This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of the forthcoming book, “Graciously Keep Me This Night,” written by Steve Kruschel (1517 Publishing, 2022).
A few years ago, a 90 year-old German man shuffled into a courtroom. He had lived a life that was more eventful than he cared to admit. He entered the halls of justice – but not to watch a trial. He was on trial. His name was Oskar Gröning, and he was charged with accessory to murder.
He couldn’t deny it.
75 years earlier, he had served as a Nazi officer at Auschwitz – one of the concentration camps used to exterminate the Jewish people during World War II. It had taken three quarters of a century, but justice finally caught up to him. He was about to get what he deserved for the crimes he committed – the murder he accomplished. The judge ruled him guilty.
He certainly was.
For 75 years he had felt guilty. Shame weighed him down. Not a day went by that he didn’t think of those people he hurt and killed; the families he separated; the incurable harm he caused.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement. When you find a Nazi, even one as old as Oskar Gröning, you convict him and sentence him to prison...or even better—to death.
That’s what you do to the enemy, isn’t it? You find him. You accuse him. You sentence him to prison for life...or you sentence him to death. And you don’t look back. After all, they are the enemy. They should feel pain. They should receive their comeuppance.
So, what was Egypt’s second-in-charge to do when he saw his enemies bowing before him? Joseph had experienced quite a change of fortune since these bowing brothers sold him into slavery. In fact, Joseph’s brothers didn’t even recognize him. But Joseph recognized them. This was now the second time he had seen them. But this occasion was different. They had brought his brother Benjamin with them.
It was all too much for Egypt’s leader to take. Overwhelmed by the situation, Joseph hurried himself into his private chamber. All alone, having just seen the brothers who had betrayed him, having seen his own brother, Benjamin, with his own eyes for the first time in years, Joseph wept.
This point in Joseph’s life stood as a watershed moment. As tears streamed down his cheeks he considered his next move carefully. This pause in Joseph’s day probably felt like an eternity.
Joseph had experienced this before. Time must have seemed to stand still during those nights when the sun, moon and stars bowed to him in his dreams, or when everyone else’s sheaves of grain bended low to his. God was fulfilling those childhood dreams in the other room at that very moment.
Everything must have stopped when Joseph sat in the bottom of the well, overhearing his brothers coldly deciding his fate as they ate their lunch above him. The nights must have felt long as Joseph pushed away any thoughts of adultery in Potiphar’s house. The stillness of Egypt’s prison must have worn on into an eternity for the wrongly accused son of Jacob. Perhaps there were even moments when Joseph questioned whether or not those dreams he interpreted for Pharaoh would actually come true. If they didn’t, he would probably have been put to death.
But the dreams did come true. Now Joseph hid himself from everyone as he wept.
The Lord gives you backroom moments, too. When was the last time the world stood still around you? Perhaps you feel that way right now—the world has paused, nothing moves, and there you are weeping. Do you have brothers like Joseph? Have you wept over the betrayal of someone you trusted? We have all had a close, personal friend cut us to the heart.
If you sit where Joseph sits, then you also face the choice that Joseph faced. Do you respond with vengeance? Most in this world would not bat an eye if you reciprocated with a betrayal of your own. Satan would love to help you enact it, or at least watch you try. Even the thought of retribution is enough to fall into sin.
Sitting in Egypt’s royal backroom with Joseph we sometimes consider rising to rebellion, looking to lop off the heads of our enemies as they kneel before us...at least in our minds. We have lashed out against our betrayers with words that strike more painfully than any dagger.
Joseph had been sold into the lowest form of slavery by the very brothers who should have loved him the most. For the exchange of Joseph’s life, the brothers received 20 pieces of silver. Perhaps if they had to, they would have given him away for free.
The going rate for betrayal had not changed much in two millennia. When Judas agreed to betray his teacher, Jesus, into the hands of his enemies, he received 30 pieces of silver for the trouble. It was a handsome sum. Unlike Joseph’s brothers, Judas would not have to share it with anyone.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. Even that large amount of money could not buy off Judas’ guilty conscience. Throwing it back into the temple, Judas ran out into the tear-filled night and hung himself.
There would be no last minute rescue for the Son of God. Betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his disciples, hated by his rulers and bludgeoned by Roman soldiers, Jesus stood a man apart from the world. On Calvary he suffered a world’s worth of sins. Your every betrayal, your every thought of retribution, each one of your cutting words washed away. The King of the world gave his life to remove our sins.
Just think of all the ways Jesus could have carried out vengeance against those who had wronged him. He could have called legions of angels to wipe out the soldiers. With a word he could have sent his false-accusers to hell. With the simplest of motions he could have flicked away his fleeing disciples forever. Yet what does your suffering Savior declare from the cross? “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). And you are forgiven. Even you. Even me. Criminals though we are, guilt-ridden though we may feel. You are forgiven.
And now just as importantly, you get to forgive those around you. The woman who betrayed you...Father, forgive them. The family that wants nothing to do with you and what you believe...Father, forgive them. The man who took something dear from you...Father, forgive them.
After his somber moment alone, Egypt’s highest foreign-born son returned to the room. They ate and he sent them away. But hidden inside one of their bags was a cup, a reason to make them return. Perhaps it was a final test to make sure his brothers had amended their lives.
Judah passed the test. Standing up for his brother, Benjamin, in whose sack the cup was found, Judah offered himself up as a slave in Benjamin’s place.
It was more than enough.
Finally, the wronged brother left for dead, the betrayed sibling who was sold into slavery revealed himself. This Egyptian leader was their brother, Joseph. No retribution remained in his heart, only forgiveness. A family broken by betrayal now healed together.
Betraying brothers found forgiveness in Egypt, but what about Nazis in Germany?
Of all the people seeking the death of Oskar Gröning, that Nazi war criminal, one woman was perhaps most justified. Her name was Eva Kor. Eva was an Auschwitz survivor. Gröning had watched as Eva’s parents and her two older sisters had been killed. And now that Gröning was on trial for his crimes, Eva traveled over to Germany to see him face to face. Everyone who knew this woman must have wondered just how strong her words toward this man would be. How could they not be? He was, at least in part, responsible for the death of her entire family!
What would you say? A final, parting shot? Would you give him an angry slap across the face? Or maybe you would just watch as this old man feels his soul torn apart in the courtroom, as evidence mounts against him, slowly pushing him to prison...or even execution. After all, it is what he deserves.
Eva Kor, her family’s sole survivor of Auschwitz, finally met Oskar Gröning face to face. She went right up to him, raised her arms up...and hugged him. Then she said the three hardest words she would ever say…“I forgive you.”
And if Eva could forgive Oskar, if Joseph could forgive his brothers, if Jesus could forgive you, then you can forgive also...even your enemy.