Who Teaches Whom? God Works Through His Word

I was excited.  I was testing the Joseph stories with my favorite testing group, ten of the most influential older women in the village.  They loved the stories from creation to this point, and they seemed to understand the “main point” of each story.  I couldn’t wait for them to learn about “forgiveness;” what I was sure was the main point of this story.  I arrived at the home, and we all sat down in a circle outside in the courtyard.  The women waited expectantly; they had all heard of Joseph, as he is an important character in their religious tradition as well.  They listened to the entire story, fully engaged in the plotline.   Periodically someone would nod, make an agreeing noise in their throat, or look at each other knowingly.  After we listened, someone retold the story, and then I began asking questions.  Soon, I asked my “leading” question: “What kind of man is Joseph?  What did he do to show his character?”  Ah-ha!  The women straightened up, ready to say something.  The leader of the group looked at me knowingly, and said, “Let me tell you a story…”  She explained what had happened in her life when someone had continually wronged her.  This person would wrong her, come and admit it and say that they would never do it again, and then wrong her again and again in the same way!  Each time, she didn’t acknowledge the wrongdoing in any way.  Instead, she practice patience by continually being polite to this person and helping them.  I deflated.  Patience?  That’s not a full picture of forgiveness!  What about repentance and forgetting the sin?  I asked a few probing questions, hoping to get a description of my definition of forgiveness.  Instead, the women re-told to me what Joseph had done…he had patience in the house of the jailer even as a servant and had done his job well.  He had patience in the prison and became a greatly respected man.  He had patience even when the other prisoner forgot about him for two years.  He had patience that the king’s dream would come true.  And, finally, he had patience with his brothers.  Even though he had spent all those years in captivity, he had patience to believe that God was in control and would work things out for the good.  In the story he even told his brothers that their wrongdoing had led to God’s plan for his life being fulfilled. My definition of forgiveness was never described.  What I had hoped to “teach” was not what was learned.  Later, I realized the truth.  These women were describing “forgiveness” to me.  The abstract concept of “forgiveness” was worked out in the action of having patience with the wrongdoer.  In this way, these women understood the heart of forgiveness—the foundation from which we can draw the strength to forgive—the knowledge that God is in control and does work all things out for His good and that we have to have the patience to wait for him to do it.  Who learned the lesson that day?  What I had gone to teach was not what was learned, but rather I learned what I would have never thought to teach.