We can learn a lot about wise reconciliation by comparing and contrasting our own situations to that of Joseph
1. When Joseph tested his brothers so stringently, he came from a position of robust health, self-confidence and social approval.
The abuse Joseph suffered, whilst grave, was not so extreme, soul-destroying or prolonged that he was permanently damaged. Joseph’s trauma was relatively light compared to the trauma of long-term domestic abuse, repeated rape, child abuse, being tortured for a prolonged time, being a concentration camp victim, or doing slave labour on starvation rations as Japanese a prisoner of war.
Joseph had not been manipulated for years into thinking that ‘it was all his fault’. He had not been so systematically traumatised and manipulated that he had bonded with his abusers as the only way of coping with the untenable.
Even during Joseph’s years in prison, his good character had been acknowledged and valued. In contrast, the good character of a victim of domestic abuse is rarely acknowledged and valued by her friends, family, church and church leaders. Her abuser only pretends to acknowledge her good character when he is at the stage of the cycle where he is ‘treating her like a princess’ and is trying to manipulate her to get things such as sexual favours.
Unlike most victims of abuse who are considering reconciliation, Joseph the Governor had not been living with his abusers for many years. It was about twenty years since he had been subject to the original abuse by his brothers; and it was seven years since he had been released from prison and elevated to the position of Governor (five years of plenty, two years of famine). He had well and truly recovered from whatever ill health the abuse had caused in his body, and the damage it had caused in his soul. His life was in order, his housing secure, he had no family court matters pending or judged against him, he was in a well paid, high status job, his children weren’t abusing him or out of control, his family life was stable, and he was not lonely.
Furthermore, Joseph had no circle of acquaintances who were likely to collude with his abusers’ point of view. These Egyptians didn’t know Joseph’s brothers, nor did they know any of the history of the relationship. They did not have any doctrinal agendas which might incline them to put pressure on Joseph to reconcile quickly.
Joseph had many years of no contact with the family of abusers before he was inadvertently placed in the situation where he had to test — he didn’t go seeking it.
— comment by ACFJ reader (link)
In addition, Joseph did not have children with his abusers. His kids were not putting pressure on him by saying to him “Daddy, can’t we let them come and live with us?” If and when he did choose to reconcile with his brothers, it was most unlikely he would be living under the same roof with them.
Therefore, Joseph was in no fear of his former abusers; having contact with them put him under no risk. No one was colluding with his abusers and he was in no desperate straits in other departments of his life.
This should be a lesson to the church which, having listened to and believed an abuse victim, is trying to support her. If she can be helped to gain control and security in all the departments of her life — basic safety and protection from ongoing abuse, housing, finance, health, bringing up children, employment, legal stability, friendship, emotional recovery (which includes looking at and understanding the abuse in all its details), then she is likely to be in a position of strength from which she can with safety and wisdom consider the path of reconciliation. If she is not helped with these things, she is more likely to make poor choices… poor choices of unwise reconciliation, of unwise re-partnering, of neglecting or even abandoning her faith — the list could go on and on. And so could the abuse.
2. We do not have the powers of the State, as Joseph had.
We are not rulers of the land. We do not have the power to imprison, to set free, to ‘set up’ and accuse, to shower gifts and favours. We probably don’t have the power to demand the production of ‘evidence’ (Benjamin), or to withhold the basic food that keeps body and soul together. But if we do desire continuing relationship with the offender, we can, like Joseph, purposefully refrain from reconciliation until it is proven safe. We can withhold reconciliation until the abuser genuinely demonstrates reformation of character, and this has been proved by testing the abuser under pressure, in situations where temptations offer an easy way out.
I’m not advocating entrapment — engineering situations where temptation is so great that the abuser is almost guaranteed to fall into the trap. I’m advocating that the tester creates situations of pressure where temptation is present, where the choice the person makes will clearly indicate their character and integrity (or lack thereof), yet if the person succumbs to the temptation no one will suffer serious harm.
If you are currently separated from your abuser and you desire wisdom to be able to test your abuser in this way, I suggest you pray for that wisdom. God may give you ideas about how to test your abuser. You might have friends or counselors who can assist with devising tests. The counselors need to be wise to the deceptions of abusers and the counterfeit reformations of abusers. You might like to ask your friends and counselors to read this series.
Above all, I encourage you not to be afraid of seeming cold and heartless. Remember Joseph — use him as your model.
If people misjudge you as cold and calculating, take courage! God looks on the heart, not on outward appearances. God knows the difference between sham reconciliation and true reconciliation. God does not want sham reconciliations, and He certainly does not want dangerous reconciliations where the abuser will turn again and rend you to pieces.
3. Joseph’s maturity of character
Perhaps some of Joseph’s strategic brilliance came from divinely imparted wisdom, but some also came from his own maturity of character. I venture to suggest that this is one of the differences between us and Joseph. What Joseph had is what we so often lack. Let me make that personal: What Joseph had is what I so often lack. Allow me to show you what I mean.
When his brothers first presented themselves to him, Joseph’s heart was ready to burst with joy for the impending reunion, but he hid his emotion. He kept under control his need for reunion; he was strong enough to set that need to one side while he put into effect the series of tests. Are we victims that strong? Often we are not. We fall with relief into the open arms of our (un-reformed) abuser, glad for his enfoldment of us, happy to drop whatever half-hearted boundaries we might have been forming, ready to ‘forgive and forget’ in naivety rather than wisdom.
Of course, our cultural and church conditioning trains us to take this approach. And our position in society is far less powerful than Joseph’s was in Egypt. So it is not really fair to compare ourselves too unfavourably with Joseph. But I know that for me there was a weakness in my personality and in my understanding that contributed to the sliding back into the unchanged relationship with my abuser. The personality weakness came from the sexual abuse I suffered in childhood; the weakness in understanding came from the lack of good counsel I had received on the subject of abuse and reconciliation with one’s abuser.
It is my prayer that abuse will cease, that misunderstanding will be no more, that suffering will end. However, the Bible tells us that only in the new heavens and the new earth will there be no more tears. If there must be tears, let us seek to promote the tears of godly separation from ungodly perpetrators, rather than the weeping of the prisoners who believe they are condemned forever to imprisoning relationships. Let us help rebuild lives, let us examine the bridges we build to others, and if there could be reconciliation, let us promote only the careful, wise, well-tested reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers.
Posts in this Joseph series
Part 3: Reconciled with his brothers
Part 6: Is this post