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Intellect

Law school dean discusses "faith to forgive grievous harms"

James Rasband, dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, addressed students Tuesday in a devotional on having the faith to forgive. He outlined several reasons why forgiving others does not allow “mercy to rob justice,” as he said some suppose.

Rasband reminded students that our opportunity to use the atonement is dependent on our willingness to forgive others.

“That our own forgiveness should be conditioned on forgiving others can be a hard doctrine,” he said, “particularly if the sin against us was horribly wrong and out of all proportion to any harm we’ve ever committed.” However, “when we refuse to forgive, what we are really saying is that we reject, or don’t quite trust, the atonement. And it is our acceptance of the atonement that ultimately saves us.”

Rasband spoke of the atonement as having two sides. The side we usually think of is how mercy can satisfy the demands that justice would impose upon us.

“We are typically quicker to accept the idea that, when we sin and make mistakes, the atonement is available to pay our debts. Forgiveness requires us to consider the other side of the atonement . . . that is, the atonement’s power to satisfy our demands of justice against others, to fulfill our rights to restitution and being made whole.”

Rasband used an analogy of a landlord who provided a house for a tenant. When the landlord’s son burned the house down, the tenant lost everything. The landlord promised to not only restore everything he had lost, but to also give him a new castle. He required only that the tenant have faith in him, trusting that he would really build the castle and restore everything he had lost, that he would try to do as the landlord asked in caring for the house, and that he would forgive the landlord’s son.

“Sounds easy enough and seems like an obviously great deal,” Rasband said, “but why might it be hard for the tenant to accept the landlord’s offer? Or, to move away from the analogy, why is it sometimes so hard for us to forgive others?”

Rasband suggested the first reason would be because of anger. “We want the arsonist to pay. But if we harbor this sort of anger, we may spend so much time pursuing the person who burned down our house that we don’t get around to rebuilding our house. As someone once said, ‘Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.’”

It might also be hard to forgive, he said, because we can’t quite believe the landlord will fulfill his promise. “He’s never failed us when we’ve messed up the house before, but what about this time? Besides, it is usually easier for us to believe that the Lord will forgive our mistakes. This time it is someone else’s mistake.”

Patience can also try faith: “Trust can be particularly difficult if the rebuilding project will take time. We want things fixed now, not later,” he said.

“Trust may also be harder in the case of losses and hurts that do not seem easily fixable. Perhaps the landlord can rebuild the home, but can he really replace the photos and heirlooms? What if we lost a child in the fire, can he really take away that pain?”

Rasband reminded students that the law of sacrifice was only one part of the Mosaic Law, and that when Christ told his disciples that he had come to fulfill it, he meant the entire law—not only the sacrifice aspect, but also the various civil components of the law.

“Under the Mosaic Law, restitution was required for harm caused to another. This concept of restitution remains a key part of our law today. Under tort law, which is just another word for personal injury law, courts can award damages to persons injured by the negligence of another . . . . The basic point is that, just like current law, the Mosaic Law was not designed only to punish the wrong-doer. The Mosaic Law also existed to protect, compensate and make whole those harmed by others, whether intentionally or negligently. If Christ came to fulfill all the terms of the law, this part of the Mosaic Law should also be fulfilled by the atonement.”

Rasband cited Alma 11:44, saying that even for something as horrible as losing a child because of another’s sin, the atonement insures significant restitution through the resurrection. We are promised that “every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame.” In addition, he said, we are promised everything that the Lord has, as mentioned in D&C 88:107

“If we can inherit all the Father has, and if all will be restored to its perfect frame, is there a reason we should insist that the person who hurt us pay us back? Hasn’t justice been satisfied?” Rasband asked.

“It is critical to understand that forgiving others is not just a practical virtue. It is a profound act of faith in the atonement and the promise that the Savior’s sacrifice repays not just our debts to others but also the debts of others to us. In our live-and-let-live society, we may believe that being forgiving is just etiquette and good manners. It is not. We may think that forgiveness requires us to let mercy rob justice. It does not. Forgiveness does not require us to give up our right to restitution. It simply requires that we look to a different source. The non-judgmental worldly phrases, “don’t worry about it,” and “no big deal,” are not illustrations of the doctrine of forgiveness. On the contrary, when a person sins against us, it can be a very big deal. The point is that the atonement is very big compensation that can take care of very big harms. Forgiveness doesn’t mean minimizing the sin; it means maximizing our faith in the atonement.”

The entirety of this devotional is available at speeches.byu.edu and will be rebroadcast on BYUtv. Check byutv.org for schedules.

Writer: Preston Wittwer

rasband.jpg
Photo by Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo

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