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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.