One of the challenges of last week’s topic, forgiveness, is that people
think that to be forgiving people or to be compassionate people means that you
let evil people walk all over you. That you let others do wrong to you. And yet
the Bible shows us, right after telling us one of the greatest stories of
forgiveness, that resisting wrongdoing is a godly thing. So last week we heard
how Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery – that he was able
to see beyond the pain of what had happened to him, and he was able to see how
God had used his situation to bless others – in fact to save their lives.
Many years later, still in Egypt, the Bible tells us that people have
forgotten what Joseph did. In fact, the Israelites are now being mistreated.
Because the Istraelites numbers have grown, the Egyptians are afraid of them so
they are forcing the Israelites into work gangs and giving them hard labor.
Then to make matters worse the Pharaoh tells the midwives that if they are
delivering a Hebrew baby and it is a boy, kill him. It is a horrible situation.
But into this situation, steps the very salvation of God. First we have
midwives, women who are helping in the delivering of children, and they know
that the orders that they have been given are wrong.
These are women who have dedicated themselves to the bringing of life into
the world, so how could they suddenly become agents of death? They can’t. So
they resist the orders. They play on Egyptian prejudice that thinks the
Israelites are more like animals They claim that the Hebrew women give birth
too quickly and they can’t get there in time – and Pharaoh believes it.
Unfortunately it does not stop the injustice. Pharaoh makes the decree even
more strict. Throw all the Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River. It doesn’t
matter if they have been alive for a few minutes, days or weeks, drown them in
Which of course leads to mothers hiding their children, striving their best
to keep their babies secret. One mother, named Jochebed, who has a healthy and
beautiful son is able to hide him for three months, but then realizes that she
cannot hide him any longer.
So she puts him in a basket of reeds and sets the basket among the reeds.
The woman’s daughter, Miriam, follows behind, making sure the baby is safe.
Then we have Pharaoh’s daughter who finds the baby. And we another act of
resistance in the face of oppression.
She knows that the child is one of the Hebrews, she knows what her father
has said, but she provides for the child’s life and in fact adopts him as her
own son, naming him Moses.
So right after last week’s wonderful story of forgiveness and setting aside
a wrong that is done, we have this equally powerful story with many women who
are resisting evil. They are standing up to it in their own way and refusing to
give in to it. And while it may seem like these two ways of responding evil are
opposite or in conflict, they are not.
I am quoting from The Book of Joy
as the Dalai Lama explains that forgiveness is not acceptance of the wrong.
“There is an important distinction between forgiveness and simply allowing
others’ wrongdoing. Sometimes people misunderstand and think forgiveness means
you accept or approve of wrongdoing. No, this is not the case. We must make an
important distinction.” The Dalai Lama was speaking emphatically, striking one
hand against the other. “The actor and action, or the person and what he has
done. Where the wrong action is concerned, it may be necessary to take
appropriate counteraction to stop it. Toward the actor, or the person, however,
you can choose not to develop anger and hatred. This is where the power of
forgiveness lies— not losing sight of the humanity of the person while
responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness.”
“We stand firm against the wrong not only to protect those who are being
harmed but also to protect the person who is harming others, because eventually
they, too, will suffer. So it’s out of a sense of concern for their own
long-term well-being that we stop their wrongdoing. This is exactly what we are
So essentially what he says is that you separate the evil act from the
person. You do what you need to do to stop the evil actions. But you do not
become angry or hateful of the person or persons who are hurting you – never
lose sight of the fact that they are human too. In fact, by helping them to
stop being evil you actually protect them from the harm that they will do to
themselves if they continue to act in an unacceptable manner.
So imagine that you are one of the individuals who was injured when the
Neo-nazi drove his car into the crowd who were standing in opposition to
racism. Clearly what he did was wrong. And you want to stop that from ever
happening again, but you don’t have to harbor hatred and resentment against
him. In fact, you can work to forgive him. You see, being agents of God’s
forgiveness actually has the potential to be the most powerful response to
But it cannot be cheap forgiveness. For it to bring real change, we must
move those who are doing wrong into a place where they realize what they are
doing and are repentant. You have to confront them and convince them.
I admit, this requires deep internal strength, and often can only begin by
resisting those who are doing wrong. In our bible passages, the resistance is
in refusing to obey evil orders. In the last century the resistance has been in
the efforts of the civil rights movement where people both refused to obey laws
that discriminated but also spoke clearly and powerfully to educate people
about the need for change. We see it in the recent the peaceful protests in
various countries against corruption and injustice, where people see that their
government is no longer serving the interests of the people, and where
favoritism, nepotism and financial fraud taint their leaders. So they resist
and they make known the issues.
The idea is to help those who are doing wrong to see what they have done,
and to get them to repent, to change their ways. To get the neo-Nazi’s to see
that racial hatred is just plain wrong, and get them to repent.
But those gains are slow – in fact, as we can see there are still some who
refuse to acknowledge that what was done was wrong – they want to hold onto
evil. But we do not give up. We continue to not only hope and pray that those
who spew hate and bigotry will come to see the evil that that are doing, but we
resist their efforts to harm others, we speak out against them clearly, we
educate and develop relationships until the human beings who are doing wrong
repent of what they have done, and forgiveness, real forgiveness can happen.
That’s what we would hope to do if we were one of those injured by the
driver. If and when these means are successful, we have brought salvation not
only to those who were being oppressed but also to those who were causing the
A side note: While last week’s passage dealt more with personal hurts and
suffering. This week’s talks about how we address systems that cause human
suffering. But there are deep similarities. Both of them talk about the power
of forgiveness. Both are about everyday people, like you and I. Both are about seeing
God at work in the world – in the first believing that God has brought good out
of the harm that we have experienced, and the second believing that God can
bring change (even if we don’t believe that we can change things), and being
courageous and compassionate in the face of wrong.
The opening of the book of Exodus, with the examples of the many women who
oppose Pharaoh’s orders is a reminder that despite our limitations, God works
through our hearts, refusing to accept the wrong, and bringing about change.
Whether one is a midwife or a mother, or a princess resisting wrongdoing, we
can be part of God’s intricate plan of salvation. The world becomes a better
place, lives can be changed (lives have been changed – people like yourselves
have even saved lives) – simply by resisting wrong, refusing to obey an unjust
decree, showing compassion to those who are being treated unfairly, and
educating and converting those who are doing wrong.
Being Christian and being forgiving does not mean sitting back and doing
nothing, it means powerfully moving people toward repentance and the saving
power of God – and you and I have a role in that every day. Whether we realize
it or not, our small acts bring God’s salvation.
Dalai; Tutu, Desmond; Abrams, Douglas Carlton. The Book of Joy: Lasting
Happiness in a Changing World (p. 234). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle