With so much of the world focused on hate and anger, it can be difficult at times to remember the Godly attribute of forgiveness. How can we focus on forgiveness when everything seems to be focused on anger and hate?
The spirit of contention seems to have filled the world. Social media is full of it, the news is centered upon it. It flourishes in our workplaces, schools, public places, and even when driving down the road. Jesus taught that those with the spirit of contention are not of Him but of the devil (3 Nephi 11:29). Yet it has become a pandemic that is threatening to destroy the whole world.
I wish to share with you some antidotes that I have learned to help protect us from this terrible disease.
First: in all cases, forgive!
Peter asked the Lord, how often we should forgive others of their offenses, “till seven times?” he asked (Matt 18:21). The number seven being symbolic of perfection, Peter surely thought this was a reasonable number of times. But Jesus responded: “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matt 18:22).
If we feel that we have been more than reasonable and have gone above and beyond in forgiving someone, Jesus tells us we must not stop, we must continue to forgive. What does this forgiveness look like? I find that looking at how God forgives helps me to understand how I need to forgive.
We are taught that if we repent, He will not remember our sins and iniquities (Hebrews 8:12). I believe it is critical to understand what this means. Sometimes we think that not remembering and forgetting are the same thing, but they are not. Forgetting means being unable to recall or unintentionally neglecting or failing to think of. I don’t think this is what he is talking about. Rather, what he is talking about is he will not hold it against us. When my children do something wrong, once I have forgiven them, do I continue to hold it out there and use it as a reminder of what they did? No, that would not equate to forgiveness. In other words, I am telling them I am choosing not to remember what they did wrong. But here, I have found God is also talking about something even more powerful. Forgiveness through God and His son Jesus Christ involves even more. It involves change. Through Jesus Christ, we are changed and remade into a new being without sin. Through Jesus, we are offered forgiveness in which God will not hold our sins against us, and secondly, we can be made into new beings without sin (John 3:7).
Forgiveness is not as much about what the other person did, it is more about what we do and the condition of our heart with God. My point here, is that God can change us, no matter what has happened to us, no matter what we have done. Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is ourselves. Having faith in God and embracing His peace can be one of the most difficult struggles we can go through. Especially when others have not only hurt us but also our families, or when our own actions or words may have hurt our loved ones.
Jesus taught: Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee- Go thy way unto they brother, and first be reconciled to they brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you (3 Nephi 12: 23–24).
Not only must we forgive others, but we need to make efforts to reconcile with others. This requires humility, faith, and love. Whether or not they forgive us is between them and God, but we need to do our part in order to help them and to help ourselves in being able to come unto Christ.
Second: Love one another!
This phrase is repeated many times in the scriptures to love one another. In John 13:34, Jesus adds, “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” How did Jesus love us? Infinitely! (2 Nephi 9:7). His love knows no bounds, no matter what we do or have done, He will never hate us. While his anger is kindled by our wicked actions, while He might be offended because of our words and deeds, He will never hate us. Always are His arms opened to us to receive us and to forgive us (3 Nephi 9:14).
The prophet Mormon taught that “perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16). He taught us to cleave unto everything that is good, which invites us to come unto Christ and believe in Him.
But how do you do this in a world full of hate? In a workplace full of gossip and drama? How do you love others when they seem bent on your ruin?
Jesus taught: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Jesus also taught his disciples that they would be hated of all men for his name’s sake and then counseled them with this, “in your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 20: 17,19).
To the observer, perhaps these words make no sense, how could loving your enemies change things? What good is it to have patience during your afflictions of being hated, for Christ’s sake? Discipleship of Christ is not so much about others, it is about my relationship with God, and during that journey, I have interactions with others that help define my relationship with Him.
A quote I love from Gandhi goes like this: “To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid knowledge that one that must be loved is not a friend. There is not merit in loving an enemy when you forget him for a friend.” What is that “merit” he is talking about? It is not the praise of others, but I suggest it is becoming something much more than what we are.
As a young boy, I was hated and despised by many. Because of my poverty and poor clothes, because I was different and alone, I was hated. I was hated by leaders and advisors, teachers, peers, and those in authority that I did not even know. I did not understand it, and at first, I resisted it. I fought with violence for acceptance, but this only brought more misery. So, I humbled myself and became meek and submissive. Like the stories of old, I buried my weapons of war (Alma 24:19). I forgave, and I loved all regardless of what they had done to me. Then I found joy and peace, and I found Jesus Christ my redeemer.
Even in my professional career, while I have been taken advantage of, literally cursed, hated, and despitefully used and persecuted, I have found the best response is to do good, to bless, to pray for them, and to love them. It may not change them, but it changed me.
I believe that the greatest defense against hate is love. It was love that allowed Ammon and his brothers to have such great success in converting the Lamanites, who were full of hate towards the Nephites (Alma 26:30). It was love that allowed Alma the younger to experience a miracle through the prayer of faith from his father. It is through love that allows us to see light in the darkness and change our hearts from ungodliness to godliness. It is through love that allows us to forgive others so that we can come unto Christ. It is through love that we are saved from our sins. And it is through love that we can counter hate.
I know that as we forgive and love as Jesus did, we will be able to avoid the pitfalls of hate and will be saved in the glorious love of our Redeemer. I know He lives and loves us. I know that He will forgive us if we repent. Through His great sacrifice, we can overcome the world.
-Writers Note- I will periodically update these articles as I recognize I am not all-knowing, and I write and share according to the best knowledge I have at the time. As my knowledge and understanding increase I will change and update my articles, so please don’t be surprised if you see changes from time to time.