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What the Bible Story of Joseph Teaches Us About Forgiveness

What the Bible Story of Joseph Teaches Us About Forgiveness

The earliest memories I have of the biblical story of Joseph is watching the 1999 direct-to-video production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. When you’re watching “Benjamin Calypso” with its palm trees and neon flights, the full weight of the family drama doesn’t exactly hit. It can be easy to gloss over the reality of what Joseph faced in what sometimes feels like a fantastical narrative.

 

The truth is, however, many of us today face betrayal and enormous amounts of pain because of the people who were supposed to love us most. As someone who has experienced serious abuse from family members, I understand how hard it is to extend grace and forgiveness in those situations.

But how do we do it? Recently, I’ve seen people asserting that encouraging people to forgive others is a serious affront to their well-being and re-victimizes them. While this can be true with a limited understanding of forgiveness (namely that we ignore harmful situations and allow dangerous people to remain in our life), I am a passionate believer of the power of forgiveness. I think it has very little to do with the person who has harmed us and much to do with our exhalation and embracing of a divine nature. In this light, forgiveness can be one of the most empowering and enabling actions we can take.

What can Joseph’s story about forgiving his brothers teach us as we face our own challenges today?

Focus on Thriving in the Present

When Joseph was sold into Egypt, he found success and achievement in the house of Potiphar. Genesis 39:3-4 tells us, “And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand.”

I believe part of Joseph’s favor came from his character—he was a man of integrity who worked hard and remained faithful. We should strive to be like Joseph and focus on thriving in our present circumstances, whatever they may be.

It would have been easy for Joseph to be full of anger and bitterness after his brother’s betrayal. He could have chosen to focus intently on how he felt about his brothers and what they had done to him. Should Joseph fanned the natural man inside of him, he may never have been able to ascend as he did in Egypt. Likewise, if we are so full of hate from the actions of mortal men, we will not have room for the light of God’s grace.

We need to remember what has happened to us. We need to reflect and understand in order to find healing and set appropriate boundaries. But oftentimes the refusal to forgive means we dig our nails tighter into our trauma, refusing to let it go and allowing it to continually define our present choices.

Boundaries & Change

When his brothers arrived in Egypt, Joseph didn’t know if they had repented of the horrible thing they had done. He seemingly tests them by having one of his servants hide a silver cup in the sack of food prepared for Benjamin. Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin, insisting their father Jacob will suffer and die if Benjamin is forced to remain a servant in Egypt.

As the Narrator said in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, “And Joseph knew by this his brothers now were honest men. The time had come at last to reunite them all again.”

While we can’t be sure of all Joseph’s intentions when he hid the cup in his brother’s sack, it is an appropriate symbol of setting boundaries and requiring righteous change as a part of forgiveness.

Many believe that if we say we forgive someone, we are absolving them of their sin and allowing them to be in our lives without any sort of consequence. This is not true. When we forgive, we relinquish judgment to God. We then must set boundaries to protect ourselves from further harm. If someone has seriously wronged us, we must decide how and even if they can remain a part of our lives. We seek and encourage change.

The Time Grows Short

Joseph was swayed multiple times in Egypt. Upon seeing his younger brother Benjamin, the only brother of his own mother Rachel, he “made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.”

The second time, Judah is imploring for Benjamin on behalf of his father. Judah even quotes Jacob when he says, “Surely [Joseph] is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Joseph cannot refrain from revealing his identity to his brothers and weeps aloud.

There are, sadly, some relationships that are not able to be repaired in this life. But if there is a chance to forge on a new (and healthy) path with someone we love, we should strive for it. After only seventeen more years with his beloved son after they were reunited, Jacob died in Egypt.

We don’t know the time we are allotted with those in our lives, but the time is most likely shorter than any of us will ever want it to be. If Joseph had cast out his brothers, he may never have been able to enjoy those peaceful years with this family before his father died.

Gifts Granted, Not Lessons Learned

I would never say that God wants abuse or trauma to happen for some higher purpose. I don’t believe in that. I do believe that God can consecrate everything for good. Instead of a lesson we need to learn from a harsh teacher, I like to think of gifts granted from a loving God. He can glorify any broken part of ourselves.

Joseph was able to gain perspective and see that he was able to help his family survive starvation because of how the Lord helped him. We too should look for the unexpected gifts we can embrace in the midst of difficult times often caused by the agency of others.

Forgiveness is Not Easy

Forgiveness is not easy. The ability to forgive is one of the hallmark characteristics of our Savior, Jesus Christ. To strive and be like Him is no small task. However, we are promised that forgiveness is a healing, glorious principle. Like Joseph in Egypt, we can find it will do miraculous things in our lives.

Featured Art by Yoram Rannan

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