September 20, 2007

Godly Sorrow Worketh Repentence

Jedediah M. Grant December 17, 1854 Jedediah M. Grant discoursed on the basic principles of the gospel, and as I thought about his relatively straight-forward remarks on repentance many scattered thoughts crossed my mind. Repentance is an extremely substantive subject! It was too difficult for me to quickly create true cohesiveness in this post, so instead I thought I might as well toss some thoughts together like vegetables in some sort of repentance salad. So here it goes: Elder Grant:

Not long ago, our President was saying that he would like it, if the Elders would preach the Gospel. Considering myself an Elder, and years ago having had some experience in preaching the first principles of the Gospel to the world, I thought this morning I would endeavor, by the aid of your prayers, and by the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, to preach what I consider the Gospel.
Regarding repentance, he used Paul as his text:
For godly sorry worketh repentence to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorry of the world worketh death (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
Elder Grant:
The sorrow of the world is of this nature; for instance, we find men who curse and swear, lie and steal, get drunk, etc., when they are reproved, or even when they reflect in their reflective moments, they are sorry for their conduct, but does that prove they repent? Certainly not, a man may be sorry for sin and not repent thereof. You may see the drunkard at his home intoxicated, abusing his wife and children, but when he is sober he is sorry for the act, and perhaps the next day is found drunk again, he still continues to pour down the intoxicating firewater, and is sorry again, does he repent? No; but he is sorry with the sorrow of the world, which worketh death, which is to sin, and be sorry for it, and go and sin again; but godly sorrow worketh repentance that needeth not to be repented of. What kind of sorrow do we understand Peter to mean when he said to the Jews, 'Repent.' We understand him to mean, they were to forsake their sins; to cease to do evil; let him that stole, steal no more; let him that got drunk, cease the sinful practice; let him who has been in the habit of doing wrong in any way, cease to do wrong, and learn to do right (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses 2:225).
Repentance is such a basic principle- one of the first four of the gospel. You’ve probably seen the check-list methods, “First, feel bad. Second, make restitution,” etc. If repentance is nothing more than following a little checklist, it ought to be easy. Just do what you feel, then repent later. Joseph Smith discredited that notion:
Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God (TPJS, 148).
True repentance isn’t something we can easily toss behind our backs. It requires an actual change of heart, a continuing change of life. First I’ll talk about what repentance is, then distinguish between worldly and godly sorrow in the process. President Joseph F. Smith said:
True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light (Gospel Doctrine, p. 100.)
This overall change encompasses the original meaning of the word “repent” as found in the Old and New Testaments. [1] The word often translated in the Old Testament is “shube,” which means to turn back, or to return. Consider that meaning in these verses from Ezekiel:
Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from [shube] it; if he do not turn from [shube] his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. … Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from [shube] his way and live (Ezek. 33:8–11).
Of this scripture, Elder Theodore M. Burton said:
I know of no kinder, sweeter passage in the Old Testament than those beautiful lines. In reading them, can you think of a kind, wise, gentle, loving Father in Heaven pleading with you to shube, or turn back to him—to leave unhappiness, sorrow, regret, and despair behind and turn back to your Father’s family, where you can find happiness, joy, and acceptance among his other children? That is the message of the Old Testament. Prophet after prophet writes of shube—that turning back to the Lord, where we can be received with joy and rejoicing (ibid.).
A similar concept is found in the New Testament word “metanoia,” which indicates a turning back, a change of mind, (See Strongs Concordance). Elder Burton explained when the Bible was translated into Latin, “matanoia” was translated as “poenitere,” of which Elder Burton lamented:
The Latin root poen in that word is the same root found in our English words punish, penance, penitent, and repentance. The beautiful meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words was thus changed in Latin to a meaning that involved hurting, punishing, whipping, cutting, mutilating, disfiguring, starving, or even torturing! It is no small wonder, then, that people have come to fear and dread the word repentance, which they understand to mean repeated or unending punishment. The meaning of repentance is not that people be punished, but rather that they change their lives so that God can help them escape eternal punishment and enter into his rest with joy and rejoicing. If we have this understanding, our anxiety and fears will be relieved (ibid.)
I submit this view of repentance is essential for us to understand in order to have goldly, rather than worldly sorrow. I believe fully owning up to the sin is imperative in the process. “If only my Bishop wasn’t so strict,” or “If only my parents were more strict,” and other such comments are not fruits of Godly sorrow. Godly sorrow takes responsibility, worldly sorrow seeks to spread the blame. Sometimes too much blame can be placed upon ourselves, however. Taking responsibility for our actions doesn’t mean we need to abase ourselves in destructive self-condemnation. President Howard W. Hunter explained:
It has always struck me as being sad that those among us who would not think of reprimanding our neighbor, much less a total stranger, for mistakes that have been made or weaknesses that might be evident, will nevertheless be cruel and unforgiving to themselves. When the scriptures say to judge righteously, that means with fairness and compassion and charity. That’s how we must judge ourselves. We need to be patient and forgiving of ourselves, just as we must be patient and forgiving of others (Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 34).
I believe members of the Church too often withhold self-forgiveness. Beating ourselves up can lead us to be preoccupied with our shortcomings, which, according to President Boyd K. Packer, can lead us to commit the sin again and again, in a cycle of shame:
Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior ( Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17).
Truly, we are to let our sins “trouble us.” How so? Alma told his wayward son, Corianton “…only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance,” (Alma 42:29). This "troubling" should lead to repentance rather than self-condemnation and discouragement. Because true repentance involves turning back to God; our sins should trouble us to seek His mercy; then we obtain relief from the trouble; the burden is lifted from our shoulders; we feel clean again. We don’t need to be “harrowed up” by our sins anymore. Even after repenting, however, we can’t always truly forget. Elder D. Chad Richardson, a former Area Seventy over the North America Southwest area, said repentance requires a “special kind" of forgetting:
“We don’t forget the sin and its effects; rather, the memory ceases to be part of how we see ourselves. For example, when Alma had been forgiven of his sins, he said, “I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19). The fact that he could describe his repentance to his son Helaman showed that a memory was still there. But through Christ’s Atonement and forgiveness, that memory lost its edge of guilt and self-recrimination.
He differentiated godly and worldly sorrow thusly:
A main difference between these two forms of sorrow is their source. Worldly sorrow is promoted by Satan. It is the sorrow of being caught, of not being able to continue sinning, or of turning against oneself with self-loathing or disdain. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is sorrow given as a gift from God to those who are willing to receive it. Godly sorrow leads us to a full recognition of the magnitude of our sins but with the knowledge that we can become free of them. It leads us to fully recognize the wrongs we have committed without giving in to the temptation to see ourselves as worthless or beyond God’s love. There is no room in godly sorrow for self-contempt. Those who refuse to forgive themselves thus bear a double burden of sin, for not only do they carry the sin itself, but they also add to it the sin of self-condemnation and refusing to forgive. Indeed, refusal to forgive is cited in the scriptures as “the greater sin” (D&C 64:9) (see "Forgiving Oneself," By Elder D. Chad Richardson).
Elder Henry B. Eyring described the process of repentance, and the true meaning of turning to God for forgiveness rather than punishment, in one of my favorite conference addresses I’ve ever heard:

Some parents are listening with this question:

"But how can I soften the heart of my child now grown older and convinced he or she doesn’t need God? How can I soften a heart enough to allow God to write His will upon it?"

Sometimes tragedy will soften a heart. But for some, even tragedy is not enough. But there is one need even the hardened and proud person cannot believe they can meet for themselves. They cannot lift the weight of sin from their own shoulders. And even the most hardened may at times feel the prick of conscience and thus the need for forgiveness from God. A loving father, Alma, taught that need to his son Corianton this way:

"And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also" (Alma 42:15).

And then, after bearing testimony of the Savior and His Atonement, the father made this plea for a softened heart:

"O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility" (Alma 42:30; Henry B. Eyring, "Write Upon My Heart," Ensign, November, 2000).

Godly sorrow leads us to look to Christ in humility, allowing Him to help us forsake the evil, allowing Christ to change our nature:
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them (D&C 58:42–43).
Finally, President Packer reminds us to always have hope:
Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the Atonement of Christ...Do not give up if at first you fail. … Do not give up. That brilliant morning will come (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 20).
The mighty change of heart can take a lifetime, (see Alma 5) but if we allow the justice and mercy of God have full sway in our hearts we will be forgiven freely. Footnotes: [1] The Hebrew and Greek words are described in the Ensign article "Meaning of Repentance," by Elder Theodore M. Burton Of the First Quorum of Seventy.


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