On February 9, 2007, Chris Williams, a father of four and a bishop in Utah, took his family out for dinner. While driving home on that tragic Friday night, another car traveling at 60 miles per hour and driven by a 17-year-old drunk driver, slammed into the Williams’ family car. The impact of the collision sent their car spinning until it crashed into a bridge support under the freeway. When Bishop Williams came to his senses, he surveyed the scene to find that his wife, Michelle, who was pregnant with their fifth child, was killed along with their son Benjamin and daughter Anna.
While Bishop Williams waited for emergency vehicles and personnel to arrive on the scene, he said he thought to himself, 'Whoever has done this to us, I forgive them. I don't care what the circumstances were, I forgive them.'1
Learning to forgive others, particularly those that have wronged us, is part of the process of becoming like the Savior. If we are to become like Christ, we must strive to emulate his attributes and his actions. Christ was unjustly accused, unfairly convicted, and brutally beaten. Yet, as he was nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We are also the beneficiaries of the forgiving nature of Jesus Christ. He said, “Whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive” (Mosiah 26:22).
In order to forgive like the Savior forgives, we must learn to love like He loves and see others as He sees them. It is easy to love those that love us. Jesus said even the wicked can do that. But Jesus taught the higher law: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.”2
We “must love and forgive each other.” Refusing to forgive others, is not only a sin, but it is a greater sin than that which may have been committed against us. The Lord taught: “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” (D&C 64:9-10).
In order for us to receive mercy, we must be willing to grant it (Matthew 5:7). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior taught, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Forgiving others should not be mistaken for condoning abuse, hurt, harm, neglect or any other bad behavior. Forgiving others does not mean that justice is not merited for perpetrators of crimes or that individuals should endure mistreatment. Forgiving others, however, allows us to only be a victim once.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, in speaking of forgiveness, said, “I think it may be the greatest virtue on earth, and certainly the most needed. There is so much of meanness and abuse, of intolerance and hatred. There is so great a need for repentance and forgiveness. It is the great principle emphasized in all of scripture, both ancient and modern.”3
The Savior’s Atonement not only helps us be forgiven, but it can also help us forgive others. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, when speaking of the calamity the Williams’ family endured, said: “Chris Williams drew upon his faith in Jesus Christ to forgive the drunken driver who caused the death of his wife and two of their children. Only two days after the tragedy and still deeply distraught, this forgiving man, then serving as one of our bishops, said, ‘As a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice.’”4 When we find it difficult to forgive another person, we can ask God to grant us strength to do so. Just as He wants to forgive us, He wants to help us to forgive others.