During his final days, the Savior’s 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 could also have condemned the Romans’ cruel crucifixion. But, as he hung on the cross, even in his agony, Jesus forgave those who crucified him, asking his Father, “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
It is sometimes hard to forgive others, especially when we have been deeply hurt. We may replay an offender’s sin against us long after the person has repented—and even after God remembers the sin no more (see D&C 58:42). This is especially true when the hurt and needed repentance is between family members. But harboring hurts from others can canker our souls. It prevents us from experiencing the full blessings of the Atonement. Indeed, when we fail to forgive, we bear the greater sin (see D&C 64:9–10).
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 Company, 1989, page 35). It takes true faith in Jesus Christ 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 instead of nurturing retribution will help heal the conflicts that fracture our society.
Just as important, 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 families, to our neighborhoods, 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?