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Forgiveness: Three-Part Series Explores Prophetic Teachings, Examples and Research

President Nelson’s recent messages haves emphasized forgiveness and ending personal conflicts

President Russell M. Nelson has urged Latter-day Saints to end personal conflicts, free themselves from a grudge they may be harboring and forgive someone who has wronged them.© 2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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By Sydney Walker, Church News

Editor’s note:  This 3-part Church News series explores what research says about forgiveness, in light of President Nelson’s recent emphasis on forgiveness. The series includes:

In the early days of his surgical career, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a traumatic experience that haunted him for nearly 60 years. He had attempted to save the lives of two girls from the same family, and both died.

“I know from firsthand experience that forgiveness blesses both the forgiver and the forgiven,” said President Nelson, the 17th President of the Church and a world-renowned heart surgeon and medical researcher before entering full-time Church service in 1984.

He shared this personal story in an Easter video message earlier this year:

“Three children born to Ruth and Jimmy Hatfield suffered from congenital heart disease. They sought my help as a heart surgeon for their two daughters, Laural Ann and Gay Lynn. I was heartbroken when both girls died after I had operated on them. Understandably, Ruth and Jimmy were shattered. And they blamed me.

“For almost six decades,” President Nelson continued, “I was haunted by this situation. I grieved for the Hatfields and tried to establish contact with them several times, but without success.”

He reached out again to the Hatfield family a few years ago. This time, they were willing to meet with him.

“On bended knee, I poured out my heart to them. The Spirit of the Lord prevailed. They forgave me. And it proved to be a turning point in their lives and in mine. Now I treasure the friendship I share with the Hatfields,” President Nelson said.

“Just think about their courage and humility. They were willing to let go of old hurts. The Spirit of forgiveness released them from burdens they had carried for nearly 60 years.”

President Nelson has spoken repeatedly about forgiveness in recent months — pleading with Latter-day Saints to end personal conflicts, free themselves from a grudge they may be harboring and forgive someone who has wronged them. Choosing to forgive is one way a disciple of Jesus Christ can be a peacemaker.

“How can we expect peace to exist in the world when we are not individually seeking peace and harmony?” he asked.

What Forgiveness Is and What It Isn’t

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe forgiveness is a divine attribute and a commandment from God. The scriptures refer to forgiveness in two ways — God commands His children to repent of their sins and seek His forgiveness; He also commands them to forgive those who offend or hurt them. This Church News series focuses on the second aspect of forgiveness — forgiving one another.

The Church’s Guide to the Scriptures explains forgiveness this way: “As people forgive each other, they treat one another with Christlike love and have no bad feelings toward those who have offended them.”

In a social media post on World Forgiveness Day in July, President Nelson defined forgiveness as “not just a one-time act but a continuous process that requires patience, compassion and understanding.” He invited all to remember the principle Jesus taught the apostle Peter, to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).

As President Nelson said in regards to peacemaking, “I am not talking about ‘peace at any price.’” Peacemaking does not require agreeing with others’ beliefs or ideas, he noted.

“Forgiving others does not mean condoning sinful or criminal behavior. And it certainly does not mean staying in abusive situations,” President Nelson said in his Easter video message.

Jesus Christ Makes Forgiveness Possible

While President Nelson knows from firsthand experience the blessings of forgiveness, he also knows — and acknowledges — the difficulty in extending and accepting forgiveness.

“There is nothing easy about forgiving those who have disappointed us, hurt us, cheated us or spread false rumors about us,” President Nelson said. “However, not forgiving others is poison for us. Grudges weigh us down. Angry disagreements separate us. Animosity and hatred can divide families.

“And yet, the Savior’s counsel is clear: ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you’” (Matthew 6:14).

In April 2022 general conference, President Nelson urged Latter-day Saints to end personal conflicts raging in their hearts, homes and lives and bury any inclination to hurt others, including “resentment for someone who has hurt you.”

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“It can be painfully difficult to let go of anger that feels so justified. It can seem impossible to forgive those whose destructive actions have hurt the innocent. … Exercise the humility, courage, and strength required both to forgive and to seek forgiveness,” he said.

President Nelson has consistently taught that forgiveness is possible because of Jesus Christ, who offers the ability to forgive. The Savior is “the epitome of forgiveness,” he said.

“Through His infinite Atonement, you can forgive those who have hurt you and who may never accept responsibility for their cruelty to you,” President Nelson said during the 2018 First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

“It is usually easy to forgive one who sincerely and humbly seeks your forgiveness,” he added. “But the Savior will grant you the ability to forgive anyone who has mistreated you in any way. Then their hurtful acts can no longer canker your soul.”

Blessings of Forgiveness

President Nelson has promised specific blessings to those who forgive:

“When we choose to forgive others, we allow the Lord to remove the poison from our souls. We permit Him to soothe and soften our hearts, so we can see others, especially those who have wronged us, as children of God, and as our brothers and sisters. …

“I promise that as you forgive, the Savior will relieve you of anger, resentment and pain. The Prince of Peace will bring you peace. … Because of Him, you can experience the joy and miracle of forgiveness.”

The Savior stands ready to help those who may not yet be ready to extend forgiveness but want to. “If forgiveness presently seems impossible, plead for power through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to help you. As you do so, I promise personal peace and a burst of spiritual momentum,” President Nelson said.

What Other Church Leaders Have Said About Forgiveness

What the Lord did not say about forgiveness

“‘Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven,’ Christ taught in New Testament times. And in our day: ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.’ It is, however, important for some of you living in real anguish to note what He did not say. He did not say, ‘You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another.’ Nor did He say, ‘In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.’ But notwithstanding even the most terrible offenses that might come to us, we can rise above our pain only when we put our feet onto the path of true healing.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Ministry of Reconciliation,” October 2018 general conference

When to Hold on and How to Let Go

“Sometimes our willingness to forgive someone else enables both them and us to believe we can repent and be forgiven. Sometimes a willingness to repent and an ability to forgive come at different times. Our Savior is our Mediator with God, but He also helps bring us to ourselves and each other as we come to Him. Especially when hurt and pain are deep, repairing our relationships and healing our hearts is hard, perhaps impossible for us on our own. But heaven can give us strength and wisdom beyond our own to know when to hold on and how to let go.”

Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Happy and Forever,” October 2022 general conference

An Important Truth About the Redeemer of the World

“Over the years and in my efforts to find peace and healing on the path of forgiveness, I came to realize in a profound way that the same Son of God who atoned for my sins is the same Redeemer who will also save those who have deeply hurt me. I could not truly believe the first truth without believing the second. As my love for the Savior has grown, so has my desire to replace hurt and anger with His healing balm.”

Sister Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, “Beauty for Ashes: The Healing Path of Forgiveness,” October 2022 general conference

Forgiveness Can Take Time

“Extending forgiveness can take tremendous courage and humility. It can also take time. It requires us to put our faith and trust in the Lord as we assume accountability for the condition of our hearts. Here lies the significance and power of our agency. … Unburdening our hearts through forgiveness isn’t always easy, but through the enabling power of Jesus Christ, it is possible.”

Sister Amy A. Wright, then second counselor in the Primary general presidency, “Christ Heals That Which Is Broken,” April 2022 general conference

‘We Do Not Need to Be a Victim Twice’

“Forgiveness is the very reason God sent His Son, so let us rejoice in His offering to heal us all. The Savior’s Atonement is not just for those who need to repent; it is also for those who need to forgive. If you are having trouble forgiving another person or even yourself, ask God to help you. Forgiveness is a glorious, healing principle. We do not need to be a victim twice. We can forgive.”

—Elder Kevin R. Duncan, General Authority Seventy, “The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness,” April 2016 general conference

If the Thought of Forgiveness Causes More Pain

“When you can forgive the offense, you will be relieved of the pain and heartache that Satan wants in your life by encouraging you to hate the abuser. As a result, you will enjoy greater peace. While an important part of healing, if the thought of forgiveness causes you yet more pain, set that step aside until you have more experience with the Savior’s healing power in your own life.”

Elder Richard G. Scott, a late member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” April 2008 general conference

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