people hurt or disappoint us from time to time, as we do them, but loving others requires us to forgive each other.  Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  We must strive for the divine because that is what Jesus told us to do. We all make mistakes; we should forgive and show mercy to others.

Forgiveness is not only Biblical, but it is also good for your physical and mental health.  Dr. Amit Sood, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic said: “The effects on one’s health from bottled-up anger and resentment can range from anxiety and depression to higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks . . . Forgiveness, by contrast, allows one to focus on more positive thoughts and relationships.  It allows you to free up the real estate in your brain taken up by negative thinking.”[2]

Contrary to popular thought, forgiveness does not show weakness.  Mahatma Gandhi noted: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  Those who make it their life’s work to study the subject of forgiveness know that is true. Desmond and Mpho Tutu write “Forgiveness is not weak. It is not passive. It is not for the faint of heart. Forgiving doesn’t mean being spineless, nor does it mean one doesn’t get angry.”[3] Sidney Chambers, the Anglican vicar in Masterpiece Mystery’s Grantchester, echoed Gandhi and the Tutus: “There is a strength in forgiveness. There is a potency; not only for those who have done us wrong, but also for ourselves.  In forgiveness there is love.”

There is no strength in playing the victim card.  Strength lies in forgiving and playing a part in turning your life situation around as Joseph and David did. 

And remember, forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you give the person who has wronged you the right to continue the bad behavior.  It doesn’t make you a doormat; don’t put yourself in harm’s way.  By forgiving someone, even someone who hasn’t admitted wrongdoing, you are giving up the natural tendency to want to hurt him or her back.  A forgiven person will still suffer the consequences flowing from the bad behavior—changes in or loss of a relationship, legal problems or other consequences.

So how does one begin to cultivate a forgiving spirit? The Tutus suggest that we start with our everyday lives: “Each one of us has multiple opportunities each day to practice small acts of forgiveness.  .  .  When I develop a mind-set of forgiveness rather than a mind-set of grievance, I don’t just forgive a particular act; I become a more forgiving person. With a grievance mind-set, I look at the world and see all that is wrong.   When I have a forgiveness mind-set, I start to see the world not through grievance, but through gratitude.  .  .  There is a special kind of magic that happens when I become a more forgiving person—it is something quite remarkable.  What was once a grave affront melts into nothing more than a thoughtless or careless act. What was once a reason for rupture and alienation becomes an opportunity for repair and greater intimacy.”[4]

The examples of Joseph, David, Paul, and others help get us through the most difficult circumstances of our lives, and teach us the importance of forgiveness.  If we can get past the slings and arrows that are thrown our way, we will be open for the wonderful path that God has set before us.  God’s blessed assurance will help keep us calm and reassured that Jesus will come through—that he will make good on his promises.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, help me move from being an aggrieved person to being a grateful person–grateful for the opportunities you provide even in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Instill within me a forgiving and merciful spirit.  Give me the strength to forgive and to see the second chances that arise from unfortunate circumstances to carry out your plan for my life. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 50: 15-21; Psalm 103: 1-12; Romans 14: 1-12; Matthew 18: 21-35.

[2]Diane Cole, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” WSJ, March 20, 2016.

[3] Desmond and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving (2014) HarperOne, p. 33.

[4] Id, p. 218-219.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: