Thursday, April 14, 2016

Godly Sorrow: The Proper Role of Guilt, Remorse, and Regret in the Gospel Message

The Church of Jesus Christ testifies to the world that the Church of Christ experienced a falling away or apostasy from the truth necessitating a later restoration. Part of the Apostasy and Restoration of the truth involved the overall message and tone of the message. 

The Church of Jesus Christ teaches the good news and glad tidings of the gospel of Jesus Christ which are the "conditions of repentance".  Why does the true gospel of Christ emphasize repentance over mercy or even judgement?  Because Christ specifically has instructed us to do just that. 

Jesus Christ instructed Joseph Smith from the earliest days of the Church in the Doctrine and Covenants: 

"Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed." (Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 6:9)

I have an Evangelical friend who disagrees with the LDS Church emphasis  on repentance and obedience.  My friend had known an ex-Mormon who was critical of LDS standards and even the LDS Temple labeling them tools of exclusion which only served to divide people instead of unifying people together.  

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." (New Testament, Matthew, 10:34)

Many ex-LDS choose not to live up to the expectations of God, they become tired of feeling guilty, and instead of repenting, they choose to leave.  Yet, while some leave the Church, many can't leave it alone.  Disgruntled ex-members criticize the Church and the House of God for its standards.  They Narcissistically blame the standards and commandments of God for excluding them instead of acknowledging their own willful refusal to even strive to live them.  Yes, it can be hard to live the standards of the Church, but we know from long experience that in the long run the consequences of not living Gods standards is much harder than any short-term sacrifice required to obey and live by them.

The Light of Christ is given to everyone and teaches us right from wrong.  The Light of Christ is our conscience. When we do right we feel good.  But when we do wrong we naturally feel guilty.  The guilt, remorse, and regret is worse when we know and have been given a testimony of the expectations that God has for us and we willfully choose to disregard or even rebel against them.  Too often, many who feel guilt try to escape and drown out their guilty conscience through loud music and substance abuse instead of seeking help to repent and overcome their natural weaknesses.

My friend believes a pure message of unconditional love, acceptance, grace and mercy of Christ will on its own inspire and empower conversion, good works, righteousness and devotion. Many feel that if we exclusively teach that Christ unconditionally loves and accepts us as we are, that that message of mercy and grace alone will empower righteousness and holiness.  

But what about justice?  What about judgement, correction and reproof? Isn't the true God also a God of perfect justice?  Is the God of the New Testament somehow a different God than the God of the Old Testsment?  The Book of Mormon prophets ask, "can mercy rob justice".  Is there a place for discipline, judgement, correction or reproof in the gospel of Christ. Getting to the point, is there a place for guilt and sorrow in the gospel of Christ? Let's turn to the scriptures and see what they have to say. Paul teaches Timothy:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

According to the New Testament, Paul is very clear that scripture is meant to be used for reproof, correction as well as instruction.  Yes, reproof and correction should be given in a spirit of love but reproof isn't all chocolates and daisies. 

The Book of Mormon discusses this matter as one of its major themes. The Book of Mormon discusses the role of the priesthood administering the gospel of Christ according to the "Holy Order of God" versus false preachers and false religions who practice priestcraft and preach a "popular" doctrine. 

False priests who preach for money have an inherent conflict if interest and tend to want to preach a positive, mercy and grace-only message lest they offend any of their adherants and lose revenue. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, teaches that the true order or of the priesthood teaches mercy when it is appropriate but also teaches repentance when necessary. 

The false priests of the wicked King Noah challenge the ancient American prophet Abinidi, (who they soon will kill), for his warning message of repentance and judgement. The false priests quote Isaiah and claim that the true gospel has no place for Abinidi's warning voice, and negative tone. The wicked priests ask Abinadi to explain how his message firs with the spirit of Isaiah's words:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" (Old Testament, Isaiah 52:7)

Abinadi responded that Christ himself taught such un unpopular doctrine that, quoting from Isaiah, He would be "despised of men" and brought like a "lamb to the slaughter."  

"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth."(Book of Mormon, Mosiah, 14:3-7)

Also, that through the Atonement of Christ we will be brought before God to be judged weather we had accepted the outstretched arms of mercy and repented of our iniquities or chosen to remain in our sins.  Only those who repented would be saved.

"And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?" (Book of Mormon, Mosiah, 16:13). 

The ancient American prophet Jacob comments how he would have liked to have been using the pleasing word of God to bind up and soothe the brokenhearted but was constrained by duty to first use the word of God to enlarge some wounds first because of the people's sins. 

"Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds." (Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:9)

Listen to the example of Nephi dealing with his rebellous brothers Laman amd Lemuel. 

"And it came to pass that I said unto them (Laman and Lemuel) that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.  And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did exhort my brethren, with all diligence, to keep the commandments of the Lord.  And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness." (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 16:2-5)

Notice that after reproving his brothers with sharpness or increased clarity, Nephi ahowed them an increased amount of love and concern. This is exactly whatthe  Lord taught Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants.

"Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;" (Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 121:43)

Another ancient American prophet, Alma,  who was a priest of wicked King Noah and was converted by Abinidi's message, always taught repentance but wasn't always preaching doom and gloom. 

After reproving and chastising the people of the Church in Zarahemla, Alma had a more upbeat message for the Church in the city of Gideon.

"And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye.... were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla.... and my soul doth exceedingly rejoice, because of the exceeding diligence and heed which ye have given unto my word. And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever."
(Book of Mormon, Alma 7:3,26-27)

In another example Mormon tells his son Moroni the difficulty he had trying to persuade his fellow Nephites to repent and be faithful to God.  Mormon uses a combination of sharpness and love but the Nephites began to be past feeling. 

"Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them." (Book of Mormon, Moroni 9:4)

When it comes to certain principles of the gospel, it is sometimes not a matter of right and wrong but two wrongs and a right.   Satan likes to take people to the extremes to the right and to the left while the truth of God is straight down the middle.  Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, calls this the "golden mean". 

"For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round." (Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 3:2)

When it comes to preaching the good word of God we have some Christian denominations who err on the side of too much "hell, fire, and brimstone" on one hand while other evangelical sects teach an exclusive message of so-called "greasy grace" on the other.  The LDS message fits perfectly between these extremes and was encapsulated by President Gordon B. Hinkley's charge to continually "try a little harder to be a little better". The message of repentance through the atonement, grace and power of Jesus Christ perfectly satisfies the demands of both justice and mercy.

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament tells Timothy the reason why the Church needs to peach repentance to make us "useful vessels fit for the Masters use".

"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. ... If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work." (New Testament, 2 Timothy 2:19,21)

So, coming back to the original question, Is there a place for guilt in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Yes, appropriate guilt,  regret, and remorse referred to by Paul as "godly sorrow" leads to repentance. 

"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (New Testament, 2 Corinthians 7:10)

However, the extremes to the right and left of appropriate guilt must be avoided.  To one extreme the guilt or sorrow of the world is, like Cain, only regret that we got caught and got in trouble.  Cain was not sad or sorry about killing his brother Able but only resented God's punishment.  On the second extreme, we need not feel shame or self-loathing.  Guilt is a correct negative emotion that what we have done is wrong.  Shame is the wrong thinking that we are worthless.  Christ has always taught we should hate the sin but love the sinner, and that especially applies to ourselves. 

When it comes to guilt, remorse, and regret, this does not mean blame, shaming, ostracizing, backbiting, and gossip.  We all are sinners, and all have a very many things in our lives which we deeply regret and even feel embarrassed about.  We don't need to heap blame on our fellow brothers and sisters. Instead, what we do in the Church of Jesus Christ is simply teach, uphold and defend the standards of the Church.  We teach each other the ideal of how we are to act, even if we may be struggling to live some of the standards ourselves.  

As we learn what God expects of us, our conscience and the Holy Ghost will work upon our hearts to repent.  We should trust that as we simply teach the standards, the Light of Christ itself and the Holy Ghost Himself will do the work needed upon our hearts without any extra assistance on our part.  Our role should be not to heap more guilt upon each other; to not gossip or spread news of others sins to others even if true.  Instead, we are to encourage each other to confess our sins to the Bishop and strengthen and encourage each other in keeping God's standard. 

Elder Bruce D. Porter reminds us that "guilt like pain is good and tells us when something is wrong."  Imagine if wehad appendicitis but didn't experience any pain.  We wouldn't know there was something wrong until it was too late.  Adam experienced guilt in the garden of Eden hiding himself after eating from the tree of knowledge. 

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