By Rev. Dr. William H. Chavis, Jr.
Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15
The New Year has come. Last year is history. Today is now. Tomorrow is still not yet. The present, past, and future are set within any given day. As I write this article, words flowing from my pen to paper are already in the past, while future words that are about to be written will become words of the present. If mistakes are made, I will erase any errors. God erases our sins by forgiving our past as if we never had a sinful past (Hebrews 8:12). God celebrates His love by forgiving us! Divine forgiveness is the original and the ultimate eraser.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is grieving the emotional hurt without taking revenge toward the person who abused you. It is letting God repair your emotional pain as you grieve by disengaging yourself from the abuser and leaving judgment to God, so you can freely live your life with love.
Joseph was a remarkable human being. Joseph’s brothers sold him into the evils of slavery. He forgave them. Forgiveness does not mean that the person who harmed you should be given a free pass. The act of forgiveness does not excuse the offender’s behavior nor gives that person an automatic invitation back into your life. Joseph left the judgment of his brothers in the hands of God. He is better qualified to mete out justice. Joseph took no personal revenge but sought to heal his hurts through God’s love.
The well-known phrase “forgive and forget” is not a possibility. Joseph did not forget how his brothers treated him. Had he forgotten, he could not forgive. Joseph named his firstborn son Manasseh which means “making to forget.” When Joseph named his son Manasseh, he states why in Genesis 41:51: “God has made me forget all my troubles and all of my father’s household.”
Joseph did not want his brothers’ shocking mistreatment to be snapshots in his memory, frozen in time, causing him to be emotionally stuck. He did not want his offenders to live rent-free in his head.
The late theologian Lewis Smedes calls such an attitude by Joseph “redemptive memory.” He wrote that redemptive memory is a memory that sets us free from the hurts of the past with “the power to forgive what we still do remember.” We struggle with forgiveness because it is not natural to us. We want to attack and destroy our offenders. God is the only One who knows how to dispense justice righteously.
As Christians, forgiveness is based on a sacrifice made by Christ Jesus on the cross. God wants us to meet Him in our hurts because He suffered on the cross in the Person of Christ Jesus and forgave our sins. God wants us to grieve the emotional wounds without taking revenge toward the person who offended us while leaving that person to the justice of God (1 Peter 2:23). Healing comes when God heals our hurts as we grieve wholesomely, disengaging the wrongdoer from our pain.
Divine forgiveness is the original and the ultimate eraser. Jesus wants us to live freely and to love and forgive others (Luke 17:1-5) for our spiritual and emotional well-being. We can forgive because we are joined by the resurrected and living Lord Jesus as co-participants in forgiveness. The death of Christ on the cross is God’s visible celebration of His unlimited love toward us by showing that our sins are forgiven.
May this New Year bring you the joy of the Lord through your act of forgiveness.