I’m not saying that we do not need to repent. I’m just saying that forgiveness really has nothing to do with repentance - except maybe our own repentance.
At one time I remember thinking that I had forgiven my husband way more than seven times seventy and so I should be absolved of having to forgive him ever again. I even thought that Heavenly Father should do something to punish him now at this point for all of the pain he had caused. The problem was that I hadn’t really ever forgiven him – not even once.
Let me explain. If he said he was sorry or acted sorry or even just stopped the hurtful behavior for awhile, I forgave him. But as soon as the behavior reoccurred, my forgiveness flew out the door. It was always contingent on his behavior. That’s a pretty high condition to put on anyone – be perfect and I’ll forgive you.
Then I read this book called The Peacegiver by James L. Ferrell and it helped me to understand.
He tells the story of a man whose grandfather visits him in a dream. The purpose of the visit is to help him understand forgiveness.
He starts by telling the story of David, Abigail, and Nabal. Nabal is a wicked but wealthy man. David and his army are out in the wilderness. They help to protect Nabal’s men and his flocks. In return, David asks Nabal for some provisions. Nabal sends them away with nothing. David and his men are angry. They arm themselves and go up to fight Nabal. In the meantime, Abigail, Nabal’s wife, gathers the provisions and goes out on the road to meet David. She takes Nabal’s sin upon herself and asks David to forgive her.
The author then makes a parallel to Christ. Christ has taken upon himself all of the sins of the world – even the very worst sins. David forgave Abigail for Nabal’s sin. When we forgive someone we are forgiving Christ. We are in a way saying that we believe in His atoning sacrifice and it is sufficient. We turn the burden back to Christ.
Forgiveness of another’s sins is between oneself and God. It has nothing to do with the person we are forgiving. We have absolutely no power to forgive in the sense that Christ does. He has the power to completely absolve a person of his/her sins upon condition of repentance. We do not have that power.
Did David’s forgiveness absolve Nabal of his sins? NO. Nabal would have to repent for that to happen, and that is another story.
The next story in the book is about Jonah. Jonah was a prophet who was told to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Jonah didn’t want to go because the people of Nineveh were very wicked so he tried to run away. We all know the story of how he eventually repents and goes to Nineveh. He tells the people that if they do not repent the Lord will destroy them in forty days. He continues to preach and eventually the people repent. But Jonah doesn’t really think they deserve to be saved, and he waits atop a hill on the fortieth day and watches for the Lord to destroy them. When it doesn’t happen, he is angry at the Lord. Then the Lord asks him, “Should not I spare Ninevah?”
God had saved Jonah when he repented. Should God not also save the people of Ninevah when they repent? If Jonah doesn’t feel like God should save them, should God also not save Jonah then?
I knew a lady who had divorced her husband. One of the reasons was that he would not keep himself worthy to go to the temple and it was something that she greatly desired. She figured that the only way that was going to happen was to divorce him and find somebody worthy to take her. Her husband made some miraculous changes, found a new woman, and married her in the temple. His ex-wife was furious. She went to his bishop to tell him of all the horrible things he had done in the past. The bishop reminded her that he had repented and had been forgiven by the Lord. This did not satisfy her. She went to the temple president and said that he should not be allowed in the temple. She was told the same thing again. She could not let go of her anger. This man had destroyed her dream and her family and he should not be forgiven. She left the church for a time.
The good news is that she was eventually able to forgive and came into full activity again.
Why does God want us to forgive even when the other person doesn’t repent?
An unforgiving heart causes feelings of resentment and even hatred towards others. We often feel justified in being cruel to the person. We believe that they deserve it. It prevents us from progressing. It can even change our personalities into something ugly if allowed to fester long. In short, an unforgiving heart causes us to sin.
When we forgive, it is surprising that our minds and our hearts are open to seeing the good in the person we forgave, even when they have not repented of the sin.
It helps us to realize that we don’t really know what another person is going through that has caused them to do what they have done. It reminds us that the judgment is God’s and His only. It helps us to be more compassionate.
We are all in need of repentance in varying degrees. The Atonement is for EVERYONE.