Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

“It is the proof of his suffering that eases ours”

Posted by BrianJ on February 17, 2009

I read a moving op-ed in the New York Times today. The author, François Bizot, was a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in 1971 and writes about the war crimes trial of the leader of his captors, Kaing Guek Eav (aka Comrade Duch). That he calls Duch his “Savior” should grab your attention.

After a few months of interrogation, Duch secured the release of Bizot, thus saving his life. Thousands of others, however, were executed at Duch’s order. Several quotes from the article stand out, including:

Last February, Duch was led, with his consent, to the scenes of his crimes. The visit was a shock for all who witnessed it. This major judicial step took place in an atmosphere of intense, palpable emotion.

“I ask for your forgiveness — I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might,” he said before collapsing in tears on the shoulder of one of his guards.

What do we make of that? What do we say to someone who, according to D&C 42:18,* “shall not have forgiveness”?

This reminds me of the most painful experience of my mission in Brazil. I was riding on a bus with members and investigators, returning from some fireside or activity (I forget exactly what). I spent most of the long ride talking with an investigator—I’ll call him Paolo—a man in his late twenties. He started as an eager investigator, but a recent interview with the district leader prior to baptism turned Paolo cold. Not rude-cold or uncaring-cold, more a sad, wavering, depressed cold. All he really wanted to talk about on the bus was Adam and Eve and the difference between transgression and sin. I had no idea what was eating at him.

After a long discussion, our conversation turned to Paolo’s reluctance to continue investigating the Church. He kept insisting that the Church—that God—would not have him or did not want him. I insisted the opposite, “No, God always loves you. There’s always a place for you in his church.” His frustration with his situation, with the missionaries, with me, finally spilled over: “Even for those who murdered?” I had no idea what was eating at him.

Another paragraph from the editorial occupies my thoughts:

It could be that forgiveness is possible… The executioner has to pay dearly, for it is the proof of his suffering that eases ours.

What do you make of that?

_____

* Or, at least, one prevailing interpretation of this scripture.

13 Responses to ““It is the proof of his suffering that eases ours””

  1. Tom Rod said

    The Church welcomes murderers who repent. This includes contacting the general authorities and paying for the crime according to the laws of the land.

    Better to repent before making the covenant than after. I never met a person who murdered before joining the Church and stayed active after without repenting. The Spirit cannot influence such.

  2. NathanG said

    Interesting post Brian. I think 42:18 should include the first phrase “And now, behold, I speak unto the church”. This phrase as well as the article from Encyclopedia of Mormonism indicate that we treat murder commited by a member of the church differently than by someone who is not a member of the church.

    The discussion your investigator had on sin versus transgression is interesting. As we were preparing for our daughters baptism I thought about sin and accountability and what makes someone accountable. As I thought about it, I couldn’t help but think that there is a large component of covenant making and breaking that is involved in “sin”. In spite my desires to do so in my mind, I can’t pinpoint the point where someone is truly accountable. My three year old knows when she’s doing something wrong, but does not have a grasp of consequences (maybe some immediate, but not eternal consequences). The outline in the encyclopedia seems to suggest a spectrum of accountability with regards to murder.

    Don’t know for sure what to think of the final statement. When I first saw the post, I thought of Christ’s suffering, but I don’t equate Christ with the executioner. I don’t think anyone has sinned against me to a magnitude where I only had comfort by seeing proof of the offender’s suffering. If we put it in God’s perspective, does proof of our suffering somehow relieve God’s suffering? Don’t know. Having a hard time really deciding what to make of the comment.

  3. joespencer said

    Though it has many failings, Richard Dutcher’s film States of Grace (2005) deals with precisely this theme. It is well worth seeing. As Dutcher makes clear, it is the Anti-Nephi-Lehis that we have got to think about.

    There are historical questions to address here as well: there was a very specific doctrine preached during the nineteenth century about this sort of thing, the history of which I’d rather not breach in so public a forum, but one that is definitely of some importance.

  4. Hunter said

    Interesting post. Your description of the gentleman who stopped investigating the Church was certainly interesting. And sad.

    Personally, I think it’s wrong to focus only on the “murder is unforgiveable” scriptures to the exclusion of those scriptures that discuss the infiniteness of Christ’s sacrifice. Each time I hear them talk about how King David will never be saved, or in the case of those who would deny this Brazilian gentleman the right to salvation, why they think they can “play God”?

    Our God is a patient God, indeed.

  5. Rameumptom said

    We have gotten ourselves into the concept that murderers can never repent. This is what Elder Spencer W. Kimball wrote in Miracle of Forgiveness. Yet, I see our views of the last century to be changing a lot. Elders Kimball and McConkie (as well as JFSmith and others) pushed works so hard and far, that the atonement was almost left meaningless sometimes.

    I think the Church is now taking a second look at it all. Is it hard for a murderer to be forgiven? Of course. But as with the Anti-Lehi-Nephites, forgiveness can be achieved. I do believe a major part of this depends upon the person’s knowledge of commandments, etc. I highly doubt that an investigator necessarily has a large enough witness of the gospel and of Christ to merit eternal/forever hell because of serious sins here.

    Repentance and hope of eternal life must still be an option, otherwise God is not as powerful as we pretend him to be.

  6. BrianJ said

    Nathan: you did the same double-take I did—the title phrase sounds like something straight out of Romans! Paolo’s position regarding sin and transgression is that there is no difference. I’m not sure how that related to his specific situation, but it really bothered him that we made a distinction for Adam.

    Joe: I think I know which “specific doctrine” you refer to. I wonder whether it was a “correct” doctrine. Email me if you’d like.

    Hunter: I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much anguish for my sin as what I read in Psalms. You betcha David was on my mind as I wrote this post!

    Rameumptom: why should knowledge matter? If a person repents, then they repent—and if they had no knowledge of their “evil act,” then they have nothing to repent of. Help me understand what you mean.

  7. Char Lee said

    I once heard the definition of evil described as not seeing others as real people with feelings, hopes, and dreams of their own. When you are operating with evil in your heart you allow other people to become objects, pawns if you will, and you move them about according to your job, what you want from them, or what you can get from them, etc.

    Having said that we all have the capacity to be evil, even on a smaller level. If I cut someone off on the freeway because I am in a hurry to get somewhere and they are in the way, then am I really seeing them as a person? or as an object that is preventing me from getting to where I need to be? (which according to my actions is more important than anywhere THEY might be going.)

    This is the same evil that allows someone to murder untold numbers of people, just on a smaller scale. We all have to overcome the natural man and the evil in this world.

    I believe evil comes when we are enveloped in Satan’s mists of darkness and that darkness causes us to be blind to the humanness of others. I also believe it is possible to come out of the darkness and see clearly, unfortunately the consequences of our actions are most often irrevocable.

    I would hope that regardless of the nature of the crime that a person (who had been enveloped in darkness and then through whatever means had found their way out) had commited that they would at least be offered the opportunity to have their sins washed away. FULLY AND COMPLETELY WASHED AWAY.

    Having been through great trials and much suffering myself (which has been caused by others) I would never wish upon the offender intense suffering.

    Do I want them to face consequences? Yes, consequences which will make an impression strong enough to deter them from repeating the offence. I would hope strong enough that their heart would break open and they would be able to find their way out of the darkness. (In my opinion suffering should be to bring about a change of heart, not to satisfy our need for justice.)

    I for one will never utter the words, “Let them burn in hell.” as I have often heard some say. I believe people throw that phrase around to easily. We do not fully comprehend the magnitude of the eternal suffering that that involves, and I believe if we did comprehend it and yet were willing to wish it upon someone as a form of retribution then the greater evil would lie within us.

  8. Char Lee said

    And really if evil is evil then shouldn’t we all be faced with the same suffering?

  9. BrianJ said

    Char Lee: that’s a helpful way to think about evil. I may have some more thoughts on this in another post….

  10. NathanG said

    Char Lee: Thanks for your thoughts. I enjoyed reading them. One paragraph made me think (and I don’t intend the following as a disagreement, its just some initial thoughts).

    “Do I want them to face consequences? Yes, consequences which will make an impression strong enough to deter them from repeating the offence. I would hope strong enough that their heart would break open and they would be able to find their way out of the darkness. (In my opinion suffering should be to bring about a change of heart, not to satisfy our need for justice.)”

    My initial thought was whether we want the consequences to be the impression that keeps us from repeating a sin. It may be, but wouldn’t it be better if the feeling of forgivenss was the motivation to stay good and to do good continually (what King Benjamin’s people expressed when they experienced a change of heart). I think our suffering should aid us in humbling ourselves sufficiently to receive the magnitude of grace necessary to have our guilt taken away and we can stand with confidence before God. Then once we have received the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we go forward with joy and love so that we continue his work by serving those around us. We then stay focused on doing good continually rather than on avoiding the mistakes of our past.

  11. Char Lee said

    Nathan G:
    I was speaking about the original break out of the mists of darkness, not the REPEATING of a sin. I just do not believe it is possible for someone who is in the mists of darkness and who ISN’T motivated by the feelings of forgiveness (lack of feeling towards others and lack of understanding of their own actions, in addition to possibly never having known the sweetness of forgiveness) to FEEL.

    In the mists of darkness you are cold and dead, that is what allows you to dehumanize others, your lack of feeling, it is only outside of the mists that you can feel the joy that comes from the grace of God and the sweetness of repentance and forgiveness.

    So the question becomes is there any way to motivate people to move out of the mists other than with consequences? It is true that the fear of consequences still would not deter some people (case in point the number of people in prison and the number of people who knowingly break the commandments). But I don’t know that originally there is any other way to reach someone who has cut themselves off from being human (ie having feelings.) other than to have them suffer (which draws extreme feelings).

    Then once the person is out of the mists of darkness and has experienced the change of heart AND UNDERSTANDS the feelings that forgiveness brings, then I believe they will be motivated by the feelings of forgivness for the next time they make a mistake. (Which being human we will all do.)

    I am speaking from my own experience. I have walked in the mists (and I believe we all do to some extent) and at that time I personally did not understand and would not have been motivated by the feelings of forgiveness.

    First and foremost I would have had to acknowledge that I was doing something wrong and that thought never occured to me. And secondly I had no past history with repentance and forgiveness to draw from. After I made my way back to the church and went through the repentance process (by the way look up the defintion of repentance in the Bible Dictionary-it is FABULOUS) THEN I could feel, and my motivator became a love for my Father in Heaven.

    So I guess in essence I was speaking of consequences as the original motivator to change, when nothing else can reach the person, with the change of heart to follow, and the motivator then becoming the feelings that come from forgiveness.

  12. Char Lee said

    Allow me to clarify:
    “Do I want them to face consequences? Yes, consequences which will make an impression strong enough to deter them from repeating the offence. I would hope strong enough that their heart would break open and they would be able to find their way out of the darkness. (In my opinion suffering should be to bring about a change of heart, not to satisfy our need for justice.)”

    Meaning that if they DON’T come out of the mists of darkness then I do hope the consequence is such that they won’t risk repeating the mistake. (When you are past feeling I am not sure anything BUT consequences can be a motivation. )**What do you think?**

    But the bottom line is:
    “I would hope strong enough that their heart would break open and they would be able to find their way out of the darkness.” Yes that would be the ideal.

  13. Rameumptom said

    BrianJ asked: why should knowledge matter? If a person repents, then they repent—and if they had no knowledge of their “evil act,” then they have nothing to repent of. Help me understand what you mean. <<<<<<<<<

    Knowledge matters in two ways. First, we cannot be saved in ignorance. Second, we cannot repent, if we do not have the knowledge that our sinful act is evil.

    If a person kills several people, without an understanding of “thou shalt not kill” is it still not an evil act, even if the person is incapable of committing a sin? Or how about other commandments: fornicates with dozens of people without understanding it is a grave sin (as Alma tells us)? Just because the person does not realize it is evil, does the act suddenly become “not evil”?

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