This word gives me the creeps. Shivers down the spine. Sweaty hands. Quickened heartbeat.
A few years ago someone selected this word to describe me. Ouch.
It left me wounded and hurt and hobbling and scarred. I felt like I got punched in the face. How do you recover from that one?
We all are wounded, aren’t we? Someone did something to us. Someone said something to us. Or maybe it was an event. Or even a self-inflicted wound.
If we’re honest, we don’t want what someone did to determine what our lives will be like. We want to move on. To shake it off. To be happy and whole and complete and alive.
But we hear a song or see a place or watch a movie or see a person and our wound is re-opened and it all comes flooding back and rears its ugly head worse than ever. And we get easily annoyed. Easily angered. Easily critical. Easily sad. Easily bitter. Easily distracted. Easily irrational. Easily offended. Why?
We are carrying around a wound. It’s a part of us. It’s a part of those around us too. Our wives and husbands and siblings and friends and co-workers are recipients of our wound. We hand it to them.
When we hand our wound to someone, it’s called revenge.
In Genesis 37, we read about a bunch of brothers who handed their wound to their little brother Joseph. They mocked him and manhandled him and stripped him of his special robe. They threw him into an empty cistern and sold him to slave traders. They hoped to never see him or think of him again.
After all, in their minds, he was unsalvageable.
Separated from his father. Disowned by his brothers.
Betrayed. Forgotten. Misunderstood. Given up on.
Dishonored. Unloved. Unaccepted. Hurt. Wounded.
A dozen years later, Joseph finds himself in Egypt. Miraculously, he is second in command to Pharaoh. There is a severe famine. And his brothers come to Egypt to find food. Joseph recognizes them and has them each beheaded, right?
After all, stories about turning the other cheek are far less interesting than stories about stabbing someone through the cheek, right? But not this story. Rather than chopping their heads off, we read, “Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.”
Wow. Amazing isn’t it? Weakness? I don’t think so. Pure strength. Pure love. Pure forgiveness.
What happened? Joseph had chosen to let God do what God does best.
Justice. Retribution. Discipline. Punishment.
Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.”
Paul says in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Revenge is a failure to entrust ourselves to God’s justice. Forgiveness is a willingness to let God do the correcting and disciplining and punishing. After all, He is pretty good at what He does.
Forgiveness. It’s a nice, warm and fuzzy thought isn’t it? Sure it’s not easy. Sure it hurts. Sure it seems weak. Sure it seems unfair.
But when we say, “Father, forgive them”, we choose not to pass on the wound, but rather to absorb it. It dies.
Tim Keller says “Refusing to make them pay for what they did—refraining to lash out at someone is agony—taking the cost of it on myself instead of taking it out on another person, is a form of suffering. Of death.”
But that’s what Jesus did for us, isn’t it? 1 Peter 2:23 says, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. He entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.”
Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still enemies, Christ died for us.”
Finally, Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Jesus, the greater Joseph, allowed himself to be wounded so our wounds could be healed. The cross is God’s way of saying, “I don’t hold your past against you.” With Jesus, there is now no condemnation, no list of wrongs, and no judgment.
So, may we decide not to carry around that grudge, that hatred, that rage, and that bitterness for one more day. Where there is an air of revenge—may we step in with patience and grace. May we give the wound to God and let Him take care of it. When we let that person off the hook, may we let ourselves off the hook. May we realize that in freeing another we actually free ourselves.
Because no one is unsalvageable.