FORGIVE ME if this chapter is disjointed. As I write, I am angry. I am angered by a cricket. He’s loud. He’s obnoxious. He’s hidden. And he’s in big trouble if I ever find him. I arrived at my office early. Two hours before my alarm sounded, I was here. Sleeves rolled back and computer humming. Beat the phones, I thought. Get a jump on the morning, I planned. Get a leg up on the day. But get your hands on that cricket is what I keep mumbling.
Now, I have nothing against nature. The melody of a canary, I love. The pleasant hum of the wind in the leaves, I relish. But the predawn raack-raack-raack of a cricket bugs me. So I get on my knees and follow the sound through the office. I peek under boxes. I pull books off the shelves. I get on my belly and look under my desk. Humbling. I’ve been sabotaged by a one-inch bug.
‘What is this insolent irritant that reduces a man to bug-stalker?
Finally, I isolate the culprit. Rats, he’s behind a shelf. Out of my reach. Hidden in a haven of plywood. I can’t get to him. All I can do is throw pens at the base of the shelf. So I do. Pop. Pop. Pop. One after another. A barrage of Bics. He finally shuts up.
But the silence lasts only a minute.
So forgive me if my thoughts are fragmented, but I’m launching artillery every other paragraph. This is no way to work. This is no way to start the day. My floor is cluttered. My pants are dirty. My train of thought is derailed. I mean, how can you write about anger with a stupid bug in your office?
Oooops. Guess I’m in the right frame of mind after all.
Anger. This morning it’s easy to define: the noise of the soul. Anger. The unseen irritant of the heart. Anger. The relentless invader of silence.
Just like the cricket, anger irritates.
Just like the cricket, anger isn’t easily silenced.
Just like the cricket, anger has a way of increasing in volume until it’s the only sound we hear. The louder it gets the more desperate we become.
When we are mistreated, our animalistic response is to go on the hunt. Instinctively, we double up our fists. Getting even is only natural. ‘Which, incidentally, is precisely the problem. Revenge is natural, not spiritual. Getting even is the rule of the jungle. Giving grace is the rule of the kingdom. Some of you are thinking, “Easy for you to say, Max, sitting there in your office with a cricket as your chief irritant. You ought to try living with my wife” or, “You ought to have to cope with my past.” Or, “You ought to raise my kids.” “You don’t know how my ex has mistreated me. You don’t have any idea how hard my life has been.” And you’re right, I don’t. But I have a very clear idea how miserable your future will be unless you deal with your anger.
X-ray the soul of the vengeful and behold the tumor of bitterness: black, menacing, malignant. Carcinoma of the spirit. Its fatal fibers creep around the edge of the heart and ravage it. Yesterday you can’t alter, but your reaction to yesterday you can. The past you cannot change, but your response to your past you can. Impossible, you say? Let me try to show you otherwise.
Imagine you are from a large family—a dozen or so kids. A family more blended than the Brady bunch. All the children are from the same dad, but they have four or five different moms. Imagine also that your dad is a sneak and has been one for a long time. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows he cheated your uncle out of the estate. Everybody knows he ran like a coward to avoid getting caught. Let’s also imagine that your great-uncle tricked your dad into marrying your mother’s sister. He got your dad drunk before the wedding and had his ugly daughter go to the altar instead of the pretty one your dad thought he was marrying. That didn’t slow down your father, though. He just married them both. The one he loved couldn’t have kids, so he slept with her maid. In fact, he had a habit of sleeping with most of the kitchen help; as a result, most of your siblings resemble the cooks. Finally the bride your dad wanted to marry in the first place gets pregnant. . . and you are born.
You’re the favored son.. . and your brothers know it. You get a car. They don’t. You get Armani; they get K-Mart. You get summer camp; they get summer jobs. You get educated; they get angry~ And they get even. They sell you to some foreign service project, put you on a plane for Egypt, and tell your dad you got shot by a sniper. You find yourself surrounded by people you don’t know, learning a language you don’t understand, and living in a culture you’ve never seen.
Imaginary tale? No. It’s the story of Joseph. A favored son in a bizarre family, he had every reason to be angry. He tried to make the best of it. He became the chief servant of the head of the Secret Service. His boss’s wife tried to seduce him, and when he refused, she pouted and he ended up in prison. Pharaoh got wind of the fact that Joseph could interpret dreams and let him take a shot at some of Pharaoh’s own. When Joseph interpreted them he got promoted out of the prison into the palace as prime minister. The second highest position in all of Egypt. The only person Joseph bowed before was the king.
Meanwhile a famine hits and Jacob, Joseph’s father, sends his Sons to Egypt for a foreign loan. The brothers don’t know it, but they are standing in front of the same brother they sold to the Gypsies some twenty-two years earlier. They don’t recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognizes them. A bit balder and paunchier, but they are the same brothers. Imagine Joseph’s thoughts. The last time he saw these faces, he was looking up at them from the bottom of a pit. The last time he heard these voices, they were laughing at him. The last time they called his name, they called him every name in the book.
Now is his chance to get even. He has complete control. One snap of his fingers and these brothers are dead. Better yet, slap some manacles on their hands and feet and let them see what an Egyptian dungeon is like. Let them sleep in the mud. Let them mop floors. Let them learn Egyptian.
Revenge is within Joseph’s power. And there is power in revenge. Intoxicating power.
Haven’t we tasted it? Haven’t we been tempted to get even? As we escort the offender into the court¬room, we announce, “He hurt me!” The jurors shake their heads in disgust. “He abandoned me!” we explain, and the chambers echo with our accusation. “Guilty!” the judge snarls as he slams the gavel. “Guilty!” the jury agrees. “Guilty!” the audience proclaims. We delight in this moment of justice. We relish this pound of flesh. So we prolong the event. We tell the story again and again and again.
Now let’s freeze-frame that scene. I have a question. Not for all of you, but for a few of you. Some of you are in the courtroom. The courtroom of complaint. Some of you are rehashing the same hurt every chance you get with anyone who will listen. For you, I have this question: Who made you God? I don’t mean to be cocky, but why are you doing his work for Him?
“Vengeance is Mine,” God declared. “I will repay” (Heb. 10:30 NKJV)
“Don’t say, ‘I’ll pay you back for the wrong you did.’ Wait for the Lord, and he will make things right” (Prov. 20:22).
Judgment is God’s job. To assume otherwise is to assume God can’t do it. Revenge is irreverent. When we strike back we are saying, “I know vengeance is Yours, God, but I just didn’t think You’d punish enough. I thought I’d better take this situation into my own hands. You have a tendency to be a little soft.”
Joseph understands that. Rather than get even, he reveals his identity and has his father and the rest of the family brought to Egypt. He grants them safety and provides them a place to live. They live in harmony for seventeen years. But then Jacob dies and the moment of truth comes. The brothers have a hunch that with Jacob gone they’ll be lucky to get out of Egypt with their heads on their shoulders. So they go to Joseph and plead for mercy. “Your father gave this command before he died. . . . ‘Tell Joseph to forgive you” (Gen. 50:16—17). (I have to smile at the thought of grown men talking like this. Don’t they sound like kids, whining, “Daddy said to be nice to us”?)
Joseph’s response? “When Joseph received the message, he cried” (Gen. 50:17). “What more do I have to do?” his tears implore. “I’ve given you a home. I’ve provided for your families. Why do you still mistrust my grace?” Please read carefully the two statements he makes to his brothers. First he asks, “Can I do what only God can do?” (v. 19). May I restate the obvious? Revenge belongs to God! If vengeance is God’s, then it is not ours. God has not asked us to settle the score or get even. Ever. Why? The answer is found in the second part of Joseph’s statement: “You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done” (v. 20). Forgiveness comes easier with a wide-angle lens. Joseph uses one to get the whole picture. He refuses to focus on the betrayal of his brothers without also seeing the loyalty of his God. It always helps to see the big picture.
Some time ago I was in an airport lobby when I saw an acquaintance enter. He was a man I hadn’t seen in a while but had thought about often. He’d been through a divorce, and I was close enough to it to know that he deserved some of the blame. I noticed he was not alone. Beside him was a woman. Why, that scoundrel! Just a few months out and here he has another lady? Any thought of greeting him disappeared as I passed judgment on his character. But then he saw me. He waved at me. He motioned me over. I was caught. I was trapped. I’d have to go visit with the reprobate. So I did.
“Max, meet my aunt and her husband.”
I gulped. I hadn’t noticed the man.
“We’re on our way to a family reunion. I know they would really like to meet you.”
“We use your books in our home Bible study,” my friend’s uncle spoke up. “You’ve got some great insights.”
“If only you knew,” I said to myself. I had committed a common sin of the unforgiving. I had cast a vote without knowing the story.
To forgive someone is to admit our limitations. We’ve been given only one piece of life’s jigsaw puzzle. Only God has the cover of the box. To forgive someone is to display reverence. Forgiveness is not saying the one who hurt you was right. Forgiveness is stating that God is fair and He will do what is right.
After all, don’t we have enough things to do without trying to do God’s work too?
Guess what. I just noticed something. The cricket is quiet. I got so wrapped up in this chapter I forgot him. I haven’t thrown a pen for an hour. Guess he fell asleep. Could be that’s what he wanted to do all along, but I kept waking him up with my Bics.
He ended up getting some rest. I ended up finishing this chapter. Remarkable what gets accomplished when we let go of our anger.
Published by Word Publishing
© 1994 by Max Lucado