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Forgiving the Offender

Forgiving the Offender

Years ago while serving as a bishop, there was in my ward an elderly man who was a thorough gentleman. Joe Herbert was from South Africa and everybody loved him, but something happened that affected him deeply. One day Joe was crossing a road when he saw an approaching car. It was travelling slowly enough to stop easily, but the driver failed to do so and struck Joe. He suffered a significant injury to his lower body.

After surgery, Joe could no longer walk without using a cane and experiencing significant pain. No one had witnessed the accident, and the driver blamed the accident on what she described as Joe’s “reckless inattention.” Without witnesses or any way to corroborate Joe’s description of the accident, the police and courts were unable to determine blame. If the facts had been known, Joe could have appropriately sought restitution.
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As it was, Joe, who had only sufficient income to support his wife and himself, began to feel deep bitterness toward the driver for his pain and associated medical costs. The driver’s denial of the truth was foreign to Joe’s own feelings about integrity and responsibility for one’s actions. After struggling to control the anger swelling inside him for this injustice, he approached me, concerned about the way he was feeling. He had prayed to feel otherwise, but his prayers seemed unanswered.

As Joe’s bishop, and feeling much empathy for my friend, I sought the Lord’s help in understanding how I could assist him. Then I remembered this scripture: '...ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin' (D&C 64:9).

I wondered why the Lord would give such counsel. Why should someone like Joe be held as having committed a greater sin than the driver who had not only injured him but also compounded her error by failing to take responsibility for the incident? How would I respond in such a situation?

As I pondered the next verses, I began to understand. 'I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts - let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds' (D&C 64: 10 - 11).

At first this may seem to imply that God will take vengeance for us and that we should simply bide our time until He punishes the guilty party, but what I felt from reading this was that we are not the ones to determine or demand a price for an offence committed against us. Only the Lord Jesus Christ has that right. Why? Because He has paid the price for all sins. Any transgression committed against us has already had its price paid—by the atonement of our Saviour and Redeemer. We do not have the right to exact any further price, and we must leave the issue in His hands.

Our role is simply to forgive, as He taught, and to be reconciled to both the offender and to God. The atonement is not just for me; it is also for those who cause offence against me, who injure me, who gossip about me, and who rob me of those things that are most precious. The Saviour suffered the atonement for all of God’s children—the obedient and the disobedient.

Joe and I talked about this at length. It brought him peace and understanding. His physical pain did not disappear, but his spiritual anguish was healed and he gained additional strength to carry his burden. As the Lord said to Paul the Apostle, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Whatever pains and burdens we bear in this life, the atonement of Jesus Christ provides us with the ability to carry them because the Saviour makes them light. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28–30). Joe appropriately focused on things not visible to many. 

My friend Joe Herbert has since passed away. He is a friend I hope to greet in a future day. I expect to see him walking freely. He came to understand the atonement, and while on earth, he became reconciled to God.

Whatever pains and burdens we bear in this life, the atonement of Jesus Christ provides us with the ability to carry them because the Saviour makes them light. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28–30). Joe appropriately focused on things not visible to many.