Note from PerGen editor, Michelle Van Loon:

I was looking forward to reading Bible teacher Wendy Alsup’s new book, I Forgive You: Finding Peace and Moving Forward When Life Really Hurts – and when I received my copy hot off the press last week, I was not disappointed. In recent years, I have gotten to know Wendy on a personal level through our shared work with the women’s theology organization The Pelican Project, but I was familiar with her thoughtful approach to Bible teaching long before that. She has experienced suffering at the hands of church leaders (she was one of the guests on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast, which detailed the implosion of the church network helmed by Mark Driscoll), and has faced significant suffering in some other key areas of her life. As a result, she writes with both authority and grace about forgiveness, using the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis as a guide. In her compassionate hands, Joseph’s story become an invitation to pursue forgiveness in our lives.

We will be holding a drawing to give away a copy of Wendy’s book this month. If you would like to be entered in the drawing, click here to send us YOUR NAME AND MAILING ADDRESS – U.S. postal addresses only, please. We don’t use this information for any other purposes other than entry in the drawing. Deadline for entry in the drawing is midnight (Eastern) on February 25th.

To get a taste of Wendy’s approach to the topic, enjoy this excerpt from the book below.

“I forgive you.”

These are simple words, but hard ones. Perhaps they are words you just can’t bring yourself to say. Has someone harmed you so deeply you cannot imagine releasing them of their debt to you? Or perhaps these are words you long to hear. Have you harmed a loved one? Does restoring the relationship seem impossible?

An Experience of Loss

I sat in the sanctuary of our Seattle megachurch as the charismatic pastor preached on the scene from Nehemiah 13 in which Nehemiah tore out the hair of elders who allowed their daughters to marry idol worshipers. “If I wasn’t afraid I’d end up on CNN, I would do that myself to some of my elders right now,” the preacher declared, drawing awkward laughter from the crowd in the pews.

The next day, I received an email from the two executive elders of our megachurch. Two of our oldest, most respected elders had been fired.

This church conflict sent me down a path of dissonance that still, to this day, has not been fully resolved. Community and fellowship that had been cultivated over years was lost in days. It sent shock waves through the church and through my life and the lives of others. It remains a profound loss.

Such losses leave us stuck while our family, church, or work relationships go on without us. How do we navigate and grieve these losses when society does not necessarily even recognize them as real loss?

An Example from The Bible

In the story of Joseph, his father, and his brothers, God gives a vision of what is possible when all seems lost, when reconciliation seems impossible, and when those we love are far off, seemingly out of our reach.

Less than a chapter after we meet Joseph, he has been betrayed by his own brothers and flung into a hostile, unknown world. He will live for decades surrounded by people yet utterly alone. His brothers’ betrayal broke every relationship Joseph had had up to that point in his life, leaving him powerless to do anything except try to survive.

Joseph’s Ambiguous Loss

It’s helpful to have a name for our grief when we experience broken relationships as Joseph did. Therapist and researcher Pauline Boss popularized the phrase “ambiguous loss” (you can read more about it on her website:

This is different from a loss such as the death of a loved one—it’s less straightforward but still agonizing. It is a type of loss without a culturally recognized way to grieve or reach closure.

“Our God does the impossible on a regular basis.”

The story of Joseph is a quintessential example of ambiguous loss. He lost the most important things humans need to flourish. He lost love. He lost belonging. He was alienated from all he had known—from all the relationships that were important to him.

There were multiple moments in Joseph’s story when reconciliation seemed impossible: the gulf too wide and the pain too deep to bridge.

Our path to reconciliation is complicated too—and we should acknowledge up front that not all relationships will be reconciled. We feel the grief Joseph felt, but we may not get to feel the relief of reconciliation on this side of eternity.

However, that does not mean it is not worth pursuing. Our God does the impossible on a regular basis. He “gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). This is God’s character, and he is at work in our lives as he was in Joseph’s.

Hope for Reconciliation

Jesus has done all that is necessary to put an end to sin and brokenness, but we still wait to see that reality in all of our lives. You and I sit in various situations where reconciliation has already taken place. If nothing else, if you are trusting in Christ, you have been reconciled to God through him.

God can knit back together what we could never repair on our own. He reconciled Joseph’s family, just as he reconciles us to himself and one another. His grace won the day in the life of Joseph, and that same grace can win the day in our own lives too.

This article is adapted from I Forgive You by Wendy Alsup, which looks at forgiveness in the story of Joseph. This post was originally published here. 

Cover photo by Gracious Adebayo on Unsplash