Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why Repentance Brings Hope

Repentance is probably one of the most poorly understood terms in all of the gospel, despite the fact that it is among the first principles and ordinances that form the basis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people are afraid of repentance; some are afraid of the consequences that are likely to occur if they were to admit to any wrong doing, and others dread the potential loss in social standing and status that can come with an admission of sin. There are those who resent the notion that they need to repent, because they insist that they do not sin and they therefore resent the implication that they might be a sinner.  Others will not accept that they even need to repent, because they do not think that what they are doing is wrong and they therefore resent those that suggest that they might need to change.  Almost all of these people mistakenly think that repentance involves punishment and suffering, and therefore they tend to react badly when someone (a loving family member, a bishop, or a general authority) counsels them to repent.  The reasons why people may have a problem with repentance are many, but principal among them is surely a fundamental misunderstanding of what actually constitutes true repentance.  However, when one takes the time to contemplate and comprehend the true meaning of repentance, it becomes a sublime doctrine of love and forgiveness and relief from the burden of sin.

"[Repentance is] perhaps the most hopeful and encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. We thank our Father in Heaven we are allowed to change, we thank Jesus we can change, and ultimately we do so only with Their divine assistance." (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006).

Where Does the Word 'Repent' Come From?

When repentance is taught in the Old Testament, the original writers used either of two Hebrew verbs, nacham and shub. According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, nacham means “to be sorry, come to regret something, to repent.”  Repentance is more than just feeling sorry for one’s actions though, and the prophets who wrote the Old Testament knew that, which is why they also chose to employ the verb shub. "Shub means ‘to turn from’," as Elder Theodore M. Burton explains:

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