I realize that when the Savior said that we are to forgive seventy times seven, the number is not as much realistic as it is symbolic, meaning a limitless amount of times. However, I have heard that the Lord has placed a limit to the number of times we should allow a person to unforgivingly do something to us before we take action against them. What are His guidelines in a situation like this, and where can I read to learn more about them?
Stephen, from Arizona
I think that you will find the answer to all your questions in the Doctrine and Covenants. The scripture that you refer to that could suggest some limitation to forgiveness is found in (D&C 98:38-48).
Behold, this is an ensample unto all people, saith the Lord your God, for justification before me. Again, verily I say unto you, if after thine enemy has come upon thee the first time, he repent and come unto thee praying thy forgiveness, thou shalt forgive him, and shalt hold it no more as a testimony against thine enemy– And so on unto the second and third time; and as oft as thine enemy repenteth of the trespass wherewith he has trespassed against thee, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven. And if he trespass against thee and repent not the first time, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him. And if he trespass against thee the second time, and repent not, nevertheless thou shalt forgive him. And if he trespass against thee the third time, and repent not, thou shalt also forgive him. But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him, but shalt bring these testimonies before the Lord; and they shall not be blotted out until he repent and reward thee four-fold in all things wherewith he has trespassed against thee. And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred- fold; And upon his children, and upon his children’s children of all them that hate me, unto the third and fourth generation. But if the children shall repent, or the children’s children, and turn to the Lord their God, with all their hearts and with all their might, mind, and strength, and restore four-fold for all their trespasses wherewith they have trespassed, or wherewith their fathers have trespassed, or their father’s fathers, then thine indignation shall be turned away; And vengeance shall no more come upon them, saith the Lord thy God, and their trespasses shall never be brought any more as a testimony before the Lord against them. Amen.
This may sound at first like a contradiction. We have in the same passage the statement, thou shalt forgive him, until seventy times seven, and following that the statement, But if he trespass against thee the fourth time thou shalt not forgive him. The second use of the term “repent” means we should in that circumstance hold him accountable, and bring him before the tribunals of the Church, not out of vengance or for retribution, but so that he may be held accountable before the Lord for his actions. In such a circumstance we are to retain the attitude of a forgiving heart, in that we would be free of animosity and judgement. Because the Lord further says,
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 ye ought to say in your hearts–let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds. And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation. And this ye shall do that God may be glorified–not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver–Verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things (D&C 64:9-14).
So, as clarified in the second reference, a forgiving attitude is always required. Since we are incapable of seeing into the heart of another, we are blind to all but the outward appearance, and through our lack of knowledge of what is in a man’s heart we would be prone to error in any judgemnt that we might attempt. God is the judge, not man. How arrogant of any man to assume the prerogative of God by attempting to execute judgement against another!
Forgiveness is a sweet and noble quality of the godly soul. Someone has said that forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.