This talk by President (Elder) Dallin H. Oaks discusses the difference between sins and mistakes. Elder Oaks doesn’t define transgression vs. sin in this talk but focuses only on sin vs. error. Generally speaking, my definitions aided by Elder Oaks are: 1. a mistake is something you do thinking it is right but actually is wrong. 2. A transgression is doing something you know is wrong but you don’t fully understand is wrong. 3. A sin is doing something wrong that you both know and understand is wrong.
Elder Oak’s conclusion is that God and God’s servants (Bishops) determine what is a sin, while as members of Christ’s kingdom, we are to give each other the benefit of the doubt and generally assume others bad acts were mistakes and not sin. We should assume others misdeeds were unintentional and due to their lack of understanding. This is how Alma the Younger delt with his wayward son Corianton. In reality, if we had a perfect knowledge of God, a perfect knowledge of His love, and the rewards for righteousness and penalties for error, most of us would never ever sin.
Rabbi Haim Richman of the Temple Institute says that there is no actual sin offering in the temple service. According to the Law of Moses, there was to be no forgiveness for intentional sin. Instead, offerings were given to ask forgiveness for unintentional mistakes and trespasses only. When a person is repentant, humble and contrite, they will recognize that their mistakes were unintentional, a product of ignorance, and a tragic lack of judgement. Seeking forgiveness of sin without a humble and contrite heart would be the same as paying for an indulgence.
Elder Oaks taught that we should always treat each other with love and kindness. Positive treatment and reinforcement always tends to favor better long-term behavior and encourages less mistakes. Sin does require chastisement and correction, but that can be left to God through our inevitable pains of conscience and Bishops. We don’t need to heap on our own helping of judgement. Leave judgement to God and God’s servants.
Interesting that Elder Oaks would teach that while we should avoid sin, we should not avoid mistakes at all costs. This fearful thinking often leads to contention and inaction. I remember as a missionary, disagreeing on what we should do next and defiantly sitting in the car for a few minutes until my heart was softened and I realized contention and inaction was worse than whever my companion was wanting to do.
Ofttimes disagreements are not about what is right or wrong but about good, better and best. When there is a disagreement between missionary companions, each should be free to share their feelings and reasons. If minds do not change, missionary companionships have a senior and a junior. The senior should sincerely consider the feelings and reasons of the junior companion but the junior companion should defer to the senior’s decision. But, ultimately, if the junior is unrelenting, and its not a good or bad issue, or about a mission rule, or a safety issue, the senior may defer to the junior to avoid contention and inaction. If its a safety issue, Zone Leaders should be contacted. Apart from these severe exceptions, the best way sometimes to win a argument is to not argue and just do it their way with full intent (no passive aggression) and fail or succeed. This principle also applies to parents and children.
At the end of the day, doing nothing may be worse than going in the wrong direction. If our hearts and intentions are pure, even if we make a mistake, we will quickly recognize and correct it. Elder Holland recently taught about how initially taking the wrong road can lead to a greater assurance that you are on the right one after a course correction. In this way, mistakes can lead to learning and growth.
My favorite quote from Elder oaks’s talk is: