As human beings we like to get even. We flock to movie theatres to watch the good guy sock it to the bad guy in the end of the movie. We love vengeance! Of course we do. It only makes sense. If someone hurts us the only fair thing to do is to hurt them back to the measure that we have been hurt. Then everything will be even. At a gut level, this makes sense.
There is a problem with that kind of thinking, though. If a person cuts off your arm, and then you cut off his arm out of vengeance, has justice really been served? Has the problem really been fixed? Not really. All you have is two people missing an arm.
A deep truth of the Kingdom of God is that repaying evil with evil is stupid. All you are doing is spreading evil. The story of Joseph is the first of a series of stories — ultimately culminating in Jesus Himself — that demonstrate the truth of God’s Kingdom. The only thing that will overcome evil is the love of God. Notice that I didn’t burst into a rousing chorus of “all we need is love.” The love culture of the 60’s was a distortion of truth because the 60’s kind of love was a human, self-gratifying love. The love of God is a selfless, other-oriented kind of love. It is love that has an eternal, God-lens perspective.
Here’s what it looks like at a very practical level. Perhaps you have heard this phrase: “hurting people hurt people.” Why did Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery? They were jealous. Why were they jealous? Because their father, Jacob, played favorites among his children, and he played favorites among his wives. Why did Jacob play favorites? Jacob spent most of his life lying and cheating and wrestling with God. What we have here is a classic dysfunctional family system. These boys were hurting units.
Does that excuse their behavior? Not at all. Does it explain their behavior? Quite a bit.
Joseph, by the grace of God, was able to rise above the physical pain and the physical perspective of his situation. He was able to allow himself to see life through spiritual eyes. When Joseph saw his brothers, he didn’t see his own pain that they had inflicted on him, he saw their pain and took pity on them. He also saw the hand of God moving in the middle of the whole mess bringing about a greater good that no one could have ever imagined.
All of us have been hurt by someone at some point in our lives. You, also, have hurt someone at some point in your life. One of the first steps towards experiencing the joy and freedom of God’s Kingdom is to throw away the score cards and stop seeking vengeance and payback for our pain. Give that one to God. If someone truly deserves to be punished, let God handle it. If you can find the love of God for the person who hurt you, and then let God’s love pour out on that person, do you know what will happen? Instead of two people standing there missing an arm, you will find two people who have been healed by the mysterious grace of God!