This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)
Psalms 49–51; 61–66; 69–72; 77–78; 85–86
The writers of the Psalms shared deeply personal feelings in their poetry. They wrote about feeling discouraged, afraid, and remorseful. At times, they even seemed to feel abandoned by God, and some psalms carry a tone of frustration or desperation. If you’ve ever had feelings like these, reading the Psalms can help you know that you aren’t the only one. But you’ll also find psalms that can encourage you when you’re having such feelings, because the psalmists also praised the Lord for His goodness, marveled at His power, and rejoiced in His mercy. They knew that the world is burdened by evil and sin but that the Lord is “good, and ready to forgive” (Psalm 86:5). They understood that having faith in the Lord doesn’t mean that you’ll never struggle with anxiety, sin, or fear. It means that you know Who to turn to when you do.
With this, I agree. The Psalms were written by real people with real needs, just like me. I think everyone can benefit by reading God’s poetry section!
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Psalms 51; 85–86
Because of the Savior’s mercy, I can be forgiven of my sins.
The pleas for mercy in Psalm 51 are attributed to King David, who was guilty of adultery and murder (see 2 Samuel 11). Even when our sins are less serious, we can relate to the need for mercy expressed in this psalm. We can also learn something about what it means to repent. For example, what words or phrases in Psalm 51 teach you about the attitude we need in order to repent? What do you learn about the effect the Savior’s Atonement can have in your life?
The word “mercy” is used here to make it appear that this important attribute of God is capable of washing away sin. But what is the “something” related to “what it means to repent”? What have LDS leaders historically taught? Consider the words of 12th President Spencer W. Kimball who wrote:
Mercy cannot rob justice. The Lord’s program is unchangeable. His laws are immutable. They will not be modified. Your opinions or mine do not made any difference and do not alter the laws. Many of the world think that eventually the Lord will be merciful and give to them unearned blessings. Mercy cannot rob justice. College professors will not give you a doctorate degree for a few weeks of cursory work in the university, nor can the Lord be merciful at the expense of justice. In this program, which is infinitely greater, we will each receive what we merit. Do not take any chances whatever (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 150).
Kimball’s successor, Ezra Taft Benson, said mercy must be “merited,” a word that means a person must do something to earn it:
We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 442).
In the August 2022 Liahona magazine–the official magazine for the LDS Church–a page is dedicated on page 47 answering the question, “What can Psalm 51 teach about repentance?” The main paragraph of this article cites Apostle Gerrit W. Gong who offered the following words at the fall 2021 general conference:
When we repent, when we confess and forsake our sins, the Lord says He remembers them no more [see Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43]. It is not that He forgets; rather, in a remarkable way, it seems He chooses not to remember them, nor need we.
For the sake of completeness, let’s cite those two verses referenced by Gong in D&C 58 here:
42 Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. 43 By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
Notice the sequence:
- Repent of sins
- Sins are forgiven
- They are no longer remembered by God.
Just what is true repentance? Verse 43 describes the qualification:
- Sinner will confess them.
- Sinner will stop doing the sin.
To make this point clear, the flow chart on page 47 shows the following:
- “Faith in our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ”
- “Sorrow for sin”
- “Abandonment of sin”
- “Righteous living”
I think this diagram is exactly right with panels #2 and #3. From what I read, the abbreviated sequence would go like this:
- “Sorrow for sin” is true repentance
- “Abandonment of sin” completes the true repentance.
Many other unique LDS scriptures certainly support this idea. For instance, D&C 1:32 states, “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.” D&C 76:52 says, “That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power.”
According to panel #6, “righteous living” (not repeating the sin) is what is necessary for true repentance to take place. The God of “mercy” in Mormonism is not a reality until the individual has completely abandoned that sin.
If this is not accomplished, then D&C 82:7 comes into play. The second half of this verse says that “unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” This is a seriously heavy load. Who is capable of qualifying for forgiveness as offered in Mormonism?
But there’s more. Murder is not forgivable, according to D&C 42:79. Indeed, LDS leaders have taught that someone like David–a person who committed murder–was not capable of being forgiven. Church founder Joseph Smith taught:
A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness. David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears for the murder of Uriah, but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 339).
He also taught:
Remission of sins by baptism was not to be preached to murderers. All the priests of Christendom might pray for a murderer on the scaffold forever, but could not avail so much as a gnat towards their forgiveness. There is no forgiveness for murderers (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 221).
Kimball pointed to this teaching as truth:
The Prophet Joseph Smith underlined the seriousness of the sin of murder for David as for all men, and the fact that there is no forgiveness for it (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 128).
Other general authorities have agreed with their founder’s assessment. Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
John says there are two kinds of sins. One kind that can be forgiven; the other kind a sin unto death, for which there is no forgiveness. Murder is one of the latter class (The Restoration of All Things, 1964, 204).
Murder, the shedding of innocent blood, is a sin unto death (The Way to Perfection, 236).
And Dallin H. Oaks, the current First Counselor in the First Presidency under President Russell M. Nelson, was very clear when he taught:
A deliberate murder is what the scriptures call “a sin unto death.” (1 Jn. 5:16.) It deprives the murderer of eternal life (1 Jn. 3:15) because there is “no forgiveness” for this act (D&C 42:79). In other words, a person who deliberately kills another shall die spiritually (The Lord’s Way, 213).
So I’m not quite sure why, in 2022, the writer of this curriculum makes it appear that Mormonism advocates God’s mercy for a murderer. The teachings of these leaders and the writers of this curriculum cannot both be right. Who is correct in the teaching? Such confusion makes it hard to understand what a person is supposed to believe what Mormonism actually teaches.
You might ask the same questions as you read Psalms 85–86. You could also look for phrases that describe the Lord. How do these phrases strengthen your faith that He will forgive you? (see, for example, Psalm 86:5, 13, 15).
Again, I think there is much confusion in what is said here. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I thought forgiveness of sins was conditional based on one’s obedience and successfully keeping the commandments.
Kimball said perfection is possible and must be completed for a person to be forgiven. He wrote,
This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 208-209. See also church manual The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, 386).
Forgiveness is not available for the “asking,” he said:
Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 324-325).
Repeating the sin causes the ability for forgiveness to be lost, according to LDS teaching. A church manual uses the words of Kimball and states,
But President Kimball warned: “Even though forgiveness is so abundantly promised there is no promise nor indication of forgiveness to any soul who does not totally repent. . . . We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 353, 360). Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins (see D&C 82:7; Ether 2:15) (Gospel Principles, 2009, 231).
I think this lesson is misleading people in their thinking about what the LDS leadership actually teaches. Either God is a merciful God who forgives for the asking, or else He is a taskmaster who requires complete obedience after a person fails the first time. It can’t be both.
Psalms 63; 69; 77–78
The Lord will help me in my time of urgent need.
Several psalms describe, in vivid language, what it’s like to feel distant from God and to desperately need His help. You might consider looking for such descriptions in Psalms 63:1, 8; 69:1–8, 18–21; 77:1–9. What do you find in Psalms 63; 69; 77–78 that gave these psalmists reassurance?
From what I see, the Psalmist has completely thrown up his hands and told God, “I empty myself and I give myself to you.” This is not what I see taught in Mormonism. You can’t just merely surrender without action and keeping God’s commandments. A Mormon psalmist would say, “Look, I’ve put all my sins behind and now I won’t repeat them again because I have to show you I was sincere.”
When you are distressed, how does it help you to “remember the works of the Lord” and His “wonders of old”? (Psalm 77:11). Some of those wonders are described in Psalm 78. As you read about them, ponder what helps you “set [your] hope in God” (verse 7). What experiences from your family history inspire you?
Does the Latter-day Saint truly “set [his] hope in God”? Or is it in his own ability to stop sinning and keep the commandments of God as the LDS leadership commands?
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
This verse could inspire a discussion about events of the Restoration of the gospel—how the Book of Mormon is truth that “[sprang] out of the earth” and how heavenly messengers came “down from heaven” (see also Moses 7:62). The video “Preparation of Joseph Smith: Tutored by Heaven” (ChurchofJesusChrist.org) depicts some of these events.
Talk about “eisegesis” (reading one’s own meaning into a text)! The verse cited here says, “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Of course, the idea that the plates of the Book of Mormon were supposed buried in upstate New York and God somehow looking down from heaven, pleased with this, is what is understood. This verse is not saying this. Throughout the other articles in this series, it almost seems as if LDS books of scripture are forced into the conversation, making this final statement in this article sound rather silly.
This lesson has done more to confuse the meaning of mercy in Mormonism than explain it. If the leaders teach that mercy is only available to those who are obedient in keeping God’s commandments, then it does not seem wise to make it appear that God’s favor can come through just asking. I could provide many more references to prove that the meaning of mercy and forgiveness as described in this lesson is not even close to the meaning given in traditional Mormonism.