I was reading the April issue of Reader's Digest and was irked by an article on forgiveness. The author suggested that universal forgiveness was wrong, that sometimes holding a grudge had value, and implied that forgiveness should only be granted when the offender deserves it.
The author was wrong.
In my experience, forgiveness has very little to do with the one who offends me or hurts me, and it has everything to do with me.
In a Law-of-Moses-Eye-for-an-Eye world, retaliation and justice and punishment seem to be the rule. In a world of forgiveness, justice has its place, but forgiveness allows the offended (not necessarily the offender) to be free of the burden of the offense.
In granting forgiveness, we allow the blessings of the atonement to work in our lives. Lest we somehow think that the atonement is only for the sinner, let's remember Alma's words:
"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word light be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:11-12).
The Savior bore all our pains so that he may succor us in our infirmity, whether as sinner or innocent victim.
By extending forgiveness, with the help of the Savior, we can take advantage of His atoning sacrifice.
A friend wrote the following:
"Forgiveness, I have found, is not a passive thing. It takes work. And, in some cases, LOTS of work. It requires a constant effort to be kind to those who have wronged you, to not talk behind their back and only say uplifting things about them. It requires constant prayer and meditation, and a WILLINGNESS TO LET GO. Forgiveness cannot be fully achieved until those who have been wronged can LET GO of what the offender did or didn't do."
It is valuable to note that forgiveness does not rob justice. Nor does it mean we need to put ourselves in a venerable position in the future.
Though we may forgive someone who physically hurt us or our property, that person is still subject to laws and should enjoy the consequences of his actions. We may even forgive someone and still not be able to continue contact.
It is tempting at this point, concentrating on the benefits of forgiveness to the forgiver, to wonder if forgiveness is a selfish act. It may be, but at its best I do not believe it is. I believe it is an act that – like other holy acts in our lives – helps to align us with the Savior.
Part of forgiveness is recognizing what is ours and what is not. In mortality, judgment belongs to our justice system, not to us. In the eternities, it belongs to God, not to us. What belongs to us is the need to forgive. And the blessings of forgiveness belong to us, too.