What lies between forgiveness and revenge?

Genesis 50

Jacob is dead. It takes 40 days to embalm him. He is mourned for 70 days by the Egyptians, and then is taken to his chosen burial place. Funeral rites are held, and Joseph mourns his father for 7 more days. Upon his return to Egypt, his brothers fear he will seek out retribution for them trying to kill him. They lie and say it was their fathers dying wish that Joseph forgive them.

But Joseph replied to them: “Do not fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people. So now, do not fear. I will provide for you and for your children.” By thus speaking kindly to them, he reassured them. (Genesis 50:19-21)

Joseph dies at the end of the chapter, and is buried in a coffin in Egypt.

I really like the way this chapter deals with the issue surrounding Joseph and his brothers. If you notice, he does not explicitly forgive them. instead, he acknowledges the situation, and what had happened, and says that they should not be afraid. Joseph has chosen the path of not seeking revenge, but apparently he has not chosen forgiveness either. He sees the good that has come from that initial act of his attempted murder at the hands of his brothers. If not for them, Joseph would never had made it to Egypt, never come into service of the pharaoh, and never would have managed to food stocks in a way that kept nations alive in time of famine.

There seems to be a pervasive belief that we really have only two choices in the matter, forgiveness and revenge. We are taught that one is good (forgiveness), and that the other is bad (revenge). There is a middle ground though, and I think it is a choice that many should make, and probably do in actuality when they say they have forgiven.

I think there are times when this is the best course of action. There are actions, behaviors, thoughts, for which forgiveness is not an acceptable course of action. But by not forgiving, one is not forced into seeking revenge. Revenge is usually an action that does not serve any more purpose than emotional release. It will not undue that which revenge was sought after in the first place, and further inflicts harm on others, and worse, may induce a cycle of revenge.

I will admit that this is an amorphous construct as of yet, and am willing to open up discussion on this topic, and in fact encourage it. I best come to conclusions when in dialogue with others.


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