One of the things we long for the most when we’ve been wronged – especially in our marriages, where we will wrong and be wronged too many times to keep count over the course of a lifetime – the thing we long for the most is an apology. A legitimate: I did (____). I was wrong. I’m sorry and I feel badly that I hurt you. Will you please forgive me?
We feel like we can then forgive, grieve, and continue on in our journey.
But what about when that apology never comes?
Do we get to withhold forgiveness until there’s an apology?
I was struggling on writing about forgiveness. I just couldn’t get any words to come out. But God knows. He always knows.
My Wednesday morning Bible study is reading about Joseph right now and today we discussed his story in Genesis 37-50, focusing mainly on forgiveness.
The biblical account points out time and time again that Joseph relied on God and the Lord blessed him in everything he did – being promoted to the head of the household, being above the other prisoner’s in jail, and becoming prime minister of Egypt.
How easy do you think it would have been for Joseph to be angry, hateful, and unforgiving? His own brothers sold him as a slave after contemplating his murder. He ended up in a country far from home, working as a slave for a high government official.
I have no doubt that Joseph, as he walked the trade route, tied up and head hung low, was angry. Hurt. Confused. Hateful. And a myriad of other negative and difficult emotions.
So how can I be sure that he forgave his brothers?
Unforgiveness plants seed of bitterness in our hearts. We may not notice them at first, because bitter seeds take root deep down and out and all over our hearts. And then come the shoots, the plants we can see above the ground. But by then, these weeds are sucking off life and nutrients from the good seeds around them.
So, I ask again. How can I be sure Joseph forgave his brothers?
The fruit that comes out of Joseph is not bitter fruit. Any good that is seen in him, he is quick to point to God. He is elevated to positions of authority because God blesses him and his fruit.
Somewhere along the way, Joseph forgave his brothers. Somewhere between age 17, when he was sold into slavery, and age 39 when he revealed himself to his brothers, he forgave them. (And my guess is somewhere a lot close to the 17 end of the spectrum than the 39 end, since we don’t see bitter fruit in Egypt.) He reassures them 3 times in 4 sentences that he has forgiven them. God turned what they meant for evil into good.
Since we can see by his fruit that he forgave his brothers before he revealed himself to them, we know he never got an apology.
And he forgave anyways.
That’s a heart-level, much-prayed-for, freedom-from-bitterness change that only God can work through prayer.
I’m sure it was hard.
I’m sure there were nights and days that Joseph cried out and asked God “WHY?!? Why am I being tested, grown, refined, shaped THIS way?” And yet he knew God was sovereign and had a reason and he CHOSE to forgive. He realized he could only work on himself not anyone else and so he started there.
Sounds similar to marriage, huh?
We can really only worry about ourselves, our own hearts, and our own motivations, and take that to the Father. As I pray, it will be my heart that is changed toward the situation. In the reshaping. Refining. Growing. And yes, forgiving
But what if the apology never comes?
Then we have two choices:
1. We can let the unforgiveness sow seeds of bitterness that root deeply into our hearts and strangle out the good seed as it comes. These roots will be really hard to fully weed out with their deep and wide roots, impacting relationships and people, our mood and temperament, and our fruit. (See the Parable of the Sower.)
2. We can pray and beg God that we can forgive just as He forgave us. Yeah, Jesus didn’t get an apology before He went to the cross, and He did it anyway, seeking God’s will the whole time. This might mean days, weeks, months, or even years of prayers to be able to forgive someone. God will free your heart of those bitter seeds in a way that ONLY He can.
God, I can recognize bitterness. I feel like it consumes my thoughts and makes my heart so ugly. Thank you for teaching me that bitterness is a seed of unforgiveness. Help me to choose forgiveness in the moment. Lead me to my knees to pray to be able to forgive when I am hurt and hurting. Even when the person doesn’t ask. And especially if they don’t deserve it. None of us do. Thank you for sending Your son as a model of this beautiful forgiveness. -Amen