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Fullness of Times: Talk

Repentance and Forgiveness
President Gregory Scot Collins
Elders Quorum President
Saturday, 23 June 2018
Today I will speak to you about testing, obedience, sin, repentance, forgiveness, and the Golden Rule.
Have you ever considered why the things you interact with every day actually work? Before any object or material can be used for any serious purpose, it must be put through stress testing or fatigue testing. Some of the primary goals of these tests are to determine safe operating limits, durability over time, breaking points, and where failure is most likely to occur. Further testing is done as parts are combined into new components, until finally, completed products are tested to assure safe and effective use by consumers.
For example, at a depth of 800 feet below the surface of the ocean, submarines are subject to over 370 pounds per square inch pressure while maintaining an internal atmospheric pressure of about 15 PSI. If the individual parts and overall manufacture of that submarine were not thoroughly tested, an implosion would occur, destroying both vessel and crew. The same holds true for race cars, rockets and everything else.
Consider objects you daily interact with: tools, shoes, clothing, phones, computers, furniture, appliances, buildings, roads, bridges, vehicles, airplanes, satellites, etc. Have you ever stopped to consider what it took to ensure that you can rely on these things, or do you simply use them? The truth is, unless we are tasked to manufacture something, we just don't think about it; we simply trust that they will perform as advertised and as expected under normal, or even extreme, operating conditions without breaking.
We feel safe in knowing that our car will stay on a wet road, that trains will stay on the tracks, that planes will stay in the air, that space rockets will not blow apart, that tools will not break, that frying pans will not melt, and so on. We expect everything we interact with to just work, and work well.
We don't give a thought to when things work right, but we all know how frustrating it can be when something does not. The same is true for human interactions. When things are going right, we don't think much about them, but we all know how frustrating it is when expectations are not met: the child that will not obey the parents, the employee that avoids work, the friend that will not keep a confidence, and so on. Perhaps in these moments we get a small glimpse as to how God feels about us when we use our agency to disobey His commandments.
Maybe, as we interact with others, we can remember how difficult it is for us to measure up to the standards of God who commands, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
Maybe one reason we expect everyone and everything to consistently and perpetually work as expected is because the created universe already does that. We read in Abraham 4:9-25 about the Creation. God created the earth and water, the grass, herbs, and trees, the stars, moon, and sun, the fish and birds, the land animals and insects, and with each of these periods of creation we read, "the Gods saw that they were obeyed" or that "the Gods saw they would obey." Verse 31 states, "We will ... organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient" (emphasis added).
However, most interesting to me is verse 18, which reads, "And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered [all the creations mentioned] until they obeyed" (emphasis added). Obedience and watching over imply intelligence and agency, or choice, as further evidenced by the wind and the waves obeying the Savior (see Mark 4:37-41). That God's creations had to be watched over until they obeyed also implies periods of disobedience in the process of learning to be very obedient.
Test of Obedience
The universe was organized to accomplish God's purpose "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39) and was all watched over until strict obedience was achieved. The sun, moon, and earth, the stars and planets, the plants and animals are all "very obedient" to God. Now it is man's turn to be watched over until we obey. We left the presence of God and reside on this earth where we are being tested and proven "to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command" (Abraham 3:25). How are you doing?
I'm constantly amazed at how many Christians (including Mormons) are convinced that the act of accepting Christ, or generally living God's commandments, assures them an easy, carefree, comfortable, life of smooth-sailing with no adversity, no troubles, and no problems. Quite the opposite! We must expect more challenging lives and more opposition as devout Christians. Even Jesus Christ, Himself, the only completely righteous individual ever to live on the earth, was not protected from evil, pain, sorrows, and troubles, but was "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). And, after all, "the Son of Man hath descended below [] all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:8).
Some of the pain and struggles we experience in life come from the fact that God is molding us to be useful tools in His hands. Before we can be a useful tool to the Master, we must be proven—we must be stress tested and fatigue tested. We must come to know our limits, which is why we sometimes feel we are being pushed to the breaking point. He revises us and improves us, little-by-little, until we can withstand sufficient heat and pressure, and not break. God wants to be able to rely on us, that unlike Jonah, when He commands us to go to our own Nineveh, we will go; and that like David, when our own Goliath stands intimidatingly before us, with his thick armor and giant spear, we will boldly stand undaunted with our tiny stone and sling, knowing that we are on God's side.
Before the world was, an angel in authority in the presence of God was about to become a key player in the Plan of Salvation, but not in the way he envisioned. When the Plan was introduced in that Grand Council in heaven, Lucifer rebelled against agency, against the Father, against Christ, and against us. He was cast down to earth and became known as Satan. In his effort to destroy agency, he became the very opposition needed to make agency a reality for us, for we cannot have agency without choice, and choice comes by opposition. His temptations lead to additional challenges and struggles experienced in life, and are designed to turn us away from Christ, distract us, lead us off target, halt our progression, and even cause us to go backward.
Imagine a large circle representing a playing field. Scattered all over within that circle are various dots representing you and me and the rest of mankind. In the very center of that circle is a large dot representing Jesus Christ—the goal. It doesn't matter where you are on the playing field, to obtain the goal and win all we have to do is face Christ and move forward. Some will move faster than others. Some don't yet know the rules of the Plan of Salvation and are wandering confused on the playing field.
Satan and his hosts are also on the playing field. They are the opposing team. Their objective is to prevent us from reaching the goal. They try to get us to do wrong (to sin) and will do anything they legally can to veer us off target, including setting up counterfeit targets. They frequently step in-between us and Christ and distract us with alluring things. Things beautiful. Things delicious. Things pleasurable. Things easy. If they can, they will get us to turn completely around and head in the wrong direction. If not, they'll try to get us to stop and give up or make us forget the point of the game.
Because we have the commandments, we know certain choices we make are wrong. At other times it is more difficult to determine whether something is right or wrong. To help, Moroni gave us a test. He taught that "it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night." His key is this: "every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ ... is of God" (Moroni 7:15-16).
If, after that test, you still feel you are in a gray area and are having trouble determining whether something is right or wrong (and sometimes that happens), let me introduce another set of tests I made up. You can apply these tests to clear up confusion in almost every situation you encounter. I call them the if-everyone-everywhere-always test and the if-no one-anywhere-ever test. Consider some examples.
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always cleaned up after themselves, or if no one nowhere ever cleaned up after themselves?
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always held grudges, or if no one nowhere ever held grudges?
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always put things back where they found them, or if no one nowhere ever put things back where they found them?
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always spoke harshly with others, or if no one nowhere ever spoke harshly with others?
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always knew and cared for their neighbors, or if no one nowhere ever knew and cared for their neighbors?
Would the world a better place if everyone everywhere always paid their share of taxes, or if no one nowhere ever paid their share of taxes?
You get the idea. What all these tests ultimately boil down to is learning to live the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." (Luke 10:27). Interestingly, there are two foundational gospel principles we are asked to live that help us to obey the two great commandments. Do you know what they are? Repentance and forgiveness. Repentance demonstrates our love of God while forgiveness demonstrates our love of our neighbor.
Remember the large circle representing the playing field of life? Remember that the objective of Satan's team is to get us to sin so that we veer off target and never reach our goal of being with Christ. I shouldn't have to tell you that his team is very effective at what they do. Paul rightly declared, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). John further drives this home by warning, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8). What you might not have considered is that sin ultimately—eternally—only hurts you. I'm not saying that others will never experience pain and suffering in mortality from our actions, just that everyone is accountable to God only for their own sin and not for another's (see Article of Faith 2).
For example, if I were to steal from you, I would commit sin. While you might suffer mortally from what I stole, it is my eternity, not yours, that is placed in jeopardy. However, should you choose to retaliate, you then place your own eternity in jeopardy. If someone were to murder a member of my family, I, and a number of others, would surely experience mortal suffering as a result. However, that act in no way affects our eternity unless we choose to seek revenge. Sin ultimately—eternally—hurts only you. And this is why God commands "all men everywhere to repent" (D&C 18:9).
God loves us and considers our soul of great worth (see D&C 18:10). He does not want to lose us. But, because He guarantees our agency, He will not force us back to heaven. He will, however, persuade us. This is why He sent angels to call righteous men as prophets, and then sent those prophets to declare unto His children repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, whose atoning sacrifice made repentance possible. "For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer ... suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!" (D&C 18:11-13, see also 1 Peter 3:18).
Nephi, warned the people of his day, in that great city, Zarahemla, "O repent ye, repent ye! ... Turn ye, turn ye unto the Lord your God" (Helaman 7:17). When we sin, we turn away from Christ to face Satan. When we repent, we turn away from Satan to face Christ. It doesn't matter where on the playing field of life we might have wandered to. Begin where we are. Once we turn ourselves to squarely face Christ, we are on target. Now start moving forward, at any pace; just don't stand still.
Repentance is not easy. However, the longer we wait, the more difficult it seems to become. An analysis was done on how long it took software developers to fix a bug on the day they created it vs fixing it a week later. It was found that a same-day fix averaged about an hour, but the same fix a week later took about 24 hours (Jeff Sutherland, Scrum: The art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, 2014). Repent immediately where possible. Procrastination makes things harder. Applicable here is the maxim, "A stitch in time saves nine."
Repentance puts us back in the good graces of God as we stop being disobedient, and resume being obedient. "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15), pleads the Savior. Repentance demonstrates our love of God.
Going through the process of repentance should give us compassion for others going through that process. We should not only encourage repentance in others but enable it. For repentance to be complete, the sin must be forgiven. Forgiveness is made possible by the atonement of Jesus Christ, who made repentance the gate through which we must pass to obtain forgiveness. Throughout our lives, we will be on both sides of the fence: the offender and the offended—the repentant and the forgiver.
Jesus commanded, "forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (D&C 64:9-10). This is strong and condemning language. God takes it seriously. Matthew warned in clear and unmistakable language: "if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). James similarly cautioned: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy" (James 2:13).
Why so serious? Because by refusing to forgive, we are in essence declaring: "Your repentance doesn't count! I refuse you the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is good for me, but you can't have it." Thus, by denying forgiveness, we seek (even if we are not conscious of it) to deny the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ to another. When we repent, we are desperately seeking forgiveness. What would the world be like if no one anywhere ever forgave anyone?
The words of the apostle Luke teach us what we know as the Golden Rule. He expressed it this way: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise" (Luke 6:31). This rule falls under the Law of Christ. The alternative to this, from the Law of Moses, is not so pleasant. It states, "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deuteronomy 19:21). Which law would you prefer to live under? If everyone everywhere always followed one of these laws, which would make the world a better place?
As I've studied the scriptures, I've come to learn that God deals with man via the Golden Rule. So essentially, we can think of it as: Do unto others as you would have God do unto you. Let's review a few examples in the scriptures:
"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).
"For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2).
"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you ... For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again" (Luke 6:37-38).
From these passages, we can see how critical it is to live the Golden Rule in our lives. We can see that the Golden Rule is a two-edged sword. God will treat and judge us as harshly or as leniently as we judge and treat others. After all, He warned us that "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).
Allow me to share with you a few techniques I have learned over the years that aid in forgiving others.
First, assume the best in others. If someone offends you, assume they didn't mean to. Let them know you were hurt and ask if they meant to do it. More often than not, they didn't even know they offended you.
Next, forgive in advance. When my wife and I remodel, or drive in downtown traffic with one-way streets, our patience is short. We know we don't intend to be rude, so we agree to forgive each other in advance of the event.
Lastly, come up with a positive excuse for the behavior of others. I used to get really annoyed by people taking corners in their car at a snail's pace, until one day I had to drive to a ward activity with a large open-top bowl of soup. I had to take the corners extra slow to not spill any. After that, when someone is slow around corners I tell myself, "they probably have a large bowl of soup in their car."
Forgiveness not only frees our soul, but the souls of those we forgive. The Savior pleads, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Forgiveness demonstrates our love of our neighbor.
Remember: It is our turn to be watched over until we are very obedient to God. The process of being stress tested and fatigue tested is necessary, but not pleasant. Satan’s team will try to keep us from reaching our goal, but start where you are, turn to Christ, and move forward. If you sin, repent. If unsure whether something is good or bad, apply the if-everyone-everywhere-always test and the if-no one-anywhere-ever test. Forgive everyone. Deny no one the same blessing of forgiveness you desire. Live the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have God do unto you.
God lives. His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior. We have a prophet declaring repentance unto us today. May we each stay on target and reach our goal, is my prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
©2018 Gregory Scot Collins. All rights reserved.
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