During the Savior’s final mortal day, his chief Apostle denied even knowing him. The Savior could have condemned Peter, but he did not (see Luke 22:55–62), and Peter responded with deeper faith and commitment, eventually presiding over the Lord’s church. Jesus Christ also could have condemned the Roman soldiers who crucified him. But, as he hung on the cross, even in his agony, Jesus said, concerning the soldiers who crucified him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34; see also JST, Luke 23:35).
It is sometimes hard to forgive others, especially when we have been deeply hurt. We sometimes replay an offender’s sin against us long after the person has repented—and even after the Lord remembers the sin no more (see D&C 58:42). This is especially true when the hurt and the needed repentance is between family members. But harboring hurts caused by others can canker our souls, preventing us from experiencing the full blessings of the Atonement. Indeed, when we fail to forgive, we bear the greater sin (see D&C 64:8–10).
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “There is a mighty power of healing in Christ, and … if we are to be his true servants, we must not only exercise that healing power in behalf of others, but, perhaps more important, inwardly” (Faith: The Essence of True Religion, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989, p. 35). It takes true faith in the Lord to submit offenses against us to the power of his atonement.
A wonderful example of forgiving comes from Church history. W. W. Phelps was a close friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith and sacrificed much for the gospel. In Missouri, however, he turned against the Prophet and the Church. His false testimony in 1838 helped put the Prophet and other Church leaders in jail, where they suffered terribly for many months.
By 1840 W. W. Phelps had recognized his sin, and he fervently asked Joseph Smith for forgiveness. The Prophet answered: “It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior. … However, … we are yet alive, for which we thank the Lord. … Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal. … ‘Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, / For friends at first, are friends again at last’” (History of the Church, 4:163–64).
Forgiving others instead of nurturing retribution will help heal the conflicts that fracture our society: faultfinding in family relationships, costly and time-consuming litigation, evil speaking to gain advantage in the workplace. Such activities harden our hearts and cause the Spirit of the Lord to withdraw.
Significantly, when we forgive, our own wounds begin to heal. As we faithfully surrender to the Savior the pain caused us by others, the power of the Atonement heals our wounded hearts, lifts our burdens of sorrow, and brings peace to our neighborhoods, to our families, and to our own souls.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
How can we be more tenderhearted and forgiving?
How can praying for those who have wronged us bring us peace?