The Pitfall of Bitterness
Genesis 45:1–5, 9–11
Relationships can only move forward with forgiveness.
Bitterness has been called the “cancer of the soul.” It has the power to destroy a life. Bitterness is usually the result of a hurt, an offense, a betrayal or a loss. Hurts that are not processed correctly often morph into anger and that seed of anger becomes a root of bitterness.
Hebrews 12:15 admonishes us to “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (NLT).
Over the years I have spoken with people who carry the baggage of anger and bitterness over offenses that occurred 20 years before. Because they rehearse the hurt and dwell on it daily, it seems like the offense just happened. You cannot move forward until you deal with the hurts of the past, and the only way for a believer to deal with those hurts is through forgiveness!
Embrace your pain so you can move forward. (1–3)
Joseph had a decision to make. It was within his power, as second-in-command to Pharaoh, to finally get payback on all those who had caused him years of hurt and pain.
The philosophy of modern times is, “Bury the pain … replace the loss.” However, the biblical response to hurt, modeled by Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, is: “Embrace pain … grieve the loss.”
We can only imagine the thoughts that must have been in the heart and mind of Joseph as he recognized his brothers coming to him for grain. Although they didn’t recognize him in his Egyptian attire, Joseph knew them. Would he seek revenge? No. But he did test them to see if they had experienced remorse over their past behavior.
Forgive those who have wronged you. (4–5)
John Macarthur writes that we are never more like Jesus than when we forgive. Forgiveness is so important to our Lord that He mentions it twice in the model prayer in Matthew 6. A believer has no other choice but to forgive. In reality, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself because it breaks the ties with the one who hurt you.
My definition of forgiveness is this: A gift I give, a debt I cancel based upon the forgiveness I have received.
Restore broken relationships by seeking their best. (9–11)
Forgiveness is the gift Joseph gave to his brothers. He didn’t excuse their actions or minimize the pain they had caused him. He understood that they, too, had suffered from the decisions they had made out of anger many years before.
Not only did Joseph reveal himself to them, he forgave them and embraced them. Beyond that, he provided for their well-being in the midst of a worldwide famine.
Lewis Smedes in his book “Forgive and Forget” says, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
Joseph’s act of forgiveness reunited his family.
However, forgiveness doesn’t always result in reconciliation. It takes both parties to achieve that, and we can’t be responsible for the other party in the relationship.
Paul encourages us in Romans 12:18, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (CSB).
Smedes also writes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
By Don Fugate
Fugate is senior pastor at Foxworthy Baptist Church in San Jose, California.