[Note: the following post discusses some Christian principles and has religious references. I have respect for other beliefs and don’t want to offend anyone. If you are offended by Christian references, then you might consider skipping this post.]
Why would anyone want forgiveness?
I found myself each week in a meeting where tucked away on a shelf, not quite out of sight, was a plaque for someone I had known. The person had since moved out of our area, and for whatever reason, I suppose the plaque didn’t get to them in time before their departure. So there it stayed on the shelf. One time long ago I was with this person, just the two of us riding in a car. And there in the car was this uncomfortable silence that I wanted to fill. Not being a conversationalist, I always struggled to fill that silence that bothered me. During one such uncomfortable silence I scraped around in my brain for something to say, and out it came. As soon as it left my mouth I realized I had just inserted my foot, a confidence betrayed. I definitely didn’t have any intention to hurt, but I expected it would. It took a while to realize what I had done, the person never said anything, but I felt awful. That had been several years ago. Everytime I saw that plaque I was reminded of that experience in the car. It was haunting me. I wanted to make that feeling go away. I wanted to be forgiven.
Being human, each of us is going to screw something up, miss opportunities, and hurt people. It is inevitable. It is part of who we are, and part of life. As much as we want it to go away, it will be there, whether we try to ignore it or not.
What does it mean to get forgiveness?
There is a difference between forgiving someone for a wrong commited, versus that person reaping the consequences of their actions. For that person who breaks the law, the victim can forgive, but the perpetrator may still go to jail.
Even after a wrong has been committed, it usually isn’t possible to undo the wrong. Thefts may be returned, but it is not so easy to mend a broken trust, restore virtue or reputation. When I see a person who has just been caught in the wrong, I think “what is done is done. The question is: what are you going to do now?”
Seeking forgiveness is more than just saying you are sorry. Giving forgiveness is more than saying, “yeah, OK”.
How does forgiveness work?
I see it as two kinds of forgiveness: from the victim and from the Lord. I believe it is more than just confession, more than just accepting Christ as your savior. Both kinds have common elements, as described by Richard G Scott:
- Remorse: honestly recognize that what you did was wrong. Feel remorse for what you did, not just for getting caught.
- Abandonment: have a permanent resolve to not repeat the mistake. And don’t do it again.
- Confession: own up to what you have done. You can’t hide it.
- Restitution: fix what you can. It’s not always possible to put things back in their original condition, but do what is possible.
- Obedience in all things: you need to get everything straightened out. You can’t relent on one topic, but still harbor ill will on another topic.
- Recognition of the Savior: this is a time when you should draw closer to Christ. Forgiveness comes because of Christ. Remember the price He paid for this opportunity, and at least feel gratitude for that. Mistakes separate us from God, and repentence and forgiveness is how we get back in His presence.
For what can I be forgiven of?
To quote from an article by Spencer W Kimball:
A young woman approached me in a city far from my home and came under some pressure from her husband. She admitted to me that she had committed adultery. She was a bit hard and unyielding, and finally said: “I know what I have done. I have read the scriptures, and I know the consequences. I know that I am damned and can never be forgiven, and therefore why should I try now to repent?”
My reply to her was: “My dear sister, you do not know the scriptures. You do not know the power of God nor his goodness. You can be forgiven for this terrible sin, but it will take much sincere repentance to accomplish it.”
Then I quoted to her the cry of her Lord:
“Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” (Isa. 49:15.)
I reminded her of the Lord’s words in our dispensation to the effect that whoever repents and obeys God’s commandments will be forgiven. (See D&C 1:32.) My visitor looked bewildered but seemed to be yearning as though she wanted to believe it. I continued: “For all but the unpardonable sin forgiveness eventually will come to that transgressor who repents sorely enough, long enough, sincerely enough.”
She remonstrated again, though she was beginning to yield. She wanted so much to believe it. She said she had known all her life that adultery was unforgivable. And I turned again to the scriptures and read to her the oft-repeated statement of Jesus:
“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:31–32.)
She had forgotten that scripture. Her eyes lighted up. She reacted joyously to it, and asked, “Is that really true? Can I really be forgiven?”
Realizing that hope is the first requirement, I continued by reading many scriptures to her, to build up the hope that was now awakened within her.
How great the joy to feel and know that God will forgive sinners! Jesus declared in his Sermon on the Mount: “Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14.) This is on certain conditions, of course.
In modern revelation the Lord has said to his prophet: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.) Our Lord gave the same word through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34.) How gracious is the Lord!
On the occasion I am recalling, this woman, who was basically good, straightened up and looked me in the eye, and in her voice was a new power and resoluteness as she said: “Thank you, thank you! I believe you. I shall really repent and wash my filthy garments in the blood of the Lamb and obtain that forgiveness.”
Not long ago, she returned to my office a new person bright of eye, light of step, full of hope as she declared to me that, since that memorable day when hope had seen a star and had clung to it, she had never reverted to her sin nor any approaches to it.
It is important in all of this to forgive yourself. It is all too common that we seek forgiveness from the Lord, from the person we hurt, but fail to forgive ourselves. We should not forget the mistake that we made, so we can learn from it and not repeat the mistake, but we should not continue to punish ourselves after we have repented. To fail to forgive yourself is to mock the atonement of Christ. If Christ can atone for you because He loves you, and He can forgive your mistakes, you can forgive yourself.
So looking at that plaque on the shelf each week motivated me to do something. One night lying in bed I struggled to go to sleep, I was feeling compelled by a strong force to make it right, and do it now. So I resolved the next day to follow through. A search on the net turned up the person’s phone number in their new city. It had been several years, but I wanted a clear conscience. I picked up the phone and called. The person answered. Then a remarkable thing happened. He laughed when I announced my name. He said, “Just last night my wife and I were talking and somehow the conversation turned to you, the guy who lived down the street. I had forgotten your name, but my wife remembered it. Had you called before yesterday, I wouldn’t remember you.” Then I sheepishly started into my apology for what happened those years ago. He said, “I honestly don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t remember anything you offended me about.”
Not only will we find ourselves on the giving end of offense, but we will also be on the receiving side too. It is so easy to take that hurt that was inflicted upon you, keep it bottled up inside, constantly stirring and churning, until it ripens into bitterness and hatred and malice. It can be an acid that eats away at your character. It is playing out the victim to the nth degree. It almost seems human nature to do so. But what good does that do? It only hurts yourself. It doesn’t right the wrong. I have seen people who have been offended withdraw from the very things that they need the most because that other person is there, the one who hurt them once. Doing so serves only to punish yourself, not the other person. It doesn’t matter if that other person hurt you with intention or not.
The remarkable thing about receiving offense is that you will receive as much as you choose. This is a bold statement but I believe it to be true. You have control about how much offense you will receive. You can play as the fatally wounded animal, or it can be water rolling off a duck’s back. Sometimes from my children I hear about how a sibling did something wrong and “he/she made me mad”. I stop them right there and make a correction. No, they did not make you mad, you chose to be mad. You can choose how you react to any situation. If you find yourself mad, it is because you chose it. I’m not saying it is easy, it is difficult to control those feelings, but this is a true concept.
I guarantee that there will be frequent opportunities to receive offense. What you do in each of those opportunities is your choice.
At our core each of us wants peace. It is only through receiving and giving forgiveness that we can receive that peace.
The atonement is infinite. You can be forgiven and you can forgive. It isn’t easy, but it definitely is possible. If there is something you need to do, do it now.