"I'll never forgive nor forget what they did to me." This common saying reflects the deep hurts of life. But, God requires Christians to forgive the evils done to them.
He clutched in vain for the wall of the well as he was pushed over the edge. With a rush he fell freely into the blackness. As he tried to right his falling body, a mighty whoosh came from the beating wings of a host of bats as they swarmed past him to the surface. His thoughts raced. How deep? Was there water at the bottom? In a moment his heels hit with a crushing jolt. His legs jackknifed and his spine jarred as his bottom took the impact. His elbow cracked against a rock, sending pins and needles coursing through his arm. He cried out in pain, shock and anguish at his dilemma. His lungs gasped in dank, moist air, fighting to regain the oxygen expelled on impact. For a dazed moment he sat in a crumpled heap. As sense came back, he jerked his face upward. No evidence of his assailants — only the bright circle of the well top outlining the clear, blue sky. Gingerly he felt around the bottom with his feet to take stock of his dungeon. It was dark and sandy and he was glad it was dry. It stank of bat droppings. Regaining some composure, he began to yell to attract his brothers: "Hey, you guys, get me out! Why did you do that to me? Wait till I get home and tell Dad. You'll be in trouble again, I can tell you." No response. Again: "Hey up there! Get me out!" Only stillness. He settled down to wait. After all, his brothers had been preparing lunch when he arrived unexpectedly. He mused on the day's happenings.
An evil turn of events
He had dutifully obeyed his father's instruction to go and find out how his brothers were getting on as they herded the sheep. He had gone to where they were supposed to be, but they were not to be found. He was unfamiliar with the area and, as he circled around trying to pick up their tracks, he became lost. He panicked and began to run, first one way and then another. Fearful at being lost, he was wandering aimlessly when a stranger suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The stranger asked him what he was looking for and was most helpful. He told him how his brothers had been there earlier and how he had overheard them saying they were going to Dothan. The kind stranger gave directions, which proved right as he soon came upon his brothers' encampment, with the sheep grazing on grassy slopes. He had come up happily relieved to meet them. But as soon as he entered camp they roughly grabbed him and violently threw him down the well with a final taunt: "See if your dreams get you out of this!" Well, he knew they didn't like his dreams. He couldn't help it. The dreams just came to him. His brothers got upset when he told them about them. Even his father did once, too. And there was his coat of many colors. It seemed that everything he did made them envious, jealous and determined not to speak a nice word to him. Then, voices at the top. Faces appeared above, at the rim of the well. Then a rope was lowered, the end hitting him in the face. At last, he thought, they have come to their senses. He quickly scrambled his way up the rope. As he came out into the dazzling daylight, about to recriminate them, a cloth gag was stuffed into his mouth. He was roughly grabbed and his hands were tied with rope. He saw camels, traders and his brother Judah haggling with someone and then receiving money. An Ishmaelite suddenly took the rope that held him, pulled him over to a camel and latched him on behind. The caravan moved off and he struggled vainly to free himself. Dust obscured his vision as he searched for the eyes of his brothers, hoping that somehow all of this was just a bad joke. The gag stifled his protests; his brothers turned their backs. He was only 17! This was the selling of Joseph into Egypt. And this was only the beginning of SOr.1e lifelong hurts he suffered. On arriving in Egypt, he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, chief of the royal guard (Genesis 37).
The years passed and Joseph settled into becoming an able manager of Potiphar's home and property. His success must have become legendary. Potiphar knew that he was being blessed because of Joseph, and turned all his personal affairs over to Joseph to manage. We must assume that Joseph was never in a position to seek to return home or to get in contact with his father, Jacob. Joseph was at the pinnacle of success — and then, sudden disaster struck. He was framed on trumped-up charges after he rejected the romantic advances of Potiphar's wife. No judge and jury helped here — he was automatically sent to prison. And there he languished to contemplate the twists of fate that can happen to a young, innocent adult. The mud of false accusation had been thrown and it had stuck. No one tried to wipe it off his face. An employer had believed a false charge; a husband had believed a concocted story of attempted rape. They threw the mud and it stuck. All his good — all his fruits — were not remembered. There was unquestioning acceptance of false charges, and he was unceremoniously led off to prison (Genesis 39). Years later, when Joseph was made second in command of all Egypt, one wonders where Potiphar and his wife were. The Bible records no attempt on Joseph's part to wipe off the mud of the years before. Joseph nursed a lot of hurts in his life — events and circumstances hard to forgive. His brothers lived with the guilt of the lies they told. Such things are hard to forget and to forgive. When the brothers and their father Jacob came to Egypt to live, were all these things forgotten because of better times? Joseph settled his father and brothers comfortably in Goshen. They prospered and he saw to their welfare. For 17 years, they lived in tranquility and privileged position. But had his brothers forgotten the evil deed they had done some 30 years before? When Jacob died, we find that the first act of the brothers was to send an immediate message to Joseph, not of condolence and sympathy, but of fear. They thought that now that the father was out of the way, Joseph would take revenge. Joseph was astounded. He had come to see a reason for his suffering and held nothing against them anymore. He saw it was God's guiding hand (Genesis 50:15-21). His brothers still suffered guilt. The story shows that forgiveness isn't easy. Broken trust does alter relationships. But forgiveness is required of Christians.
Why do we need to forgive?
There are two important reasons why we as Christians must forgive. First, unless we are prepared to forgive those who hurt us, God says He will not forgive us for what we have done (Matthew 6:14-15). And second, a forgiving nature is part of the character of God Himself (Joel 2:13). Christians who are seeking to eventually become spirit-composed members of God's Family must have forgiveness as a trait in their lives. The Psalms reveal David's attitude toward those who wished him harm. First, he tried to overcome evil with good, even praying and fasting for enemies (Psalm 35:11-14). When wrongfully accused he even tried to restore that which he didn't take in the first place (Psalm 69:4). For much of the love he tried to show, David received back antagonism, and so he simply committed the problems to God (Psalm 109:4-5). So if you are in a position to help an enemy, you should do what you can (Exodus 23:4-5). And if an enemy falls into personal calamity, the Bible warns about not rejoicing at it (Proverbs 24:17-18). David did pray that God would reward enemies according to their evil intent (Psalm 70). This was not David taking the matter into his own hands, but rather committing it to God to deal with as God saw fit. And although David was ever prepared to be forgiving, he did not forget the evil within some people, and took precautions to protect himself from their influence.
The greatest example
These are the lessons of Joseph and David. Yet, Jesus Christ's example is obviously the greatest of all. While you were yet a sinner, Christ forgave you (Romans 5:8). And when He hung on the stake dying from loss of blood, suffering unbearable thirst and wounds, His reaction to the people who had put Him there and who had hammered spikes into His flesh was, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Christians — followers of Christ — can do no less.
Do You Forgive? by Philip Stevens
Racked with pain, with each breath more excruciating than the previous, Jesus still had supreme concern for His murderers. He had been falsely accused and illegally condemned to death by a kangaroo court made up of His worst enemies. He had experienced the cruel torture of a Roman scourging, which left His skin hanging in shreds. He was nailed to a stake between two criminals. His head was thumping with almost unbearable force. Yet through this suffering, and with His tormentors shouting abuse to His battered face, Jesus uttered, in total sincerity, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Jesus Christ died as He had lived — setting us an example.
A forgiving spirit
A forgiving spirit toward those who wrong us is a vital element in the Christian life. In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus showed that we must ask God's forgiveness for the sins we commit: "And forgive us our debts." He then went on to declare the approach we should take toward those who wrong us: "As we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). To emphasize the importance of this aspect of our Christian growth, Jesus immediately elaborated this particular point, the only part of the so-called Lord's Prayer that He chose to expand upon at that time: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (verses 14-15). Whether God forgives us depends on our forgiveness of others! See also Mark 11:25-26.
The unforgiving servant
Remember the apostle Peter's seemingly natural, human question: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus' answer must have shocked Peter: "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22). Then Jesus went on to illustrate His point with this story: Somehow, a royal servant had managed to accumulate a massive debt totaling some 10,000 talents. The day came when the money had to be returned, but the servant just didn't have that huge amount available to repay the king. In order to recoup his loss, the sovereign ordered that the servant, along with his family, should be sold. When the servant heard his fate, he threw himself before his master and begged for time to make the debt good. The king was moved with compassion and released the servant from the complete debt. Relieved at his escape, the man went on his way, only to meet a fellow worker who owed him a small amount of money. Grabbing him by the throat, the servant demanded the return of the 100 pence. Struggling free, the shaken man fell to his knees and asked for a little longer to repay the sum. But his plea fell on deaf ears. The servant had him cast into the debtors' prison. When the other workers in the royal household heard about this incident, they brought it to the king's attention. The king became angry and summoned the unmerciful servant. "You wicked servant!" the king said. "I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?" With that, the king ordered the servant to be thrown into prison. "So My heavenly Father also will do to you," Jesus concluded the account, "if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (verses 23-35).
God demands that we exercise a great deal of mercy toward other human beings. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy," taught Jesus (Matthew 5:7). Paul wrote, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). It isn't always possible for us to judge the motives behind another person's actions. Someone may have wronged us through ignorance. Perhaps he or she. was caught in a moment of weakness. We cannot always tell, yet we must forgive. If we find it difficult to forgive someone who has done wrong, then we should follow the principle Jesus gave in Matthew 5:44: "Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." If we are really following these instructions, our animosity will leave us. By praying for another individual, we will increase our concern for that person and a forgiving attitude will be generated. Paul found it necessary to correct the Corinthian church in their attitude toward a wrongdoer in the congregation (I Corinthians 5). Later the offender repented, and the apostle then explained how the church should display its forgiveness toward the individual: "On the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him" (II Corinthians 2:7-8). Here, then, is the Bible teaching on how to practice forgiveness. Merely saying "I forgive you" is not enough. Our actions toward the other party must prove our willingness to let the offending incident drop from memory, if the person is sincerely sorry, has changed and will strive not to repeat the offense. We need God's forgiveness. And we need to exercise that same quality of forgiveness toward other people. For our eternal life's sake, we have to follow Jesus Christ's example and forgive. As He Himself said: "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.... Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:36-37).