Imagine yourself in the first day of class that everyone in your school must pass in order to graduate. The professor stands up and announces that your only assignment is a research paper. However, this is no ordinary paper. The professor declares that he will randomly collect a few papers each class period until the end of the semester. Additionally, he expects each paper to be as good as the next, regardless of when it was collected.
As the students mutter amongst themselves, the professor calls your attention to his teaching assistant. He introduces him to the class and proceeds to tell you, “This is my TA. He understands my expectations for these papers better than anyone. His sole purpose is to help you. He is available to all of you any time, any day. I promise each of you that if you work closely with the TA you will get an A. Likewise, if you don’t work with him, it will be impossible to pass this course.”
Now consider one of the students in this class. He decides that the professor can’t possibly mean to carry the threat of randomly collecting papers throughout the semester. Nor does he believe that he needs the TA’s help. So, he determines to write the paper by himself at the end of the semester. Lo and behold, after just two weeks of class the professor approaches this student and asks him to turn in his paper. Having nothing to turn in, the professor has no choice but to fail this student.
Another student takes the professor seriously and begins to work on the assignment. He goes regularly to the TA. The student develops a close relationship with the TA as the paper takes shape. Eventually, the day comes when the professor wants the student to turn his paper. Unfortunately, this is the only day that the student is found sick at home rather than in class. The professor moves to write an F by the student’s name, but the TA quickly intervenes. He explains to the professor how the student worked tirelessly with him to meet the expectations of the professor. The TA vouches for the quality of the paper and the amount of effort put into it. Without ever reading the paper, the professor quietly writes an A in place of the F. He does this based solely on the TA’s testimony on behalf of the sick student.
Hopefully it’s easy to see who is who in this story. The professor is our Heavenly Father with Christ as his TA, while we are the students. Just like the students at this school who are required to take the class, no man or woman on Earth is exempt from the judgments of God. Also like the students in the story, none of us know when Heavenly Father is going to ask us to turn in our papers for grading. Another similarity, it is literally impossible for us to attain a passing grade without the help of Christ. The way in which TA speaks for the student is the same way Christ will speak for us at judgment. If we have worked with him to follow the commandments of God, we will receive mercy.
But why do we require the mercy of God? In Alma 42:22 we read, “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed…” The law referred to is often called the law of justice. In short, the law of justice can be described as all the commandments that our Heavenly Father has set forth for us to obey. The Savior commanded us to, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,”(Matt. 5:48). As we are aware, this is impossible for any man, save Christ, to accomplish on his own. So, we are all held in violation of the law, and justice demands that we pay the price for our sins. This price, in my opinion, is to be denied entrance to the celestial kingdom, deprived of the presence of our Heavenly Father and the accompanying happiness. However, Heavenly Father wants all his children to return to Him, so that we can have the same joy He has. So, God provided a way for justice to be satisfied and for us to return to him. He gave the Son, Jesus Christ to atone for all of our sins.
Through the atonement, Christ, a perfect person over whom justice had no claim, paid the price that was required for all the sins of all mankind. Each and every one of us has had our fines paid in full by our Savior. Returning to Alma 42:22, “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law…” and then in verse 25, “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.”
There are two things I would like to point out about these verses. Firstly, we don’t claim mercy. Mercy claims us. There is never ever a point in our lives when we get to say either for ourselves or for someone else that we’ve done everything we can and now it’s mercy’s turn. It simply doesn’t work that way. The second thing is that we qualify to obtain mercy through repentance. We must be truly repentant in order for mercy to take effect in our lives. Just like justice, obtaining mercy also has its requirements. The second student fulfilled the professor’s requirements by regularly working with the TA. We too must work regularly, daily, with the Savior to better ourselves. We do this by studying the scriptures, praying often, happily attending church, all those primary answers. If we do those things the Savior will help us see where we are lacking. It is so extremely true that it is only through Christ’s sacrifice that we are enabled to enter the presence of Heavenly Father; he did not eliminate our personal responsibility to do everything we can to be eligible to be claimed by mercy.
Which brings us back to repentance. Simply put, repentance is how we obtain forgiveness for our sins from Heavenly Father. When we truly repent, Heavenly Father forgets our sins. I like to think that there are two levels of forgiveness. One level is the forgiveness that occurs between two people.
In Matthew 6:14-15 we learn, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And in Doctrine and Covenants 64:9, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that 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.” And in case there is any doubt remaining, we turn to Mosiah 26:31, “And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.”
So, what do we know now about forgiving our fellow men? First of all, we learn that we are in fact commanded to forgive absolutely everyone. Second, this forgiveness is not necessarily predicated on their repentance. In Mosiah, we were told that once someone approaches us with an apology, regardless of his or her sincerity, we are responsible for forgiving that person. It is not our job to judge other people’s worthiness. It isn’t for us to declare whether another person has actually repented. And it certainly isn’t for us to withhold forgiveness when we don’t think they’re actually sorry. When we withhold our forgiveness, we are making it impossible for us to receive forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. This means that we are unable to complete the repentance process for our own sins, and thus means we have removed ourselves from the hands of mercy and directly into the hands of justice. And I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid. Not only does refusing to forgive a friend, family member, ex-girlfriend/boyfriend, or church leader have zero influence on their ability to repent, but it ruins any chances you have at receiving forgiveness for yourself.
Besides depriving ourselves of the ability to fully repent, holding a grudge is not Christ-like. In Matthew 22:36-39 we learn that the first and great commandment is to “…love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Then, Christ teaches us, “And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If you are holding a grudge against someone, you are not giving that person the love they need and deserve. Withholding forgiveness is not an effective method of parenting. Withholding forgiveness destroys all kinds of relationships. It simply isn’t an option.
The second level of forgiveness takes place between you and God.
This forgiveness punctuates the end of the repentance process. In Isaiah 1:18 we read, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” I just love the beginning of this verse, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Doesn’t that just sound so comforting? It shows that even though Heavenly Father is disappointed when we sin, He wants us to go to Him in prayer and talk it out. He wants to work with us each step of the way.
Furthermore, he wants to forget our sins. In Ezekiel 18:22 we are told, “All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.” Once we have repented and been forgiven, that’s the end of it. Our guilt is taken away, and at the judgment seat mercy will claim us “for her own.” The sins we repented of will never be mentioned. Isn’t it wonderful to know that we have the chance to make our mistakes so much a part of the past; even the Creator and our Lord will not remember them?
This is the joy brought by a testimony of the gospel; that with Christ nothing can stop us from regaining the presence of our Heavenly Father. He will direct us, support us, and carry our burdens. At the last day we can stand pure before the Lord.