Have you ever received an undeserved gift? Was it difficult to accept? Did you envision someone showing up and taking it away? Perhaps it was hard to believe it could be yours? A few weeks ago, we took a group of teenagers to South Haven, Michigan for the weekend. We rented a couple of cabins attached to a bed and breakfast. Christy and I were able to spend time talking to one of the couples staying in the bed and breakfast. The man shared the story of winning a car. He entered a drawing; his name was announced on the radio. Friends called him to notify him of his fortune. He described peering at the prize in disbelief. Did this really happen?
I have not experienced this dynamic. But I could imagine a too-good-to-be-true feeling accompanying such a win. Maybe they will discover that it was a mistake; they will reclaim the prize and life will be as it should. We all have a tendency for skepticism when we get what we do not deserve.
In the final chapter of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers experience this sort of cynicism. While they have experienced tremendous grace and provision, it is hard to believe that Joseph’s forgiveness is permanent. When Jacob dies, they expect justice to prevail. Joseph will finally get even.
(Genesis 50:15 NIV) When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
They fear Joseph. Unwilling to speak to Joseph face to face, they send a message. Like a teenager breaking up with a boyfriend by sending a text message, they nervously ask Joseph for forgiveness. You might remember the earlier conversation between Joseph and his brothers.
(Genesis 45:5 NIV) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
Joseph understands his destiny as ordained by God. He is not planning retribution. In fact, their message causes Joseph to weep.
(Genesis 50:17 NIV) When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
The brother’s mistrust was painful. While he offered elaborate exoneration, his brothers doubted the permanence of his grace. They did not get it. They struggled to accept what they did not deserve. Joseph responds as he did earlier.
(Genesis 50:20 NIV) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Many of us struggle to receive God’s grace. Even when we are able to accept what we do not deserve, we secretly wonder if our accounts will be audited. Will God decide to take a closer look and change His mind about us. We are like the brothers in this story. Yet, God’s grace is not temporary. The author of Hebrews reminds us,
(Hebrews 10: 23) Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
God will not change his mind. Shifting circumstances will not alter His body broken for us nor his blood shed for us. May we learn, like Joseph’s brothers, to live in God’s permanent love for us. May we rest in the reality of his unchanging, undeserved, unconditional and absolute forgiveness.