Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Four Stories about Repentance plus My Own Thoughts

Enos was a guy who had grown up in a religious family but he hadn’t thought much about it.  He attributes his father to what he does know.  When he finally started to feel that “hunger” to know, he took the opportunity to pray in private while out hunting.  He says he prayed all day.  And when night came he was still praying. He doesn’t specify what exactly he was praying for or about but he heard a voice that gave him a sense of Divine forgiveness and his “guilt was swept away.”  He asked the Divine a question, “How is it done?”  This is truly the essence of repentance stories.  How is it done?  What does it feel like?  When is it over?

God’s answer to Enos was: “And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.”

This answer is very similar to the kinds of things Christ said when he healed a person.  Repentance is a process that makes a broken, damaged, corrupted person whole.

Lamoni was what we would call an indigenous man who was a minor king since his father was still alive and reigning in a different part of the land.  He believed in “the Great Spirit” which is a common belief in native peoples of America.  He was taught about Christ and he believed what he heard completely.  However, his culture valued prowess in war and he had recently killed some servants who had lost his sheep to plundering villagers.  So his past actions conflicted with the new value system and he was worried about the repercussions.  In this story Lamoni falls to the ground and remains unconscious for a period of 48 hours during which he experiences the Divine and is taught the truth.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could all have a personal experience with the Divine?  The only reason I can think of why Lamoni got this when most people don’t get it is that he was a king and had the ability to influence many people by virtue of the leadership position he held. The kind of Divine manifestation Lamoni had is not the major takeaway.  What is instructive is that his unmitigated faith led to a complete change in his character.  He went from a leader who routinely punished small offenses by death to a leader who had “no desire to do evil” and was willing to bury all his weapons of war in the ground and give up his life before committing another murder.  That commitment was tested and he and his people did experience a war where they refused to fight.  Who do you know that has made a commitment to shun evil and been true to that commitment when their life was in jeopardy?

The third story is about a man named Alma.  He grew up in a religious climate and chose to fight it.  “He was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” The fire of rebellion gained strength especially when it got social approval from other people. His father was understandably concerned and began to pray for him. In a Divine manifestation much like that which Saul/Paul had in the New Testament, an angel stops Alma in his tracks.  He describes his repentance process, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit…Nevertheless, 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.
“My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.”  The great passion with which he attacked the religion is redirected to a passionate testimony of how God frees the soul from the bondage of sin and leads it into the marvelous light of truth.

In the fourth story, Ammon talks about the great anger that motivated his actions before he went through the repentance process.  He was a friend of Alma in the third story and witnessed Lamoni’s change of heart in the second story.  He explains how God’s justice should have resulted in eternal despair for himself and his friends. Instead Ammon took the mercy offered him to repent and change his ways. His anger was dissipated. His life took on new meaning. In addition, the same process that he took personally, he also witnessed in the people of Lamoni who he says “were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love. For behold, they had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.” (Alma 26:15, 32)

The repentance process is one of change from dark to light, a shift from bondage to freedom, a shift from despair to purpose.  In the traditional sense, it implies a wrong action on the part of the repentant person.  In my opinion, repentance is a generic process that neutralizes the wrong actions of anyone whether I did them or someone did them to me. If I feel any bitterness or bondage, and I’m willing to face it and work through it, the atonement of Jesus Christ can and does dissipate my anger and hurt.  Allen Bergin described the process of repentance as a person who came before the Lord in mighty prayer and confessed fully and frankly exactly what they had done, step-by-step, intention by intention, they began to realize more deeply how they had betrayed the Lord who loves them; how they had violated their own ideals as followers of the Savior; and how they had betrayed, in many cases, sacred covenants. This self-examination is like psychotherapy in that the process of spiritual reform requires overcoming defenses and accepting painful self-awareness. It is an exercise in honesty, guided by the spirit of truth. This is not an easy thing to achieve.  I have noticed in my personal introspection that my desire for evil often is tied to an injury I received. In my repentance, I have experienced the bondage of sin break under the light of truth and the desire for evil shift to a desire for goodness.  I want to emphasize that walking through the gall of bitterness is often a part of the repentance process. On the other side of this proximity to “death” is the matchless bounty of God’s love. The fear of “death” is real but if you understand that what is dying is the corrupted part of yourself, then you can walk with confidence the path that burns it out of you. I testify that the result of repentance is wholeness. If you run away from repentance you may end up in an addiction which is a flawed attempt to assuage guilt and pain without resolving it.  There are a hundred ways to run but only one way to be free.  Ultimately a personal experience with the Divine is essential.  I believe faith in Jesus Christ and participation in the nuanced repentance process is the only way to experience lasting peace in this life.

Watch a video about the repentance process here

Additional Scriptures on Repentance

If you liked this post you might also like What It Takes to Turn Around

Allen Bergin, Psychology and Repentance. BYU Speeches. 1994.
Image used with permission

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