Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Forgive

One commandment that is often overlooked is the commandment to forgive. The Savior was questioned by Peter about forgiveness:

21¶Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
22Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21,22

The Savior then went on to tell the parable of the unjust steward. It is a story of a servant who owed a great debt to the King. He was in danger of being sent to debtor's prison, but the King forgave him the debt, which was very great. Not long after, the unjust servant went to call in a debt that was owed to him. The debt was much smaller than the debt he had owed to the King, but when the debtor could not pay, the unjust servant had him thrown in to prison. The King, hearing of this had the unjust servant sent to prison himself.

We all carry the debt of sin, but the Savior has paid that debt for us, conditional upon our repentance. But He also requires that we forgive those who offend us. In fact, the scriptures teach that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven of our own sins.

--But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. Mark 11:26

--For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: Matthew 6:14

--Verily, verily, I say unto you, my servants, that inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you. Doctrine and Covenants 82:1

Forgiveness is crucial to our eternal salvation, and also to our development as people. If we can learn to forgive, then we can become more like Christ. But how do we forgive? Simply saying the words doesn't guarantee that we have forgiven.

This is an ability that I have struggled throughout my life to develop. At times there have been those who have offended me, and I have tried to forgive and carry on as normal, and not let it affect my relationship with them. But then I seem to never be able to forget what they have done, and when they repeated the offense, it made me feel justified all over again in being angry with them. At times I have told others about the offenses, and they too were shocked at what the person had done. I tried to put it behind me, but never seemed to quite be able to completely forgive. But our Father in Heaven frankly forgives us if we repent. He doesn't dredge it up continually, and doesn't tell others about it.

In modern day scripture we read this about how the Lord forgives us:

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." Doctrine and Covenants 58:42
I have read this scripture many times, but recently it struck me as even more meaningful. When we repent, God forgives us, and remembers our sins no more. But the deeper message in this is found in the statement, "I, the Lord, remember them no more." Can He actually forget them? If he lost the ability to remember them, He would cease to be all knowing, and cease to be God. So it isn't that He can't remember them. He simply chooses to not remember them. He stops bringing it up. He lets it go, and stops allowing Himself to go over it again, and again. This, I feel, is the key to our being able to forgive others.

It occurred to me that being unforgiving is like any other temptation; we have to resist it. If I were to offer to show someone a pornographic picture, they hopefully would resist. Their conscience would tell them that such a thing was not right, and they would resist the temptation to look. We should do the same with remembering the offenses committed against us. We should resist the temptation to review them, and recount them to others. This is the method God uses to forgive us; He remembers our sins no more. He doesn't review them, and doesn't continually go over them.

Forgiveness, I'm convinced, isn't for the benefit of the person I have offended, as much as it is for my own benefit. Anger and resentment are poisons that are unhealthy for our spirits, as well as our bodies. If a rattlesnake were to bite us, would we focus on our anger at the rattler, and chase it down to kill it? If we did so, we would risk getting bit again, and the poisons would disperse through our body more quickly. The more appropriate action would be to seek medical help quickly. We can do the same with offenses made against us. Instead of reviling back at those who offend us, we can seek comfort from the Savior. This is a sort of spiritual medical help. Instead of anger at the lack of kindness on the part of the other person, perhaps we can focus on the damages they received in their own life that caused them to become offensive.

Forgiveness is an art that we should strive to develop. It is just like any other Christlike attribute in that we must seek help from the Spirit. But if we can learn to truly forgive others, we can become more like our Savior, and we can feel peace in the knowledge that God will also forgive us of the things that we do that are wrong.

1 comment:

Looney said...

I had a few times where I begged God to let me forgive. It is hardest for me when a group of people I care about is the victim, but I am closely involved.