Forgiveness is ≠ Trust – Lessons from Joseph

Forgiveness ≠ Trust

Forgiveness is not trust. Trust usually comes later, when true restoration takes place. When you forgive someone, it does not mean you trust or respect them. And, while “love covers a multitude of sins,” trust doesn’t. Here’s why.

Forgiveness breaks the chains of pain, anger, bitterness, and revenge. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean for what happened in the past. It does not harbor ill will or attempt to bring up past wrongs. Forgiveness closes the ledger of what is past.

Trust involves believing someone and knowing they are trustworthy. We earn trust by proving ourselves. Trust involves future hope and belief. Trust is based on the past, but it also involves moving forward. We can forgive what is past, yet forgiveness of the past does not mean we trust going forward in that relationship. Trust must be earned.

Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, shows us how to look for trust after forgiveness takes place.

forgiveness is not trustJoseph’s story

Most of us know the story, but here’s a nutshell of what happened.

Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob, and all but one of his brothers were half-brothers. Because Joseph was born to Jacob of his old age and because Joseph’s mother was loved most by Jacob, Joseph was the favorite child. So much so that his father made him a coat of many colors – and no one else got a coat like it.

To top it off, Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him. He shared those dreams with his brothers (not a smart move, in my opinion.) Joseph also brought a report of ill will to his father about four of his half-brothers, the sons of servants Bilah and Zilpah. He was not at all liked by his brothers, and they were tired of him.

One day his father sent Joseph to check on the brothers. When they saw him coming (how could they miss, even from a distance, because there came that dreamer in that coat?!), they decided to kill him and throw him into a pit. Then, because slave traders traveled through the area at that time, instead of killing him, they sold him to Ishmaelite traders. [The Ishmaelites are descendants of Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac, Joseph’s grandfather.]

forgiveness is not trustSold as a slave

The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold  him to Potiphar. Joseph was 17 and thought he would never see his family again; nevertheless, Joseph maintained a good attitude. I believe he forgave his brothers. How else did he rise in rank like he did? A bitter person does not a good employee or servant make.

While Joseph enjoyed rank in Potiphar’s house, things went well because the Lord was with him. Soon after, he spent time in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was forgotten by the cupbearer whose dream he interpreted. So many injustices happened to Joseph. I think he kept on forgiving because he did not want to be a prisoner of his own making.

forgiveness is not trustForgiveness is not a choice; it is a command.

Finally, the day came when he was promoted to second-in-command in the nation. Joseph prepared Egypt for seven good years that were to be followed by seven lean years.

When his ten brothers showed up asking for grain, he deliberately spoke to them through an interpreter. Although he recognized them, they did not recognize him, which was to his advantage.

Joseph had the opportunity to pay back for everything they caused him to endure. He didn’t, because he had forgiven them.

Trust is a choice

Yet, he did not trust them, as evidenced by the fact that he hid his identify from them. He had forgiven them, but forgiveness is not trust. Joseph required things of them because he wanted to see what his brothers were like now. Had they changed? Were they sorry for their past deeds? Did they want to be different?

Joseph required these things of them because he wanted to see if their hearts had changed. He wanted to see if he could really trust them. Just because they were brothers from the same father was no guarantee they could be trusted. After all, they did plan to kill  him, and they sold him as a slave. Sure, he is now in a position where he can spare their lives and the life of his father. One would think he would be glad to see them and so anxious to see his father that he would do anything to be reunited. He didn’t, because he did not know if he could trust them. Yes, he had forgiven them, but forgiveness is not trust.

Testing to trust

First, he put all ten brothers in prison for three days, accusing them of being spies, which they denied. When Joseph decided to let them return, he bound Simon and put him in prison while the others traveled back to their father. Joseph told the brothers to return home and not come back without the youngest brother.

In essence, Joseph told them, “If you want to see this brother (Simon) again, you must return with the youngest brother.”

Then he sent them on their way. He also hid the money they have given in their sacks.  Would they return with his youngest brother? Would they return the money? Time would tell. This was another test of their character.

When the brothers returned to their father, they found the money in their sacks and told their father everything that had happened. After the food was gone, he urged them to go back to Egypt for food without Benjamin.

The brothers told Jacob again that they could not return without Benjamin, and they told him why. Reluctantly, Jacob sent the brothers back with Benjamin and with double the portion of money to repay what was put into their sacks.

Joseph had the brothers eat with him. They were seated according to age. Benjamin received five times as much food as the others. Would they resent Benjamin for this? Joseph wanted to find out if they had changed. Once, they resented Joseph for his coat of many colors. Would they resent Benjamin?

More tests because forgiveness is not trust

The next test came when Joseph sent them back and hid a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Soon after they headed back toward home with Simon this time, he sent his servants to find the “stolen” cup. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, and the servants were instructed to bring Benjamin back with them.

Would the brothers defend Benjamin and beg for his life, or would they abandon him and return home? There was a time when they would not have cared. Would they care? Joseph wanted to know if they were different men.

Judah approached Joseph and offered his life for Benjamin’s. He would stay so Benjamin could go home to their father.

That was when Joseph knew he could trust his brothers. First, he sent everyone out and introduced himself to his brothers. He wept, he hugged them, and he told them they were forgiven.

Joseph provided a home and place for his father, his brothers, and their families. He welcomed them to live in his country where he could provide for them. Indeed, they were changed men.

By this time, Joseph was 37. It had been twenty years since he last saw his father. Because of his brothers, he endured slavery, prison, and being forgotten while enslaved. He had plenty of time to harbor bitterness or to forgive. He chose forgiveness. Joseph also took the time to test his brothers to learn if they were changed men. Had the years hardened them more or did they suffer guilt for their sin?

Joseph did not need anyone to inform him of his brothers’ hearts. He could find out for himself – and he did. He found out by holding back, by testing them, by searching in their responses to see what was in their hearts.

A changed heart brings trust

Trust is restored when you truly know what is in someone’s heart. Joseph recognized that while their hearts were evil the day his brothers sold him into slavery, God meant it for good. Joseph knew God was bigger than slavery, false accusations and prison. He recognized that God sent him ahead to preserve his family and his nation.  Joseph had to forgive because it is a command. He had to trust God for the bigger picture. Yet, that did not mean Joseph had to trust his brothers before he knew their hearts.

If you’re struggling with broken trust, know that God can bring healing and help you forgive. Recognize also that when trust is broken, it can only be restored by a changed and contrite heart.

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