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Regarding the subject of forgiveness, a powerful illustration of the core principle is found in the story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery. After a long ordeal, from which he finally emerged triumphant, Joseph confronted his brothers with this statement: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20).
In our attempt to take the spiritually correct position with forgiveness, we may try to ignore the negative actions of others by treating our reaction to them as the central issue. While there is some wisdom in doing this, it often results in buried resentment. To the world, we appear to have taken the high road and moved on. But the embers of resentment toward the perpetrator continue to quietly smolder.
Joseph brings directly into the spotlight the destructive intention of his brothers. But he doesn’t stop there. He recognizes that their evil intentions became, for him, part of the path to his greater good. He wasn’t commending them for their brilliance, or crediting them for the role they played in catapulting him to the second most powerful position in Egypt. His focus was on the bigger picture.
Those who do us harm, usually really do mean us harm. In the name of forgiveness, we may attempt to dismiss their intention by simply saying they were having a bad day when, in truth, they, like Joseph’s brothers, schemed for weeks and months to find the perfect way to act out their resentment.
But we can’t afford to stop with simply identifying motives. We, like Joseph, want to grasp the bigger picture that worked out for our highest good. This may take some time. We may still be reeling from the thing that was done to us. We can’t yet see how any greater good can possibly come of it.
Yet holding to this possibility is the key to forgiveness. The time will come when you, like Joseph, look back and see that if his brothers had not sold him into slavery, he never would have become the second most powerful man in Egypt. As such, he rescued the entire nation of Israel, including his brothers (now quaking in their sandals), from famine. With a single word, he could have ordered their imprisonment, or execution. But he didn’t need to do this. He had found his center of power by understanding the higher process that had brought him there.
When you’re fixated on the negative actions of another, think of Joseph and his ordeal. Despite those who would do him harm, he came out on top. And so will you.