Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More on Loving the Sinner

I have in my heart a love for all of God’s children. I have no ill feeling toward any human being. With you, I hate sin, but I love the sinner. We all have need to repent.
-Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (1988), 75.

My special assignment as a General Authority is to assist the First Presidency in bringing people who have committed serious sins back into the Church. I receive, organize, and summarize information for the First Presidency to use in making decisions. I must read the background material to make certain that all pertinent information is available to them. As I read the heartbreak contained in letters of people pleading for forgiveness, I realize the truth of Alma’s statement: “Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10.) My heart goes out to those sufferers in a spirit of forgiveness. And instead of dwelling on the wickedness and grief of those who have sinned, I rejoice to read how many have abandoned their sinful practices and are now on the road back to righteousness and happiness. People can and do change.

When people are disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church, it is done not to punish but to help them. Church discipline requires this action, but we should remember that the word discipline has the same root as the word disciple. A disciple is a student or follower—one who is learning. Church discipline, then, must become a teaching process. When a person is disciplined, he should not be thrust out and abandoned by his associates. It is exactly at that time that we need to show increased love for such people, to teach and show them the way back to God. It is wicked to reject a child of God simply because he made an error. We need to teach him how to start anew, to change evil practices into righteous deeds, and thus to transform his life. With repentance through service to others, he can be reinstated into fellowship or washed clean in the waters of baptism and brought back into the family of God.

To teach people to overcome sin and change their lives for the better is the sum and substance of Christian service. We must do everything in our power to help sinners to change their lives for the better. Otherwise, as the scriptures warn us, we will have to shoulder their sins ourselves. Our obligation is to teach and help them, and the sinner’s obligation is to listen and learn. He will have to bear the whole burden himself if he refuses. But regardless of his present attitude, we must never abandon him nor think his reformation is hopeless. There is hope for everyone, and we must never cease trying to help people understand that through the atonement of Jesus Christ not only the sins of mankind in general but also their personal sins can be forgiven.
-Theodore M. Burton, "To Forgive is Divine," CR April 1983.

President Spencer W. Kimball often said that we should hate the sin but love the sinner. We should fellowship him who has gone astray and love him back into the fold.

Recently I interviewed a young lady who needed clearance from a General Authority before she could go on a mission. As she came in, I could see that she was very concerned about the interview. I assured her that she could go on this mission that she had been working toward for the past few years. Then she burst into tears, and they flowed freely down both cheeks. I asked her to tell me about her concerns. She started by saying that during her young teenage years she left home and started a life with her peers, thinking this was what she wanted. After about two and a half years she became involved with drugs and all kinds of worldly ways and was living a life of sex and loose morals. One day, as she groveled in self-pity, like the story of the prodigal son, she decided to return home because she realized that nothing good could come from her life-style.

Humbly, she returned home to her parents. To her surprise, they took her in and blessed her with medical help and the love that she never appreciated before. After four years of rehabilitation, she had a desire to serve the Lord as a missionary and worked closely with her bishop and stake president to qualify for this calling.

I told her that when she received her call as a missionary, she would bring into the hearts of her parents unspeakable joy, for their daughter who was lost had come alive again. I told her that all of the years of heartaches she had caused her parents, especially when they knew she was living close by and was steeped in drugs and doing all the things they had taught her were wrong—all of those heartaches would melt and swiftly disappear because now she had straightened herself out and desired to serve her Father in Heaven. When she received her call, there would be no higher honor paid to her parents, especially her mother who brought her into the world and nursed her and nurtured her. I told this young lady that missionary work is not easy, but the joy that she will receive from her labors as a missionary will be an eternal blessing that she will cherish forever and ever.
-Adney Y. Komatsu, "Keep His Commandments," BYU Fireside February 2, 1986.

A person’s ability to love unconditionally can have powerful effects. Seeing another person in an eternal perspective, knowing that he is of infinite worth, helps us to look beyond his weaknesses. However, if we criticize his behavior, he may see the criticism as a personal attack. Likewise, when a family member makes a mistake, and we find fault or strike back, that person may feel justified in acting as he did. Our challenge is to reject the sin without rejecting the sinner, to reach out and treat him with dignity and respect when he seems to deserve it the least.

. . .

Elder Jack H. Goaslind, Jr. related the following story about a mother whose daughter chose to go against Church standards:

“A good friend shared this story about how she learned the deeper meaning of love. Their family has always been active in the Church, trying their best to live the commandments. They were shocked and disappointed, however, when their daughter became engaged to a nonmember. The next day the mother was telling a good friend about her feelings. She knew her daughter’s fiance was a fine young man, but she felt angry, hurt, betrayed, and numb and did not want to give her daughter a wedding or even see her. She said that the Lord must have guided her to talk to her friend because she received this reply:

“‘What kind of a mother are you that you only love her when she does what you want her to do? That is selfish, self-centered, qualified love. It’s easy to love our children when they are good; but when they make mistakes, they need our love even more. We should love and care for them no matter what they do. It doesn’t mean we condone or approve of the errors, but we help, not condemn; love, not hate; forgive, not judge. We build them up rather than tear them down; we lead them, not desert them. We love when they are the most unlovable, and if you can’t or won’t do that, you are a poor mother.’”

“With tears streaming down her face, the mother asked her friend how she could ever thank her. The friend answered, ‘Do it for someone else when the need arises. Someone did it for me, and I will be eternally grateful.’” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1981, p. 79; or Ensign, May 1981, p. 60.)
-"Unconditional Love: The Key to Effective Parenthood," Family Home Evening Resource Book, 238.

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