What Does It Mean to Forgive?

When Elizabeth Smart testified last week there was a renewed flurry of media coverage of that infamous case. While the contents of her testimony were shocking (as expected) there was nothing in her testimony that actually surprised me. I remember a couple of weeks after she disappeared when I thought that I hoped she was dead because if she was still alive at that point the nature of her ordeal was all too easy to guess. I’ll just have to say that all the evidence I have seen since her return (including the way she has stayed largely out of the spotlight) has proven that fleeting wish to be completely misguided.

As I saw the coverage of her testimony a scripture crossed my mind and got me thinking.

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)

This includes Miss Smart despite her horrific ideal. I don’t mean to imply that I can or should judge whether she has or will forgive Mitchell – her ordeal just happened to be the subject at hand when I had the thought. The reason that I bring it up is that her situation, including her giving testimony, specifically apply to my thoughts on the nature of forgiveness.

First, the Lord is not required to forgive Mitchell – that’s between the two of them and Elizabeth has no say in the matter – that’s the crux of my realization. Second, no matter how heinous his crimes against her the Lord expects her to pursue that path of forgiveness with regards to her captor. So again the question – what does it mean to forgive – especially in a case such as this?

I believe that what Miss Smart has done since returning to her family in 2003 is perfectly compatible with the proper forgiveness that the Lord expects of her. She has helped to write a book on survival for abductees, she has testified very forcefully against her abductor, but perhaps more importantly she gives no evidence of defining her life by that experience. Of course I have never met or talked to her – I give this strictly as an unconnected observer – but considering her apparent poise and maturity I believe she must have personally forgiven the man she testified against even as she seeks to ensure that justice is done. I don’t believe that she could move on with her life so successfully as she appears to have done if she were dwelling on the crimes committed against her. Dwelling on that past would be a hallmark of non-forgiveness. Doing everything she can to protect herself and others from the person who committed a crime against her is not at all incompatible with the path of forgiveness. In fact, holding Mitchell accountable for what he did is the kindest thing she could do for him. If he ever wants to repent of his actions he will have to take responsibility for what he has done – that’s a necessary component to repentance.

As Elizabeth appears to have forgiven and set herself firmly on the path of healing, I think the saddest part of this whole case is that the chances of justice being served are so low. I would guess that Wanda Barzee – who is as much victim as criminal – is more likely to be found competent to stand trial than Brian David Mitchell – who is all criminal in this case (meaning he is absolutely culpable) but who is intelligent enough and disciplined enough to live off of taxpayers while successfully avoiding real consequences for his criminal behavior by successfully playing the part of being insane. Even if he were somehow to be found competent he would spend the rest of his life with society paying for his crimes while he lives a life that is no more meaningless and irresponsible than the one he was living while perpetrating this crime.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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