Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sweet Feeling of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a central principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is forgiveness, as a function of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and our own repentance, that allows us to be cleansed from sin, freed from guilt, and able to live in peace. It makes salvation possible, because forgiveness actually eradicates our sin - wipes it from existence.

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more."
-Doctrine & Covenants 58:42

He remembers them no more! Gone!

Without forgiveness, we could not go to heaven and live with Heavenly Father, for no unclean thing can dwell in His presence.

Obtaining forgiveness feels good! Whether it be from a loved one or from our Father in Heaven, there is a great feeling that comes with being forgiven - a weight is lifted. The prophet Alma, when he was converted, experienced the great contrast between the heavy guilt of sin and the peace and joy of being forgiven by a loving God:
"Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy." -Alma 36:18-21
Forgiveness is sort of a two-way street. Not only are we promised forgiveness if we repent and rely upon the mercy of God through the Atonement of His Son, but we are also expected to forgive others. This makes perfect sense, since we are here to learn how to become more like God. It should be noted, however, that the commandment for us to forgive others is not merely a suggestion - it is conditional for our own forgiveness.

Indeed, choosing to not forgive others only hurts yourself, both by disqualifying yourself from heavenly forgiveness, and by causing your soul to be harrowed up and cankered by anger, spite, hatred, and negativity. Carrying anger and unresolved issues hurts your soul and is even physically unhealthy. You may think you are somehow punishing the unforgiven, but you are only punishing yourself.

Many in the world perceive a willingness to forgive as a weakness. It is actually a great strength! It takes humility, love, patience and many other Christlike virtues to be forgiving. And forgiveness is NOT a capitulation of any kind. Elder David E. Sorenson of the Seventy said:

Forgiveness does not require us to accept or tolerate evil. It does not require us to ignore the wrong that we see in the world around us or in our own lives. But as we fight against sin, we must not allow hatred or anger to control our thoughts or actions. The Savior said, “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 (D&C 64:9).”

One other note - when we are commanded to forgive all men, that includes ourselves. Sometimes that can be very hard, but it is part of the principle of forgiveness that we be willing to forgive ourselves.

I testify that forgiving others is the only way to live in true peace with others. People are fallible. They will inevitably hurt you and let you down, whether intentionally or unintentionally - out of ignorance, carelessness, or selfishness. Likewise, we ourselves are not perfect, and will surely be the cause of harm to others through our own shortcomings. This is why forgiveness is so crucial. We are all in need of forgiveness from one another, as we are all in need of forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

The Lord said, "As I have loved you . . . love one another." Surely that includes, in a large measure, our willingness to forgive one another.

For a most excellent book on forgiveness, you should read The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball. It is a very worthwhile read, and although written 40 years ago, it is as pertinent today as it was then. I challenge you to read it, and to work each day to forgive others, and to seek forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

You'll be glad you did.

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