Monday, May 17, 2010

Repentance “Nigh Unto Death”

It has been my experience from teaching in various organizations of the Church, and from my limited understanding of the Atonement while growing up, that many in the Church falsely assume that Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane and at Golgotha replaces any suffering on the part of the repentant sinner beyond what is deemed godly sorrow. These same individuals will often quote from D&C 19:16 and conclude that Christ has already “suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” The purpose of my remarks below is to show that this simply is not the case.

Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah made it a habit of going about “seeking to destroy the church” when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto them” and turned them from the error of their way (Mosiah 26:10-11). Now, these guys weren't your average anti-Mormons with an axe to grind. Astonishingly, Alma admits to having “murdered many of [God’s] children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14), and Mormon characterizes Alma and his companions as “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4).

Alma was so overcome by the angelic vision that he was left in a somewhate vegetative state for three days and three nights (Alma 36:10), during which time he reports that “after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God” (Mosiah 27:28) (emphasis added). He explained to his son Helaman that during this time he was “racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:16).

The pain and suffering that Alma underwent while repenting was so exquisite that it ostensibly took him to the brink of physical death. As is often the case, the depth of one’s repentance must be in proper proportion to the severity of the transgression. I conclude that Alma’s punishment was just, and simply proportional to the seriousness of his sins.

Because many in the Church falsely believe that Christ’s atonement effectively removed all pain and suffering for the penitent individual, they find it hard to grasp why Alma suffered so intensely while honestly embarking in the repentance process. In this they are misled. What they fail to realize, and something that I certainly did not grasp when I was a youth, is that there is no repentance without suffering.

Alma himself understood this concept very well, undoubtedly doctrinally as well as experientially. In teaching his son Corianton, Alma explained that “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be” (Alma 42:16). Having quoted this scripture, President Spencer W. Kimball instructed the priesthood leaders of the Church as follows: “Ponder on that for a moment. Have you realized that? There can be no forgiveness without real and total repentance, and there can be no repentance without punishment. This is as eternal as is the soul. . .” (CR, April 1975, p.115) (emphasis added).

The Lord warned us that “if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:17). In other words, if we repent we will not be required to suffer “even as” the Savior suffered, but there is no indication that we will forego all suffering. Instead, besides having to bear the burden of any natural consequences of our sins and express godly sorrow, each of us will have to experience the full anguish associated with true repentance. President Kimball taught that suffering “is a very important part of repentance. One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins. … If a person hasn’t suffered, he hasn’t repented” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, pp. 88, 99).

In the eternal scheme of things, all individuals are required to suffer as long as they remain in sin. Joseph Smith taught that “[a]ll will suffer until they obey Christ himself” (TPJS, p.357). Once each of us repents and justly suffers for our sin, Christ’s atonement may then lay claim upon us.


Anonymous said...

And how do you propose that we suffer for our sins?

lou said...

"In the eternal scheme of things, all individuals are required to suffer as long as they remain in sin. Joseph Smith taught that “[a]ll will suffer until they obey Christ himself”
I think one could say that with that statement that you suffer only as long as you remain in sin. Perhaps the suffering ends when the person fully has turned away from the sin. Being harrowed or racked with torment comes before the person is out sin but realized the sin (godly sorrow) I agree that there isn't meant to be suffering in repentance. Suffering is in sin. Once we quit sinning we quit suffering. Unfortunately, we sin every day and need to repent daily. God does not look for us to be suffering but to be sorrowful for our sins and turn out hearts to the Savior.
I think the degree of suffering is relative to the person letting go of sin and feeling sorrowful for past mistakes.
2 Cor. 7:10 says, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Sorrow and suffering seem to mean different things to me. Sorrow is a key component to repentance, not suffering.
Just my opinion...

Jared said...

The following was written by Theodore M. Burton:

Click the link at the bottom to read the entire article.

As a General Authority, I have prepared information for the First Presidency to use in considering applications to readmit repentant transgressors into the Church and to restore priesthood and temple blessings. Many times a bishop will write, "I feel he has suffered enough!" But suffering is not repentance. Suffering comes from lack of complete repentance. A stake president will write, "I feel he has been punished enough!" But punishment is not repentance. Punishment follows disobedience and precedes repentance. A husband will write, "My wife has confessed everything!" But confession is not repentance. Confession is an admission of guilt that occurs as repentance begins. A wife will write, "My husband is filled with remorse!" But remorse is not repentance. Remorse and sorrow continue because a person has not yet fully repented. Suffering, punishment, confession, remorse, and sorrow may sometimes accompany repentance, but they are not repentance. What, then, is repentance?

Anonymous said...

D&C 58:42 "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord remember them no more." Elder Anderson taught that the Lord no longer remembers our sins, but the sinner of course will. Speaking for myself only, I will suffer for my sins as long as I can remember them, even though I have repented and felt the power of the atonement in my life. Do you feel this way Jeremy? Do you think there will be a point in the next life when we, like God, will remember them no more?


Jeremy said...

Anon, I believe the suffering we are to undertake is the purging process that we must all undergo before we can be declared clean. I relate this to the refining of fine metals, where the metal is required to be subjected to intense heat and arduous processing. Proportional to the severity of our transgression, our suffering must be configured to remove the sinful nature from us, thereby allowing us to turn back to God. In my opinion, this is a personal process that must be undertaken in prayer and oftentimes fasting.

Jeremy said...

Mary, I'm not sure of the answer to your question. Obviously God doesn't literally "forget" our sins, for he is omniscient. In my opinion, he simply disregards our sins as no effect once we have gone through the necessary steps, thereby rendering our sins obsolete of "forgotten" in his infintite judgment.

Whether we will ever effectively forget our sins I cannot say. However, I feel that remembering our sins during mortality can be a stark reminder of the suffering we had to endure to remove that previous stain. Therefore, remembering our sins may be a blessing - at least it has been in my case.

Thanks for your comments.

Jeremy said...

Jared, thanks for the link. I've never read his talk before, but will now reference it in the future.

I like your site - I'm going to link to it on my Blogroll if you don't mind.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jared said...


Of course, it would be a privilege to be listed on your blog.

Anonymous said...

There's plenty of suffering in people's lives that has nothing to do with sinning or repentance. You could be doing everything right, and still suffer and have bad things happen to you. (Job?)

I think a lot more people in the church falsely think that if you're unhappy, its your own fault because you must be doing something wrong, or its some sort of punishment. When, really, its called mortality. There can be no good without evil.

I also think its dangerous to say "there must be suffering in repentance". How do you measure that? I've heard horror stories of wayward Bishops denying people forgiveness because they didn't seem/act "sorry enough".

I also know PLENTY of people who are living in sin, and they quite happy. Sure, it may not be the "happiness" that comes from the gospel...but living righteously is no guarantee for happiness in this life.

So, its not so cut and dry. Its dangerous to portray it that way, especially to your kids, because when they taste sin and think, hey, this doesn't feel too bad...they think you don't know what you're talking about.

Jeremy said...

Anon, thanks for your comments. I don't think onecan definitively measure the suffering one must undergo to repent. It's purely subjective and personal to each of us.

However, suffering goes hand in hand with the repentance process in order to change our attitude and behavior, to root out the natural man. As I stated above in a separate comment, this entails a personal refining process that is proportional to the severity of our transgression.

I feel it may be more dangerous to teach your children that repentance is easy, and there is no punishment involved. This can have the effect of lulling them into carnal security with the intention of pre-mission or pre-temple repentance.

Nathan R said...

A think the degree of personal suffering depends on the level in which you operate with emotions.

For example, one could be disfellowshipped and come to church suffering with a head hung low, being tormented with the memory of their guilt. While another comes with an attitude of take it on the chin, head held high grateful to the Savior for the atonement and realizing this punishment is temporary. Is one better off for a spirit of suffering? Is one better off for realizing the power of the Atonement and having a spirit of gratitude. I don't know. The end result is hopefully the same. A person who is received back into full fellowship.
Some people are determined to suffer and figure that their is righteousness in suffering. I'm not one of those people. I figure their is righteousness in righteousness. I won't tell you you are wrong for needing to suffer. I think suffering is in sin not repentance. While I agree they seem to go hand in hand, I think a better word than suffering is Godly sorrow. Maybe their is suffering in punishment but that's your choice. It doesn't, in my opinion, make your repentance more valuable than mine. Godly sorrow offers hope, suffering offers suffering.

linda said...

"I feel it may be more dangerous to teach your children that repentance is easy, and there is no punishment involved. This can have the effect of lulling them into carnal security with the intention of pre-mission or pre-temple repentance."

Punishment is sometimes part of repentance. It's like a child who needs a time-out, some kids kick, scream and cry during the duration of the punishment. Some kids sit quietly through it. I have a teenage son who rarely needs a punishment but when he does he doesn't fight us, he accepts responsibility for his actions and accepts the consequence with little or no "weeping and wailing". My teenage daughter, on the other hand, cries fights and argues every second or her punishment. I wonder if this will mirror their personal experience with repentance. One will accept what they did was wrong and turn away from it. One will cry and fight and argue that their sin is only a little bad and doesn't hurt anyone but them. As a mom, I see the child who "sucks it up" (for lack of a better term) gets more out of the punishment than the child who fights and cries. At the end she just feels punished, not sorry or repentant.(generally)
I am not saying that you won't learn from suffering as an adult, but I am jumping off your quote about raising kids. Punishment and suffering don't need to so-exist. Repentance is a personal process that I believe everyone handles differently. I don't teach my kids that they will have no consequence, I teach that repentance brings peace and puts you back on the right path. I see that people get to the path in different ways.

I will say, however, before stepping on the back the path is the part where you have fully forsaken your sin and is where the Savior steps in and forgives. How long or by what means you get to the path is up to you. (individuals)

kh said...

Just a note, when we have repented and have been filled with the Holy Ghost again, God is telling us that every sin we have ever committed up to that point has been forgiven. The Spirit will not dwell in unholy temples. Satan will try to entice us to believe we should dwell on past mistakes. This would only slow us down from progressing foward. We should put those things behind us and set our sights on the bright future God intends for all of us who have been forgiven. Beating ourselves up over forgiven sins is not faith or gratitude.