Out of the many stories one of my college professors told us, I remember one in particular. Attempting to provide an illustration for the very important biblical topic of forgiveness, he told us the story of two brothers. Each time there was a fight between the two, they would go down to the river to record the details of the fight: who started it, who said or did what, why was the other brother wrong, and perhaps there was a demand for an apology. The two recorded the details, but the fundamental difference in their actions was where the offense was written.
The first brother planned his speech, gathered all the necessary tools, and used his stone-crafting gifts to carve the details on the rocks and stones to ensure his brother would not get away with anything, to manifest publicly his disappointment with his brother, to expose his brother’s unceremonious behavior, and to make sure down the road, if his memory failed him, that no one would ever doubt who was right.
The second brother went to the river and, just as his feet touched the soft, muddy brown sand, he knelt down and started to write everything his brother had done to him. His greatest desire and hope was that the water would wash away his brother’s faults, make them disappear, bury them in the sea, and he would remember them no more.
Genesis 37 introduces one of the most remarkable life stories in the Bible. Joseph’s blood brothers mocked him, sold him for money to strangers, told lies about him, rejected him, hated him, deprived him of basic rights such as food, clothing, freedom, and speech.
It seems that Joseph had every reason to sever all ties with his brothers, vent hatred on humanity, and slam the door on God, but he didn’t. Joseph arrived at a very emotional time in his life, a breakthrough moment where the heavy load of adversity meets head-on with the natural flow of forgiveness.
In Genesis 50:15-21, we find Joseph doing what sometimes is so difficult to do—writing his brothers’ faults and sins against him on the sand, hoping and desiring that they will be remembered no more. Joseph, instead of becoming vindictive, forgave his brothers and spoke kindly to them. What an example to us as Christians living in a world that is marked with lies, rejection, hate, deprivation, and violations of basic human rights. Joseph’s example teaches us how to live.
How do you know you have truly forgiven your brother? Ask yourself these few questions: Do I still expect my brother to pay for his faults? Do I have plans to one day meet him back on the same path? When I see my offender, who do I see, an enemy or a brother?
God promises in Micah 7:19, “He will turn again, He will have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities; and . . . cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea.” Joseph lived a life worth remembering and emulating.
“We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground for all forgiveness is found in the unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others we show whether we have made that love our own”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 251.
Practicing forgiveness is at the heart of our own salvation. It is central to our own professional success and personal relationships, and is critical to a healthy lifestyle. It is important to let go of any trace of resentment or degree of hatred or pain. Perhaps, as in Joseph’s life, the evil against you and your family, God meant it for good. We should write our brother’s offense on the sand, not on the rocks. Forgive others!
Elias Zabala, Sr., is the Atlantic Union Conference treasurer and stewardship director.