You know when you have put in considerable time and effort to learn something and yet you are not quite able to put it all together? Then one day, at a random time, while sitting down eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, things just click and start falling into place!? It is in these moments the spirit seems to arch between us mortals and heaven (1). Inspiration, in this way, is powerful and sometimes rather unexpected. While I was commuting home on the Oceanside Coaster, I listened to a talk by Stephen R Covey given at Ricks College and I had one of those moments. My recent studies fused with Covey’s talk and bits of truth started slotting themselves into place. It was a taste of pure joy, not just because of the truth I was learning, but because my whole perspective had changed. I saw ordinary things around me differently. Everything possessed meaning and revealed an apparent beauty. For example, I had a sudden interest in the lives of the people on the train with me; I was fascinated by the train tracks next to me and wondered how it all worked; as I looked up at the greenery outside my mind came alive with memories of different places I have visited around the world and the impact those travel experiences had on me! I did not want to lose the feeling, the rush of insight and clarity I was having. I was experiencing something so neat, a phenomenon I would describe as a “fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world” (Repentance: Bible Dictionary).
Finding the Power to Forgive
A question I have pondered during my recent studies has been, “Can forgiveness result in an increasing amount of love towards those we need to forgive?” Hearing the stories of others who find forgiveness towards those who commit even the most serious sins are inspiring and leave me in wonderment; would I be filled with love and compassion towards another who, one day, may hurt me? The Savior’s command in the epistle of John “love one another as I have loved you” raises the bar of forgiveness, surpassing superficial love and arriving at Christ-like love (John 13:34). Because forgiveness is a deep and an expansive principle, I will focus on just one aspect of its application in our lives.
I think sometimes people, including myself, have viewed the principle of forgiveness as less than what it is, specifically when considering the command to forgive others. It is looked at as a todo item, something that needs to be done so it can be checked off the list and put out of our mind so life can move forward. God’s forgiveness of our mistakes would never be described the same way because we know He loves us and will always, “draw near unto us as we draw near unto him” (D&C 88:63). Therefore, our forgiving of others offenses should follow suit; forgiving is beyond something we do, or eventually complete, instead forgiving is something we become.
When the need to forgive walks onto the field of our lives, it means a law was broken and a heart was hurt. Whether that be our own heart or God’s heart, someone is hurt when another chooses to not obey the command, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart…love thy neighbor as thyself.” Forgiveness operates around two guiding principles, both of which are attributes of God: mercy and justice. First let’s look at mercy as it relates to becoming a forgiving person.
Stephen R. Covey commented, “Your ability to forgive will come because you have received so much forgiveness yourself” (2). Incredible! Prior to hearing this I have exclusively thought of forgiveness in the context of God’s command to His children that we must forgive others in order to be forgiven:
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 & D&C 64:9-10).
The command to forgive is clear and unalterable, so how do we obey? Covey’s comment provides insight to how we can enact mercy; we must first experience forgiveness in order to be able to forgive others. In other words, we can forgive because He first forgave us; He showed us the way, He gifted us His love (Eph 4:32, Holland 3). Covey’s comment parallels the scripture, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The Father and Son showed us the way to love others by first loving us. Think about it this way, all of God’s children are subject to sin and, therefore, must rely upon the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to overcome the mortal effects which we have chosen to become entangled in. Reminding ourselves of this commonality, gives place for a humble heart, a heart prepared to forgive, a heart prepared to love. King Benjamin teaches:
11 And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
12 And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true (Mosiah 4).
It seems paradoxical that by remembering our unworthiness we are actually made ripe to be filled with God’s love, which in turn increases feelings of worthiness. To forgive others, we must understand that because we received forgiveness it is possible and also correct to see others as worthy of the same blessing, the blessing of mercy. An often sung hymn rings the same truth, “Because we have been given much we too must give.” A musical artist, Trevor Hall, relays the same message in the lyrics of his song titled “Forgive”:
Forgiveness is for giving
So give yourself this gift from time to time
And let all of your mistakes
Become all of your greatest gifts
As we humbly seek a recognition of God’s infinite mercy in our lives we will be filled with love and in turn, prepared to give the gift of forgiveness to others as well as to ourselves.
Now a quick look at justice. To receive forgiveness from God, a person must align their will with God’s will, meaning they must repent (D&C 58: 42-43). It is not up to us to judge who has and who has not repented, therefore it is “required that we forgive all men” (D&C 64:10). God is a God of justice and we must trust that He will execute His justice upon all His children, for He is “no respecter of persons” (D&C 1:35). This “trust” in God’s justice is named by one BYU professor of psychology, a “justice claim” (4). By trusting in God’s character, or in other words by making a justice claim, we can move forward knowing each individual will receive fair judgement. Moving forward from hurt and anguish caused by an offense can and should be coupled with our love for all His children.
To me, forgiveness seems to be less of an action or something we do and more of a attitude or a condition found inside ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, there are important actions and steps we must take to forgive another, however, the ultimate goal of forgiving another is to become like Christ, to become forgiving in our very natures. It takes understanding God’s mercy and justice (Alma 41:14); it takes peeling back the layers of the natural man to reveal the Christ within (Mosiah 5:12); it takes casting away the ill thoughts of others that justify our hurt; it takes burying our personal evils that we may be filled with the love of God (Alma 24:19). It is the love of God that will give place in our hearts to forgive. Stephen R Covey powerfully articulates the fruits of being filled with the love of God in relation to forgiveness:
The tendency to be a judger and a critic is so lessend; you won’t even be offended, ‘And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.’ You cant even be offended, you might be temporarily but then you immediately give it up. Those who get offended deeply have not yet drawn deeply enough upon their true nature and drinking in a sense from this love that is so nurturing to the spirit (2).
I know as we focus our lives upon our Savior Jesus Christ, always repenting and striving for humble recognition of our divine potential, we will find the power and love to become a forgiver. Inside our individual weaknesses and mistakes, which are plenty, there is disguised a universal gift to be given, and hopefully one to be received as well–that of forgiveness because it is for giving.
- Maxwell, N. A. (2004). Free To Choose. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neal-a-maxwell_free-choose/
- Covey, S.R. BYU Speeches. https://.youtube.com/watch?v=lhUpE-jbbMk
- Holland, J. R. (1996). The peaceable things of the kingdom. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1996/10/the-peaceable-things-of-the-kingdom?lang=eng
- Fischer, L., Jackson, A. P. (2017) Turning a Freud Upside Down 2: more gospel perspectives on psychotherapy’s fundamental problems.