In Mormonism, forgiveness is an essential part of enjoying happiness in this life and salvation in the life to come. A study of the scriptures reveals two aspects of forgiveness: seeking forgiveness from the Lord through repentance and prayer, and forgiving all those who hurt or offend us. Jesus directs all men to ask Heavenly Father to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Sin is a difficult burden to bear. When we sin, we know we have acted against the will of the Lord. We also feel sorrow at the realization that our actions may have hurt others and certainly prevent us from feeling close to Heavenly Father. This guilt also reminds us that we may not receive blessings from the Lord that He would otherwise have been ready to give us.
Mormons believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the act of taking upon Himself the wrath of God for the sins of all mankind, makes it possible for us to receive forgiveness. This forgiveness comes through total, genuine repentance and will alleviate the pain and guilt that comes with sin. In fact, complete repentance brings comfort and joy, because the Lord has promised that “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:42). Since the Lord forgets our sins when we have completely repented, we no longer need to feel guilt for those sins.
Mormons believe the Savior stands waiting for us to come to Him so that we may be forgiven of the Lord. In The Book of Mormon it is recorded that when Jesus Christ came to the Americas He extended the invitation for men to look to Him as the means of being forgiven by the Father. 3 Nephi 9:13 states: “Will ye not now return unto me. And repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?”
Repentance is a process by which men and women confess and forsake their sins. In Mormonism this means that when we sin we must first admit to doing so, always to the Lord and sometimes—for more serious sins—also to a priesthood authority in the LDS Church. The second step is to forsake the sin, or in other words, promise ourselves and the Lord that we will never again commit the sin. Also required, is restitution to the injured party, when possible, and the living of the commandments after repentance. This process of repentance is difficult, but Latter-day Saints believe it is all made possible by the Atonement of Christ. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was for all, and it will heal each humble man or woman seeking strength to overcome sin.
The Mormon Church rejects the concept of “penance,” that is, performing some ritual behavior to demonstrate humility. Such prescribed behaviors usually have nothing to do with true repentance, or the actual turning away from sins. Reciting scriptures and making pilgrimages are not part and parcel of the true repentance process as revealed by Jesus Christ.
In addition to seeking forgiveness of our own sins, it is a commandment from the Lord that we forgive all men of any offense against us. The Lord said: “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. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10).
Mormons believe that it is a sin to hold a grudge against other men. In fact, as the Lord stated, he who does not forgive someone has committed “the greater sin” compared to the original offense for which he is holding a grudge.
The commandment to forgive all men can also be a difficult one to always obey. It is easy to become angry or bitter during hard times of life. However, Jesus Christ set the perfect example for all of us when He forgave the Roman soldiers who crucified Him. When He was on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), illustrating His ability to forgive those who had caused Him such incomprehensible pain.
Mormons believe we can pray for strength to forgive. The Lord is ready to bless us with power and increased love for others. When we try harder to look for the good in people and stop judging them, it is easier to love them. It is also a belief of Latter-day Saints that forgiveness can heal even the most terrible wounds. The love that the Lord gives us can replace feelings of bitterness and anger with feelings of peace.