Of You It Is Required to Forgive All Men: Understanding Forgiveness

In Doctrine and Covenants 64:10 we read:

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

Before I go too much further, I just want to point out that the word "men" means everybody, not just males.  

As I have been studying the life of Jesus Christ this year to coincide with the Come Follow Me 2019 Individual Study curriculum, I'm seeing lots of comments in the internet universe about forgiving as Christ forgives.

I think that's great.  This world could definitely use a lot more forgiveness.  But sadly, I'm also seeing some comments about forgiveness that give me pause.  So I thought I'd write an article on the topic of forgiveness, specifically on what it isn't.

Misunderstanding #1 - Forgiveness means I must let the offender back into my life.  

Nope.  It doesn't.  Elizabeth Lloyd Lund in the April 2018 Ensign article, Forgiving Others: Misconceptions and Tips, points out that forgiveness and trust are the two different things.  She says that we can forgive someone without developing a relationship with that person where we trust them.  We are responsible to create boundaries that keep us safe from harm.

Elder David E. Sorensen in the April 2003 General Conference told us that even after we forgive, we should work in a constructive way to prevent further injury.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in the October 2018 General Conference reminds us that the Lord did NOT say we have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive circumstance.

So if someone tries to tell you that in order to forgive them, you have to let them back into your life, you don't.

Misunderstanding #2 - Forgiveness means I ignore or minimize the pain or hurt done to me. 

Nope. It doesn't.  One of my all time favorite talks about forgiveness was given at a BYU Devotional on October 23, 2012 by James R. Rasband.  If you have ever been seriously wronged by someone, I highly recommend this talk.  

Rasband points out that it doesn't do us any good to act or pretend that we weren't hurt by the wrong done to us.  In fact, the more we are willing to give the wrong its full weight, the more we can love our Savior for taking that hurt away.  Remember the parable of the two debtors?  He who owes much, loves much.  Our debt isn't just our own sins, but those harms done to us as well.  

Misunderstanding #3 - Forgiveness means the offender doesn't have to suffer any consequences for what he did.  

Nope. It doesn't.  Forgiveness isn't saying that they did nothing wrong.  It's letting go of the anger, bitter, and resentment for what they did.  It's letting go of the desire for revenge.  Just as we do not want to be judged or condemned by others, nor should we decide what another person's fate or consequence should be.  We can trust in the atonement of Jesus Christ to allow for all to be judged perfectly.  

Elder Richard G. Scott told us in the October 2014 General Conference that "all will be made right according to God's timing."  

I see it this way.  We don't forgive others so that they can access the atonement of Jesus Christ.  We forgive others so that we can. 

Misunderstanding #4 - Forgiveness is required only if the offender asks to be forgiven.  

Nope.  It isn't.  The word is forGIVEness not forEARNness. It isn't earned; it's a gift we freely give.     Giving the gift of forgiveness gives us peace; it doesn't necessarily give them peace.  We can forgive someone even if they don't tell us they are sorry.  We can forgive someone without that person even realizing they were forgiven or needed to be.

Misunderstanding #5 - Forgiveness should come as soon as the person asks for it. 

Nope.  Not necessarily.  No one should ever make us feel like they are OWED forgiveness.  We can't be coerced, manipulated, nor guilted into forgiving. Have you ever felt like someone wouldn't forgive you for not forgiving?  If so, you might be dealing with someone who is abusive.  Elder Richard G. Scott in the April 2008 General Conference reminds us that we can work at our own pace to forgive.  Sometimes healing comes slowly.  

Misunderstanding #6 - Forgiveness means I'll never remember what was done to me. 

Nope. It doesn't.  Just because we have been able to let go of the pain, hurt, and resentment that we felt when we were wronged, doesn't mean that every once in a while the memory won't surface.  When it does, Satan is quick to make us feel like we really didn't forgive that person.  Lund points out that we can recognize that we did forgive that person and let the memory go.  

Final Thought - Let go; let God. 

As I have forgiven others and myself, I've come to realize that it's really about turning our burdens over to the Lord.  It means that while we may not trust the offender, we trust God.   We aren't robbing someone of justice, we just don't feel responsible for their justice.  None of us our perfect; all of us need forgiveness.  We can use the Savior's Atonement not just for when we have done wrong, but when we have been wronged.

Excellent articles on forgiveness:

Elizabeth Lloyd Lund, Forgiving Others: Misconceptions and Tips, April 2018 Ensign.
James R. Rasband, Faith to Forgive Grievous Harms: Accepting the Atonement as Restitution, October 23, 2012 BYU Devotional
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Ministry of Reconciliation, October 2018 General Conference.
Elder Richard G. Scott, To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse, April 2008 General Conference.
Elder Kevin R. Duncan, The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness, April 2016 General Conference. 
David E. Sorensen, Forgiveness Will Change Bitterness to Love, April 2003 General Conference. 

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