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How to Forgive the Unforgivable

When you have been abused, maligned, and perhaps traded off like goods, you can feel the pain for a long time. In fact, the pain can cut so deep that even after you survive the ordeal and turned out well, the pain may still jab at you from time to time.

The pain of the victim could also linger because of unremedied injustices. The perpetrator may have walked free after all. They must be having a great life (you think), while you are dealing with the wounds of their atrocities or struggling to hide the ugly scars.

The empowered victim

The pain of the victim is understandable and expected. But the pain of perpetrator gets very little airtime. The reality is that it is not always the case that the perpetrator is having a good time.

Joseph's brothers were envious of him because he was special, loved by their parents, and had weird dreams. One day, they had an opportunity and decided to kill him. They took hold of him and threw him into a pit, hoping he died there on his own. Then they changed their minds. They took him out of the pit and sold him off as a slave.

Joseph went through a rough time. While working as a slave in Egypt, he was sexually harassed, and eventually wrongly accused of rape, and did some time in prison.

But somehow, Joseph ended up in an important position in Egypt at a time when his family was experiencing famine in Canaan. His ten brothers travelled to Egypt to buy some food, and Joseph was the man running the business.

Let's zoom in on the scene in the Bible book of Genesis 42 where Joseph was interrogating his brothers for allegedly spying the land. This was a staged act. Joseph was speaking to them in Egyptian language through an interpreter.

The pain of the perpetrator

After spending three days in an Egyptian jail, the brothers were ready to confess without a judge or jury. They started conversing among themselves in Hebrew. As far as they were concerned, the man accusing them of espionage was an Egyptian.

The men started blaming each other for what they did to their brother. It sounded like a well-rehearsed conversation. They probably had that conversion a gazillion times over the years since the atrocious conspiracy that sent Joseph down to Egypt as a slave.

Here was Joseph, the man who was almost murdered by his brothers, listening to the same brothers replay their regrets and guilt.

Joseph could not hold back the tears as his brothers traded blames. He could see that his pain was also their pain. They wronged him but they had not been at peace with themselves. While Joseph was going through his tough times in Egypt, his brothers were carrying the emotional baggage around with them.

This is a powerful turning point in a victim-perpetrator dynamics. Great things happen when victims push through their own pain to see the pain of the perpetrator.

Only psychopaths hurt people without retaining any pain, guilt, or shame. Joseph's brothers struggled with the guilt and shame of their evil deeds. They were overdue for a confession and a long-awaited atonement.

The redemption of the perpetrator

The next steps that Joseph took proved that he rose above his pain. So many people outgrow their pain physically but are stuck with it emotionally.

They can become prime minister and still desire vengeance against the person who did not give them lunch when they were in kindergarten. They are married with children but would not get over the person who broke their teenage heart twenty years back.

This is self-harm. You need to set yourself free from the wrong doings of others. Afterall, you are safe, and they can't hurt you again.

Joseph would have been guiltless if all he did was to send his brothers away with some grains. You may not be like Joseph who ended up inviting his offenders to live with him and enjoy the splendour and abundance of Egypt. But at least, you can let them go.

If you don't want to let them go, remember this:

They, too, are not free from the pain of hurting you. They are probably suffering too. When you let them go, you free them from their own pain. When you let them go, you heal yourself and possibly a generation.

Story based on Genesis 42.


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