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,”[i] as did Nephi—demonstrates redeeming, reconciling, Christlike love.
Forgiveness is a spiritual gift that is obtained by asking for it “with a sincere heart, with real intent”[ii] (that is, with the real intention to forgive). Parents of wayward children often face a number of people whom they must forgive: their children, judgmental onlookers, and themselves.
Often, fasting and requesting a priesthood blessing to obtain this spiritual gift is helpful. Receiving a priesthood blessing has another benefit; through the power of the priesthood the adversary may be detected and cast away, for it is often the adversary who blunts our ability to forgive and buffets us with the miserable effects of carrying a grudge. Both the recipient and the priesthood holder can profit from the Lord’s counsel on casting out the “dark spirits” under Satan’s influence: “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”[iii]
The Example of Job
Job’s life is a powerful and interesting lesson on 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.”[iv] 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 feel the same way—judged by other of self-judged to be deserving of the trials of having a wayward child? Sometimes we play both the roles of the martyr and accusing friends; we berate ourselves and take responsibility when children stray from the path of righteousness. Often, our quick assumption is that we’re suffering because of our own shortcomings. While there may be an element of truth to that statement (and if there is, we ought to quickly repent), our shortcomings typically pale in comparison to the child’s use of agency. Nevertheless, we are prone to errantly assign personal blame as though we could read the mind of God. We are quick to judge ourselves harshly, and thereby 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.
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.” [v]
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.”[vi] 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 our wayward child, other judgmental people, and ourselves. And, as President Kimball stated, if we are able to forgive sincerely, we are “near to perfection.”[vii]
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 the early days of the restored Church, the suffering, forgiving Latter-day Saints were told, “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.”[viii]
The reward comes from our having learned to be 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.”[ix] That is, we cannot become sons and daughters of God without being able to forgive without limitation. To emphasize this point, the Lord 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.[x]
Forgiveness–One of the Greatest Tests of Discipleship
We are part of the kingdom of heaven; we are the servants of the King who will take account of us. Our debt to sin is massive; we cannot pay it. The demands of justice are unbearable. His patience with and mercy toward us are what we plead for. Because the King is compassionate, He is willing to loose us from our burden and forgive our debt. But if we will not extend the same courtesy to another debtor, as the parable later details, we kindle the wrath of the King, who will deliver us to the tormentors until we pay all that was originally due.[xi] 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 anything back. If we are not willing to do this, we commit the “greater sin.”[xii]
Because the trait of forgiveness defines Jesus, and because we must develop this principle of salvation to become like Him, He gives us multiple opportunities to learn it in mortality, primarily with those whom we love the most. Forgiveness is one of the greatest tests of discipleship. Being willing to forgive speaks to our desire to become like Christ, for by forgiving we lay the groundwork for the sinner’s redemption.
The Christlike saint seeks to redeem and reclaim while Satan seeks 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 be Saints 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 forgive. And we start the process by forgiving ourselves.
Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.
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[i] 1 Nephi 7:21.
[ii] Moroni 10:4.
[iii] Matthew 17:21.
[iv] Job 2:13.
[v] Job 42:7–8, emphasis added.
[vi] Job 42:10.
[vii] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 204.
[viii] D&C 98:25.
[ix] Matthew 18:21–22.
[x] Matthew 18:23–27.
[xi] See Matthew 18:34.
[xii] D&C 64:9.