What would it take for you to forgive someone who convinced your father you were dead, sold you as a slave, and by their actions, caused you to be wrongly accused of rape and thrown in prison? If we are honest, it would require a lot for us to forgive an offense like that.
Why, then, would Joseph, who endured all that and more, forgive his own brothers for such unimaginable sins against him? Did he just want to be “over it?” Was he planning a revenge scheme? Will they spend their lives making it up to him?
None of this. Joseph forgives his brothers immediately, and what’s more, he lavishes kindness on them (Genesis 50:19-21).
What would make a man forgive and love like this?
The answer may not be what we think. It is God’s providence that promotes Joseph’s forgiveness.
The Power of Providence
Christians believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, always present, loving, kind, gracious, holy, perfect, and many other attributes. Providence, put simply, is God’s loving care and direction over the world and its affairs.
This means that God knows everything that is ever going to happen, He orchestrates all things according to his plan, and He does so out of love and care for His people.
Joseph is certain of God’s providential hand in his life. All the suffering, pain, loneliness, lies, and hurt he endured was purposeful, and he knew it. Joseph could see that he was placed in Egypt so that he could serve during a great famine and ensure that his family and many others would live (Genesis 50:20).
Anything evil his brothers intended against him, God directed for good and wonderful purposes (Genesis 50:20). The surety Joseph had about God’s providential hand was all he needed to forgive his brothers.
Because he understood God’s greater plan and purpose, he had every reason to forgive quickly and holistically. In Joseph’s mind, his suffering was worth it because God used it for good. What reason did he have for a grudge or revenge if God was the one who redeemed their actions? Joseph can forgive freely because he trusts God’s providence.
Providence and Forgiveness
If we believed in God’s providence like Joseph did, we would also be quick to forgive those who sin against us. Our trust in God’s perfect plan directly correlates with how easily we forgive. Imagine if you did not think God was all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. When someone sinned against you, you might withhold forgiveness because you cannot understand why anyone would ever hurt you.
However, if you believed fully that God was all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, you would trust Him and believe that even the worst sins against you, God can work for His glory and your good. This belief in God’s providence can transform the way we interact with those who wrong us.
To take this one step further, we can look to Jesus and remember that he endured the most undeserved suffering because he knew that his death, burial, and resurrection was part of God’s perfect, providential plan. Through Jesus, God lavished undeserved forgiveness and care on us. We rebelled against God and yet his forgiveness of us is immediate in Jesus.
When we have been forgiven this way, what could ever cause us to withhold forgiveness from others?
This post is written by Allyson Todd, and is published as a companion to Unit 3, Session 5 of The Gospel Project for Adults Vol. 1 (Fall 2021): From Creation to Chaos.