To forgive is divine, or so the saying goes. It’s a true statement, rooted in both ancient and modern scripture.
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses,” Christ tells in Matthew 6:14, “your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Gordon B. Hinckley once said, “If there be any who nurture in their hearts the poisonous brew of enmity toward another, I plead with you to ask the Lord for strength to forgive.”
This mandate through the ages to offer forgiveness is a clear one. Yet, many people struggle with forgiveness because they believe justice is somehow lost and they are tied to these terrible circumstances. Should you really strive to forgive or is it better to hold onto the incident or memory or pain because then it matters?
To better understand forgiveness, it is helpful to look at what it is not.
Forgiveness is NOT Condoning Evil Actions
God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. If you’d like to learn more about that, you can read this great talk from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Many times, people do not want to forgive because they feel they are somehow condoning the evil act or minimizing their own pain or the pain of others. They think forgiving someone makes the actions of the wrongdoer ok.
Forgiveness does not mean someone did not do something wrong, something horrible, or maybe even something truly evil. Forgiveness means you recognize God is the ultimate judge and are willing to give up the decision on how to judge to him. He is the one who will exact what is necessary, as the one who knows each heart, each motivation, and forgiveness is a sign we trust that.
Forgiveness is NOT Absolving Someone of Consequences
In a similar vein, forgiving someone does not mean that person is absolved of the consequences of their actions. Part of seeking forgiveness is facing these consequences with grace and humility. If there are necessary actions that need to be taken after wrongdoing, take them.
For example, when someone has committed a serious sin, they may temporarily lose the privilege to partake of the sacrament or attend the temple. Likewise, we may need to set boundaries, reevaluate relationships, or distance ourselves. We need to do this in a spiritual manner without letting feelings of vengeance or bitterness sway us.
Forgiveness is NOT Forgetting
When you forgive someone, you may find yourself letting go of anger, pain, and bitterness. The acidic feelings in your heart and mind are alleviated. The memories of what happened don’t torment you anymore. You may even be able to recall the wrongdoing and feel nothing but peace about the matter.
This does not mean, however, that you are required to forget what happened. You do not need to keep dangerous people in your life. You do not need to put yourself in compromising situations because you forgave someone. You do not need to act like it never happened.
Forgiveness is knowing vividly that something happened and reaching for perfect peace through Christ.
Forgiveness is NOT Always About the Other Person
To be frank, you may choose mercy. When the peace of forgiveness settles in, you may astonish yourself with how you are able to show charity to those who have wronged you.
But first and foremost, forgiveness is about you and your relationship with God. Forgiveness is letting go of the anger and hate in your heart that is a poison to you. You are making a statement that another person has no power over you. In fact, someone may not even want to be forgiven! They may have no remorse, no regret, and no desire to make amends. Your forgiveness may mean nothing to them, but it should mean everything to you. Why? Because you are free when you forgive.
To say, “I forgive you,” is an empowering statement that says you are not a prisoner to what someone made you feel. You do not remain a victim.
Elder David E. Sorensen once said, “Forgiveness means that problems of the past no longer dictate our destinies, and we can focus on the future with God’s love in our hearts.”
Forgiveness is NOT Easy
Be patient with yourself. Learning to forgive is a lifelong process. We may find one offense easier to forgive than another. It may take years to fully find peace. We are all at different spiritual levels and it can be hard to measure how we are doing. Take a look at the state of your heart, the thoughts in your mind, and the desires you are working towards.
Remember these words from Elder Kevin R. Duncan:
“Forgiveness is the very reason God sent His Son, so let us rejoice in His offering to heal us all. The Savior’s Atonement is not just for those who need to repent; it is also for those who need to forgive. 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.”