Forgiveness: Comforting or Exhausting?


Let’s do a little word association. When you hear the word “forgiveness” what is the first thing you think of? Let’s make it a little more specific.  When you see an article in a religious magazine entitled The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness, what is the first thing you think of?  I think most of you immediately thought of God forgiving you because Jesus has paid for all your sins. God’s forgiveness is what Christians focus on. It soothes and heals us as nothing else can.

The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness is the title of a talk given at the recent General Conference of the LDS Church. I must admit that when I saw that title, I didn’t think of God’s forgiveness. A few years ago I did a study of how Mormonism talked about forgiveness. In over 90% of the time, the focus wasn’t on divine forgiveness. Rather it was on our duty to forgive each other. Knowing this, as I turned to that article, I expected it to focus on human forgiveness.

I was right. To be fair, Elder Duncan, the author, does talk about the healing ointment of Christ’s atonement. But what he focused on is our responsibility to forgive others. When he mentioned Christ’s atonement, he didn’t talk about that being the basis of God’s forgiveness for us. Instead he said, “When we apply the healing ointment of the Savior’s Atonement, He will soften our heart and help us to change. He can heal the wounded soul.” His emphasis was on our changing, our forgiving – not on God’s forgiveness.

Some might wonder why I’m arguing against that. After all, the Bible does tell us to be forgiving.

What I’m arguing against is how Mormonism emphasizes it and presents it. Human forgiveness dominates the spotlight. Divine forgiveness lies on the fringes. And even the few fleeting glimpses that it gives of God’s forgiveness, makes it conditional on human forgiveness. Elder Duncan wrote, “We must remember that forgiveness of our own sins and offenses is conditioned upon our forgiving others.”

Until one has experienced it, it is difficult to appreciate how much this focus on being forgiving can exhaust people. Instead of being comforted knowing God has forgiven them, they groan at being reminded of their duty to be forgiving. Instead of being motivated to forgive because they see God’s forgiveness in all its glory, they inwardly moan because they have no more energy to expend.

Sometimes what hurts is not what is said, but what is not said. Think of the pain a child experiences whose father never once compliments him. Or a spouse who never hears the words, “I love you”. We need to hear God telling us he forgives us through Christ. Because we sin so much, we need to hear this often.

I hope and pray that the first thing you thought of when you heard the word, “forgiveness”, was God forgiving you. I also hope and pray that this wonderful news is something you are not stingy in sharing. May you comfort many people with the healing ointment of God’s free and full forgiveness in Jesus.