Most people are ushered into the pages to the Book of Mormon by its first central character/author — Nephi.
The prophet Nephi, of course, begins his writing with a simple yet telling introduction: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents. ” (Nephi 1:1).
Readers soon learn of Nephi’s devotion to the Lord and his family. By his own admission, he wasn’t perfect. But he wanted to do the right thing. He loved his Heavenly Father and committed to do anything God desired of him.
His declaration of obedience appropriately remains one of the most oft-repeated verses in latter-day scripture: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
His utterance, found in 1 Nephi 3:7, indeed contains words to live by — and his actions demonstrated his resolve to be obedient.
But Nephi’s example goes beyond mere obedience. He was also quick and easy to forgive others. He knew well that by forgiving others he placed himself in a position to have his own sins pardoned by the ultimate Forgiver — Jesus Christ.
Nephi was the son of a living prophet, Lehi, and a wise and devoted mother, Sariah. Still, his family faced many of the challenges that families face today. There were quarrels and contentions. There were jealousies and petty grievances.
At God’s command, Nephi and his family left a prosperous home in Jerusalem and traveled into the wilderness. The family of Ishmael later joined them.
Soon a mutiny of sorts would plague the two families. Two of Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, along with two of the daughters and two of the sons of Ishmael, incited a family rebellion. They wanted to ignore Father Lehi’s inspired leadership, leave the wilderness and return immediately to the comforts of Jerusalem.
Their behavior saddened Nephi, prompting him to say, “How is it that ye are so hard in your hearts, and so blind in your minds, that ye have need that I, your younger brother, should speak unto you, yea, and set an example for you?
“How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 7:8-9).
The prideful Laman and Lemuel would not tolerate being scolded by their “little brother.” They overpowered Nephi, bound him with cords and decided to abandon him in the wilderness “to be devoured by wild beasts.”
Nephi prayed for the strength to break the cords and the bands were loosed from his hands and feet. He once again tried to reason with his older brothers and, once again, they became angry and tried to hurt him. Ishmael’s wife and two of his children pleaded with Laman and Lemuel to stop their violent actions.
“And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me” (1 Nephi 7:20).
At that moment Nephi faced life-defining choices. His brothers had actually sought his own life. He could have forever turned away from Laman and Lemuel. He could have exacted revenge. He could have decided to never speak to them again and, in doing so, become the agent of dividing his family.
Instead, he chose to forgive.
“I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness. And it came to pass that they did so” (1 Nephi 7:21).
Sadly, Laman and Lemuel’s change of heart would prove a temporary condition. Later, they would again assault their brother, rebel against their prophet father and ultimately break up their family.
But we can be certain Nephi never regretted forgiving his brothers. He knew sweet release in extending pardons to those who had done him wrong.
In his April 2006 general conference address, Elder Kevin R. Duncan acknowledged that we, like Nephi, live in a “fallen world” defined by darkness and confusion. Mistakes are made. Injustices occur. Sins are committed.
“There is not a soul alive who will not, at one time or another, be the victim to someone else’s careless actions, hurtful conduct or even sinful behavior. That is one thing we all have in common.
“Gratefully, God, in His love and mercy for His children, has prepared a way to help us navigate these sometimes turbulent experiences of life. He has provided an escape for all who fall victim to the misdeeds of others.
“He has taught us that we can forgive! Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment or even revenge.
“We can forgive, and we can be free!”
Elder Duncan added most want to forgive — but it can truly be hard. When one is on the hurtful end of an injustice, it’s natural to ask: “Where is justice?”
But it is a mistake to think that forgiveness eliminates justice and punishments will be avoided.
“God will mete out a punishment that is fair, for mercy cannot rob justice,” taught Elder Duncan. “God lovingly assures you and me: ‘Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. [But] peace be with you’ ” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:23).
Ultimately, the Savior can be our guide when we, like Nephi, must decide if we should offer forgiveness. The perfect Christ was unjustly accused, savagely assaulted, beaten and left suffering upon the cross, said Elder Duncan.
But in that moment, the Lord said, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
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