Recently I read the familiar Book of Mormon story about Nephi and his brothers when they returned to Jerusalem to try to convince Ishmael and his family to join Lehi’s family in the wilderness so that their children could marry. On the way back, Laman and Lemuel murmur against Nephi, threaten his life and bind him with cords, with the intention of leaving him “to be devoured by wild beasts” (1 Nephi 7:16).
As Nephi prays for delivery, the Lord gives him strength to burst the bands. Ishmael’s wife, a daughter, and a son plead for Nephi’s life to be spared. Their pleading and the spirit of the Lord touch the hearts of Laman and Lemuel, who feeling great remorse, kneel down before Nephi and beg for forgiveness (1 Nephi 7:20).
Are we not always deeply touched by Nephi’s humble response, “I did frankly forgive them”? (1 Nephi 7:21). Nephi’s forgiveness was immediate, honest and absolute.
Fortunately, most of us have not faced family relationships to this extreme, but we are also familiar with the story of Jacob, or Israel, and his sons. After Joseph’s jealous brothers threaten to kill him, he was sold as a slave and carried into Egypt, with little hope of escaping his fate or ever seeing any member of his family again. He spends years as a slave and prisoner in this foreign land.
Many years later, when Joseph is reunited with his brothers, and reveals himself to them, “he wept aloud … and he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life. … and he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them.” Joseph completely forgave them, then nourished and took care of each brother and his family during the great famine that afflicted the area at this time (Genesis 45:3-5).
Seventeen years later, Father Jacob dies and the brothers become fearful that Joseph will now turn against them and seek revenge. These brothers did not recognize the complete and total forgiveness and depth of the love and compassion that can come through the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. They sent a messenger to Joseph saying, “Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren and their sin … and Joseph wept when [he] spoke unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said: Behold, we be thy servants. Joseph, with his heart full of love, spoke unto them, Fear not … I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them” (Genesis 50:14-21). What a story of forgiveness and love!
You may also remember the sweet and moving talk given by our dear President James E. Faust of the First Presidency at the April 2007 general conference entitled “The Healing Power of Forgiveness.” We often remember him because of his kind and tender spirit. Is it not significant that this message of forgiveness was his last general conference address?
President Faust reminded us of the October 2006 incident when a 32-year-old milkman stormed into an Amish school in Pennsylvania, shooting 10 girls, five of whom died, before taking his own life. In President Faust’s words, “This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish, but no anger. There was hurt, but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. One Amish neighbor … wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, ‘We will forgive you.’ Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, forgiveness, help and love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.”
President Faust asks us, “How could the whole Amish group manifest such an expression of forgiveness? It was because of their faith in God and trust in His work, which is part of their inner beings. They see themselves as disciples of Christ and want to follow His example.”
President Faust goes on to say, “Forgiveness is not always instantaneous as it was with the Amish. When innocent [people] have been molested or killed, most of us do not think first about forgiveness. Our natural response is anger. We even feel justified in wanting to ‘get even’ with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family. Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. We can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours.”
Surely, the greatest example of all is our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are in awe of His willingness and power to forgive and cleanse us of our sins if we truly repent. During this Easter month, as we feel to express our own deep emotion and gratitude for Him, may we remember His atoning sacrifice for each one of us, and the depth of His love and mercy, as He pled with our Father, as He hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34).
May we search our hearts and offer forgiveness to those in our lives who are in need of our compassion, love and understanding.