The anthem that perhaps best sums up the 1960s and 1970s is the song "All You Need Is Love." The lyrics essentially say love is easy. Well, it is easy to love those who are lovely. But to love the angry, contemptuous, bitter—that's not so easy. It's natural to love the lovely. But to love the unlovely is supernatural.
And that's exactly what Joseph did when facing off with his brothers who had sold him as a slave twenty-one years before. Now, Joseph could've thrown his brothers in jail. He could've sent them back home to Canaan with nothing. Or he could've simply had their heads chopped off. But Joseph chose to forgive them, love them, and lavish his provision on them as long as they lived.
Read Joseph's words as he revealed himself to his brothers: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…. God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:4-5, 7).
Now we're getting to the heart of Joseph's theology. He was saying, "God is sovereign above everything that happens, and I'm okay with that. I even take the bad stuff into a vertical perspective. Behind your ploy was God's plan; He's the one who sent me here."
Joseph told his brothers to return to their father in Canaan and give him the news, then bring the whole family back to "dwell in the land of Goshen"—a verdant, lush land—"and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children's children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you" (vv. 10-11).
Joseph didn't deal with them like he could have—and perhaps should have. He dealt with them as God deals with us: with mercy and grace. Mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don't deserve. "I see the hand of God in this, so I'm not going to punish you"—that's mercy. "And not only that, but I'm going to lavishly, abundantly take care of you for the rest of your life"—that's grace.
Joseph chose to forgive, because forgiveness is a choice. As a result, his brothers were set free. I believe Joseph was also set free—taken to a whole new level. Are you holding back forgiveness from someone? If you base forgiveness on your feelings, you may never go through with it; it's counterintuitive. So take a page from Joseph's book and choose to forgive. You may find you needed to be set free all along.