Forgiveness is a very complicated topic. As you read this, you may find your mind locking in on memories of when someone offended you and it may feel like all of those things are being stirred up again. So before you stop reading, consider this story about a medical doctor who practiced in a farming community.
A farmer showed up at the doctor’s office with a forearm that was swollen twice the size. He had gotten into an accident while he was on his tractor and it cut his forearm. The farmer didn’t think much of it and he just stitched it up himself. But, unbeknownst to the farmer, when he stitched it up, he had locked in the toxins. And so his arm blew up twice the size.
So there he was in the doctor’s office. And the doctor said to him, I need to take my scalpel and cut an incision, right where the wound is. After making the incision and draining all the toxins, he put an antiseptic on it and re-sutured up the wound.
That process is called refreshing the wound.
Within a couple of weeks, the farmer was good to go as his arm had totally healed.
So, as you read about forgiveness, you may feel as if you’re being wounded all over again. You’re not.
I’m refreshing the wound, taking out the toxins, and allowing the Holy Spirit to use the Word, to apply antiseptic to the wound so you may be healed.
When Your Brothers Turn on You
Genesis chapter 50 captures the story of Joseph and the horrendous things he endured at the hands of his 10 brothers. He was just 17 years old. They put him into a pit to let him die. And then, they had a change of heart. Rather than letting him die, they decided to sell him.
And so they sold him to a bunch of Ishmaelite merchants who were traveling to Egypt. When the Ishmaelites got to Egypt, they resold Joseph to a gentleman named Potiphar, who was captain of Pharaoh’s guards.
Joseph had some incredible gifts. He had gifts of administration management. He understood how to lead people. He had a gift when it came to dreams and the interpretation of dreams. So he climbed the ladder quickly and became the household manager of Potiphar.
Well, Potiphar’s wife had a problem. She had her eye on Joseph sexually, and she attempted numerous times to seduce him. But Joseph was careful about his morality. He refused her each time but on one of those occasions, she lied and said, Joseph attempted to rape her. As a result, Joseph was thrown in prison.
Most scholars agree that Joseph was in prison for 10 years, from the age of 20 to the age of 30. While in prison at the age of 30, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, has a dream that shakes him to the core. The dream forecast what was going to take place in Egypt. Pharaoh had no idea what the dream meant, but he knew it had significance, not only national impact but global impact. They heard about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams so they brought him out of the prison.
Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, telling him that a great famine is going to hit Egypt, but it’s going to be preceded by a great time of harvest. But when the famine comes, it will be so devastating that everything that happened during harvest will be overlooked.
Then Pharaoh says, this guy seems so sharp, I’m going to put him over the feeding program in Egypt. Joseph then became second in command in the entire nation of Egypt and distributed food during the days of famine.
Now, fast-forward and the famine has hit the whole world, not just Egypt. It hit Israel and as a result, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt on two occasions. On the second occasion, Joseph revealed himself to them. At this time, Joseph was 39 years old. That means for 22 years, his brothers had lied about what had happened. They told their dad that Joseph was eaten by a wild animal and now they find out that their lie has backfired.
When You Have Been Wounded
Not only did Joseph’s dad come and live in Egypt, along with Joseph’s brothers and their families, but Joseph’s dad lived there for some 17 years until he died.
Genesis 50:15-18 says, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’ So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died. This is what you’re to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father. When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
This passage of Scripture is one of the greatest examples of how you forgive people that have wounded you and wounded you deeply. I wonder who has wounded you, who’s really mishandled you.
The aim of my blog is to teach you that God is interested in healing you, and forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself.
What Is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a powerful medicine. Joseph’s brothers knew that. And so what they recognized was that this medicine of forgiveness is able to cancel the feelings of revenge that Joseph may have had towards them if indeed he had them.
But the brothers that were very slick, they lied. Jacob never said what they claimed. Jacob never told them to go and ask their brother for forgiveness. He never said that.
No one can manipulate you, push you, browbeat you into forgiving anybody else. Forgiveness is an intrapersonal experience. That means it happens within you. It’s not interpersonal between you and another. Forgiveness is a personal thing that happens within you. And Joseph’s brothers had a moderate understanding of what forgiveness is. In fact, verse 17 says, “now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God, of your father.” In other words, his brothers were saying to Joseph: Joseph, your relationship with God must have value to you so we want to connect your ability to forgive us based on the fact that you walk with God and we then are servants of God.
His brothers were not good people, but we still have to answer the question.
Like most people, Joseph’s brothers did not fully understand what forgiveness is. And I want you to understand that.
May I suggest then forgiveness means to set free, to let go, to release, to grant pardon?
What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Reconciliation is a social word that means to come back together in a harmonious, socially tight way. When you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean the relationship is returned to that place.
If you’re my friend and you broke into my garage at night and stole my car and I find out about it two weeks later, I’m not going to be friends with you. Will I forgive you? Absolutely. But we’re going to the police station. You’re getting locked up.
Don’t confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s not the same. Forgiveness does not mean justice or the elimination of justice. Again, I have no struggle taking my friend or my former friend to the precinct or calling 9-1-1 on my friend, my former friend. Why? Because forgiveness is intrapersonal. I am setting them free. I am releasing them.
I’m not going to be tied to the past and the anguish of the past, but it doesn’t equate to justice or the elimination of justice. In other words, I still need justice to be exacted against my former friend to teach him a lesson.
The third thing we need to be conscious of is that forgiveness does not mean that you ignore healthy or remove healthy boundaries. A boundary is something that distinguishes where you end and where I begin. Trust is part of that. Trust is earned. It’s not given automatically because I forgive you. Just because I forgive you doesn’t mean that the boundaries are eliminated.
Don’t confuse the two; forgiveness does not mean ignoring my feelings of anger or resentment or disgust or other human emotions.
Will I be angry that my friend broke into my garage? Absolutely. Is it wrong for me to be angry? No. Is it wrong for me to have a sense of disgust? No, but I’m not going to mix the two. They’re two separate and entirely different things.
Yes, I forgive, but I can still be angry because of what happened. That’s why we confuse things sometimes. We think that forgiving means you forget. No, you don’t forget because you remember what happened to you.
Forgiveness releases you from the past. It frees you when you recognize you will be the bird in the cage unless you forgive. Forgiveness sets you free. It releases you from the past. Forgiveness cuts off the pain and resentment from the past. It drains that junk from your soul. That’s why you need to forgive. In fact, the root meaning of the word resentment is to feel again.
So when you forgive, resentment is washed from your soul, you start to feel again. And that’s why it’s so essential.
The world knows Oprah Winfrey as this billionaire TV mogul. But, did you know that when Oprah was 9 years old, she was raped? And she said the family member who raped me took me to an ice cream shop, with blood still running down my leg, and bought me ice cream. Winfrey then was sexually abused, not only by this family member but by a cousin, by an uncle, and by her mother’s boyfriend. Four different people from the age of nine to 14, sexually abused her. At 14, she became pregnant with a little boy, and moments after the boy was born, he passed. But you know what I so admire about Oprah is when she said this quote, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.
It’s accepting the past for what it was and using this and this time to help yourself move forward.” I want you to see forgiveness is letting go of the past so you can move forward.
There are four main reasons why we should forgive.
There are lots of empirical studies that have been done by psychologists and sociologists and analytical individuals, that have recognized there’s something to this forgiveness. It’s not just a “religious experience” or “religious teaching.”
Empirical studies show that the benefits of forgiveness include the reduction of anxiety, the reducing of depression, anger lowers and it returns back to normal levels before the offense happened.
Forgiveness therapy has also been shown to enhance marital strength and quality. It prevents the development of psychiatric problems. Forgiveness therapy has been proven to increase competence to deal with conflict. Forgiveness therapy decreases negative feelings and increases positive changes in how you look at and how you process emotions.
It results in self-esteem that’s higher. It brings a higher level of hopefulness. All those things take place.
In fact, a study was done by Erasmus University in the Netherlands to see some of the physical impacts of forgiveness. So they brought in participants into a room and these individuals either gave or withheld forgiveness. And they asked them to jump five times as high as they could without bending their knees. The forgivers jumped higher—about 11.8 inches. On average, those who held the grudge were only able to jump 8.5 inches. In other words, forgiveness burdens you, and the impact is not just emotional and psychological—the impact even moves to physical.
My question to you is: Have you forgiven those who have offended you?
Some people only practice forgiveness when someone says to them, I’m sorry, my bad, my mistake, sorry for doing that. There’s repentance. Now there’s a Biblical foundation for that because Jesus said this in Luke 17:3. So be careful what you do. Correct any followers of mine who sin and forgive the ones who say, they’re sorry.
So Jesus is pointing out that there are going to be times when people offend you and they’re going to say, forgive me. And when they do, forgive them.
But remember what happens if the person or persons never apologize? See the passage in Genesis 50. When you go through the math of Joseph’s pain, he was 17 when his brothers, driven by jealousy and envy, sold him to the Ishmaelites, who then resold him to Potiphar. Then he got imprisoned for 10 years. And so he went through all of this. Now, when they’re in essence, asking for forgiveness and lying about it, Joseph was 56 years old. Thirty-nine years elapsed since he was 17 to 56. And during those 39 years, none of his 10 older brothers, even attempted to say I’m sorry. And Joseph did not wait for them to apologize.
Some people wait for an apology and they’ll accept an apology if it was a good one, and had good intentions. In other words, the person made a mistake. An example may be that they were coming home from work and they had worked a double shift and they fell asleep at the wheel and they hit your car and you got whiplash and your arm broke. And so you walk around angry. But when you found out it was a single mom and she has three children and she worked a double shift and she fell asleep at the wheel, then all of a sudden you realize, you know something, it was just a mistake. And so you forgive. That’s conditional forgiveness.
There was a study done and it was captured in the journal of behavioral medicine. They wanted to test the longevity of someone’s life based on the practice of forgiveness. There were two categories of people, one group that forgave based on conditions. You know, mishaps, something happened that was accidental. It was good intentions that a person had, but they just messed up. One category is conditional forgiveness and the other category, just forgive.
The individuals who fell into the category of conditional forgiveness died earlier than the ones who did not set forgiveness based on conditions.
You can be taking away valuable years of your own life if you don’t know how to forgive without waiting for specific conditions.
Some grant forgiveness because they realize I should forgive you because God forgave me. Jesus spoke to it in Matthew 6:14, when he said, “if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Is there Biblical precedence for that? Absolutely. You just read the verse, but there’s a fourth kind of forgiveness. That’s the kind Joseph practiced and that’s the kind I want to practice. And that’s the kind, I want you to practice. It’s called lifestyle commitment.
For some, forgiveness is a lifestyle. They’ve made a commitment to love and not to hate. And they’re not waiting for an apology. They’re not waiting for certain conditions. They’re not forgiving you because God will forgive them. It’s not based on that. And Jesus spoke to that in Luke 17:4 when He said, “even if one of them, one of my followers mistreats you seven times in one day and says, I’m sorry, you should still forgive that person.”
So what we’re seeing is this lifestyle commitment. You can’t sit around waiting. Jesus doesn’t teach us to wait. He doesn’t teach us to just forgive because God forgave you. He teaches us to live a lifestyle of forgiveness. But you have to remember, forgiveness is not for the person who offended you. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.
How Do I Forgive?
Let’s go back to our foundational verse. Genesis 15:19 says, “Then Joseph said to them, don’t be afraid. Can I do what only God can do? You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done. So don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children. So Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kind words to them.”
There were four steps Joseph took to forgive.
Step One: Assign Blame
Who hurt you? Joseph was very clear. He told his brothers that they meant to hurt him, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done. Joseph pointed his finger and assigned blame to his older brothers.
Now I’m not suggesting that the Scripture is saying that you have to go to someone’s house and point the finger. No, remember, forgiveness, is an intrapersonal experience. You can be in your own home and you’ll say, this person hurt me. And you’re there in your own private living room and you’re praying and you’re getting ready to go through a process of forgiveness.
Or the person who wounded you may have been deceased for years. And you can say, my uncle molested me when I was 20 years old or when I was 15 or when I was five years old. And you can say, you know, I’m blaming my uncle.
Step Two: Accept That Humans Are Flawed
Everyone’s broken, everyone’s complicated. Everyone is messed up in some way, shape or form. When you accept that, there’s an empathy that flows out of your life because when you really think about it, you’ve hurt someone and you probably will hurt someone, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, in the days that lie ahead. You may say, well, I didn’t do that and now you’re putting yourself in the place of God, measuring the level of infraction and the depth of pain.
You don’t know how people are going to process what you say to them or what you do to them. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious. All I’m saying is this, Joseph recognized that he accepted flaws. He said, you meant to hurt me, brothers, but God turned your evil into good.
Step Three: Admit Surrender
Vengeance is mine says the Lord. Joseph was clear in verse 19. Don’t be afraid, he tells his brothers, “Can I do what only God can do?”
Joseph did not want to put himself in the place of God. That’s not who he was.
Step Four: You Wish Them Well
And again, you don’t have to go to the person’s house to do this. You can be in your own home. You can be sitting right where you’re sitting now and you can be able to say, I wish them well.
Forgiveness is for you.
I want to answer the question now, who should say, sorry?
In other words, who should forgive? Well, I answer it this way:
Whoever wants to be free from the pain of the past, that’s who should forgive.
Who should forgive? Whoever wants to have power over their lives to move forward. That’s who should forgive.
Who should forgive? Whoever wants to be greater in the relationship versus the lesser, that’s who should forgive.
Who should forgive? Whoever wants inner peace and hopefulness, they should forgive.
So if you want those things, then you should forgive. Joseph freely pardoned his brothers. Were they deserving of it? Absolutely not, but Joseph pardoned them. Why? He needed to have an interior that was clean and looking forward and able to love on others without being guarded and junked up.
He needed to make sure that his future was not encumbered by carrying around the weight of the past.
My question to you is, what are you waiting for?
Will you forgive?
When your heart isn’t junked up with grievances and resentment and the poison of unforgiveness, you can enjoy life.
And I want to challenge you today. This is the moment that God has established for you to be able to say, I’m going to be a forgiver and I’m going to let those individuals go, who have hurt me.