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I chose a darkened corner on the back streets of Jerusalem to be the backdrop of one of my recent paintings of Christ titled "Forgiveness". In this painting, Our Savior kneels down in the dirt and reaches out to touch the head of a downcast and humbled sinner who is asking for forgiveness. My original plan was for this scene to take place among the bustling crowds of an open market, but as I dwelt on the idea of forgiveness, I wanted to portray the fact that it is personal and sacred, between me and the Lord.
I say "between ME and the Lord", because in this context, that is the only type that should matter to me, "between YOU and the Lord", "between HIM and the Lord" or "between HER and the Lord" is really none of my business. My own standing before the Lord is of the upmost importance. For this reason, I chose to include only two people in this painting. Me... and the Lord. Some people may not know this, but I myself am the model for most of the bodies and clothes you see in my paintings. In this particular piece, I also chose to be the model for the face of the sinner.
I wanted to take a moment and talk about another kind of forgiveness. Between me and you, between you and them, between him and her. Jesus Christ stated:
I think that many times in this modern Christian culture that we live in, we learn of the doctrine, we learn the commandments, what is right and what is wrong, we see the affects of sin and we try to avoid them, but we don't always seem to learn how to apply all aspects of the gospel to ourselves. We may see somebody else living a lifestyle that we do not agree with, and we may not treat them appropriately. What is the appropriate way to treat a sinner? We treat them like a child of God. Imperfect people don't need you to judge them, they just need your love.
I know of a man who was raised in the church. He served a mission, was sealed to his spouse in the temple, and they began to raise a family together. Then, he had a moment of weakness. This man became good friends with a co-worker, perhaps too good, because one night, working alone together, she backed him up against the wall, and kissed him. Did he sin? I don't know all of the details, perhaps he was flirting with her, leading her on, I don't know. At the very least he shouldn't have put himself in the position where she could get that close to him. He should have stopped it before it happened, right? How long was this kiss anyway? Was there any emotional longing behind it? I don't know and frankly that's none of my business. It is between Him, and the Lord... and in this case his wife. What happened next? He repented. He went home and told his wife what had happened. He didn't want this to go any further, he wanted to make things right. But things weren't made right. His wife was devastated, she could not get past the "cheating". She left him. They got a divorce. I think this is so sad. Sad that the kiss happened, and sad that his wife thought that the appropriate response was to break up an eternal family. I openly admit that I don't know all of the details. I suspect that there were other problems in their marriage, I suspect that perhaps both of them had grown distant with each other, and were maybe wanting a justified way out, I don't know. What I do know is that apparently there was a lack of forgiveness.
I realize the irony in stating my feelings about the outcome of this story. I'm judging somebody for judging. Am I not forgiving the wife for not forgiving her husband? Actually, the truth is, I forgot all about this story that I heard years ago until I began writing this blog. I would like to think that if I saw these people on the street today, I would not treat either one of them any differently. At least I hope I would not, I am far from perfect and it is so easy to judge people. Judging, after all, is simply observing facts and filing them away in our brains as to how they relates to us. What is important is what we do with those facts, and how we treat the people that we so naturally judge.
I've read a lot of conversations online lately about judging people. We know that we should not judge people who think differently than we do. We should not judge people who vote for a different candidate. We should not judge people who look differently, having multiple piercings and tattoos, or extreme fashion choices. We should not judge people who are struggling with those "small" sins, the little white lie, the unneeded caffeine, the overeating, etc. But what about the big stuff? I am seeing a recent trend in our culture of feeling justified in NOT forgiving, even when the guilty is trying to live a good life. The "righteous" student who is mean to bullies, even when they don't know what their family life is like. The parent who constantly condemns their child for teasing, even when all around, they are a very good kid who loves their family. The Church member who ignores or shuns their neighbor, because they have an occasional beer with friends.
I read a recent post on Facebook about breaking the Word of Wisdom being one of the worst sins. Really? the worst? I do know that being addicted to drugs or alcohol can cause much havoc to a family, and it can cause pain in the life of the innocent, even to the point where is is necessary and beneficial for people to distance themselves from the abuser until they get clean. But is breaking the Word of Wisdom one of the worst sins? I would say that it is easy to see some of the worst outcomes to breaking some of the "more important" aspects of this law, but I don't think that those guilty are worse sinners than others, that they are in their heart more evil.
I know of an addict who went to jail. Their spouse, also an addict, was in the late stages of a horrible disease, and was dying. It lifted my heart to see the love and attention that our Heavenly Father showed to His two children in their time of need. Neighbors felt the need to stop by and check on the one still home. With no answer, calls were made, and closer acquaintances were brought in. They found this person starving, scared and immobile. Food was brought in and emotional comfort was given. Future check-ins were scheduled, as well as future meals provided for. People were put in their path that were able to answer all of their legal questions and calm most of their fears. I know that our Heavenly Father sees these people not as "addicts" or "sinners", but as a son and daughter that needs help, as children that don't need our judgements, but need our support.
We can relate this story to just about anybody. We are all struggling with something. We are all at different stages on our path to living the gospel. We all have different amounts of understanding about different things. We all need help. We all need forgiveness. That husband I spoke of who kissed another woman, He is a righteous priesthood holder who lives the gospel. The "addict" I spoke of, is a very kind hearted person who will smile at you as you pass by on the street, and cares deeply for their spouse. We need to see sin as only temporary. Our lives are not set is stone. PEOPLE CAN CHANGE! #BecauseOfHim. I think we would be very surprised if we could really see what our Father in Heaven sees, and we knew the great potential within those around us. I hope I can remember to always help others feel welcome in the gospel. There is room for everyone in the church, whatever stage of testimony you or I may be in.