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The Torment of Mormonism’s Uncertainties

by Sharon Lindbloom
18 November 2020

The November (2020) issue of Ensign, an official magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contains the church’s October General Conference addresses. One address, given by LDS apostle Dale Renlund, caught my attention. In “Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God,” Mr. Renlund explains what it is to be Christlike, an attribute Mormonism says is required to “qualify to ‘dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.’” Being Christlike includes things like behaving honorably, loving mercy, and being gracious, kind, and honorable. Mr. Renlund says,

“To be Christlike, a person chooses God, walks humbly with Him, seeks to please Him, and keeps covenants with Him.”

In the context of Mormonism, keeping covenants with God involves obeying all His commandments and fulfilling all covenantal promises made during LDS temple ceremonies and other Mormon rites. In 2019 LDS Prophet Russell Nelson explained,

“So, what is required for a family to be exalted forever? We qualify for that privilege by making covenants with God, keeping those covenants, and receiving essential ordinances…The Savior invites all to follow Him into the waters of baptism and, in time, to make additional covenants with God in the temple and receive and be faithful to those further essential ordinances. All these are required if we want to be exalted with our families and with God forever.” (“Come, Follow Me,” April 2019 General Conference)

President Nelson often urges Latter-day Saints to stay on, or follow, the “covenant path.” This is what is required to qualify for the highest eternal reward available in Mormonism: To make covenants, keep the commandments, and be faithful to the essential ordinances. It’s a very lofty goal and a very heavy load for Mormons to carry. So it’s no wonder that in Mr. Renlund’s October conference address he supposes that Mormons may ask themselves, “Am I doing enough?”

“The Savior does not want us to take salvation for granted,” he says,

“Even after we have made sacred covenants, there is a possibility that we may ‘fall from grace and depart from the living God.’…But at the same time, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ do not want us to be paralyzed by continual uncertainty during our mortal journey, wondering whether we have done enough to be saved and exalted. They surely do not want us to be tormented by mistakes from which we have repented, thinking of them as wounds that never heal, or to be excessively apprehensive that we might stumble again.”

I had never thought of it this way before, but within Mormonism there really is a sense of torment associated with repentance and exaltation. In a footnote attached to Mr. Renlund’s comment about wounds never healing, he quotes late LDS apostle Boyd Packer:

“When the repentance process is complete, no scars remain because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. …The Atonement…can wash clean every stain no matter how difficult or how long or how many times repeated.” (ellipses in the original footnote)

This sounds like a hopeful and comforting teaching. However, a key phrase here should not be missed: “when the repentance process is complete.” The torment I refer to stems from the fact that Mormon doctrine does not allow for anyone to know for certain whether the repentance process is complete, or whether one has indeed done enough.

The Book of Mormon says, “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). Three years before becoming the President of the LDS church, Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained:

“What is meant by ‘after all we can do’? ‘After all we can do’ includes extending our best effort. ‘After all we can do’ includes living His commandments. ‘After all we can do’ includes loving our fellowmen and praying for those who regard us as their adversary. ‘After all we can do’ means clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and giving ‘succor [to] those who stand in need of [our] succor’ (Mosiah 4:15)—remembering that what we do unto one of the least of God’s children, we do unto Him (see Matthew 25:34-40; D&C 42:38). ‘After all we can do’ means leading chaste, clean, pure lives, being scrupulously honest in all our dealings and treating others the way we would want to be treated.” (“After All We Can Do,” Christmas Devotional, 12/9/1982. Quoted in The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 354)

These are all good things to strive for, but in Mormonism they are required in order to have any hope of spending eternity with God and family. Thus the tormenting question posed by Mr. Renlund: “Am I doing enough?” The torment comes from the fact that we know there is always something more that we can do than what we are doing. President Benson also said,

“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)

According to Mormonism, keeping all the commandments is the only way to receive God’s blessings and mercy. Latter-day Saint, are you doing enough? Or are you tormented by the question?

The potential for further torment is described by LDS apostle Dale Renlund in the area of repentance. He talks about members who have failed in their commandment-keeping but then repented. He speaks regretfully of them being “excessively apprehensive that [they] might stumble again.” But this apprehension is for good reason, for the only “repentance that merits forgiveness” is described by 12th LDS President Spencer W. Kimball — it is complete and effective only when the repentant person has “reached a ‘point of no return’ to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin – where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 354-355). Furthermore, the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants warns,

“…unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God” (82:7)

President Kimball expanded on this:

“Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 169-170)

It’s no wonder that Latter-day Saints are tormented by the thought of stumbling. President Kimball said that “True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again” (LDS church pamphlet Repentance Brings Forgiveness). There is no hope or comfort to be found in the impossible demands deeply-rooted in Mormonism’s doctrine of repentance.

All of this is so foreign to biblical repentance and salvation. Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). The book of 1 John teaches that if we confess our sins, He will forgive us and cleanse us completely (1 John 1:9). The apostle John tells us that if we believe in Christ we will know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). There is no tormented wondering whether we have adequately fulfilled the repentance process or done enough good things to merit eternal life. Because according to the Apostle Paul, speaking to those who trust in Christ alone, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Not only is biblical teaching the opposite of what the Book of Mormon says in 2 Nephi 25:23, compare it to what Spencer W. Kimball taught:

“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)

In Mormonism it all depends on you.

But in Christianity it all depends on Christ. Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). We can have full confidence in Him; and that is why Jesus doesn’t speak of torment but instead tells us,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

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