The Lord has commanded his children to repent of sin and to forgive one another, but for many that is one of the hardest commandments to keep.
Mormon author S. Michael Wilcox discussed different principles of forgiveness and the blessings that come to those who give and receive it. He said forgiveness is taught in the scriptures by feeling the emotion in the stories, not by doctrinal insight.
Those who read the Book of Mormon can feel empathy for Alma the Younger, whose soul was racked with torment, and the joy that comes to his father as Alma’s heart is changed. The New Testament account of the Prodigal Son provides deep emotion when the father falls on his son’s neck and kisses him when he returns. Both teach the joy of being forgiven and doing the forgiving.
These stories about family relationships show that family members are often the hardest to forgive, but that difficulty doesn’t change the Lord’s plea that his children try to become perfect like him.
“The quality of perfection that God has that I want most in my life is mercy,” Wilcox said.
From Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Wilcox said Jesus taught mercy, forgiveness, and love, promising that those who follow such principles will be blessed.
“We are not taught to just forgive, but we are to invite those who have wronged us to come near,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox said his own father was not part of his life growing up. It wasn’t until Wilcox was asked to speak at church about parenting that the spirit suggested he reach out to his father and invite him to “come near.” All his life, Wilcox thought that he was the boy who lost his father, but he knew that if he didn’t forgive him, it would be the father who lost his son.
“I knew the tragedy of his life more than he did,” Wilcox said. “Forgiving my father was the easiest thing I have had to forgive, but it took many years.”
There are many steps to forgiving and many levels of forgiveness to be given. Sometimes forgiveness takes time, as illustrated by the biblical brothers, Jacob and Esau, who were separated for 20 years before they forgave each other.
The command to forgive all goes beyond family, he said.
Wilcox was ticketed on his honeymoon for running a stop sign. He wrote to the judge, appealing the citation. What the judge wrote back to him left a lasting impression, Wilcox said.
“I can understand why someone on their honeymoon might miss a stop sign,” the judge wrote. “I am returning your money. Have a nice life.”
Understanding others provides the ability to focus on the person, rather than the sin.
When the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman that was taken in adultery to Christ, they wanted to stone her for her sins. Christ saw the woman, rather than the sin, and forgave her, Wilcox said.
More than once Christ told the woman that her sins were forgiven and that she should go in peace, Wilcox said. Sometimes Latter-day Saints have to be reminded, and remind others, that they are forgiven.