Forgiveness is a spiritual gift from God. We obtain forgiveness by asking for it “with a sincere heart, with real intent”(Moroni 10:4) — that is, with the real intention to forgive.
Our capacity to forgive is linked to our capacity to love; and our capacity to love is linked to our capacity to become like God. Perhaps more than any other virtue, forgiveness—our willingness to thoroughly and “frankly forgive” (1 Nephi 7:21), demonstrates redeeming, reconciling, Christlike love.
The Prophet Job exemplified the Gift of Forgiveness
Job’s life is a powerful and interesting lesson on exemplifying forgiveness. Job was an ancient priest and judge, who was highly respected and very wealthy. He was doing everything right when suddenly everything went wrong. In an instant, he lost his seven sons and three daughters. Then he lost his wealth and his health. When he was cast from his home to take up residence near the city’s refuse pile, he was separated from his wife—possibly one of his hardest trials.
Then three of his friends (and later a fourth) came to comfort him. They were so astonished at his condition and appearance that they could not utter a word but rather sat with him in silence for seven days, “for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:3).
At that point, the unimaginable happened—Job’s friends turned against him and accused him of sin. They imagined that nothing short of misdeeds and flaws in his character could produce such misery. Surely, they said, Job was now reaping the reward for his poor choices and bad conduct.
Job, however, was not a sinner “deserving” of his trials. Do we sometimes feel the same way when we wrongly believe that misplaced judgments of others? Or are we quick to harshly judge ourselves when we yield to temptations or make mistakes? In either case, we become our own worst enemies, much like Job’s judgmental friends, who were willing to accuse Job while he was suffering.
Amazingly, despite all the false accusations and abuse, Job maintained his integrity. He knew that sin was not the cause of his affliction. Obviously, Job knew the Lord well enough to know that he was right before the Lord.
If escaping his circumstance were as easy as admitting to a mistake, Job would have gladly done so. But he had received no such divine communication, so he was duty-bound to maintain his integrity and wait for the Lord to deliver him and give him further instructions.
Forgiveness–The Final Trial of Job
In the end, the Lord vindicated Job by chastising Job’s friends. Speaking to one of them, Eliphaz, the Lord said,
My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” Then, in an extraordinary gesture to reach out to the friends and invite them to repent (and the result would become Job’s ultimate test), the Lord commanded Eliphaz and the friends, “Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly (Job 42:7-8).
The final trial of Job was forgiveness!
After all that had happened to him, after all the abuse, could Job now forgive and pray for his friends? Yes. And the result was astounding: “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).
Through the powerful act of forgiveness, Job’s “captivity” was turned; through the powerful act of forgiveness, Job was able to rescue and reclaim his friends; and through the powerful act of forgiveness, the Lord restored to Job twice as much as he had had before.
Forgiveness—Coming Near to Perfection
At some point, and perhaps at many points along the way, we will have to forgive ourselves and judgmental people. If we are able to forgive sincerely, we come “near to perfection” (TSWK, 204).
Our reward for having made this sacrifice—for forgiveness is at least a sacrifice of pride—will be much more than what was required of us in order to forgive: twice as much in the case of Job, and even more in other cases.
In 1833, when the desperately impoverished, suffering Mormons were driven from their Missouri homes in the dead of winter, the Lord told them through their prophet-leader, Joseph Smith to seek the gift of forgiveness and expect divine compensation: “And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold” (D&C 98:25).
The “hundredfold” reward comes from our having learned something about becoming a little more like God.
Struggling to comprehend the boundaries of forgiveness, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). That is, if our aim is to take Jesus as our Exemplar, we must learn to forgive without limitation.
To emphasize this point, Jesus taught a parable that reveals something we must learn in order to become like Him—the capacity and desire to forgive endlessly, even when sins are severe and enormous:
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt (Matthew 18:23-27).
We are the like these servants of the King, who will take account of us. Our debt to sin is as massive as “ten thousands talents.” We simply cannot pay it. Clearly, the demands of justice are unbearable. Consequently, we plead with the King for mercy and forgiveness. Because the King is compassionate, He is willing to loose us from our burden and forgive our debt.
Later in the parable, we learn that the forgiven servant would not forgive someone who owed him a tiny amount. The King learned of his hypocrisy and condemned him for it. Likewise, if the Lord freely forgives us and we do not extend the same courtesy to our debtors, we will kindle the wrath of the King, who, as the parable warns, will deliver us to the tormentors until we pay all that was originally due (Matthew 18:34).
Our casually forgiving someone will not suffice; we must do so from our heart, the most sensitive and tender part of our soul. We cannot truly forgive and hold something back. If we are not willing to do this, we commit the “greater sin” (D&C 64:9).
Forgiveness–One of the Greatest Tests of Discipleship
Because the gift of forgiveness defines Jesus, and because we must develop this trait to become more like Him, He gives us multiple opportunities to learn it in this life. Forgiveness is one of the greatest tests of discipleship. Being willing to forgive speaks to our desire to become more and more like Christ, for by forgiving we lay the groundwork for the sinner’s redemption.
The person who is the most Christlike will seek to redeem and reclaim while the person who is more like Satan will seek to captivate and destroy. One reason that we withhold forgiveness is to hold the sinner in a form of spiritual bondage. That is a reason why non-forgiveness is such a serious sin. We simply cannot claim to be Christlike and do the work of Satan on any level.
On the other hand, sincere forgiveness closes the door on Satan, who would use the unsettled issue to destroy our souls. Therefore, for the sake of our souls and the souls of all others who sin or judge harshly, we must seek and develop the gift of forgiveness. And we start the process by forgiving ourselves.
More about “Forgiveness”
“Forgiveness” was written by Larry Barkdull. The subject of Forgiveness is of vital importance to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to know more about Mormons with no obligation, please click on the following links:
If you have other questions about Mormons, click below on Mormon Beliefs or Mormon FAQ.