[Stake Conference, October 2019]
The Book of Mormon uses the adjective “infinite” eleven times. Many Book of Mormon prophets spoke of the Savior’s “infinite goodness,” as well as of his “infinite mercy” and “infinite grace.” Nephi and Alma each made multiple references to the “infinite atonement” that would be brought about by the Savior—and also to His “infinite sacrifice.”
I am concerned that we sometimes place limitations on the Savior’s “infinite atonement,” which do not, in reality, exist. If and when we do that, we deprive ourselves of peace and of the joy Elder Christofferson spoke of in General Conference last weekend.
There are two general limitations we sometimes create that I would like to speak to. The first involves the Savior’s ability to help us heal and become whole from our own sins, challenges, and failures. The second involves the Savior’s ability to forgive and heal those who have hurt us.
I would like to bear my testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of joy.
It is true that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So much so, that, in the absence of miraculous help, there is literally no hope of us returning to Him and experiencing all the goodness that is associated with being with Him. On our own, we are hopelessly lost.
But. We are not on our own. Miraculous help has occurred. Jesus, motivated by complete devotion to His Father—and also by a great love for us, condescended to come to earth, where he gave himself as that “infinite sacrifice” and thereby brought about the “infinite atonement.” Of course, many of the resulting blessings of his sacrifice will be fully realized in our futures. But many of them can be enjoyed now. When we falsely limit the reach of his power and the effects of His atonement, we forgo joy that should be ours now.
Elder Christofferson reminded us of Enos’s father’s reference to “the joy of the saints.” That joy should is fully within your power to experience as you exercise faith and practice repentance. Perfection is not required. Trusting God and striving to align ourselves with Him is. Those are both well within your and my abilities.
Now, first. The effects of the Savior’s infinite atonement are not limited in their ability to make you whole (except by your choices). Twice in just the last two weeks, I have visited with a distraught member who was so sure that he had become spiritually hopeless that suicide seemed like an alternative worth considering. Both believed that they had moved too far away for the Savior to reach them.
Both were wrong.
A favorite scripture of mine asks this question, “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” And then the answer, “Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him,” and, interestingly, “neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”
The most wonderful gift imaginable has been bestowed upon you and me on conditions of our acceptance through faith and repentance. It is the gift of the Savior’s miracle. When we receive the gift, we rejoice and experience joy. So does God. When we reject the gift, either through limiting our faith and trust in the Savior or by holding onto our sins, we do not rejoice. And neither does God.
Let me tell you of another experience I have had with individuals on multiple occasions. It is sacred and personal to me. It is related to the three stories we find in Luke 15.
There we read about the lost sheep. That story ends with the Savior saying, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.”
We also read about the lost coin. Similarly, the Savior concludes: “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
Lastly, we read about the prodigal son and the reception he received, including hugs; expressions of love; and a celebration with music, dancing, and merry making.
What I have experienced with people who are sublimely humble and broken-hearted is the joy in heaven over the repentant soul—and the welcoming of him or her into heaven’s arms. I do not know how to articulate how I have experienced this, but it has been as though I could hear it. As if I could hear that “joy in the presence of the angels of God.” And I have felt it in a penetrating way. I know that heaven rejoices over each of us as we turn ourselves toward the Master.
How do you receive the gift and experience joy? You drop the idea that the effects of the Atonement cannot apply to you, no matter how little you may think of yourself or what unpleasant comparison you may make of yourself to others—no matter what situation you are dealing with that you think cannot be overcome. You receive the truth that the power of the Savior extends to you—to your whole you—now and always, as long as we are broken-hearted and striving to follow the Savior and correct our course when we err.
You are not, nor can you make yourself, beyond the Savior’s power.
Second. The effects of the Atonement are not limited in their ability to make others whole who have wronged you, nor in their ability to ultimately make you whole from the wrong you have received from them.
Let me tell you a true story about two families I first became aware of four or five years ago. This may be a difficult story to hear and to appreciate. In both families, there was a father, a mother, and children. In both families, the father tragically committed a heinous crime and was sent to prison. The crimes of these two men were nearly identical and they went into the system at the same time, having received similar sentences from the State of Utah.
Five years ago, I got to know one of these men. I will call him Ken. I became acquainted with the other, whom I will call David, when I happened to attend both of their parole hearings in prison about four years ago. Both were denied parole at that time and given another four years before they could have another hearing with the Parole Board, which they did a few months ago.
I have been impressed by the efforts made by these two men to repent of their sins and become new creatures. I am impressed by their reliance on God and the faith that drives their repentance and their striving for forgiveness. I love them. Particularly Ken, whom I know reasonably well.
One of the lessons in these two men’s stories comes from their respective families’ responses to them over these last ten years or so.
Ken’s children immediately began writing to him in prison about how they missed him and expressed love and support for him. His ex-wife, however, expressed no such support and, as the years went by, the support of the kids faded and ultimately disappeared. Efforts to communicate with the kids from prison went unresponded to. In Ken’s first parole hearing, his family spoke against him. Four years later, they spoke against him again—this time with great bitterness and vitriol—and he was given three more years.
In this family, it does not appear that any healing has occurred within family relationships. On the contrary, there is clearly much pain and what seems to be open and festering emotional and spiritual wounds throughout the family. Dad is left emotionally isolated in prison while children, now adults, no longer know the man they once loved. Nor do they understand or appreciate the changes that have occurred within him. Dad’s only form of comfort, if you could call it that, comes from understanding that it was his own actions that started this tragedy and there is nobody to blame but himself for putting into motion all the pain and negativity that have followed.
David’s family is an interesting contrast.
Shortly after David’s second hearing, just a few months ago, in which he was granted a release that has since occurred, I happened to chat with his wife for a few minutes. That was just a short while before he was to be released and she told me both how excited she was to have him get out of prison and also how nervous she was about the transition and difficult road yet ahead while he remained on parole. I did not sense any bitterness although there is no doubt she has been through terrible pain as a result of his actions. There was both happy and nervous anticipation.
The next day after my chat with David’s wife, I was visiting with Ken in prison. David was also in the room being visited by his 20-year-old daughter. As all the visitors exited the prison together, I struck up a conversation with that daughter. I had noticed her and her father, David, talking while they held hands and seemed genuinely happy to be together. I asked her how she felt about her dad getting out soon and she said she was looking forward to it. I asked her if she had always felt so positively toward her father. She said, emphatically, no. I asked her what changed. She said she began visiting him and discovering the changes he was making and that those changes softened her heart toward him.
I left the prison that day feeling heavy for Ken’s loneliness—and simultaneously delighted and privileged to have witnessed some of the healing that had happened in David’s family.
Three times, brothers and sisters, Jesus of Nazareth raised people from the dead during his ministry in Jerusalem.
In one instance, Jesus encountered a funeral procession. The only son of a widow was being buried, and when Jesus saw the mother, he was moved with compassion. He said to her, “Weep not” and then returned the young man to life and to his mother.
On another occasion, the Jewish leader Jairus told Jesus that his 12-year-old daughter was home dying. Before Jesus arrived, he was told that it was too late; she was dead. To which Jesus responded, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Then, while the scriptures say people “laughed [Jesus] to scorn,” he called the girl to arise and she arose and was reunited with her family.
On the third occasion, Jesus intentionally waited for days after Lazarus’s death before going to him. When he arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha met him, distraught that Jesus had not come sooner. Jesus explained to her, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And, as you know the story, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead and reunited him with his sisters Mary and Martha.
Why did Jesus return the dead to mortality—and to their families? Obviously, it was not required for their eternal salvation. He did it, I feel quite certain, to show all of us that he has the power not only of the resurrection, but the power to forgive, even when things may seem to us completely hopeless. Before Jesus raised the man sick of the palsy to his feet, he sensed the doubt in others that he had the power to heal both spiritually and physically. He preceded that healing with the words, “They ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”
Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, has the power to forgive your sins, the power to forgive those who sin against us, the power to fully heal. Each and all of us can only limit the application of that power (to ourselves) by refusing to accept the gift. We find joy and peace in our lives when we accept the gift, both for ourselves and for others who have hurt us or our loved ones. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” Forgiving others does not mean that we don’t permit appropriate boundaries or consequences, but it does mean accepting the gift of the atonement both on our behalf and on behalf of others. So doing bring peace to our souls.
Perhaps the ultimate blessing from accepting the Savior’s gift as truly infinite is that, through it, we are reunited to our families—both our heavenly, eternal family, and our earthly, hopefully likewise eternal, family.
Jesus Christ is infinite in his goodness, in his mercy and grace, and in all his perfection. He lives. The effects of his atonement are infinite if we receive them. I pray that each of us will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
This week we covered the topic. I won’t claim it’s the most important topic there is, considering that the atonement, faith in Christ, and covenants are awfully important topics (to say the least). But. This topic strikes at the very core of how we see our Father in Heaven, how we see the Savior, how we see others, and how we see ourselves. We cannot live after the manner of happiness if we do not live this principle. We certainly do live after the manner of misery when we don’t live it.
The topic? Forgiveness.
Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A spirit of forgiveness and an attitude of love and compassion toward those who may have wronged us is of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The very essence!
Five forgiveness-related principles clearly taught in the scriptures seem important:
- I must forgive others if I am to be forgiven. This is taught in the Lord’s prayer—and in the next two verses following the Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The Savior teaches a wonderful and critical parable in Matthew 18 about the servant who, though readily forgiven by a compassionate king, failed to pay it forward and so was “delivered to the tormentors” by that same compassionate—and just—king. How quickly he went from bondage to freedom and back to bondage again! I cannot hope for much needed forgiveness from the Savior as long as I withhold forgiveness from another.
- I must forgive repeatedly—even the same person, even the same offense. (Note: Forgiving someone does not mean becoming their doormat or tolerating being their victim.) Peter asked plainly, “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” The Lord’s answer was less plain, but its point is nevertheless clear. Surely “until seventy times seven” means each and every time and does not suggest that we stop after 490. How dangerous of us to forget, when we become frustrated or worse by the repeated failures and offenses of a loved one, that the Savior passed 490 times with us a very, very long time ago. When losing patience with another, we might ask, “How oft shall I sin and need God’s forgiveness in order to live with Him again?”
- I will be judged as harshly—or as mercifully—as I judge. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” the Savior said. And, paraphrasing Him, “The measuring stick you use for others shall be used to measure you.” On the other hand—and how beautiful this is!—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Peter, after objecting to the Savior washing his feet and then understanding that it was necessary if Peter were to live again with the Savior, cried, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Similarly, when we come to realize that the merciful obtain mercy and that we need mercy, we should become enthusiastic about extending mercy and the most generous judgment possible to others. Before Moroni exhorts us to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, he instructs us to remember and ponder on the mercy of God. Interesting how the pondering of God’s mercy brings the Spirit into our hearts.
- I commit the bigger sin when I fail to forgive. Really? My spouse cheats on me and I fail to forgive and I have the bigger sin? Somebody abuses my small child and I withhold forgiveness and I have the bigger sin? Do any of us actually believe this principle?! Perhaps it’s easy for me to say I do when I’ve never been offended to those degrees, but what’s the logic behind it? Isn’t failing to forgive someone a rejection of the atonement? Isn’t it a rejection of the idea that the offender can and may very well be forgiven by God? And isn’t it a rejection of the idea that I need forgiveness, myself—that I am the very beggar and unprofitable servant King Benjamin talks about? Am I not even, in a sense, placing myself above God? What could be worse than that?
- I must respond to offense with charity. The “eye for an eye” days are over—and not just for everybody else! Instead… “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” Do good to them! Not snarky good. Genuine good. We have heard, even in General Conference, about the exemplary ability of the Amish to forgive. Anabaptists have a long history of loving their enemies and blessing them that curse them. We should all remember the example of Dirk Willems.
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver. President Kimball said, “The essence … of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul.” Interesting that words like frustrated and tormented are used here to describe not the offender, but the offended. Such words probably describe both parties. Relief comes through forgiveness, which comes from seeing the offender, myself, and God all accurately: the offender as someone trying and sometimes (perhaps often) failing just like me, myself as someone in infinite need of forgiveness, and God as generous and benevolent toward all his children.
We should remember just how willing the Savior is to forgive. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” The phrase “when they had nothing to pay” is notable. I think of it as meaning that their hearts were broken and their spirits contrite. At that point, he forgave them “frankly.” Frankly means (at least according to Webster in 1828) “without reserve or constraint; liberally; freely.” When our hearts are broken, forgiveness comes freely. Yet! “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men,” whether their hearts are broken or not—for “the Lord looketh on the heart”—and sees what I cannot.
Our willingness or unwillingness to forgive says so much about us!
Do I see myself, in spite of my awareness of other people’s shortcomings, as being desperately in need of the grace of God, myself? Do I recognize myself as the servant who truly owes “ten thousand talents”? Do I see those who offend me as owing me much less than that? Do I avoid even taking offense because I see my own shortcomings reflected in those of the person who wrongs me? Or do I respond to others with indignation because of my failure to see both my shortcomings and their pain and disadvantages? Am I adequately generous with other people when I try to explain their behavior to myself? Do I see God as the kind, generous, compassionate father He is? Do I forget in my moments of self-absorption that his kindness, compassion, generosity, and willingness to forgive extend to those I am not forgiving? Or do I sincerely celebrate the fact that they do and let Him deal with whatever justice must be dealt with?
Do I appreciate the fact that other people are trying; that they, too, yearn for happiness; that they, too, regret their repeated shortcomings; and that they have spiritual and emotional scars with which I may lack both awareness and understanding?
The scriptures have some beautiful, touching examples of forgiveness. One of the best is the story of Joseph. After debating killing him, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery where he suffered temptation, ended up in prison, but rose to great power. (You know the story.) Yet when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, his thoughts and feelings are for them. They are not about how he was wronged. Rather, they reveal his anxiousness to provide comfort to them!
“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God… Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him… thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them…”
May we be like Joseph. May we reflect the character of Christ, and, at all times, even during the hard moments, turn our thoughts to the other person and have our hearts and minds, inviting compassion.