Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Gift of Forgiveness

Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, divine." Being the imperfect being that I am, divine forgiveness is something I not only admire, but desperately seek from day to day. Only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life on this world. The rest of us suffer from temptations and trials that seem to so easily beset us. Satan whispers constantly, waiting for the unsuspecting moments in life that can lead us astray. And when we give into these whisperings, we find ourselves broken, miserable, and lost. It is easy in these times to want to give up hope or think we can never be as we were. But that is when the light of the Atonement allows us to begin mending our lives.
For me, one of the most poignant moments of forgiveness in the Bible recalls the story of the woman taken in adultery. Her accusers would have her stoned according to the law, but they bring her to Jesus and ask "But what sayest thou?" Then Jesus answers with that beautiful lesson, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Stunned no doubt by his response, and perhaps shamed in remembering their own guilt, the accusers depart. I imagine that tenderly the Lord then asks, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?...Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." Jesus was the only man in the world that could have stood to accuse this woman, but instead He shows mercy and compassion. He does not condone the sin, but instead offers the admonition of "Go and sin no more." (John 8:4-11)
Heavenly Father will never excuse sin, but He loved us so much that He created a plan, with a Savior, that thereby we could repent and return to Him through the gift of forgiveness. Directly following this encounter with the woman taken in adultery Christ states, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12) Sinning can bring about a spiritual darkness that would envelope us with its blackness, but the light of Christ that comes by receiving forgiveness through the power of the Atonement will always bring us back into the presense of our Heavenly Father if we trust in Him.
Another favorite story from the gospels is found in Luke. The Savior has been healing and, seeking this blessing for friend, several men brought a man with palsy to be healed, but could not get into the house. "And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God." (5: 18-25)
There are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from these verses. First, no matter how hard the way may seem, never allow anything to come between us and the healing power of our Savior. Sometimes it might seem as though we have to figuratively dismantle a roof in order to uncover our Savior. But Elder Holland teaches, "Each time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He has been anxiously trying to reach us. So we step, we strive, we seek, and we never yield." (Holland, Broken Things to Mend) Christ wants to heal us spiritually through His forgiving power. We must never forget, that Christ suffered for each of us individually in the Garden. He knew, even before we did, the sins we would commit. He knows each of us so deeply and thoroughly that he knows exactly how to succor each of us. Alma states, "He will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:12)
Second, God heals us according to our faith. Not only did this man have to come to the Savior to receive forgiveness and healing, he had to believe it was going to work. I recall another story of healing, wherein a father brings his son to the Savior. "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And staightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." (Mark 9:23-24) We must have faith to be healed, especially spiritually.
Finally, forgiveness is not complete until we learn to forgive ourselves. Christ said, "Of you it is required to forgive all men." I don't think there was any part of that statement that said, "Exept yourselves- I want you beat yourself up and tear yourself down for your failures." He said All Men. Sometimes I think forgiving myself is the hardest part of all. Once the steps of repentence are in place and all seems done, I still feel that somehow I deserve to be punished more. That what I did was so awful, I should live with my guilt. That for some reason I can never again be as good as I was. But I have learned that this is Satan's greatest lie. Because if he can make us hate ourselves, then we can not do nearly as much good in God's kingdom. We must learn that the power of forgiveness comes in completely washing our sins away, from our mind and God's. Only then can we truly feel whole once more.
I love the inspiring end to "The Miracle of Forgiveness." Elder Kimball quotes Matt 11:28-30 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Then he states, "It is my hope and prayer that men and women everywhere will respond to this gentle invitation and thus let the Master work in their individual lives the great miracle of forgiveness."
It is my hope as well that we can all embrace the great gift of forgiveness. Whether our sins be large or small, the Atonement is there to allow us to return once more to our Heavenly Father and truly find peace and happiness in being forgiven.