Forgiveness—The Key to a Ministry of Reconciliation


One of the Come, Follow Me ideas for personal scripture study for September 9-15, 2019 is “I receive blessings and bless others when I forgive.” In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul asks the saints of Corinth to forgive a man who had transgressed and “confirm [their] love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:8). In fact, Paul warned them that withholding forgiveness from others gives “Satan… an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Forgiveness is a fundamental principle for maintaining and strengthening righteous living.

Understanding Satan’s Motivations

Christ triumphs over Satan

When the resurrected Jesus ministered among the Nephites, He likewise warned: “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). One of the reasons the devil resorts to anger and being unforgiving is to distract and confuse. Satan also loves company in his misery: “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:27). Most importantly, though, the devil disagrees with God’s directives and decisions: “at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good” (2 Nephi 28:20). In all three instances, Satan’s anger and inability to forgive emanates from a selfish, frustrated, jealous, vengeful personality.

Being Christ-like Requires Us to Forgive

When Peter asks Christ, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (Matthew 18:21), Jesus puts an infinite frame around the human responsibility to forgive: “Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). There is no need for us to count the number of times we should forgive; we should simply forgive others.

A number is actually specified in a latter-day revelation: “But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent and reward thee four-fold in all things wherewith he has trespassed against thee. And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:44-45). Even with this “four strikes” formula, it is only God who avenges: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10).

Woman taken in adultery

From a divine perspective, all human beings are “unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21). In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus teaches, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12; 3 Nephi 13:11). The interactions between humans often become so crossed over with perceived trespasses and so convoluted with debts of who owes what to whom, that only God can determine the boundaries and unravel the logistics of payments. To be on the Godly side of the forgiveness formula, human beings must learn to forgive one another. Immediately after “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus unequivocally counsels: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14; 3 Nephi 13:14).

A South African Example of Forgiveness

Should there be a motive besides receiving divine forgiveness for choosing to forgive others? Reverend Desmond Mpilo Tutu explains how South Africans avoided massive bloodbaths of revenge after 50 years of apartheid laws were abolished and a democratic government headed by black Africans took power.

Reverend Desmond Tutu

Reverend Tutu clarifies that an underlying reason for this peaceful resolution was framed by the African concept of ubuntu: “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. …It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ …A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured, oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are. …Social harmony is for us the summum bonum—the greatest good. …Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness, are corrosive of this good. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me. It gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them” (No Future Without Forgiveness, [1997], 31; bold italics added).

South Africa

From the ubuntu perspective, I care what happens not only to me but also to others. I learn to become “OTHER WISE”: wisely caring about the welfare of every other human being. When someone does something that hurts others or me, I recognize that dehumanizing actions are not good for “social harmony.” We all belong in a “bundle of life” that needs to learn to share and participate peaceably with one another. I forgive my trespassers because we are all human. Ubuntu means that I love my neighbors—whether they are my enemies, my kidnappers, my torturers, or even my murderers—as myself.

Reverend Tutu does not suggest that all problems have been solved for South Africans. He explains that the process of forgiveness is like being on a “roller-coaster ride” of emotions (No Future Without Forgiveness, 262). Pendulum swings of emotions are normal. The challenge for human beings all over the planet is to face each day with the hope in our hearts, prayers on our tongues, intelligence from our minds, and forgiveness within our souls.

A Ministry of Reconciliation

church meeting

Paul wants us to ‘be in Christ” and become “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He had transformed from being a persecutor of Christians to a fearless defender of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, God has “given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). We need to strive continually to forgive and confirm our love for others. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has counseled: “Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you…. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with” (“Lord I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, 94).

For further study on this topic see Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “The Ministry of Reconciliation”, Ensign, November 2018.