19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
Joseph firmly reassures his brothers, doubling down on the forgiveness he gave to them before. He has let go of all their trespasses, he has no ill will towards them, and he is not going to destroy them. Let us consider a few points of his reassurances.
First of all, in verse nineteen he asks the question “am I in the place of God?” as if to suggest that he doesn’t even have the right to deny them forgiveness. Joseph may have been their direct victim, but even that does not give him the right to demand his pound of flesh. What an interesting idea. This sentiment is expressed elsewhere in scriptural text, such as in Doctrine and Covenants 64:10 where it states “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
Obviously, all of us have the capacity to hold a grudge and condemn each other, but how would our world change if we stopped believing that we had a right to. We may speak for truth, may refute evil, but the damnation or salvation of an individual soul should be left only to the Lord.
But realizing we do not have the right to condemn others does not mean that we cannot be opposed to their evil. Being willing to forgive does not require us to condone all behavior. In verse twenty Joseph states in no uncertain terms “ye thought evil against me.” What his brothers did was wrong, and he does not pretend that it was not, or that he can’t have an opinion of such.
Finally, in verse 21, Joseph reaffirms his tender care. He promises that he will continue to nourish his brothers and their children and speaks comfortingly to them. He shows to us what a kind and sympathetic man he is, taking his brothers unwarranted anxiety and responding with graciousness.
The story of Joseph is an astounding lesson in forgiveness. He takes it to a level that many of us might be uncomfortable with. He shows how we can stand for truth while still loving those who do not. He shows how we can walk the careful life of pardoning unreservedly without being irresponsibly permissive of evil behavior. He sets an ideal that we might struggle to match, but which we all should strive for.