“…do not be distressed and angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”
When Joseph said this to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery many years before, it was the ultimate letting off the hook. Joseph saw what we so often forget — even when someone hurts us, God is still in control. God is still able to work in circumstances even when they are brought about by sin.
The history of God’s “chosen people” up to this point is full of sin; lying, trickery, manipulation and unbelief. But God is still intent on His purpose and continues to work through His chosen people, even despite their imperfections. He did not choose them because they were perfect — He does not reject them because of their imperfections.
And so it is with us. We think we have to do everything right to stay in His graces, forgetting that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, thinking that we can disqualify ourselves from His presence with our sin, not understanding that it is only by His grace that we are allowed into His presence in the first place. And it is our misunderstanding of this concept that causes us to have such trouble with forgiving each other.
When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he wasn’t just concerned that they knew he had forgiven them. He wanted to make sure that they forgave themselves. What a foreshadowing of Christ’s cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
When we find ourselves wronged, it is so easy to focus on the pain, the unfairness, the injustice of it all. That focus, if kept for too long, can till the soil for a root of bitterness and unforgiveness. Or we can choose, as Joseph did, to let God work through our lives after the event, forgiving those who caused it so thoroughly that we find ourselves concerned in the end with their own state of heart. That is the working of God’s grace; no amount of self-control or willpower on our parts can achieve such a lofty goal. And only as we remember what a huge debt we ourselves have had forgiven can we even begin to operate in His grace.