Thursday, May 4, 2023

Revenge, Slavery, and Personal Demons

Suggested Reading: Genesis 50:14-21

A few years ago I experienced a great deal of tension with someone I never wanted to have problems with. This person was convinced that I despised them, that I thought I was better and more important than this person and that I was only interested in using them, not in having any type of relationship with them. This person looked at everything I did and read it as an attack against them. It was impossible to win. Even when I apologized and took blame upon myself for things over which I had no control in the first place, my apologies were dismissed because this person "knew how I really felt." As far as I could tell, I had never actually done anything that should produce such an attitude against me, at least not for more than a decade, stretching back into my youth. But this person was convinced I held ill-will toward them.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph faced a similar problem. While he had been sold by his brothers into slavery, he had long ago reconciled himself to the idea that God was responsible, sending him to Egypt in order to save the lives of his family and countless others who would suffer from famine. Joseph had told his brothers as much and assured them that he held no ill-will toward them. But when their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. So they sent this message to Joseph:“Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you:‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly. ’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept (Genesis 50:15-17, NLT).

His brothers' obvious fear pushed Joseph to tears. For years he'd had the power to take his revenge if he had wanted. For years he'd had the opportunity to pay his brothers back for what they had done, selling him into slavery. But for years he had demonstrated his good-will and talked with his brothers about the providence of God in sending him ahead to Egypt to provide for them. And still they feared Joseph, not because Joseph had given them reason to fear but because they were still dealing with their own demons.

When dealing with people who seem to have irrational vendettas against us, it is important to extend patience and understanding, knowing that their problem may have nothing to do with us, and to give them time without judgement to work through their own demons. But it is just as important to remember that we ourselves are susceptible to that kind of behavior. We can be just as guilty of seeing malice and ill-will in others not because they actually have any, but because we are struggling with our own demons. We may believe we deserve malice and so we see it whether it is there or not. We may need to embrace God's forgiveness for past mistakes through Jesus' death and resurrection and remember that God can even use our mistakes and sins to bring about good.

Be patient with people who hold irrational grudges against you, without judging them, but examine yourself as well. If you sense intense feelings of malice, prejudice or persecution directed toward you, it might be real, but you might just be dealing with your own demons. Confront those demons and banish them. Don't allow your own insecurities and mistakes to destroy the relationships in your life.

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