Matthew 18:21-35 may appear to be a couple of simple stories about forgiveness, but they are part of a far weightier doctrine of restoration that explains why our very judgment rests on our willingness to forgive others.
Seventy time seven
Jesus tells us that it is not good enough for us to forgive a few times, or even many times. We must be willing to always forgive. But he doesn’t tell us why we must forgive, just that we need to do it.
To drive home the point of this first lesson on forgiveness, that there is order in the universe, an order which we cannot escape, which must be reckoned with, Jesus immediately told a second story. First Jesus told us we must always forgive others then he told a parable to illustrate that there is no acceptable reason for not forgiving someone. To not forgive another is a sin worthy of punishment. And we can’t just forgive a few times then hold a grudge, but we must be willing to let all offense go and forgive those who hurt us forever. At least I don’t see an expiration date on his story of forgiving.
The unjust steward
Following on the heels of telling us to forgive seventy times seven, Jesus relates the parable of the unjust steward, who owed his master an astronomical sum of money, but after he was frankly and quickly forgiven of his personal debt, as large as it was, the steward turned around and threw his neighbor into prison for a very petty sum of money. We’ll get back to this parable at the end of the article.
To better understand why forgiveness must be universal and eternal for each of us, we need to remember that the plan of salvation given to us is also called the plan of happiness, and the plan of restoration. The principle behind the plan of restoration is that our final judgment is not arbitrary or random, and is not something that is imposed upon us by someone who is not involved in our life and our choices. We are our own judges. We choose our own destiny in the eternities. God will honor our choices. This is all part of the agency we agreed to when He gave it to us in the premortal world.
Mortality is a testing period designed to show us where our true heart’s desire lies. If we love goodness in all its forms then we will have goodness given back to us in the eternities. If we love and honor our own choices above the will of our God then we will have a lesser portion of His goodness restored to us again, as we were less obedient to the laws of God while in mortality during our test. We will also mention why this is, in the text below.
For most of the rest of this article I am stepping outside of the New Testament and referring to the larger doctrine of judgment found in the Book of Mormon. As you read from the Book of Mormon, try to see how these two stories from the New Testament fit into the doctrine of how we are going to be judged.
Judgment and forgiveness explained
Let’s look at Alma’s explanation to his son, Corianton, in Alma 41. Corianton is concerned how the judgment of God can be eternal, eternally good for a person on one hand, and eternally tough on a person on the other hand. Alma is explaining the nature of God’s judgment upon His children to his son. Here are fourteen verses from this chapter (all but the first verse).
2 I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every of the body should be restored to itself.
Alma makes the point here that God did not send us here to be left here, separated from Him forever. His intention is that we all come to earth, keep His commandments with all our heart then, through the atoning sacrifice of God’s Only Begotten Son, we are all resurrected and return to Him prepared to live with Him and Christ for all eternity. This is the principle of restoration keeping God’s commandments offers us. As we lived with God to begin with, so too will we live in joy and felicity for eternity after our earthly experience.
3 And it is requisite with the of God that men should be according to their ; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be unto that which is good.
4 And if their works are evil they shall be unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame— raised to , to incorruption—raised to happiness to the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—
5 The one raised to according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
6 And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.
Verses 5-6 refer back to the opposition of all things we were taught about in 2 Nephi 2. There is no real choice or way for us to choose between good and evil unless we have the ability to choose the very best or the very worst. Anything less than this is not much of a choice. If we are going to measure the true desires of our heart we must each have the ability to go all the way with good or evil.
God will just restore to us what we have chosen. This means that God, our Father is not capricious or vindictive, rewarding good for evil or evil for good. It is we who choose what our judgment will be, for all that we have chosen will be restored to us, good for good and evil for evil. Our choice. This is the ultimate honoring of our God-given agency.
Let’s get back to Alma’s explanation. In verse 7 Alma emphasizes that we judge our self, just as we are the one to choose our own behavior.
7 are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own , whether to do good or do evil.
8 Now, the decrees of God are ; therefore, the way is prepared that will may therein and be saved.
9 And now behold, my son, do not risk more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin.
That sin is a risk to our soul is not something that is taught nearly enough.
10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, never was .
11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of , or I would say, in a state, are in the and in the of iniquity; they are God in the world, and they have gone to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
Verse 11 is a powerful statement. Mankind, that is we who live in mortality, naturally live in a state that is in opposition to the nature of God, which is a state of happiness. Therefore we live in a state of misery. Going on to verse 12 we learn that it is contrary to the nature of the principle of restoration to take that which is in one state and restore it to a completely different state. No, God will restore those who have chosen misery to a state of misery, and those who have chosen goodness to a state of goodness. This is the nature of the judgment we agreed to when we accepted His plan for our happiness before our earthly experience was ever granted.
12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?
13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal , righteously, and do continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your ; yea, ye shall have restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
15 For that which ye do out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.
Did you notice the key phrase for our discussion here in verse 14? It is “and do good continually.” Doing good once can’t bring a continual reward of good in the eternities. Doing evil once can’t bring a reward of evil for all eternity. It is what we do continually, habitually, that determines where our heart lies. When we are forgiving as part of our nature, so we always forgive, then will God forgive us. But when we are petty and refuse to forgive another when God has forgiven us of so much (consider Christ’s atoning sacrifice), it is then that God considers our behavior to be sinful, and we will have that same kind of pettiness restored to us in our judgment.
The unjust steward
This brings us back to the parable of the unjust steward. If you look up on the Internet the monetary value of a talent, the answers you find will vary wildly. There is nothing even close to a consensus, except that the 10,000 talents referred to in the parable is an insane amount of money. It is far more than any servant of an immensely wealthy person could ever hope to earn in his lifetime. A rough equivalent in today’s dollars would be like comparing a 10 million dollar loan to a 17 dollar debt. God has forgiven us of the 10 million dollars worth of sin, just for the asking, yet we, in our pettiness turn around and are willing to throw our neighbor into debtor’s prison for 17 dollars. This is why God considers our unwillingness to forgive a sin.
God and Jesus want us to be as willing to forgive one another’s trespasses against us as often as the need arises. God has the right to forgive whom He wants to forgive, but it is we who are on trial here. For us, He requires that we be willing to always and forever be forgiving in this life. To not forgive someone else, no matter their offense is as petty in God’s eyes as the unjust steward who was forgiven more than he could ever repay, only to throw his own neighbor into prison for a paltry sum. That is something God will not let go unpunished.
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