Guilt and Godly Sorrow
“I’ve lived with that guilt all of my life”
Elder Price is plagued with guilt about a petty mistake from his childhood. Is this God’s intent, to make us eternally miserable for each mistake we make make? Absolutely not! Guilt is a tool which God uses to turn us back to him. Paul tells us,
“Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
Alma, a Book of Mormon prophet, had a son who committed very serious sexual sins. Alma counseled his son directly, and then reassured him of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He said,
“And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (Alma 42:29).
To another son, he told of his own experience with godly sorrow. He recounted,
“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins….
“Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!…
“Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (see Alma 36:5-28).
The world likes to believe in a sort of moral relativism, that “right” can be determined by the individual and that guilt is old religion’s way of holding us down. Guilt, though, is the natural consequence that is meant to drive us back to God. It’s a good thing! It’s our choice whether or not to let that guilt remain with us instead of changing our actions, and if we, like Alma, repent, we can be filled with marvelous joy and peace.
And what should we be keeping in mind as we repent? Elder Dallin H. Oaks tells us,
“From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.”
In his effort to become like Jesus Christ, Elder Price should not be concerned about a childish mistake decades old.