I’m writing this post today for a general Christian audience, so I have tried to use non-denominational terms. Most of the folks in my Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) would refer to Heaven, as I’m using it in this post, as the Celestial Kingdom.
If we’ve had a falling out with someone, a good test of whether there has been forgiveness is whether there’s been a reestablishment or even betterment of the closeness we once shared. This often involves talking it out, spending time together, and showing love to each other. Doing little, thoughtful things for each other helps to mend bruised hearts. For relationships with friends and family, this method of repair to the relationship can work wonders! Sometimes it’s not even hard to let go of bad feelings; just by spending time around someone we love ushers in the sweet, peaceful feeling of forgiveness.
But what if it’s not possible to spend time talking it out and rebuilding the hurt friendship? Sometimes the people we’ve felt wronged by aren’t in our lives anymore, for whatever reason. Maybe they have zero interest in making-up. Maybe they passed on. Maybe we lost track of them. Maybe we never even knew their name; they were just a stranger who harmed us. Perhaps they never knew how deeply they offended us, so bringing it to their attention would be needlessly hurtful.
Sometimes it’s no longer appropriate to be close to that person. For example, if it’s someone you had a romantic relationship with, but now you’re both married to someone else, you shouldn’t be trying to rebuild your old relationship, obviously. You really shouldn’t be spending time having long, soulful ‘what went wrong’ talks with your former boyfriend or girlfriend in order to feel forgiveness for them. Such conduct is opening the door to infidelity. There are circumstances when forgiveness is leaving it in the hands of the Lord, and avoiding that person.
A recovering alcoholic might need to shut old friends out of their lives in order to remain sober. Maybe a friend is rude to your spouse and interferes in your marriage, so you have to end that friendship to protect your marriage. There might be times when it’s even illegal to let someone back in our lives and our homes, such as if a person has harmed minors and as part of their parole they can’t be near children (and you have young children). These are all circumstances when forgiveness means letting go of resentment or hate, and wishing them the best without letting them back in our lives. But setting boundaries or shutting someone out of our lives feels like holding a grudge! How can we know that we’ve forgiven them?
If someone isn’t a daily part of our lives, it’s sometimes harder to tell if we’ve really forgiven them or not. Perhaps we’ve just put them out of our mind, but the burden is still there inside us. It adds a little weight to our load everyday.
Here’s a good test of forgiveness I like to give myself that you can try: Picture that you have passed on, and have arrived at a lovely home in Heaven that is the home of your heart. It’s perfect. Then you learn that some person who deeply hurt or wronged you is your next-door neighbor in Heaven. Before you have a chance to process this, the Lord appears. He tells you that he has spent time with this person, knows their heart, knows their life, and has welcomed him or her into Heaven. He says that between His Atonement and this person’s own works and repentance, it has all worked out. The Lord assures you are no longer in any danger of being abused or damaged by this person, if that was the case on Earth.
You’re likely thinking:
- Sounds great! I will make them cookies.
- I made it to Heaven? Wow, the Lord must have shown so much mercy. I’m glad my old foe from Earth received mercy too.
- I realize that I haven’t forgiven them all the way, but I trust the Lord 100%. If He says it’s all good, I’m all in. I wish I had prayed about it more on Earth, so that I could have aligned my will with the Lord’s will sooner.
- Personally, if I were the Lord, I wouldn’t have forgiven them. But I love Jesus so much that I just can’t go against Him. If He says to forgive them, I’ll find a way to do it. But it’s really hard!!
- This must be a joke, because the person who wronged me could NEVER make it to Heaven.
- I’ve forgiven that person, and I’m fine with them being in Heaven, but do they seriously have to live RIGHT NEXT DOOR? I would ask the Lord to move them to a different town.
- If that person is in Heaven, I’m not going.
- Finally, a chance to get revenge… bwahahahaha….
- We’ll all be perfect in Heaven, so I’m sure it would be great. But until then, I’m going to hold a grunge against this person. They deserve it.
- I forgave them so many times on Earth that I ran out of forgiveness. It will ruin Heaven for me if they live next door.
- I just realized that I haven’t really forgiven them. I’m a little shocked at myself. I need some time to ponder and pray about this.
- I would ask the Lord if He REALLY knew the whole story, and proceed to tell Him the EXACT details of everything this person did wrong. I would want PROOF that they had fully repented and were sorry. A written apology would be nice too.
- I couldn’t care less about who my neighbors are. Tell me more about MY house. Is there a pool?
- As long as my house is a little bit better than my neighbor’s house, then I’d be OK with it. After all, our fight was mostly their fault! I deserve a little bit better Heaven than they do.
- I’m curious and excited to see what they are like now that they’ve been healed by the Lord, because I know they struggled with serious infirmaries on Earth, as did I.
- I’m so excited to be living next door to them! I always wanted the chance to be friends on Earth, but it just never worked out that way. The harder I tried to work out our differences, the worse it got. This is going to be awesome!
- I really hope they have forgiven me. A lot of our misunderstanding was my fault. I’ve totally forgiven them for their part.
- Bygones! Let’s barbecue!
- I’m just thankful the Lord isn’t bringing that old feud up and asking me to explain myself. I’m so embarrassed that I was so petty. I’m totally ready to be neighbors and friends with my old foe.
- I’d be OK with it, but I’d feel very hurt that the Lord didn’t take my side more.
- I’d be accepting of it, but I would gossip about it to my other neighbors. And my mom. And a few of my best friends… “You will NEVER believe who made it to Heaven. Yes, totally! They are living right next door! Can you believe it!? I guess they’re letting just anyone in!”
- What they did was so bad, so completely evil, that there’s no way the Atonement could cover it. I know that Christ’s INFINITE Atonement technically covers their sins, but in reality I don’t think the Atonement could have worked for this person. They were just too far gone on Earth. I’m not buying it. And I’m not forgiving them. And I refuse to live next door to them.
- I would tell the Lord that I haven’t forgiven that person, and ask Him for his counsel and help. I know I can’t do it on my own.
If your attitude is #1, #2, #15, #16, #17, #18, or #19, you’ve forgiven them! If your answer is #3, #4, #11, or #22, you’re on the right path! Keep going. If your attitude is #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #12, #13, #14, #20, #21, or #23, you’ve got some work to do.
The Lord knew it was no small or easy commandment to forgive. He set the example for us as He hung on the cross near the end of His life. He prayed for those who were hatefully putting Him to death, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ again showed us the way when he prayed to His Father, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) With this wisdom also comes the warning that if we don’t forgive our debtors, we will have a hard time securing any forgiveness ourselves.
“And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26)