by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
Grandpa Carson looked solemnly at Rick before resuming his walk. Rick was a little slower to join him this time but was back at his side within a minute or so.
“I want to believe, Grandpa. I really do. But let me tell you what I am struggling with. If what you say is true, then the Lord presumably would strengthen me in my struggles with Carol. His atonement for her sins would include making up for the burdens those sins are placing upon me, or at the very least would include the blessing of having those burdens made light. That’s what you are saying, right?”
His grandfather didn’t respond.
“But that hasn’t been my experience,” Rick continued. “I don’t feel the help you say the Lord is offering. In fact, I’ve never felt so alone or deprived in my life-just at the time when I need his help the most. If anything, the burdens I feel are only becoming heavier. So if the Lord is before me, as Abigail, offering to supply what I am lacking, he sure is being quiet. I don’t hear a thing.”
The words shocked Rick when he heard himself say them. He had heard such bitterness from others’ lips, but had always pitied the complainers for their lack of faith. The thought made him feel all the more hopeless.
His grandfather continued walking in silence. They had by now passed the crest of the initial hill and had reached the top of a smaller hill farther on. As the ground started to level, a host of additional hills rose before them. The road they were walking meandered its way between and up these hills before it disappeared a few miles in the distance. Grandpa Carson stopped and turned to look back at the path they had climbed.
“Ricky, let me ask you something. You saw Abigail and the effect she had on David.”
“Yes,” Rick answered pensively.
“Do you suppose that her offering had the same effect on David’s men as it did on him?”
Rick remembered the frustration he witnessed in many of the men-his own twin included-when David informed them that they would be returning without a fight. David had had to cajole and comfort them in order to calm their spirits.
“No,” Rick answered. “Most of the men weren’t very happy.”
“That’s right. And they weren’t happy even though Abigail had been kneeling before them as well as before David. They never recognized her offering for what it was. In a way, they didn’t even see her, even though she was right before them.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” Rick asked directly. “Are you saying that the Lord is right before me just as Abigail was before those men, but that I, like them, am failing to see it?”
“Well, Ricky, you were in that group of men. Did you see it?”
Rick felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. The comment stunned him, like he had been the victim of a most unexpected and devastating checkmate. He stood still, trying to comprehend the implications of his grandfather’s comment. I was in the group, as he said, he thought. And he’s right; Abigail didn’t reach me. I didn’t recognize her for who she was. Why, Lord? he finally cried. If you are there, Lord, why can’t I hear you? What have I done to turn you away?
“He never turns away, Ricky.” His grandfather was reading his thoughts again. “And it isn’t so much what you have done as what you haven’t done.”
“Then what haven’t I done?”
“The answer you seek is revealed in what you have witnessed today. Although the Lord stands before us offering the help we need, there is a condition we must meet in order to see and receive of his atonement offering. David met that condition; many of his men-you included-did not. If you want the Lord’s atonement to work in your behalf, Ricky, you must meet this condition yourself.”
“So what is it?” Rick begged.
“Something you must discover for yourself.”
At that, Grandpa Carson turned back in the direction of Carmel and resumed walking.
Rick walked silently beside him. A condition in the story of Abigail, he kept repeating to himself as they walked. Something that must be met in order to recognize and accept her offering. Rick could see nothing. What condition did David meet that his men did not? Abigail herself placed no conditions on anyone in the story that Rick could see. She simply made her offering. The only condition was whether or not David and his men would accept it. But that isn’t what Grandpa was talking about, he thought to himself. There is something in the story that is a key to whether they will accept it in the first place.
“I can’t think of anything,” Rick finally said in frustration. “I don’t see any conditions in the story other than the question of whether those before whom Abigail bowed would accept her offering.”
“Think a little harder, Ricky. Think about what Abigail did in the story. She did more than offer a load of provisions. She did at least two other things that are critical and extraordinary-two additional things that are types and shadows of what Christ himself did. When you discover those two acts, you will discover as well the condition upon which Abigail’s, and the Savior’s, atonement is predicated.”
Two other things that Abigail did. Rick went to work on the problem the way he sometimes did the New York Times crossword puzzle. Let’s replay what she did, he thought. She rode down the hill, her servants and the provisions before her. Okay, and then she got off her donkey when she saw David and his men and rushed forward and bowed herself to the earth. Okay, these were two things she did, but are they important? Do these reveal the condition Grandpa is talking about? Do they point to Christ? I don’t see it. Then David approached her, and she fell at his feet. And then what happened? Let’s see, she said something to him. Yes, she said something like, ‘On me be the sin.’ That’s it! She took Nabal’s sin on her own head, and in that act she resembled the Savior.
“Grandpa, she took Nabal’s sin on her own head.”
Grandpa Carson smiled and stopped. “Yes, Ricky, that’s right. She pleaded with David, ‘Upon me let this iniquity be.’27 Well done. But do you know what it means?”
“Sure, it was her way of begging David to forgive Nabal and let go of his anger.”
“It seems that way, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does. You’re saying that that’s wrong?” Rick didn’t see how it could be wrong.
Grandpa Carson smiled slightly and set off again.
“Is that wrong, Grandpa?” Rick asked again as he drew to his side. “If so, how? I want to see.”
“There is a final thing that Abigail did in similitude of Christ that will answer your question, Ricky-a final, astonishing act that illuminates what it means to have taken another’s sins on one’s own head. See that and you will discover the understanding you seek.”
What else did Abigail do that points to Christ? Rick was searching seriously now. She pleaded with him not to do what he was about to do. Maybe that’s it, he thought. I can imagine that Christ pleads that way with us. Yes, that’s precisely what the Spirit does all the time-invites us to do certain things and pleads with us to avoid others. But is that an astonishing thing, as Grandpa said? Does that illuminate the meaning of taking sins on one’s head? Rick couldn’t see how. Maybe I’m missing something else, he thought. What else did she do?
“Grandpa, I don’t see anything-at least nothing we haven’t talked about already. Unless you’re referring to the way Abigail pleaded with David not to do what he was about to do.”
“That’s part of it, Ricky. But there was something she did, or rather said, that made her pleading efficacious.”
Something she said. What else did she say? Rick tried to remember everything he had heard but nothing leaped out at him-certainly nothing “astonishing,” as his grandfather had described this final act to be.
Grandpa Carson stopped walking and turned to Rick, who couldn’t help but notice what wonderful shape his grandfather seemed to be in. He wasn’t even sweating, while Rick himself was beginning to pay dearly for the heat. “You’re thinking hard about it, Ricky, I appreciate that. You deserve another look.”
At this, Rick’s mind was swept back in memory. He was standing once more on the rock overlooking the path. Abigail was at David’s feet.
“Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be.”
“Upon you be what iniquity, woman?”
“Please my lord, I saw not the young men you sent to Nabal, my husband. But see, I have provided. Please accept of my offering, that this shall be no grief unto thee.”
“You take the fool’s sins on your own head? You know the injustice and see us coming to right it, and now you beg for mercy upon thine house?”
“I beg for my house, yes, but for thee also, my lord, that this shall not be an offence of heart unto thee, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself. For the Lord will certainly make thee a sure house because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. So it ever may be so, my lord, I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid.”28
“Forgive the trespass of thine handmaid!”29 The words gripped Rick’s mind.
“Grandpa!” Rick exclaimed, the path and his grandfather reconstructing themselves before Rick’s eyes as he said it. “She said, ‘Forgive the trespass of thine handmaid.’ That’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it? That’s the astonishing act you are referring to.”
“Yes, Ricky, it is. And why is it so astonishing?”
“Because she hadn’t done anything wrong!” Rick answered excitedly, his heart racing with the discovery. “She had committed no trespass. And yet she begged David to forgive her all the same-not Nabal, but her, as if she were the one who had done the wrong. She didn’t say, ‘Please forgive Nabal his trespass,’ which she could have said. She said rather, ‘Forgive the trespass of thine handmaid’-‘forgive my trespass.’ She claimed the sin as her own. Which implies,” he continued, his mind racing with interest but also now with a bit of confusion, “that Christ did the same-that having taken upon himself the sins of those who have wronged us, Christ now comes to us and asks us to forgive him the trespass.” He paused to consider this.
“Is that right?” he asked, struggling with the implications if it was. “No, it can’t be!” he exclaimed, answering his own question. “The Savior never did anything wrong. He’s sinless. He doesn’t need us to forgive him!”
“No, Ricky, he certainly doesn’t,” Grandpa Carson agreed.
“Then I’m not sure I know what you’re saying.”
Grandpa Carson breathed in deeply, the way one does in the moment he realizes that greater patience and deliberation is needed. He looked pleasantly at Rick. “You’re right, Ricky. The Lord doesn’t need forgiveness at all. The act of taking others’ sins upon himself did not make him sinful. In fact, as you just witnessed with Abigail, willingness to assume another’s sins is actually an expression of sinlessness.
“However, this aspect of the story of Abigail-namely, that one who didn’t need forgiveness nevertheless asked for it-illuminates something very important about forgiveness. It illustrates who forgiveness is for.”
“‘Who forgiveness is for’?”
“I guess I’m not exactly sure what you mean.”
“Abigail did not need to be forgiven for anything, and yet still she asked,” his grandfather replied.
“So when she asked David for forgiveness, she wasn’t asking because she needed to be forgiven. There was another reason for her plea.”
Rick wondered at this for a moment. “Okay, what was it?” he asked, when nothing came to mind. “What was the reason?”
“Do you remember the scripture where the Lord says, ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men’?”30
“That is your answer, Ricky. Abigail asked for forgiveness not because she needed to be forgiven but because David needed to forgive.”
Rick’s mind was swimming. “That doesn’t seem right, Grandpa. I mean, didn’t Abigail need David to forgive her? After all, he was on his way to destroy her house.”
“Yes, but remember her words to him: ‘That this shall be no grief unto thee,’ she said, ‘nor offence of heart unto my lord.’31
“Abigail’s message was that forgiveness was for the one who was forgiving, not the one who was being forgiven. David needed to forgive so that, in the words of Abigail, ‘he would continue to be found without evil, so that the Lord could make him a sure house.’32 David might have felt justified in withholding this forgiveness from Nabal, however sinful such withholding might have been, but from Abigail? No, her offering on behalf of another obliterated every justification David might otherwise have had. She freed him from the blind comfort of his grudges. Through this merciful act, she created for David the most forgiveness-friendly environment that could possibly be created. David was never more able to do what he needed most to do-forgive, or more precisely, repent of his failing to forgive-than when the request for forgiveness was made by one who had atoned in full for the sin David was raging against.
“The Lord, by taking the sins of our Nabals upon his head, extends us the same mercy. ‘Upon me let this iniquity be,’ he pleads. ‘Let me deal with it if there is any dealing to be done. But you, my dear son or dear daughter, let it go. Let me take it, as I already have done. Forgive.’
“Although the Lord doesn’t actually ask us to forgive him, the effect of the atonement is such that it’s as if that is what he is asking. ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it [or done it not] unto one of the least of these,’ the Savior taught, ‘ye have done it [or done it not] unto me.’33 When we withhold forgiveness from others,” Grandpa continued, “we are in effect saying that the atonement alone was insufficient to pay for this sin. We are holding out for more. We are finding fault with the Lord’s offering. We are in essence demanding that the Lord repent of an insufficient atonement. So when we fail to forgive another, it is as if we are failing to forgive the Lord-who, as you already rightly said, needs no forgiveness.”
Rick looked away from his grandfather, and his eyes and countenance fell toward the ground. “I wish you could teach this to Carol,” he said despairingly, heaving a heavy sigh.
“Is that what you think you need, Ricky-for Carol to know this? That your problems would be solved if she got better at repenting?”
Rick was battling himself. His mind heard the irony in his grandfather’s question, but his heart silently nodded in consent.
“Whether Carol needs this understanding or not really isn’t the issue for you, is it, Ricky? What you need is not her repentance but your own. That is, what you need is not her forgiveness of you, but rather, your forgiveness of her. You must repent of your own sin of failing to forgive. That is the understanding Abigail offers. You believe you are withholding something
Carol needs when you are withholding forgiveness from her,
but there is nothing further from the truth. Through the crucible of the atonement, the Lord has already forged forgiveness for her. What more could your forgiveness add? No, Carol doesn’t need you to forgive her. You need you to forgive her, Ricky. So the Lord in his mercy comes to you and says, ‘The atonement applies as much to Carol as it does to you, my son. I have claimed her sins and taken them upon me. Let it go.’
“You should consider,” he continued, “how your failure to forgive is in effect a withholding from the Lord-he who has claimed and atoned for the sins and weaknesses in Carol that you insist on carrying with a grudge.”
This comment hit Rick like a blow to the head. This was no longer just a lesson about the atonement. It was rather an indictment of his life, and it left Rick speechless. The idea that he was fundamentally in the wrong thrust him deep into the pain of his troubles. He found himself transported in memory to three mornings before.
Carol was in tears that morning and reported through her sobs, as she often did, that she was feeling overwhelmed. She had been feeling ill and had been complaining that a pending assignment with the PTA was weighing her down, but Rick knew her complaint was only so much smoke. She could make a mountain out of any molehill. She became overwhelmed so often, and over the smallest things, that Rick had finally concluded that she needed to feel overwhelmed. For some deep, dark, sick reason, she had to feel bad and depressed and no good. It relieved her of responsibility, and Rick was sick of it. He provided her with an ideal life, as he saw it. He made an ample enough living to allow her to stay home in comfort, and he made no demands of her whatsoever. He worked, sure, but he also took care of the kids most of the moments he was home and did whatever else he could find the energy to do around the house, but it was never enough.
So when Carol had said-again-that she was feeling overwhelmed, Rick took it as thinly veiled code for “You aren’t doing enough for me,” and silently, his whole soul threw up its arms in disgust. How could I do any more than I’m already doing? he cried within. What about me being overwhelmed? Maybe I should start complaining about all my burdens so I can start claiming victimhood myself! It’s a pretty overwhelming thing to be living with you, you know. But he didn’t say this, at least not verbally, and his relative forbearance added to his feeling of moral superiority. “You’re not the only one with a lot to do, you know,” he had allowed himself to bark before turning his back and walking briskly out the door.
He had replayed that scene over and over in his mind all day at work, adding it to his increasingly unbearable collection of grievances. He dreaded going home, and when he finally did, he could not bring himself to look at Carol. She too was stiff and silent, and the air between them crackled. They passed each other in silence all night long, awkwardly looking away or burying themselves in the kids or the paper or the dishes-anything to escape a conversation.
Carol climbed the stairs to the bedroom about 10:00 p.m., early by about an hour, and Rick heaved a sigh of relief. He plopped heavily on the couch to decompress in front of the TV. He went to bed at about 12:30 a.m.
He and Carol had not spoken from that day to this, and the wintry silence had only grown colder.
What did Abigail have to do with this? he puzzled within. What am I missing? Lord, if I am missing something here, help me to see what I am missing.
In the silence that followed, Rick could feel a voice-and feel is the right word because he didn’t perceive it with his ears. It was rather a kind of still whisper in his chest that reached toward his heart and beckoned him to some inner region where love still flowered and hope still bloomed. For a moment Rick gave up the bitter monologue about Carol that had been occupying his mind and tuned himself toward the voice. As he did so the pain he had been feeling dissipated, only to be replaced just as quickly with a different pain-a pain at once similar and yet completely different. He was feeling Carol’s pain, and he perceived her lying on the bed beside him even while he stood with his grandfather on the road to Carmel. Her pain was as great as his own. He recognized the dashed hopes, the loneliness, the feelings of abandonment and betrayal. He felt her concern for the children, her grief over the loss of her spouse’s love, her fear of an uncertain future. Rick was overcome and fell to the ground.
His grandfather knelt beside him, and began brushing Rick’s cheek with his hand.
As he lay there, Rick lost hold of the image of his sleeping wife and began to feel the burden of one who must live with a person in such pain. The love and hope he had felt for a moment were disappearing under the weight of self-pity.
“My son,” Grandpa said gently, “when the Savior comes to you with the sins of others upon him, he offers you a view of others that only he knows. He begs you to see as he sees-as One who knows every pain, insecurity, aspiration, and infirmity because he has taken them upon himself. He will show you others as he sees and loves them, and he will help you to see and love them that way as well, for he begs you not merely to ungird your sword but to ungird your heart. If you do, the miracle of his atonement will flow freely, and you, like David, will put down war and take up bread and drink and sheep and figs.”
“I saw something for a moment, Grandpa,” Rick whispered. “For a moment I understood what you have been saying. But the clarity is already fading. I’m not sure I can do what you’re suggesting. I’m not sure I can let it go.” Rick was near despair and fighting back tears.
They sat together for a moment in silence. Grandpa Carson turned to look at the hills that lay before them. “You don’t need to let it go, Ricky. It will go by itself if you remember Abigail and come to the Lord. He has already let it go for you. That is part of his atonement. You just need to allow him to take it from you.”
With this, he began to stand up. “I leave you with three things to remember, my son. First, thinking of Abigail, remember that the Lord has taken the sins of others on his own head. Second, remember that he has atoned for those sins and that our failure to forgive is therefore in essence a withholding from the Lord. And finally, remember that if we grant this forgiveness in full, he atones in full for the pain and burdens that have come at others’ hands. He blesses us with his own love, his own appreciation, his own companionship, his own strength to endure. And if we have these, what do we lack?”
With that, he set off again toward Carmel.
“Wait, Grandpa, wait!” Rick yelled as he scrambled to his feet.
But his grandfather was moving at an incredible speed.
“I must go now, my boy,” he called. “Perhaps I will be able to visit you again. I would like that.”
“So would I,” Rick called after him, tears cutting paths down his dusty cheeks.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.