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How can I know that I have been forgiven? This parable holds the answer

The September pick for LDS Living Book Club is What Seek Ye? by S. Michael Wilcox. Follow the LDS Living Book Club Instagram for more insights with the author.

The most common inquiry I receive from members of the Church is, “How do I get answers to my prayers?” The next most common is, “How can I know I have been forgiven?” Or, in other words, “How can I be assured I have been made whole in this area?” Sometimes the question is, “How can I be confident of my standing before the Lord?”

At times, we tend to believe that the Savior’s mercy covers just about everyone but ourselves. I wrestle with this as much as anyone. Much of our anguish over our own failings comes not only from our inability to let our failures go, but also from our distress at repeating the same weakness multiple times. Asking for forgiveness “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) is often for the same weakness! In spite of our best efforts and our promises to never repeat offenses, we fail. The power of habit or the pull of the world can be strong at times. We have various tests to determine the depth of our repentance: restitution when possible, confession to God (and in serious cases, to an ecclesiastical leader), and the poignancy of our remorse. We are quite plainly told in the Doctrine and Covenants, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (58:43). This test is good for the person who has made the journey to repentance, but perhaps more daunting for someone who has not yet confessed or not yet forsaken.

Another element to ponder may be the most important one, contained in a question Jesus posed in one of His parables. Answering this question affirmatively gives the greatest peace and the surest hope to those with burdened hearts. The question alone can bring wholeness. We may know for ourselves that we have been forgiven.

This is a well-known parable. Jesus tells of two debtors. The first debtor owed his lord ten thousand talents—an enormous sum. The second debtor owed to the first one “an hundred pence”—a tiny sum. When the servant who owed ten thousand talents pleaded for more time to pay, he was granted more—even that for which he did not ask. “The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). But he was unable to return the same mercy he had just received, and demanded the full payment from his one-hundred-pence debtor. When it was not forthcoming, he had him thrown into debtor’s prison. Brought again before his lord, this first servant was reminded of the mercy he had received, simply “because thou desiredst me” (Matthew 18:32). And then the question comes, which Jesus asks us when we seek cleansing and peace of mind from Him concerning our own mistakes, follies, and sins: “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant?” This question concludes with a clarifying reminder of the mercy the ten-thousand-talent debtor had received (and by extension, the mercy the Savior offers us): “. . . even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:33; emphasis added).

I never read this question without seeing the Savior’s compassionate eyes looking out of the pages of scripture into mine. I know what He hopes I will answer, and I so wish to please Him. “Yes, Lord, I have had compassion on my fellow servants also.” Like many of His questions, this one is so simple and obvious that it sends us searching immediately into our own hearts and lives. It has a contagious softening quality. We examine our past and present relationships.

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First of all, with that question before our eyes, it is very difficult to withhold mercy and compassion from those who have offended us. Second, when we find our own souls clean of negativity, bitterness, or anger at any other human being, a place has been created to hold the mercy, peace, and wholeness we desire. Perhaps unavoidably, the space in the heart which holds peace is the very same one which holds animosity, bitterness, anger, or resentment toward others—and both cannot dwell there at the same time. That is one of life’s paradoxes. We can fill that space with jealousy, anger, and other destructive emotions, but the Lord waits until we cleanse it and rid ourselves of those emotions, so we have room for His peace. This can often be difficult, especially when our negative feelings masquerade in the garments of justice. Believe me, I know what that is like.

I’m sure we all know the feeling of wishing we had learned a truth earlier in our lives. I lament frequently that I did not know in my thirties what I now know in my sixties. Because of past callings and also my role as a teacher of the gospel, I have listened to many confessions and tried to help those wrestling with sins as best I could. Some of the people I’ve listened to wondered if they had been (or could ever be) forgiven, desiring, above all, peace as they struggled to forgive themselves. We would talk about remorse, restitution, confession—the standard formula for forgiveness. We would talk of the Savior’s mercy and love, and of His Atonement, but it took me the longest time to add a series of questions that seemed to always give the greatest peace and assurance of wholeness. They are now the first questions I would ask: “Have you had compassion on your fellow servants? Have you forgiven all others in your life? Do you have any debtors that you have not loosed?”

If self-reflection brings a realization that they have shown to others what they desire for themselves, that they have no debtors and have forgiven all others (which is often the case), a light goes on. In that light of self-realization of their own Christ-like heart, wholeness grows, and self-acceptance and peace are born. You can be still and calm within. If you forgive, you have been forgiven! That is an eternal truth! That is exactly and precisely true! I believe the serenity that comes when we can answer Christ’s question affirmatively arises out of the compassion and pity we know we have in our own hearts, and we can then turn those same emotions inward.

Lead image: Shutterstock

Image titleWe often think of our relationship with God in terms of us being the questioner approaching the great Answerer. But what if He is actually the great Questioner, and we are intended to wrestle—not to receive the answers from Him, but to give them? Bestselling author S. Michael Wilcox teaches, "How we answer those questions tells our Father in Heaven much about us, as well as revealing ourselves to ourselves." Over time, Wilcox has also learned, "If I am the Answerer and God the Questioner and I can answer His questions with thought and devotion, then my own inquiries to Him are significantly diminished." As you explore these short yet profound questions, you'll learn more about the Savior and more about yourself, discovering personal answers along the way. What Seek Ye? is available now at DeseretBook.com.

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