Imagine being locked in a filthy prison, the victim of multiple injustices. You have been rejected and betrayed by your own family. And in spite of always helping others and trying to do the right thing, your circumstances continue to get worse instead of better.
That is the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery by his brothers and then unjustly accused of sexual assault by the wife of a high ranking government official, Joseph languished alone in a prison in a foreign land. But God was with him. In spite of his negative circumstances, Joseph persevered. He continued to trust the Lord’s goodness, which also kept his heart from becoming hardened.
Joseph’s faithfulness paid off, and he skyrocketed to prominence as second in command of all Egypt. His was a miraculous transformation from common prisoner to high-ranking government official. But perhaps just as great a miracle was Joseph’s gracious attitude toward his brothers—the very ones who sold him into slavery.
After their father passed on to the next life, Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives. Terrified that their betrayed brother might finally exact his revenge, they concocted a scheme to try to win his forgiveness:
So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Genesis 50:16-18 (NASB)
How did Egypt’s second in command respond?
But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 (HCSB)
Genesis 50:20 contains one of the greatest faith statements in the Bible: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
Why did Joseph bear his unjust brothers only good will? He had looked beyond his visible circumstances to see a good and faithful God working behind the scenes. The young man’s attitude served as a reflection of Romans 8:28 in action long before Paul’s letter to the Romans was ever written.
Being bitter is a control issue that involves holding a hurt or offense close to the chest. On the other hand, to forgive is to let go. And not only did Joseph speak words of forgiveness, he followed them with genuine kindness.
I cannot speak for your situation, but I can for mine. I have experienced more than my share of neglect, mistreatment, and injustice. Holding onto my offenses, however, has never brought me peace. In fact, nursing bitterness in my heart had the opposite effect, causing fresh waves of pain and indignation to rise with every mental rerun. The emotional hurts never healed and only became more raw with each new offense.
Everything began to change when I became a Christian. Coming to Jesus as both Lord and Savior, I experienced the full forgiveness of my own sins. My conscience was cleansed and the weight of guilt washed away. I had never known anything like it.
Through the teachings of the Bible (see Matthew 18:21-35), I also came to understand the nature of God’s forgiving heart. The cross of Jesus Christ reveals that He wants all to be freed from judgment and guilt, which means His children must learn to model forgiveness as well. After all, if the Almighty God is willing to forgive my offenses that sent Jesus to the cross, I should be willing to release those who have committed far lesser offenses against me.
Finding Peace by Letting Go
And so I forgave them—each and every one who had hurt me. I cannot say that it all happened easily, quickly, or without pain-filled tears, but I forgave nonetheless. In doing so, I aligned my heart with God’s and welcomed a fresh measure of peace into my life. Only later, after I experienced the freedom of forgiving others, did I finally begai see the bigger picture.
Mysteriously, the pain and trauma of those early years had helped to tenderize my heart. They made me more sensitive to others who were hurting, and perhaps more importantly, they made me more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s teachings.
I will never be able to quantify these experiences, but throughout my years as a Christian, I have had an opportunity to bless many other people. And when my time on this earth finally comes to and end—which it will—I will go with the confidence that my life had a meaningful influence beyond myself. Had my circumstances been comfortable and pain-free, I think my overall existence on this earth would have been far less fruitful.
If you want the peace, meaning, and purpose that flow from heaven’s throne, you have no choice but forgive those who have hurt you. Release the bitterness that you hold dear. And do not just do it because you have to. Do it because it is the wise, loving, and God-honoring thing to do.
Trust me, a bitter heart will do you no good. Whatever the offense you are holding on to, let it go!
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.