Forgiveness may be greatest virtue
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Forgiveness "may be the greatest virtue on earth and certainly the most needed," said President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Speaking during the Sunday morning session of the Church's 175th Semiannual General Conference, President Hinckley said there is much meanness, abuse, intolerance and hatred today. "There is so great a need for repentance and forgiveness. It is the great principle emphasized in all of scripture, both ancient and modern."
President Hinckley began his address one of four he offered during the two-day conference by expressing thanks that the Lord has prolonged His life to be a part of these challenging times. "I thank Him for the opportunity of service. I have no desire but to do all that I can in furthering the work of the Lord, in serving His faithful people, and in living at peace with my neighbors."
He said he recently returned from traveling around the world more than 35,000 miles. "I do not enjoy travel," he said. "But it is my wish to get out among our people to extend appreciation and encouragement and to bear testimony of the divinity of the Lord's work."
Age, he added, seems to do something to a man. "It seems to make him more aware of the need for kindness and goodness and forbearance. He wishes and prays that men might live together in peace without war and contention, argument and conflict. He grows increasingly aware of the meaning of the great Atonement of the Redeemer, of the depth of His sacrifice and of gratitude to the Son of God who gave His life that we might live."
President Hinckley said there is no more beautiful story of forgiveness in the scriptures than that of the prodigal son, found in Luke 5. Everyone, he said, should read it and ponder it occasionally.
"When there has been wrongdoing and then there has come repentance, followed by forgiveness, then literally the offender who was lost is found and he who was dead is made alive."
President Hinckley said the Marshall Plan following World War II, with the gift of millions of dollars, helped to put Europe on its feet. In Japan after the same war, President Hinckley said he saw great steel mills, the money for which he was told had come from America Japan's former enemy. "How much better off this world is because of the forgiveness of a generous nation in behalf of its former enemies."
Quoting Matthew 5:38-44, President Hinckley asked the worldwide congregation to "love their enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
The Savior, he added, taught of leaving the ninety and nine to find the lost sheep, that forgiveness and restitution might come.
"Isaiah declared: 'Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool' " (Isaiah 1:16-18).
President Hinckley said the great crowning love of the Savior was expressed when in His dying agony He cried out, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
"There are so many in our day who are unwilling to forgive and forget," he said. "Children cry and wives weep because fathers and husbands continue to bring up little shortcomings that really are of no importance. And there are so many women who would make a mountain out of every little offending molehill of word and deed."
President Hinckley then read a story from the Deseret Mornings News, written by Jay Evensen, editorial page editor. (Jay Evensen: Forgiveness has power to change future.) The story told of a 19-year-old young man in New York City who tossed a 20-pound frozen turkey from a speeding car headlong into the windshield of a car driven by a 44-year-old woman. Her face was pieced together with metal plates during a six-hour surgery and she faced long-term therapy.
The teen had purchased the turkey with a stolen credit card during a senseless shopping spree.
The victim, Victoria Ruvolo, however, did not exact any sort of revenge. Instead, she insisted prosecutors offer the offender, Ryan Cushing, a plea deal. At trial he apologized to the victim for his actions.
"Ruvolo then stood and the victim and her assailant embraced, weeping," quoted President Hinckley. "She stroked his head and patted his back as he sobbed, and witnesses, including a (New York Times) reporter, heard her say, 'It's OK. I just want you to make your life the best it can be.' According to accounts, hardened prosecutors, and even reporters, were choking back tears."
The great story is greater because it actually happened, and happened "in tough old New York," noted President Hinckley. "Who can feel anything but admiration for this woman who forgave the young man who might have taken her life?"
President Hinckley said he knows he is speaking of a delicate and sensitive thing. "There are hardened criminals who may have to be locked up," he said. "There are unspeakable crimes, such as deliberate murder and rape that justify harsh penalties. But there are some who could be saved from long stultifying years in prison because of an unthoughtful, foolish act. Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way."
The great Atonement was the supreme act of forgiveness, he emphasized.
"The magnitude of that Atonement is beyond our ability to completely understand," he said. "I know only that it happened, and that it was for me and for you. The suffering was so great, the agony so intense that none of us can comprehend it when the Savior offered Himself as a ransom for all the sins of all mankind.
"It is through Him that we gain forgiveness. It is through Him that there comes the certain promise that all mankind will be granted the blessings of salvation, with resurrection from the dead. It is through Him and His great over-arching sacrifice that we are offered the opportunity through obedience of exaltation and eternal life.
"May God help us to be a little kinder, showing forth great forbearance, to be more forgiving, more willing to walk the second mile, to reach down and lift up those who may have sinned but have brought forth the fruits of repentance, to lay aside old grudges and nurture them no more."