Forgiveness: Burden or Blessing?
For a Christian, the word “forgiveness” evokes good feelings. Most believers immediately think of the wonderful blessing of God’s forgiveness through Christ. That soothes guilty consciences. It fills us with awe at God’s amazing love. It is like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold night.
But those are not the feelings the word “forgiveness” gives many Mormons. Years ago I noticed a subtle trend in LDS literature. Most of the time when forgiveness was discussed, it wasn’t talking about God’s forgiveness of the sinner. In the vast majority of times, it was put in the context of our responsibility to forgive each other. Instead of being emphasized as a wonderful gift from God, it usually was spoken of as their solemn duty – something they had to do in order to remain worthy.
The February 2016 issue of the Ensign (the official magazine of the LDS Church) has an article illustrating this very point. It was written by a woman whose husband had divorced her. It details how she worked at forgiving him. What struck me, as I read this brief article, was how she talked about Jesus’ forgiveness. Not once did she mention Jesus’ forgiving her sins. (She did reference the Atonement once without elaborating on it.) Instead she cited Jesus as her example no less than six times!
I don’t know about you, but seeing Jesus primarily as an example of how I am to forgive would be pretty depressing. Instead of being motivated, I would be discouraged. How could I ever get even close to imitating his forgiveness? That would be more discouraging than telling my small grandson to model his basketball game after LeBron James. At least LeBron is not a perfect basketball player. (The author of the article twice called Jesus a perfect example.)
In contrast, the thing that motivates me to forgive is Jesus’ total forgiveness of my dastardly sins. The more I see his persistent love in forgiving me even when I repeatedly sin against him, the more inclined I am to forgive those around me. The deeper I plunge into the refreshing waters of his forgiveness, the more invigorated I am to reflect his forgiveness to others. I don’t need to study Jesus’ perfect example of being forgiving. Instead I need to experience his perfect forgiveness.
This article once again reminded me of how carefully we need to talk with Mormons. We need to be alert to the fact that the word “forgiveness” might cause them to inwardly groan rather than rejoice. Instead of feeling relief, they could feel burdened by viewing forgiveness as another heavy responsibility to shoulder. Instead of associating forgiveness with blessing, they could easily equate it with a burden.
But this article also reminded me how the message of God’s forgiveness has wonderfully lifted off of me so many burdens. The message of God’s gift and blessing of forgiveness is one Mormons need to hear.
Therefore talk about forgiveness with your Mormon friends. But do so clearly. Be absolutely clear that you talking about what God has done for them – not what they need to do.