“Verily I say unto you my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” How many of us have longed to hear those words? How many of us feel that we don’t deserve to have our sins forgiven? I know that I have felt this way in my life. It can often be difficult as a believer in Christ to understand the principle of forgiveness as it relates to the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), I was taught that God loved me and that I could be forgiven of my sins if I repented. I was taught that repentance consists of recognizing sin, confessing our sins, making restitution for our sins to those harmed, and forsaking the sin. Jesus has taught “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold, he will confess and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).
I know that this doctrine of repentance is true. I also know that forgiveness comes to those that repent. However, for a long time I struggled to feel that forgiveness and the resulting closeness to the Savior because of my continuing imperfections. I was also taught that the Lord has said
“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto the soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 82:7)
I often used to feel that this scripture condemned us as imperfect humans to live in a perpetual state of lacking forgiveness because each time we made any mistake, all of the former mistakes we had made would return to us again. I imagined to myself a God who was anxious to pile the guilt and sin on me. Through personal experience and study I have gained a deeper, if not yet perfect, understanding of the doctrine of the Atonement and forgiveness.
I know that my Heavenly Father is a just God and “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16); however, I also know that God is merciful, kind, loving, and most importantly forgiving.
I believe that God is anxious to forgive us. He wants us to live free from the burden of sin. He wants us to overcome our weaknesses and come closer to Him. He does not want us to suffer. He wants to forgive us and allow us to return to Him quickly. The atonement of Jesus Christ enables all of these things to happen.
When we have made a mistake, we need not feel that we must suffer for some arbitrary amount of time before we seek the forgiveness of God. When we have made a mistake, the best thing to do is to immediately go to Heavenly Father in prayer and begin the repentance process. God is ready and anxious to receive us back into His presence when we have wandered astray.
This principle is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. Recall that the prodigal was the son of a wealthy man who took his inheritance early and squandered it in evil, riotous living. When his earthly pleasure was over, he realized that he had left the only source of goodness in his life–his father. He decided to return and become a servant in his father’s house. When we are as the prodigal son, desiring to return to God, it is important to remember the attitude and character of the father.
“But when [the prodigal] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. . . . the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)
The prodigal’s father was waiting for him. He saw him and ran to him while he was “yet a long way off.” Our Heavenly Father always has this attitude towards us. God always wants us to return. When we turn around a “long way off” and start to return to His arms, He will run to us and embrace us.
I know that the Atonement has the power to begin to heal us immediately when we decide that we need its power. The return journey may still take time, but the process begins immediately when we start to return to God.
The following scriptures illustrate this point further:
Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (Alma 34:31)
“And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.” (3 Nephi 10:5)
I know that God loves us. We are His literal children and He is anxious to bless and forgive us. I know that the atonement is real and literally has the power to cleanse us. I know that this power is immediately accessible by us when we begin to repent and return to God.