Our Savior, even Jesus Christ, commanded us to forgive. "Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10).
Many people wonder how it could possibly be a greater sin to refuse to forgive someone than the original sin. When we refuse to forgive others, we can become filled with anger, hate, and a desire for revenge. These feelings can cause us to lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost and make it more difficult for us to live other gospel principles. In addition, we may make it more difficult for our offender to complete his or her own repentance process if we do not forgive them.
Our Savior did not just give us a commandment, but He provided a great example. "All his life he had been the victim of ugliness. As a newborn infant he had been spirited away to save his life at the instruction of an angel in a dream…. At the end of a hectic life he had stood in quiet, restrained, divine dignity….
"He was beaten, officially scourged. He wore a crown of thorns…. He was mocked and jeered. He suffered every indignity at the hands of his own people…. He was required to carry his own cross…. Finally, with the soldiers and his accusers down below him, he looked upon the Roman soldiers and said these immortal words: `Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' (Luke 23:34)" (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness , 279-80).
Jesus Christ gave us this commandment and example because He knows that, without forgiveness, we would be burdened by anger, hate and vengeance and thus forfeit the peace that comes from forgiving others. He knows that we can invite the Holy Ghost into our lives when we follow His example and truly forgive others.
"Forgiveness ... allows the love of God to purge your heart and mind of the poison of hate. It cleanses your consciousness of the desire for revenge. It makes place for the purifying, healing, restoring love of the Lord" (Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Ensign, May 1992, 33).
When we forgive someone, it does not mean that we approve of what they did or said. Forgiveness means that we will cleanse our hearts of anger and hatred; it means that we will not dwell on the offense; it means that we will feel peace. We may not always find it easy or quick to forgive someone who has hurt us or someone we love, but we can always depend that Heavenly Father will help us as we try to forgive.
While Jesus Christ walked the earth with the Apostles, Peter asked Him: "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?
"Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22).
The Savior was not stating a precise number when He replied "seventy times seven"; He used such a large number in order to show us that we should forgive someone as often as it is necessary to do so. God does this same favor for us and forgives us as many times as we truly repent. We have the responsibility to show the same kindness and mercy that the Lord shows to us.
Moroni, an ancient American prophet, left counsel to help us in our efforts to forgive others when he wrote, "But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven" (Book of Mormon - Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Moroni 6:8).
The Lord will forgive us as many times as is necessary for us to become like Him. We need to have this same willingness to forgive ourselves and others because following Christ's example of forgiveness helps us to become more like the Lord.
The Lord did not only command us to forgive others and give us an example of how it is done, but He also promises to give us blessings when we forgive others. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45).
The Lord tells us that we can become the children of God when we forgive others. Simply stated, when we forgive others, we feel peace. Imagine if you will an airplane trying to fly straight and smooth with an enormous weight on one wing. When we refuse to forgive others, we carry a weight that keeps us from traveling the straight and narrow path back to Heavenly Father. By forgiving others we can enjoy the companionship of the Holy Spirit and grow spiritually.
"There is no peace in harboring old grudges. There is no peace in reflecting on the pain of old wounds. There is peace only in repentance and forgiveness. This is the sweet peace of the Christ, who said, `Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9)" (Gordon B. Hinckley while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Ensign, Nov. 1980, 63).
It is difficult for us to feel peace when we fail to forgive others because anger and bitterness fill our soul. By simply forgiving them, we become free of negative effects in our life and can actually become peacemakers.
"During World War II there were terrible examples of man's inhumanity to man. After the war was over and the concentration camps were opened, there was much hatred among the weak and emaciated survivors. In one camp, observers noticed a native of
who seemed so robust and peaceful they thought he must have only recently been
imprisoned. They were surprised to learn
that he had been there over six years!
Then, they reasoned, he must not have suffered the terrible atrocities to
his family members that most of the prisoners had. But in questioning him, they learned how
soldiers had come to his city, lined up against a wall his wife, two daughters,
and three small sons, then opened fire with a machine gun. Though he begged to die with them, he had
been kept alive because of his knowledge and ability in language translation. Poland
"This Polish father said: `I had to decide right then … whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen … what hate could do to people's minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life - whether it was a few days or many years - loving every person I came in contact with' (George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill, Return from Tomorrow [Waco, Texas: Chosen Books, 1978], p. 116)" (Bishop H. Burke Peterson while First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, Ensign, Nov. 1983, 60).
We can only imagine what feelings this man experienced as he watched his family gunned down and most of us would have understood if he had chosen to be unforgiving; however, his life would have been much different without forgiveness. His decision to put aside any hate, anger, or plans for revenge made a great difference in his life, a difference that could actually be seen by other people.
There are many examples in the scriptures of people who chose to forgive others. Joseph was hated by his brothers; they hated him so much that they sold him as a slave. Many years later when Joseph was in a position of power in
, his brothers came to him for
food to survive a famine. They did not
recognize him, but he recognized them.
Joseph was more concerned about his fathers, his brothers, and their
families than he was for himself, and he simply forgave them and gave them the
necessary help. (See Genesis 45:1-15.) Egypt
The young man known as the prodigal son took his inheritance and left home to party with his friends. When his money was all gone and his friends deserted him, he decided to return home without any expectations except to be a servant. His father saw him coming - meaning that he was watching for him - and ran to meet him. The father insisted that his son be dressed in good clothing and gave him a ring; he then threw a party in order that all his family and friends could celebrate the return of his son. An older son was not pleased with the way the father welcomed his brother, but the father explained that feeling joy about the younger son's return did not diminish his joy in the life of the older son. The father's example of forgiveness is a great lesson for all of us. (See Luke 15:11-32.)
When Nephi corrected the rude behavior of his older brothers, they became angry, bound him with cords, and planned to kill him and leave his body to be devoured by wild beasts. When they realized what they had done, they sought forgiveness, and Nephi "did frankly forgive them." (See 1 Nephi 7:8-21.)
Of course, the best example of forgiveness comes from the Savior and His forgiveness of those who hurt and killed him. He continues to forgive us when we do things today that added to His pains in the
and on the
cross. He is willing to forgive us of
those wrongs we will commit in the future. Garden
The second verse of a well-known hymn entitled "Did You Think to Pray?" (Hymns, no. 140; written by Mary A. Pepper Kidder with music by William O. Perkins) explains that we need to kneel in prayer and ask God to help us forgive others.
When your heart was filled with anger,
Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother,
That you might forgive another
Who had crossed your way?
There are many occurrences in any normal life that could bring offense. All of us have been omitted from social events that we would have attended. Many of us have asked others for help and have been ignored. Too many of us have had people laugh at our hair, our faces, our bodies, or our clothing. Too many of us have been snubbed by someone we thought cared about us. There are a few people who have been through horrendous experiences and have forgiven the person who hurt them, such as the young woman in the following story.
"`It seemed a silly thing to fight over, and 12-year-old Ava Rosenberg didn't want to fight. But another 12-year-old at school kept insisting that Ava had stolen her pen.'
"The girl and her sister made frightening threats against Ava. One day, as Ava went to the drinking fountain at school, a group of people approached her, and one girl attacked her. She kicked and punched Ava and beat her head on the ground.
"`Ava's mother had come to the school to discuss the threats against her daughter. When she arrived, she found Ava in the office in a terrible state of shock - her face discolored, swollen and bleeding, her jaw severely dislocated.
"`We spent many hours at the hospital,' Sister Rosenberg says. What followed was a nightmare of unsuccessful operations, culminating eventually in Ava receiving a bone graft form her lower jaw to her upper jaw, secured by a titanium plate and screws. As a result, here face was severely traumatized and she was in great pain."
"Ava finally came out of the hospital on a Saturday. The next day was fast Sunday, and during the testimony meeting Ava stood to speak. It was physically difficult to form the words, and tears filled her eyes. But Ava had something important to say. She asked the congregation to fast and pray - that the Lord would bless the girl that had done this to her.
"`The scars from my injuries will heal,' Ava said. `But the girl who attacked me has deep scars inside. I have a loving family and the gospel to get me through. She has neither. Pray for her. Pray that the missionaries can find her and teach her, so that she can turn from hate to love.'
"Many in the congregation were moved by Ava's example of forgiveness. To her, however, it was simply a matter of doing what the Savior taught. `We're supposed to love our enemies,' she says matter-of-factly. `When I was in the hospital, I couldn't speak because I was in so much pain. But I could think, and I remember thinking to myself, What would the Savior do?'
Despite continued threats against her, repeated surgeries far from home, lingering pain, and a sometimes discouraging recovery, Ava's friends and family attest they have never heard her say a single word against the girl who beat her.
"`I will probably have a plate in my jaw all my life,' she says. `But it doesn't matter because I know I will be healed in the celestial kingdom. I just hope and pray that [the girl who attacked me] will be healed too'" (Richard M. Romney, "Pray for Her," New Era, Oct. 1994, 44-45).
Ava, the young woman in this story, did not do what most people would naturally do in her situation. She did not allow pain, anger, hatred, and a desire for revenge to have a hold in her. She recognized that her attacker was in even worse condition than she was and asked her friends and family to pray for the other girl.
I know that it is important for us to forgive others. I know from personal experience that forgiving others can bring us peace and help us to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I recently had an experience when I was very angry at something that happened in my life; at the same time I did not desire revenge. I had a constant prayer - either on my lips or in my heart - pleading with Heavenly Father to help me know how to deal with the situation in His way. In spite of feeling intense anger, I also felt the presence of the Spirit. I wondered why the Spirit would abide with me in my angry state and finally came to the conclusion that it was my attitude. Even though I was angry with the situation, I had no desire to hurt anyone. I sought only to learn how to heal the situation and prevent a recurrence of the happenings. I know that when we try to follow the Lord's example and seek His help, we can forgive others and gain the peace that comes through forgiving others.