19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
I’ve been meditating on this passage of scripture for the past few months. In many ways I feel like I’ve just been through an experience that is similar to what Joseph went through. Something that the Lord brought to my attention is how much I love to say… you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good… but I generally stop there. But if you keep reading the passage, Joseph ends up becoming a comfort and speaks kindly to the very ones that betrayed him. That hit me between the eyes.
I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to justify my attitude towards those who have done harm to me or treated me unjustly. I like to call it justice. It’s such a cry in our culture today. We need justice!!! Social justice!!! Justice for the wrongs that have been done against us!!! Justice Lord!!! But Joseph didn’t cry out for justice. If fact, when given the chance to demonstrate justice he did something that is contrary to our cultural norms. He showed mercy.
Now, mercy isn’t overlooking a wrong. Mercy isn’t turning a blind eye to injustice. But mercy is a decision that looks injustice squarely in the eye and says… I’m going to release you from my desire to execute justice. I’m going to give you something that you don’t deserve, you didn’t earn and that you shouldn’t have. I’m going to release you from my desire for retribution… I’m going to give mercy.
Joseph even goes a step further than showing mercy, he extends forgiveness. What’s the difference? The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Every sin has a cost. When I sin against my brother there’s a cost. When my brother sins against me there’s a cost. At the cross, Jesus paid all the back wages that were due because of our sin. Not only did He pay the back wages, but He applied His limitless love to future wages so we can never be indebted to God again. We are free from the wage of sin. He paid our debt for us. When I forgive someone, I bear in my heart, my soul, my mind the penalty for their sin and I release them from payment… I release them from restitution… I release my right for them to make it right with me. So mercy is the release from retribution and forgiveness is the release from restitution.
When you extend mercy and forgiveness to those who have deeply harmed you, it sets you free. It sets you free to receive healing and restoration from God with regards to the harm that you have endured. It also sets you free to see those who have harmed you for who they really are. Broken individuals who are far away from God and in need of a Savior. It also sets you free to be an agent of God’s love in their lives… and like Joseph to be able to comfort and speak kindly to them.
I want this kind of love to flow from my life. I want to move past the pain and the disillusionment of those who I thought were brothers, who lied about me, betrayed me and left me for dead. But in order to do that it means that I step into the sufferings of Jesus and extend the same mercy and forgiveness that He has extended to me.
I want to encourage you to pray and ask God to search your heart. If there is someone you need to forgive. Forgive them. Release them from your need for justice. Release them from your need for restitution. Ask God to empower you to love as He loved and watch what the Lord will do in your life. Watch the Lord restore your joy for living, your excitement for His kingdom and your passion for worship. I can tell you from personal experience that this is a prayer that God is waiting for us to pray because it’s His desire that we walk in the same freedom that Joseph experienced when He was reunited with those that did him great harm.
May you experience the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness in your life as you generously extend the mercy and forgiveness that God has given to you.