Conditional mercy

It’s been a while since I wrote commentary on something LDS, so I thought I would write about something in the Doctrine and Covenants that I found to be very troubling:

And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.
– D&C 82:7

What troubles me about this is that it would make God’s forgiveness of our sins conditional on our not committing them any more. I don’t believe that’s how forgiveness is supposed to work. I can be angry with a man for committing some wrong against me, but forgive him. If I forgive him and then he does it again, I can’t claim against him the previous times he did it. That would mean I suddenly un-forgive him, which would mean I never really forgave him in the first place.

It’s risky to forgive someone when they can (and usually do) repeat the harm. But perfection as a condition of forgiveness is not a demand that any man can rightfully make. Is it a demand God can make? He could, but I don’t think He does. I think He takes the risk and forgives us unconditionally any time we repent. If we fall again, I don’t believe He un-forgives us.

I think this is clear in Scripture, too. God tells us “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Or “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

Apparently, former LDS president Spencer W. Kimball wrote a book called The Miracle of Forgiveness along the lines of D&C 82:7, in which he said we must be perfect, totally free from all sin or desire to sin, in order to be saved. I haven’t read the book, but I never put much stock in that as an official LDS belief anyway, because it’s not sustained as scripture, he wasn’t speaking as prophet, etc. etc. But reading this in the Doctrine and Covenants really makes me curious now.

O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever (Psalm 107:1, cf. 118:1).

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