Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Forgiveness and Seeing the Goodness of God

by Erin West

Not long ago I sat our children down to read scriptures to them.  Not really sure what to read that evening, I grabbed a Book of Mormon off the shelf and flipped it open.  I found myself near the end in Mormon chapter 9.  Scanning quickly, verse 31 caught my attention:

"Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."

My mind was drawn to the fact that I struggled a great deal when it came to studying the scriptures due to a very real possibility of faulty record keeping, and my eyes were also being opened to the fact that many of the revered patriarchs in scripture were not perfect.  I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing.  I became prideful and bitter.

However, upon reading Mormon 9:31, it became clear to me that I had sinned because I was condemning people in the scriptures for their weaknesses.  Who am I to condemn when I struggle too?  This verse became an important platform to jump from, helping me to be forgiving of the imperfections of the fathers, and most important, see the marvelous mercy of our God we strive to walk with.

Abraham and Abimelech

We can all agree that Abraham walked with God.  They often spoke together, and God blessed him to be the father of many nations, and that through him the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3).  We tend to think that because he received such great promises that he must have walked perfectly all his life, meaning there wasn't a single mistake made, including ones we'd consider innocent errors. 

Yet, in one instance Abraham only told half the truth about his wife Sarah to King Abimelech, because he felt he could do so after being told by the Lord to do the same thing with Pharaoh (see Abraham 2:20-25).  As he and his family were traveling, they entered Abimelech's kingdom, and Abraham told those who greeted him that Sarah was his sister (which is true...but she was also his wife, a fact he intentionally kept hidden.)  So Abimelech sent for Sarah with the intent to take her to wife.

"But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”

But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”

In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”  (Genesis 20:3-7)

Some might be familiar with the explanation that Abraham's deception was completely justified, as if he were testing the king in some way.  However, if that were the case, why would God take the time to intervene and save Abimelech from committing a grievous sin by taking a woman who was already married?  God's intervention alone shows that Abraham had made a mistake here.  

Why would Abraham deceive the king?  Abraham himself answers the question.  When the upset Abimelech demanded an explanation for Abraham's deceptive behavior, Abraham's response went as follows:

“I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’  And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. When God called me to leave my father’s home and to travel from place to place, I told her, ‘Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.’”  (Genesis 20:11-13)

"This is a godless place and they will kill me."  He feared losing his life, which, if you think about it, is understandable given his traumatic experience of  nearly being sacrificed when he was younger, (Abraham 1:12, 15-16).  He also appears to have not waited on the Lord in this instance, and figured Abimelech was as godless as the Egyptians.  Yet, the scriptures indicate that Abimelech and his kingdom were different.  Abimelech was open enough that the Lord could visit him and warn him not to take Sarah as his wife.  

As for Abraham, let's not condemn him. The truth is that he walked with God, and God walked with him, and greatly blessed Abraham.  Despite imperfections, the Lord had a plan for him, and saw him for who he really was and was there to mold and shape Abraham in His own image.  


This prophet was considered the meekest of all men on the earth, (Numbers 12:3).  He too made mistakes, all of which can be forgiven by us.  Initially in his walk with God, he was really quite hard on himself,
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”   
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-12)
The Lord's reassuring words about His own ability and power was not sinking in for Moses, 
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do." (Exodus 4:13-15)
The Lord was not pleased that Moses would be so hard on himself, so much so that he was denying the Lord's power.  I can definitely say I've done this and have injured and insulted God by telling Him to leave me alone because I was simply unfit and would list off various excuses as to why I thought He should cease to deal with me.   The Lord seems to be very forgiving of Moses, as he continues to work with him, and sends him out to free the Israelites from Egypt anyway.  Moses even grows into his role God gave him as time goes on.  So it's easy to forgive Moses here.  However, what about his getting so angry that he struck a rock twice instead of speaking to it as God told him to?

This happened near the end of his guiding the Israelites in the wilderness.  They came to him upset that there was no water in Meribah.  They complained, wishing they were back in Egypt, where at least they had water despite being enslaved.  It definitely wasn't the first time Israel complained to Moses.  He took the matter to the Lord and was told to speak to the rock, water would gush out, and Israel would be able to quench their thirst (Numbers 20:6-8).  However, when Moses walked out with his staff, 
He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:10-12)
Moses did not do as the Lord commanded.  We can either choose to be hard on him, or forgive him.  How often do we only partially keep God's word to us, or just change it up altogether, whether it's because we don't like what the Lord told us, we don't trust him, or are upset, and so on?  Moses seemed really angry with Israel, and his anger overpowered his ability to honor the Lord.    

However, do not condemn Moses.  He may have spent the remainder of his days pleading with the Lord for forgiveness for dishonoring Him in front of Israel.  What is interesting, is that it appears the Lord forgave him, otherwise, what would he be doing at an important event like the Mount of Transfiguration, talking for a time with the Savior who was clothed in glory?  (Matthew 17:1-3)

Joseph Smith

God chose this man as the prophet to usher in the Restoration of the Gospel.  He taught many things dealing with obtaining a personal relationship with Christ.  Eventually, Joseph gave his life for what he believed.  He certainly walked with God.

Joseph wasn't without his weaknesses however.  Opening up the Doctrine and Covenants, you will find peppered within that book rebukes and warnings from the Lord to Joseph regarding his fearing man.  These are just some of the examples, beginning with the most well known rebuke dealing with Joseph's giving the 116 page manuscript to Martin Harris against God's will:
"And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.  For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words..." (D&C 3:6-7 emphasis added) 
"The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?  Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 122:8-9 emphasis added) 
" Call ye, therefore, upon them with loud proclamation, and with your testimony, fearing them not, for they are as grass, and all their glory as the flower thereof which soon falleth, that they may be left also without excuse..." (D&C 124:7 emphasis added)
Joseph often feared man more than God, going on in their persuasions instead of heeding the Lord.  Yet do not condemn Joseph.  Despite his faults, he continued to receive revelation from the Lord, and Christ was with him.  Why?
"God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work..." (D&C 3:10)
Joseph Smith reached out to God continually.  God extended the hand of mercy to him.  Seeing the Lord's loving behavior towards Joseph ought to help us be forgiving of his weaknesses.  In turn, it ought to help us see the love of God towards us, and help us understand that He is also as willing to give us forgiveness if we continually call on Him for aid, and praise Him for His grace. 

Conclusion: The Goodness of God Revealed

Far too often we view these patriarchs as perfect people, meaning there wasn't a single slip up on their part, no matter how innocent that faltering may be.  We take this notion so seriously that we basically flog ourselves, cursing ourselves for our own sins and mistakes.  Our outlook on God's character becomes flawed, as we think to ourselves, "He wants nothing to do with me.  Indeed, God is unable to work with someone like me."  It's a self-destructive behavior.

Look at the men discussed above.  Abraham had an instance of not waiting on the Lord as maybe he ought. Moses, in the beginning of his walk, focused too much on his own weaknesses, and later, got so angry with the Israelites that he didn't heed the Lord's command to speak to a rock so water would come out of it, and instead struck it twice.  Joseph Smith was rebuked multiple times in the D&C.  Yet it doesn't change the fact these men had callings from the Lord, and walked with Him.  Despite their failings, they continually called on God.  

That should tip you off to God's incredible forgiveness and mercy towards His children.  If He was willing to walk with them, why would it be any different for you?  God is incredibly persistent in His desire to establish a relationship with you.  He wants to help you overcome all things, and despite your failings, reaches out to you, showing you He has the power to help you improve.
Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

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