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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
Forgiveness is a spiritual gift from God. As with all spiritual gifts, we obtain the gift to forgive by asking for it “with a sincere heart, with real intent”[i] (that is, with the real intention to forgive). 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,”[ii] demonstrates redeeming, reconciling, Christlike love.
Some years ago, I invested money with a friend. I was not a sophisticated investor; I didn’t know the questions to ask to make an informed decision; I didn’t seek outside counsel. I simply (and foolishly) trusted the man, borrowed money–a lot of money!–and handed it over. Within six months, the money was gone, stolen by my “friend.” I had few options, so I began to make large payments on a ten-year note. The monthly amount was exceeded only by our mortgage payment, and I had nothing to show for it.
Worse than the strangling payment was the betrayal. Over the years, with each difficult payment, I learned to loathe this man. I learned that I was one of a long line of victims whom he had suckered into his multi-million-dollar scam. Many people were forced into bankruptcy, while others lost their homes and retirements. My wife and I were going through a season of limited income, so every payment was agonizing. I seldom knew where the money would come from each month. When I approached the man about making this right with me, he refused and dared me to try to collect. “I have assets,” he gloated, “but you will never find them.”
Over the years that I struggled with the debt, this man served in the Church and attended the temple regularly. He gave talks about the sanctity of family and appeared to be the ideal latter-day saint. I couldn’t square with the hypocrisy. I found myself praying for the Lord to bring retribution upon him; send him to jail; revoke his membership in the Church; cast him into outer darkness. No judgment was sufficient to satisfy my all-consuming hate.
Then one night in prayer, I heard a voice ask, “If I paid his debt to you, would you forgive him?” I was shocked; I didn’t know how to answer. Then the voice made another offer: “If I over-paid the debt, would you forgive him then?” I was ashamed to admit that I still did not know. I realized that money was no longer the issue; hate was. Grudge had become my companion, and it didn’t want to leave. Worse, I had learned to love the grudge and something inside me didn’t want a divorce from it.
That moment was a turning point. The Lord didn’t step in and pay the debt, but as I began to pray for the gift of charity, the Lord did lighten my burden so I could more easily make the payments. Then one day, out of the blue, an opportunity appeared to settle the debt for a discount. Suddenly, the nightmare was over — all except for the grudge. For that, I continued to pray for the gift of charity and for the man’s eternal welfare.
And the Lord took me seriously!
One winter morning, as my wife and I were taking a walk in the mall, I saw the man and his wife walking toward us on the other side of the mall. I quickly turned away only to feel the Spirit whisper, “I set this up to answer your prayer. Are you going to act on it or not?”
I thought, “After all I’ve suffered because of this man, you want me to act?”
A conversation seemed to ensue. “You’ve been praying for a resolution; you’ve prayed for the gift of charity and his welfare–were you serious? Did you really want my help?”
I was ashamed. Of course I had been serious about the things I had prayed for. I made a promise, “If you put him in my path again, I will approach him.” But I really hoped that I wouldn’t see him again.
Sure enough, during the next lap, I saw him and his wife striding opposite us. I drew a deep breath, crossed over, through my arms around him (he reacted as though I was going to hit him), and said, “I’m sorry for how I have felt about you.”
I felt him relax in my arms. He said, “I’m sorry for how I hurt you and your family.”
And just like that, it was over. We were brothers again. No more hate, no more grudge. The Lord had been true to his word: He had helped me pay the debt, and in the end He had overpaid it many-fold by freeing me from a satanic enemy that had been bent on occupying my thoughts, retarding my spiritual growth, and destroying my soul. The gift of forgiveness was my angel of deliverance.
The Prophet Job exemplified the Gift of Forgiveness
Job’s life is a powerful and interesting lesson on exemplifying 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.”[iii]
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. Of course, Job was not a sinner “deserving” of his trials.
Do we sometimes feel like Job when others jump to judgment and harshly criticize us? Or are we quick to harshly judge ourselves when we yield to temptations or make mistakes? In either case, 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. He knew the Lord well enough to know that he was right before him. 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. [iv]
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.”[v]
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 ourselves and judgmental people. If we are able to forgive them sincerely, we will come “near to perfection,”[vi]said Spencer W. Kimball.
Our reward for having made this sacrifice-forgiveness at least requires the 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 1833, when the desperately impoverished, suffering Mormons were driven from their Missouri homes in the dead of winter, the Lord told them through their prophet-leader, Joseph Smith to seek the gift of forgiveness and expect divine compensation: “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.”[vii]
The “hundredfold” reward comes from our having learned something about becoming a little more 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.”[viii] That is, if our aim is to take Jesus as our Exemplar, we must learn to forgive without limitation.
To emphasize this point, Jesus taught a parable that reveals something we must learn in order to become like Him-the capacity and desire to forgive endlessly, even when others’ 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.
We are the like these servants of the King, who will one day take an account of us. Our debt to sin might appear as massive as “ten thousands talents.” We simply could never pay it. Clearly, the demands of justice are unbearable. Consequently and of necessity, we will plead with the King for mercy and forgiveness. Because the King is compassionate, He will be willing to loose us from our burden and forgive our debt.
Later in the parable, we learn that the forgiven servant would not forgive someone who owed him a tiny amount. The King learned of his hypocrisy and condemned him for it. Likewise, if the Lord freely forgives us and we do not extend the same courtesy to our debtors, we will kindle the wrath of the King, who, as the parable warns, will deliver us to the tormentors until we pay all that was originally due.[x]
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 something back. If we are not willing to do this, we commit the “greater sin.”[xi]
Forgiveness–One of the Greatest Tests of Discipleship
Because the gift of forgiveness defines Jesus, and because we must develop this trait to become more like Him, He gives us multiple opportunities to learn to forgive in this life. Forgiveness is one of the greatest tests of discipleship. Being willing to forgive speaks to our desire to become more and more like Christ, for by forgiving we lay the groundwork for the sinner’s redemption.
The person who is the most Christlike will seek to redeem and reclaim while the person who is more like Satan will seek 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 claim to be Christlike 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 seek and develop the gift of forgiveness. And we start the process by forgiving ourselves. There is freedom; there is peace; there is charity; there is reconciliation with others and with God.