Episode 30. August 21, 2016. Today I want to talk about forgiveness and how it blesses our lives twice….once when we receive it and a second time when we offer it.
When I was about 11 years old, I found some frozen jelly rolls in the freezer downstairs in the basement. My mom had bought them at the Wonder Bread “day-old” store and to me they were irresistible – even frozen. It was unusual for us to have such a treat in the house. Being completely oblivious to any potential consequences, I began to eat first one, then two and ultimately half of the jelly rolls in that package. They were delicious! Well, a few days later my mom went down to that freezer to pull those rolls out and noticed half of them were missing. My mom had an incredible amount of “mother’s intuition” and so she immediately suspected me over my older brother or sister. (I may have been an easy target given my track record). When she confronted me, I did not want to get into trouble, so I told her it wasn’t me and I knew nothing about them. I still remember the sting of that initial lie, which I then followed up with many subsequent lies because my mother was relentless in pursuing the truth. Looking back now, it seems that this went on for months, although I suspect it was really weeks. My conscience was burning with guilt, but I did not want to get in even more trouble, so I stood my ground.
One night when it was our turn to flood irrigate our small farm in Idaho, mom asked if I would get up with her at midnight and go out and change the water. I agreed and after waking and getting dressed we began the walk to the back portion of the property. If I live to be 100 years old, I will not forget the moment when she asked me one more time about the jelly rolls. Well, actually it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. I was in the midst of crossing a barbed wire fence, when she said, “You took the jelly rolls didn’t you.” I couldn’t take it any longer. The burden of guilt had been weighing upon me like a thousand bricks. As I pulled my last leg through the wire and stood with both feet on the ground, I simply said, “yes”. My mom then said, I knew it was you. And then it was finished. No lecture, no berating, not a single additional word. I think she knew I had suffered and she left it at that. What a relief I felt! I was free! The guilt was gone, the truth was out and most important, my mom had forgiven me!
I have just finished reading S. Michael Wilcox’s new book titled “Twice Blessed”. It is an amazing and inspiring book about the power of forgiveness and its title comes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…
It is an attribute of God himself…
We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
My favorite story of forgiveness is found in 1 Samuel chapter 25. It is the story of Nabal, Abigail and David. Nabal was known to be “churlish”, defined as rude, rough or “hard”. Abigail, his wife, was a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance. David, who was well known, and would become the King of Israel within a few short years sent 10 young men to go and greet Nabal, and ask him to provide food to David and his men to subsist upon. Nabal possesses sufficient wealth to do as David has requested, but instead, he is rude to the 10 young men and says, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? Shall I take my bread and my water and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?”
The 10 young men return to David and relate what happened. David is furious and takes 400 armed men with him intending to destroy Nabal. But one of Nabal’s servants, a young man, tells Abigail what her foolish husband did in regards to David. She immediately makes haste and takes bread, wine, corn, meat, raisins and figs and sets out to intercept David. When she meets him, she bows down before him and makes this amazing statement, “Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be”. She essentially takes responsibility for Nabal’s rebuff of David and pleads for David’s forgiveness and brings the food as an offering of peace. David first listens to and then takes Abigail’s advice to take the offerings and depart in peace rather than shed the blood of Nabal. Within ten days, “the Lord smote Nabal, that he died”. David then sends for Abigail and he takes her to be his wife. An interesting side note is that the prophet Daniel is the only son from the marriage of Abigail and David.
I love this story because it is such a wonderful story of forgiveness based on Abigail as a type for the Savior. Abigail takes Nabal’s bad judgment upon herself and by offering food and drink to David, atones for Nabal’s sin. It is one thing for us to seek forgiveness for our own sins, but it a completely different level of godliness to seek forgiveness for the sins of others. What an amazing example Abigail is to all of us!
I want to come back to the book by Br. Wilcox I mentioned earlier. He tells the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, explaining that when Adam and Eve realized they were naked, they “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” [Moses 4:13] and then hid themselves from “the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.” He compares this act of “sewing fig leaves” to the very human response of being ashamed and wanting to cover up or hide our actions. This is exactly what I was trying to do when I lied to my mom about not taking the jelly roles. I was sewing my own apron of fig leaves in an effort to hide my nakedness. Br. Wilcox mentions other ways that we “sew fig leaves” by “making excuses, rationalizing, blaming others, hiding in the shadows of self comforting doubt or intellectual posturing, trying to change the moral landscape to make forbidden things acceptable, etc.” He then declares that God has a better way! He goes on to say this: “Repentance, in a symbolic, visual sense, is removing the aprons, coming out of hiding, and talking openly, trustingly, and honestly with God – and ourselves”. So what does God do to replace these aprons? He makes for us coats of skins. These coats of skins represent the very atonement of Jesus Christ. Br. Wilcox suggests that the most appropriate animal these coats could be made of would be that of lambs, for surely Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. I love this imagery. It is so powerful. We can exchange our aprons sewn of fig leaves for coats of skins made of the finest lamb-skin. Now our nakedness is truly covered!
There is another concept I want to cover about this topic of forgiveness. It is found in 3 Nephi 12:24 as well as Matthew 5:24. It says this: “Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother (I might add sister here as well), and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you. In other words, until we can forgive others, the forgiveness and miracles that we seek in our own lives (and who among us does not need forgiveness on an ongoing basis), is withheld. If we want to be forgiven, we must be willing to forgive.
It is so easy for us to condemn others for their mistakes. We see the sins of others so clearly. Yet it was the Savior that asked “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brothers eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye”? Luke 6:41. In psychology there is a theory developed by Sigmund Freud called Psychological Projection in which we defend ourselves against our own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying that they even exist. Yet we have no trouble in attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. This, I believe is exactly what the Savior is saying to us about the mote and the beam. The mote is a sliver of wood. The beam is wood the size of a tree! And yet it is often easier for us to see the sliver in others than it is to see the tree in ourselves.
There is yet even a higher law taught by the Savior in Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother (or thy sister).”
I learned this principle from a wonderful man, Russ Parker, who served as my bishop back in the 1980’s. There was a man in our ward who had had a really rough life, mostly brought on by his own bad choices. He had become a perennial welfare recipient, relying on the church rather than on himself or together with his wife. Both were healthy and capable of working, but he just couldn’t seem to get his act together. At the time, one of Russ’s counselors was Robert Matthews, a man who went on to be a stake president and a now a mission president. As I remember the story, Bishop Parker had been offended by this man who lashed out at him as he was trying to wean him off church welfare and get him to take financial responsibility for himself and his wife. As he was counseling with his first counsellor, Br. Matthews on this matter, Robert read this scripture and Bishop Parker took it to heart. He again sought out this man, told him he had been offended by him, asked for his forgiveness for having taken offence and they then talked through it. That day Bishop Parker gained a brother. That was also the beginning that led this man, who for years had been relying on the church, to become self-sufficient. All of that change in him came, I believe, from Bishop Parker’s willingness to put this scripture to the test.
One last thought before ending today. A good friend of mine reported on a recent stake conference he attended where their new stake president gave a masterful talk about ‘Feeling the Love of God in Our Lives”. He spoke about how Satan used accusations in the pre-mortal existence to convince 1/3 of the host of heaven to follow him. He undoubtedly used words like “you are not good enough; you shouldn’t be so gullible as to trust Jehovah; Father’s plan is too risky for someone weak like you; you don’t have what it takes to safely discern and follow revelation of truth on earth, it will be a dangerous and confusing place; how can you be so stupid to believe that Jehovah will actually go through with an atonement and pay for your sins, etc. etc.”
Jesus, on the other hand agreed to “offer himself a sacrifice for our sins and become our advocate with the Father. He would stand in our place to answer for our sins. He would take up our cause. By virtue of his personal, infinite sacrifice for each of us his love and his joy would be full. He would then have power to offer us each this same love and joy. “
The wise stake president then asked his stake this powerful question: “Whom do ye list to obey? Are we accusers or advocates? Do we accuse ourselves and others before the Lord night and day…or even once in a while? Or do we follow the Savior, Jesus Christ, and stand as advocates of He and Father, and of their plan, and of their children – our brothers and sisters?”
There we have it. Are we an accuser or are we an advocate? Are we Abigail or are we David? Or even worse, could we Nabal? While it may seem that my mother was an accuser in the case of the jelly roles, I believe she was actually my advocate, helping me to learn to be honest. Refusing to let it rest, until my soul was at rest. I can tell you that night in that field crossing that fence was a defining moment for me. It was the night I decided I would always tell the truth regardless of the consequences.
Forgiveness is such a powerful and amazing gift from God. I truly believe it is forgiveness and mercy that unlocks the powers of Heaven. We can all be advocates for ourselves and for others through the mercy that is offered us from the atonement of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is real. My hope is that none of us will ever allow pride, fear, self-righteousness or vengeance cause us to sew an apron of fig leaves. May we instead be fully clothed before the Lord in the pure love of Christ, founded upon a coat of skins made of the purest of lamb-skins, “having a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men.” (D&C 135:4)