Over the past few months, I have addressed forgiveness a number of times. Therefore some might be wondering why visit it again. The reasons are two-fold:
1) It is such a crucial issue in our relationship with God.
2) It is a central issue of contention between Christians and Mormons.
There are various ways to summarize the different ways Mormonism and Christianity view forgiveness. One of the simplest for me is that in Mormonism, forgiveness hinges on the “painful process” of repentance worked by people while in Christianity it is a joyful announcement made by God. One good example of the latter is recorded in 2 Samuel 12:13 after King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed. “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
Yes, David did suffer ongoing consequences of his sin. But those consequences weren’t part of his being forgiven. The Lord announced the forgiveness. Period. Then he talked about the consequences David would have to suffer because of his sin. David was forgiven before he even had the chance to begin the “painful process” of repentance.
In fact, the idea that we can do anything to be forgiven goes against what Jesus said in Luke 17:7-10. “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.”
As Jesus here says, after we have done “all those things which are commanded” all we are to say is that we have done our duty. If doing everything is just doing our duty, that leaves no possibility for doing something extra. In other words, we can’t contribute anything in the area of forgiveness because our duty is already to do everything.
That’s why our forgiveness hinges entirely on what Jesus has done for us. That is why God can now announce forgiveness to us rather than making it contingent on our working through a painful process. That is why King David could write: “Blessed is he who transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1)