On our duties to those we forgive

Someone asked me recently about duties toward those who harm us seriously–the profound betrayals of trust, the abusers, and so forth.

To be sure, we are to forgive them. But, does this forgiveness necessarily involve a restoration of our previous relationship, in all its dimensions?

I do not think so. We must forgive everyone, but everyone is not entitled to our faith, our trust, or our intimacy. (They may regain it, of course, but that depends upon them and their actions, not upon us or our forgiveness.)

To use a well-worn example, Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, but upon his resurrection he did not visit those same soldiers and sit down to a meal of fish and honeycomb with them. They had not demonstrated themselves ready or worthy of such an association.

Surely the Lord does not expect us to expose ourselves again to repeated abuse or manipulation by a parent or spouse, for example. We have moral agency, and need not acquiesce in our own abuse or mistreatment. We forgive everyone; we would likely only trust or have confidence in someone who had repented and changed—and, sadly, not everyone does or will.

Joseph F. Smith illustrated the proper way between two extremes:

I feel in my heart to forgive all men in the broad sense that God requires of me to forgive all men, and I desire to love my neighbor as myself; and to this extent I bear no malice toward any of the children of my Father…

Some of our good Latter–day Saints have become so exceedingly good that they cannot tell the difference between a Saint of God, an honest man, and a son of Beelzebub, who has yielded himself absolutely to sin and wickedness. And they call that liberality, broadness of mind, exceeding love. I do not want to become so blinded with love for my enemies that I cannot discern between light and darkness, between truth and error, between good and evil, but I hope to live so that I shall have sufficient light in me to discern between error and truth, and to cast my lot on the side of truth and not on the side of error and darkness. The Lord bless the Latter–day Saints. If I am too narrow with reference to these matters, I hope that the wisdom of my brethren and the Spirit of Light from the Lord may broaden my soul…

There are those —and they abound largely in our midst —who will shut their eyes to every virtue and to every good thing connected with this latter–day work, and will pour out floods of falsehood and misrepresentation against the people of God. I forgive them for this. I leave them in the hands of the just Judge. Let him deal with them as seemeth him good, but they are not and cannot become my bosom companions. I cannot condescend to that. While I would not harm a hair of their heads, while I would not throw a straw in their path, to hinder them from turning from the error of their way to the light of truth; I would as soon think of taking a centipede or a scorpion, or any poisonous reptile, and putting it into my bosom, as I would think of becoming a companion or an associate of such men.

– President Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1907): 5–6; also in Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986), 337.

The mistake against which he speaks is that of a false, or we might say “wicked,” tolerance. We need not accept or endorse anything and everything simply to be thought “tolerant.” This kind of tolerance is dishonest–we pretend that certain actions do not bother us, when they do (or ought to). Additionally, it also winks at sin and may encourage it. It denies that serious matters are truly serious. It minimizes or denies sin, instead of recognizing its depth.

This is not forgiveness, so much as it is a denial that there is anything much to forgive.

If we are not careful, our supposed broadness of mind can lead us into the broad roads and wide gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13; 1 Nephi 12:17; 3 Nephi 14:13).

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