This last month, I had the chance to talk with someone who once hurt me very deeply. For the sake of this essay, I'll call "him" "John." (But John's name, gender, and several identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.) I had worked on forgiving John for some time, but often felt like, though I wanted to let go of the pain, it was always still there, lurking around my mind and heart, and I was just deciding to ignore it so that I could move on with my life. In many ways, I still felt like he owed me an apology, like I had been wronged and he ought to be made to pay for it. I still harbored resentment, hurt, and bad feelings, even when the anger was gone.
John called me last month, and told me about some things that are happening in his life. As we talked, I realized that all the pain was truly gone. For the first time, I could honestly say that I had no hard feelings towards John, and that I was truly thrilled to hear the good things that are happening to him. From the bottom of my heart I wanted only the best for him. I was happy that I had known him, happy that I had had the chance to stand at a crossroads in his life. I no longer blamed him for what he had done. I no longer felt wronged. There was a deep sense of peace, joy, and love for another child of God.
I do not say this to toot my own horn, because I know that the power to forgive did not come from within me. In this situation, as in so many others, Ammon's words resounded in me, for, "I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things...therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?" (Alma 26:12-13).
The power to forgive is a gift from the Lord, made possible through the Atonement, and accessed through our faith in Him. Alexander Pope's aphorism, "To err is human, to forgive divine" is quite literally true. Because Christ has suffered for the sins of all men, when we turn to Him in anger and hurt because of the wrongdoings of another, He can speak peace to our hearts, for He has taken upon Himself those wrongs, for "chastisement of our peace (or, better rendered, "the punishment that brought us peace") was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
The Savior, in teaching about forgiveness, commanded: "If thy brother...trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). Is it any wonder that the apostles' immediate reply was, "Lord, Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5)? They rightly realized that what He was asking them to do would require a great deal of faith.
Forgiveness is an act of faith in the Atonement and in the Lord's power to heal our hearts. When we forgive, we let go of the right to hold an offender to the law of justice, because we understand that the Lord has satisfied the law of justice, and that His atoning blood will restore everything to its proper order. The Lord has commanded, "Ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds" (Doc. & Cov. 64:11). This attitude is only possible when we trust our own souls and those of our brothers and sisters to the perfectly just and merciful judgment of the Lord. It isn't an easy thing to do. But I can testify of the power and peace that come from accepting the Lord's supernal gift of forgiveness, and of the efficacy of the Savior's Atonement in bringing about the mighty change in our hearts that will free us from the pain caused by the actions of others. I think that one of life's greatest challenges is the challenge to forgive--which may be why the blessings that flow from it are so overwhelmingly great.
"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" (Matthew 5:44-45).
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