Why is Repentance Painful?
© 30 Nov 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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The parable of the worn-out trousers.


I have long been aware that repenting of sin can be more painful that other kinds of personal readjustment. I had assumed this was because of the misplaced guilt that is often associated with placing more emphasis on religious expectations than on Christ’s atonement, possibly augmented by some Satan raging against losing ground. But a new insight came to me from D. Todd Christofferson’s recent General Conference address. In it, he notes (in the midst of a longer conversation) the following ordering of events:

  1. A once-appealing sin becomes abhorrent
  2. We form a resolve to abandon the sin
  3. God provides forgiveness and relief

Note the uncomfortable situation the occurs between the first and last step listed above. Initially, the sin was just some little indulgence, something we knew we needed to overcome but were not actively hating. In the end, the sin is gone, we are forgiven, and life is much better. But in between we come to abhor the always-abhorrent but previously-ignored negative character of the sin—while we are still personally under its sway.

I suppose this is a bit like having someone tell us that our trousers have a hole in the rear and all around us can see our undergarments. The negative character of the situation was always there; we needed to be informed if we were to take corrective action; and yet the realization of the problem brings an embarrassment we did not previously experience. So it is with repentance: for us to find the inner resolve and determination to correct our faults we often must first become aware of their repugnant character, yielding a period of emotional anguish prior to reparations being made.

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