Pain Doesn’t Mean Lack of Faith

Trauma: An event or situation that causes great distress and disruption.[1]

My father remarried one year after my mother died. Before the wedding, my soon-to-be stepmother said all she wanted was to have a family. Between her wedding and honeymoon she changed her mind. She did all in her power to cut my sister and me—and the rest of Mama’s family—out of Daddy’s life.

“You must not have really forgiven her,” my roommate gently said after I’d mentioned something about my family.


“Well, you still hurt. If you’d really forgiven her, you wouldn’t hurt.”

I asked her what to do. After all, I wanted to be free from the pain. “Forgive more,” was the essence of her words.

Maybe that’s why I appreciate Joseph so much. Joseph’s brothers caused him to suffer more than most of us will ever have to endure. Yet when he had the power to mete out justice, he showed mercy and grace. But, forgiving didn’t remove all the pain in Joseph.

Trauma by definition causes “great distress and disruption.” It’s not something you wipe away with a spiritual eraser. If you are able to dismiss it by day, it haunts your sleep.

Joseph had lost his mother. His ten jealous older half-brothers wanted to kill him. A caravan approached while they discussed the teenager’s fate.

Sell him into slavery! That would remove him from their lives and their father’s affection.

Joseph suffered thirteen years as a slave and prisoner in Egypt. The movie Amazing Grace revealed the horrible conditions on a slave ship. Slaves were treated worse than animals, starved and left to sit in their own excrement.

Even in some of today’s prisons, inmates can be bullied, battered, or raped by orderlies and other prisoners. Joseph wore chains. What else did Joseph suffer during those thirteen years?

When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for food, they didn’t recognize the little brother they’d sold twenty-one years earlier. He was dressed like an Egyptian ruler and spoke through an interpreter. But he recognized them.

After wisely testing his brothers, he revealed himself to them. Joseph held the power to have them lawfully tried and executed for kidnapping. Instead, Joseph stuns us with grace.

“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here…”

Can you believe Joseph? He doesn’t minimize their sin, yet he blesses them instead of cursing them. He shows affection instead of disdain. He overcomes evil with good. See Genesis 45.

Yet Joseph still hurt—not constant pain. But he hurt when his wound was jabbed. Notice his emotions.

Years after the trauma:

  • Fourteen years later: His sons’ names memorialize God’s grace in his suffering.
    Manasseh, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
    Ephraim, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Gen. 41:51-52
  • Twenty-one years: Joseph’s brothers stand before him. He overhears them discuss how they’d wronged him. “He turned away from them and began to weep,” (Gen. 42:21-24).
  • Twenty-two years: He sees Benjamin: “Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there,” (Gen. 43:30).
  • When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it,” (Gen. 45:1-2).
  • He hugged and wept over Benjamin and the rest of his brothers, (Gen. 45:14-15).
  • Joseph “threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time, (Gen. 46:29)
  • Thirty-nine years: His brothers ask for forgiveness: “When their message came to him, Joseph wept,” (Gen. 50:17).

Joseph forgave. He overcame evil with good. He fully trusted God (Gen. 45:5-8). He hurt because he’d experienced wrong—not because he was doing something wrong.

Emotional pain doesn’t mean lack of faith. Ask yourself: Does pain or faith drive my decisions? Like Joseph, we overcome evil with good through faith that what others meant for evil, God means for good.

Question: What inspires you most about Joseph? Click here to comment.


Debbie Wilson

Deborah W. Wilson

Ladies, click here to learn how to join our small group discussion on the C. S Lewis classic The Great Divorce.


Photo by: Moyan Brenn

[1] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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  1. Ann

    Debbie this is a really beautiful and deep post. It’s very important for us to realize that just because there may still be pain, it’s our responses ongoing that make the difference and tell us if we have truly forgiven. I’ve read that the Hebrew term for forgiveness means to send the sin away. So if someone has hurt us deeply, being cautious about trusting them is showing wisdom, not unforgiveness. I know people say you must forgive and forget – but I think it’s wiser to forgive and just exercise wisdom in dealing with the person. It’s my understanding that it’s the act we are to send away and then treat the person with mercy and grace.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, I agree. Forgiveness helps us send away their wrong and our bitterness, but we still need to exercise wisdom and let God heal the wound. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Cindy Finley

    Joseph’s perseverance and trust in God absolutely astounds me. Debbie, I’m so appreciative of this post. The presence of pain doesn’t always indicate a lack of forgiveness. Thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Cindy, Thanks so much for sharing. Joseph astounds me too. He is a beautiful example of a real person trusting God while not denying the ugly reality of what happened.

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