I confess, this is a thinking-out-loud exercise for me. As I have been recording the Book of Mormon (firstname.lastname@example.org), I have discovered that reading the whole thing aloud changes what you see and focus on. As I arrived at the end of Mosiah (chapter 27 to be exact) I realized that there are aspects of the repentance process shown by Alma and the sons of Mosiah I had never noticed before. They displayed the qualities of sorrow in true repentance that I think can be instructive for me.
The broken heart
All throughout the scriptures, the two universal qualities listed by all the prophets needed for us to repent and change our lives, is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Most of the time people define a broken heart as being extreme disappointment, especially in love. Somehow this definition of having a broken heart falls short of what it must really be to be brokenhearted. Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy gave a Conference talk entitled, “A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit.” Here is his definition of being brokenhearted.
The Savior’s perfect submission to the Eternal Father is the very essence of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Christ’s example teaches us that a broken heart is an eternal attribute of godliness. When our hearts are broken, we are completely open to the Spirit of God and recognize our dependence on Him for all that we have and all that we are. The sacrifice so entailed is a sacrifice of pride in all its forms. Like malleable clay in the hands of a skilled potter, the brokenhearted can be molded and shaped in the hands of the Master.
This is an eye-opening definition for me. Not only do I NOT need to be hurting, an attribute I have normally thought of as part of having a broken heart, but I don’t have to sin to be brokenhearted. Christ was broken hearted. Evidently, the extreme opposite of being hardhearted is being brokenhearted. We are usually accused by God of being hardhearted, intent on doing our own will and not His.
The contrite spirit
I love looking up where our words in English come from. Looking up the origin is the word “contrite” was very informative to me.
In other words, we are not contrite until all vestiges or traces of pride and self will have been crushed and ground out of us. But the absence of willfulness is not all that is required. To have a contrite spirit means that once our willfulness ceases to exist, we are willing to do whatever it takes to reconcile ourselves with God. Contrition is the spirit of reconciliation. Here is Bro. Porter’s definition of being contrite.
When we sin and desire forgiveness, a broken heart and a contrite spirit mean to experience “godly sorrow[that] worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This comes when our desire to be cleansed from sin is so consuming that our hearts ache with sorrow and we yearn to feel at peace with our Father in Heaven. Those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit are willing to do anything and everything that God asks of them, without resistance or resentment. We cease doing things our way and learn to do them God’s way instead. In such a condition of submissiveness, the Atonement can take effect and true repentance can occur. The penitent will then experience the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, which will fill them with peace of conscience and the joy of reconciliation with God.
So here are the two parts of the sorrow of the repentant soul:
- Those who have a broken heart “ache with sorrow and … yearn to feel at peace with our Father in Heaven.”
- Those who have a contrite spirit are “willing to do anything and everything that God asks of them, without resistance or resentment.”
Alma and the sons of Mosiah
Now that we have the basic definition for Godly sorrow for sin, we can look at the behavior of Alma and the sons of Mosiah and see what evidence there is that they truly repented for their wicked ways. The full set of verses is Mosiah 27:32 – 37.
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.
33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.
34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.
37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.
I have a child, who, when she was younger, had a real problem with the notion of change. She would do all kinds of hurtful things to others, then when she got in trouble for what she had done would change her ways. This change would last roughly a week before she would demand some privilege that required a significant degree of trust. We would tell her she had not earned our trust yet, and she would get angry with us. After all, she had made the changes we required of her. She had lasted a whole week. Why were we not willing to trust her. She would accuse us of shoving her back into her old behavior because we weren’t willing to giver her the trust she felt she deserved by her week of change.
Our daughter was defensive about her changes. She resented having her old sins brought up to her, and demanded immediate forgiveness and reconciliation in as little as a week’s time for a habit that was persistent over the course of years.
Now look at Alma and the sons of Mosiah. They had been from all appearances, seeking to destroy the church of God for years. They were all wicked and idolatrous men, speaking flattering words, and going about deliberately seeking to cause others to sin in like manner. So how did they demonstrate their sorrow for the sins they had committed, and for the sins they had caused others to commit?
Verse 32 says they traveled “round about and through all the land publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen” that caused their conversion. Those who were familiar with their past behavior and reputation, especially those who were unbelievers persecuted them, and they were “smitten by many of them.” They were willing to be abused physically by those who they had caused to sin, and by those who did not believe as they did. They did not fight back or retaliate. They did not whine or complain that their lot in life was hard. They acknowledged that they would have to do whatever was required to make up for their past sins. In order to repair the damage they had caused to the Church, they were willing to suffer anything.
They understood it would take time to repair the damage they took so much time to create. How many times do you think they had to publish their sins to others in order to give their conversion story so they could testify of the goodness of God and of the joy they now felt? They fully embraced the fact they had sinned against God and his people. They freely admitted their sins to the people and did not make any excuses for themselves. Was this easy for them? No, it was not. They went through “much travail to keep the commandments of God.”
Look at the focus of verses 35 – 37. Despite the public shame they had to go through, the public acknowledgment of their damage to the lives of others, they sought to repair that damage by preaching and teaching, and confirming the faith of anyone who was willing to listen. In this way, these reprobates were able to bring many to the knowledge of the truth and of the knowledge of their Redeemer. “And how blessed are they! for they did publish peace.”
I am deeply impressed with the complete humility and lack of pride with which these five men tackled their personal repentance. Sometimes those who are repenting of something feel others are supposed to forgive and forget. They resent the notion that someone else remembers the sins they committed. They want the slate wiped clean. What they don’t understand is that the only person who can wipe the slate clean is the Savior.
Those around us will usually remember our sins, especially when our sins make their lives harder. They are supposed to forgive, but whether or not they do is not our concern. Our personal concern is that we maintain, for the rest of our lives, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Only in this way will those sins stay forgiven by the Savior.