“Forgiving Others,” Ensign, February 2019
Have you ever stood barefoot on a beach and felt cool seawater wash over your feet, eroding the shifting sand beneath you? No sand castles or carved words will remain after the waves wash over them. The act of forgiving another can cleanse the soul like the sea, leaving peace in its wake.
Forgiveness is a Christlike quality. It includes receiving forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others. Of the three, forgiving others is sometimes the most difficult for us. However, with the Savior’s help, we can learn to forgive even those who have deeply hurt us.
Forgiveness is a commandment. The Lord said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10). The Lord has promised that if we forgive others, He will forgive us (see Luke 6:37; Doctrine and Covenants 82:1). We also learn that if we do not forgive someone who has offended us, the greater sin lies with us (see Doctrine and Covenants 64:9).
In the parable of the ungrateful servant, the king forgave his servant a massive debt of 10 thousand talents. However, the ungrateful servant refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small debt of 100 pence. The ungrateful servant expected the other servant to repay. When the king heard of this, he delivered the first servant to the tormentors to pay his debt in full (see Matthew 18:23–35).
In teaching why we should forgive, Elder Marion D. Hanks (1921–2011) of the Presidency of the Seventy shared this memorable analogy: “There are two courses of action to follow when one is bitten by a rattlesnake. One may, in anger, … pursue the creature and kill it. Or he may make full haste to get the venom out of his system. … If we attempt to follow the former, we may not be around long enough to finish it.”1
“In the everyday circumstances of life, [we] will surely be wronged by other people—sometimes innocently and sometimes intentionally. It is easy to become bitter or angry or vengeful in such situations, but this is not the Lord’s way.”2 We cannot control what others do, but we can control our own behavior and reactions. The offenses we encounter provide us with ample opportunities to learn how to forgive.
One such opportunity was given to a man named David in the parking lot of a grocery store. A pickup truck crashed into a grocery cart, which slammed into David’s truck and gouged a stripe down the entire side. Many thoughts raced through David’s mind: “What a jerk! Why my truck? I should call the police.”
The driver of the pickup jumped out and apologized. Then he surveyed the damage. “This is really going to hurt me,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
David looked at the man’s oversized coat and scuffed shoes. Inside the man’s rusted pickup, David could see several children with dirt-stained hands pressed against the windows. There was no other adult with them.
David surprised himself by saying, “You know … don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” The grateful driver thanked him repeatedly.
On his way home, David felt a warm confirmation that he had acted well. But he also wondered how he could afford to fix his truck. He spotted a car repair shop ahead. He stopped in and told the owner what had happened. The owner listened patiently to his story. When David asked what the repairs would cost, the owner removed his baseball cap and said, “No charge. I’ll take care of it for you.”
We are not always rewarded for our forgiveness the way David was. And we should not expect it. Nor should we expect the offending person to repent first. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) explained, “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.”3 Even for repeat offenses, we are commanded to forgive “until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
This instruction could have felt unfair to Myriam, a 10-year-old Christian refugee. She had experienced the horrors of fleeing her home in Qarakosh, Iraq, ahead of terrorist threats. In addition to her home, she lost her church, her friends, and her belongings. But Myriam’s faith in God remained strong. When asked if she could ever forgive those who had driven her family out, she answered, “Yes, I forgive them. … God’s blessing will be greater for those who forgave. Because Jesus said, ‘Forgive each other; love each other the way I love you.’”4
Another example of sincere forgiveness involved Joseph Smith and William W. Phelps. Brother Phelps joined the Church in Kirtland. However, he became involved in questionable financial dealings and misappropriated Church funds, leading to his excommunication in 1838. The Prophet Joseph reached out to recover his friend, but Phelps resisted. Instead, Phelps and others signed a harmful affidavit against the Prophet. As a result, Joseph and others spent four months in the despicable Liberty Jail.
Two years later, Brother Phelps begged for forgiveness. Despite the suffering Joseph had endured, caused in part by Brother Phelps’s actions, he genuinely forgave his prodigal friend. In his reply, Joseph wrote:
“‘Come on, dear brother, since the war is past,
“‘For friends at first, are friends again at last.’”
Four years later, in a humble reversal, Brother Phelps gave the sermon at Joseph’s funeral and soon after honored his forgiving friend with the hymn “Praise to the Man.”5
The act of forgiving others is immensely healing. It can even bring health benefits such as decreased stress, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, and a stronger immune system.6 But when someone has hurt us deeply, it is often difficult to see past our wounds. President James E. Faust (1920–2007), Second Counselor in the First Presidency, explained, “Some injuries are so hurtful and deep that they cannot be healed without help from a higher power and hope for perfect justice and restitution in the next life.”7
In 2007, Chris Williams lost his wife, his daughter, one of his sons, and his unborn child when a drunk teenage driver hit their car. As he watched his wife gasp her last breath, he felt an overwhelming shock that crushed him both emotionally and physically. The weight was too heavy to bear. So he made a decision: he had to turn this burden over to the Lord. With the Lord’s help, Chris was able to forgive the teenage driver, and he helped provide a way for the grieving young man to begin to rebuild his shattered life as well.8
Chris’s story shows us that the Savior’s Atonement covers not just sinners but victims. Forgiveness provides release—a doorway out for the injured. It doesn’t mean excusing or condoning the act; it means leaving judgment to the Lord. When we forgive, the Savior relieves us of our burden through His Atonement. He can replace despair with peace and heal us completely.
If we can forgive others, no matter what injustices we’ve endured, we can turn to Christ for healing. Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy taught, “Forgiveness is the very reason God sent His Son, so let us rejoice in His offering to heal us all. … If you are having trouble forgiving another person or even yourself, ask God to help you. Forgiveness is a glorious, healing principle. We do not need to be a victim twice. We can forgive.”9
As we strive to develop the attribute of forgiveness, there’s no better example to look to than Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered great pain at the hands of His tormentors—and yet He forgave. Even as He hung on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
How we treat those who injure us might provide some of the most defining experiences in our lives. In our darkest hours, we receive the opportunity to turn to the Lord and with His help shape our character to be more like His. By forgiving our offenders and handing our pain to the Lord, we can allow the peace of forgiveness to wash over us like rolling waves on the seashore.