White Bar

 

Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

October 7, 2014

  

 

"Ye Ought to Forgive"

Brett Sampson

Director, Community Relations & University Events


 

What an incredible experience it has been preparing what I believe the Lord would have me share with you today! And because you raised your scriptures and/or other note-taking devices, as is our tradition, you have indicated you are prepared to hear what the Holy Ghost will teach you. So I trust His Spirit will be with us, and I pray that we will be edified.

 

To illustrate my message, I’ll begin by sharing two experiences.

 

First Experience:

Not too long ago, I was in downtown Seattle for some meetings. As soon as I got to my hotel room, I walked to the large windows to see what kind of view I had. At first, I was disappointed that all I saw was the drab roof of the building below me. But as I looked up I noticed a historical building with unique architecture, another very modern building with lots of reflective windows, and the tops of other buildings bordered by a beautiful blue sky and a few fluffy clouds.

 

As I enjoyed the scene I had discovered, I glanced back down and was struck by how my first assessment of the view from that window represented our unfortunate tendency to keep our heads down and our eyes focused on an unpleasant perspective rather than keep our chins up so we can take in the beauty of what our Heavenly Father offers us. I also realized how it related to what I had been preparing to talk about today.  

 

After teaching his son, Helaman, and giving him inspiring counsel, Alma said, “And now, my son…see that ye look to God and live” (Alma 37:47). I love that simple but powerful statement. And wouldn’t it be wise for each of us to listen to this counsel, and despite any distractions, “look to God and live?”

 

Second Experience:

Right after I returned from serving in the New York Rochester Mission, I was called and assigned to teach the eight-year-olds in Primary. One Sunday, to emphasize the need for us to let go of our burdens and specifically to not hold onto sin, I began taking rocks out of every one of my suit pockets and lining them up on the tray of the chalkboard. 

 

After they saw the first few rocks, they began to giggle and ask why I had them in my pockets and if I had carried them all through church. Once they were all lined up, I said to them, “Carrying all these rocks in my pockets is as silly as not allowing Jesus to lift our burdens.”

 

I don’t know if any of them remember that object lesson, but I have thought of it often since then. Isn’t it foolish for us to make this life more difficult than it already is by choosing to carry around extra burdens that the Lord will so willingly take from us? In Hebrews 12:1-2, Paul says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us…. Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”

 

One sin that weighs us down and can keep us from the beautiful perspective there is to be had in life is not obeying the commandment to forgive. The Lord says, in Doctrine & Covenants 64:8-9, "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."

 

We stand condemned for the sin of unforgiveness when we choose to keep our eyes focused on what is ugly and below us (or behind us) and hold onto this unnecessary burden, which can easily overwhelm us. On the other hand, by forgiving, we can lighten our load and allow ourselves to feel the grace of God more fully in our souls.

 

So let’s consider first, what it means to forgive; second, why we must forgive; third, whom we should forgive; and finally how to forgive.

 

What is Forgiveness? 

According to the Gospel Topics page of lds.org, the divine attribute of forgiveness is “to pardon or excuse someone from blame for an offense or misdeed.” Other definitions include no longer feeling anger, resentment, or vengefulness toward someone. At the same time, ultimate and Christ-like forgiveness includes reaching the point of having charity toward everyone, even those who have personally hurt us. But for many of us, forgiveness is not always black-and-white. Forgiving others tends to be a process.

 

To help our understanding of its meaning, forgiveness is not the same as condoning what has been done to us, excusing bad behavior, or allowing proper or legal consequences to be avoided. Sometimes, especially early along the path of forgiveness, it also does not include forgetting the incident or embracing the wrongdoer.

 

Why Should We Forgive?

1) It is a commandment:

Why do we need to forgive? First of all, it is a commandment. As obedient children of God, we forgive one another. Paul said to the Colossians:

 

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (Colossians 3:12-13)

 

2) It allows us to be forgiven:

Forgiving others also allows us to be forgiven. We are told in Matthew 6:14-15 that “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.”

 

3) It protects us from other sins:
Having an attitude of forgiveness can also protect us from the pitfalls of other sins. I wonder, for example, if choosing to not forgive can allow us to feel like victims or like someone who does not deserve hardship. This line of thinking can tie us into the beginning stages of pride, vanity, covetousness, or entitlement.

Consider these questions: Do we compare our problems to others and allow ourselves to wonder why some people seem to have it so easy? On the other hand, do we sometimes wonder why some people think they have it so hard, when from our perspective their problems obviously pale in comparison to our own? Comparing our capacity to bear burdens and judging others is unfair and unenlightened.

One of my favorite quotes is by Neal A. Maxwell:

 

Among the reasons for not comparing crosses is the fact that, first, we know so little about the weight of crosses and, second, we know even less about the bearing capacity of their owners. Someone who stumbles with seemingly little weight in one thing may have superb capacity for shouldering certain larger tasks. Whenever we think ourselves to be “above all that,” we should recall that we are being tutored by Him who “descended below them all” (Doctrine & Covenants 122:8). (Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove Them Herewith, Jan. 1982, 70-71.)

 

4) It helps us to heal:

To our benefit, forgiving others can also free us from burden. Spiritual leaders and psychologists alike say that forgiving is an important part of healing. H. Burke Peterson compared unforgiveness to poison. He said, “The poison of revenge, or of unforgiving thoughts or attitudes, unless removed, will destroy the soul in which it is harbored” (H. Burke Peterson, “Removing the Poison of an Unforgiving Spirit,” Conference Report, Oct. 1983).

 

We forgive because doing so is a commandment; it welcomes our own forgiveness; it keeps us from falling into other sin; and it helps in our healing.

 

Whom Do We Need to Forgive?

But whom do we need to forgive? Doctrine & Covenants 64:10 says, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men [and women].”

 

1) We must be forgiving of everyone:

So let’s first consider what it means to forgive all men and women, generally. To be a forgiving person, we have a sensitive, empathetic, and charitable heart toward everyone around us. We look at others the way Jesus sees us all.

 

Not long ago, from this same pulpit, our university president, Kim B. Clark, said that after being cut off on the roads many times while driving, he concluded he would be much better off just deciding that the person in the other car must be having a heart attack—or a baby—and that they must be focused on that concern as they so carelessly rush to what must be the hospital.

 

My version of that same perspective is that when someone around me makes any form of unkind or careless gesture, I think, How terrible is their day—or their life—that they would be so inconsiderate or that they would be so quick to lose their temper?

 

We are all on a journey of perfection, yet far from it. You and I have our shortcomings, and we should be grateful others are willing to overlook ours. Spencer W. Kimball said:

 

So long as mortality exists we live and work with imperfect people; and there will be misunderstandings, offenses, and injuries to sensitive feelings. The best of motives are often misunderstood. It is gratifying to find many who, in their bigness of soul have straightened out their thinking, swallowed their pride, forgiven what they had felt were personal slights. (Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 98)

 

One thing I have learned in my years as a bishop is that everyone has burdens. Whether we have sickness in our own hearts or our hearts ache for someone we love who is suffering, each one of us has pain in our lives and needs the charity Jesus has taught us to have as His disciples. The essence of the gospel is to love one another as He loves us. I believe that means when we look around, we see in every face a child of God who deserves to be loved. 

 

I hope you will receive this next example as reverently as I intend it to be. Often as I am in any group of people, like today, this is how I see the crowd. Imagine with me that: he just failed a test; she just learned her mother has cancer; she feels her roommates don’t like her; he wonders if God hears his prayers; she just had a fight with her brother; his fiancé just broke up with him; he is terribly homesick; and she is struggling with repentance. We could go on, but you get the idea.

 

When I look at any gathering, I really do see my brothers and sisters—individuals whom God loves and whom I love—men and women who certainly have hurt in their lives and who deserve my respect and immediate forgiveness, if necessary. As the children’s Primary song says, “Jesus said love everyone; Treat them kindly too. When your heart is filled with love, others will love you” (“Jesus Said Love Everyone,” Children’s Songbook, 61).

 

2) We must forgive those who have hurt us:

But what about those who have hurt us directly and in personal ways? We are also required to forgive them. This does not always mean we have to forget the wrongdoing. To forget is a gift that can take time. And like the present but fading scars our own sins can leave, sometimes remembering what has been done to us can protect us from further harm.

 

I have learned that while it is certainly ideal to completely forgive someone without hesitation, there are degrees of forgiveness for many of us. It can be a long series of steps; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we are on a good path of healing and harmony. Spencer W. Kimball taught:

 

To be in the right we must forgive, and we must do so without regard to whether or not our antagonist repents, or how sincere is his transformation, or whether or not he asks our forgiveness. We must follow the example and the teaching of the Master, who said: “Ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” (Doctrine & Covenants 64:11). (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, Jan. 1969, 283)

 

As with all of the teachings of Jesus, He shows us the way. He teaches us, for example, in the parable of the Prodigal Son that the father ran to his estranged and wayward son, embraced him, and threw a feast for him. For me, this parable is about the reaction our loving Father in Heaven has for us when we turn from sin and come unto Him. He is the Father and the perfect example.

 

In the Old Testament we read that even after all the trials Joseph had endured from the time his brothers left him in a pit to be sold into slavery, he forgave them. When they were reunited:

 

Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45:4-5)

 

I strive for that kind of forgiveness and perspective, but I have found that as a mortal work-in-progress, and with energy already spread thin, I am not always able to be this quick to forgive. However, like the Prodigal Son’s father and like Joseph, I know we can do as Jesus taught when He said to:

 

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 5:44)

 

3) We must forgive ourselves:

I want to also touch briefly on the tendency we sometimes have of not forgiving ourselves. Shouldn’t we include ourselves among all men and women the Lord has told us we ought to forgive? But for various reasons, even those of us who are very forgiving of others choose to carry “rocks in their pockets” and not let go of bad choices they have made.

 

I have observed that guilt can come from the Holy Ghost to guide us away from something evil. However, Satan can counterfeit those feelings. He can make us feel guilty to the point of doubting God’s love for us as His sons and daughters. We can know the difference by considering the direction our guilty feelings prompt us to go.

 

For example, if our feelings cause us to faithfully walk toward God, humbly depending on Him and knowing He loves us and wants our success, they are from the Holy Spirit. But if we are hiding from God and believing the lies that we are worthless, dirty, and past hope, we should recognize the evil source and instead, “look to God and live.”

 

I have witnessed individuals struggle with two very sacred experiences in their efforts to find forgiveness. One is knowing when it is appropriate to again partake of the sacrament, and the second is knowing when it is appropriate to return to the temple. We should do neither unworthily; however, at some point we need the comfort, cleansing, peace, and power that can come from both. Through a desperate desire and sincerely seeking counsel from the Lord, our bishop, and others we trust, we will be blessed with discernment and guidance in these vital decisions.

 

Now, I submit that if we still hold onto guilt for any large or small sin without forgiving ourselves, even after doing all that is necessary to repent of that sin, we in essence deny God’s role and power. If God loves us unconditionally and is willing to forgive us, why would we think we are smarter or better than Him by not doing the same? Why would we question His judgment?

 

4) We must forgive God:

As a final thought about those we must forgive, sometimes we may become angry with God or resent Him for our challenges. While it is true He may sometimes present tests of our faith, most of the trials we encounter are actually consequences of our own choices or the choices of others. So in our effort to forgive everyone, are we sometimes unforgiving of God?

 

Forgiving God may seem like a strange notion. Clearly a perfect God does not need our forgiveness. But if we revisit the definition of forgiveness as excusing someone from blame, don’t we sometimes blame God for things that go wrong in our lives or hold a grudge against Him? We need to forgive God only in the sense that we should humble ourselves, let go of resentment, and instead have faith in Him.

 

Rather than ignorantly pointing an accusatory finger at heaven, it is imperative, even central to our worship, that we accept His invitation to “learn of me” (Matthew 11:29, Doctrine and Covenants 19:23, 32:1) and seek to understand our proper relationship with God. As we do so, we should not be casual in developing a balance between familiarity with and reverence for our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

We know Heavenly Father is our Father, and He calls us His sons and daughters; but we also worship Him. We know Jesus Christ is our Elder Brother, and He calls us His friends; but He is also our Savior, our Advocate with the Father, and our King. Although “His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25 [2Nephi15:25]), it for us to fall at His feet. While we may fondly imagine a warm embrace at the end of this life, it is for us to be invited by Him into His arms. This is a more proper respect for and understanding of Whom we worship.

 

As I have carefully considered an appropriate relationship with deity, I am in awe. My learned testimony of God is that He is 1) all loving, 2) omniscient, 3) perfectly just, and 4) omnipotent. Because of this combination of godly characteristics, I know that everything will be okay in the end.

 

Because understanding these things helps me look up to God and remove the rocks from my own pockets, I’ll briefly expand upon each aspect of this testimony.

 

First: God does love us unconditionally. We must not make the mistake of measuring His actual love by how unloved we may feel at times. No matter whom we think we are or what we have done, we are His children, and He loves us perfectly. We may disappoint Him, but His greatest desire is that we return home to Him. If we come to Him with a truly repentant heart, He will always forgive us.

 

Second: God knows everything about everything, including our potential. We can trust that He will only allow us to endure what is necessary to strengthen us through experience so we can become like Him. We have to trust His timing and ultimate answers to our prayers. When I don’t understand something, I remind myself that He does.

 

Third: While I believe God is perfectly just, that doesn’t mean I believe life is fair. We see what we would deem unfairness all around us. A very important reality is that by earthly standards, good people aren’t always the most blessed in this life, and bad people aren’t always fully punished in this life. He will judge each of us according to our actions and the intent of our hearts. The key is that I know the Lord is a just judge, and He will make all things right at His final judgment.

 

Fourth: No matter what, God is in charge. He is the God of all creation. He knows and controls the balance and harmony of the universe; so we have to trust that He will change a situation if it will truly benefit us in the end. Even when something seems unfair, God knows what is needful. But, just because He is all-powerful and occasionally places some challenges in our way, doesn’t mean He makes everything happen. He can save us from evil, but He will not necessarily save us from the consequences of our choices or even the choices of others. That would go against His grand gift of agency.

 

God is so good to us; and He has offered so much to us, especially through the Atonement, which can make up for our limited capacities. If we will simply look to Him and trust Him, rather than blame Him, our perspective will change, and the Lord will help us with all our other relationships and related struggles. It is our choice to embrace and enjoy the good in this world through all of life’s ups and downs.

 

How Do We Forgive?

So after considering what forgiveness is (and is not), why we must forgive, and all of those we should forgive, how do we go about forgiving?

 

There are wonderful, specific, and practical tools to be learned from a little study online, from books, and from working with our bishop or with a trained counselor; but at the center of our efforts to forgive should be what I shared at the beginning of my message today. We must look to God in faith and let go of the unnecessary burden we put on our own backs if we unforgivingly cling to pain, resentment, or worse. To borrow a phrase from our fellow Christian brothers and sisters, we should, “Let go and let God.”

 

We can forgive by unloading the rocks from our pockets as we allow those we perceive to have wronged us to work out their own salvation with the Savior. Their forgiveness really is between them and the Lord. So we should let them wrestle through their own repentance, and instead perhaps repent of judging them ourselves.

 

In Luke 6:41 we read, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Just imagine what the world would be like if everyone followed this gospel teaching and was careful to first be concerned with their own hearts, along with their treatment of others. Spencer W. Kimball proposed:

 

If we would sue for peace, taking the initiative in settling differences—if we would forgive and forget with all our hearts—if we would cleanse our own souls of sin, bitterness, and guilt before we cast a stone or accusation at others—if we would forgive all real or fancied offenses before we asked forgiveness for our own sins—if we would pay our own debts, large or small, before we pressed our debtors—if we would manage to clear our own eyes of the blinding beams before we magnified the motes in the eyes of others—what a glorious world this would be! (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Spencer W. Kimball,195–96).

 

The Lord knows our hearts; he knows our intentions and our potential, just as He knows the same things about those who may have hurt us. We can forgive by understanding God’s role in our lives and by letting Him be the eternal keeper of justice while we focus our energies on loving Him and loving our neighbor. On a number of occasions, Gordon B. Hinckley said variations of the following:

 

May God help us to be a little kinder, showing forth greater forbearance, to be more forgiving, more willing to walk the second mile, to reach down and lift up those who may have sinned but have brought forth the fruits of repentance, to lay aside old grudges and nurture them no more. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Forgiveness,” Ensign, Oct. 2005)

 

Remember my perspective from the hotel room window—how I first only saw what was dull and depressing below me. It would have been easy to limit myself to that view of things; but instead, I looked up. Forgiveness can be a matter of choosing to lift our sights, as we trust a loving God.

 

Remember the rocks I took from my pockets and placed along the chalkboard tray. Forgiveness can set our spirits free as we unload the burdens we have picked up along the way.

 

Heavenly Father wants us to look to Him and have joy, despite—or perhaps because of working through—any hardships that come to us. Obeying the commandment to forgive can help fill our souls with all that is good in this life and all the promise of the life to come. The sacrifice and Atonement of our Savior is real, and so is His invitation when He says:

 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

I pray that we may each find it in our hearts to be forgiving of everyone around us each day, as well as those who have specifically hurt us; and that we will forgive ourselves and our God as we look to Him and live.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.