Remember the Pain

February 3, 2005 | 21 comments
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Alma has a great description of repentance. He writes: And now, behold, when I [repented], I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

Is this a good thing?

I’ll start by noting that I’ve felt like Alma, myself, at various times. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have, and I’ve repented — which has always been an incredibly painful, difficult process — and come out feeling a whole lot better.

The problem is that with the pain of sin forgotten, I sometimes go and make the same mistakes again. And that makes me reflect on the whole process. Given my own weaknesses and tendency to go back to bad habits, I sometimes think that I would do better in the long run if I were better at remembering the pain.

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21 Responses to Remember the Pain

  1. danithew on February 3, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    Its odd he says he remembered those pains no more because in verses 6 through 18 previous to verse 19, he describes his sins and the consequent pains quite clearly. Perhaps he simply means that at the particular moment he received a remission of his sins (forgiveness), his pains were swallowed up entirely by the joy and relief he was feeling. Or perhaps he merely means he ceased to feel the guilt. At the same time he couldn’t have ceased to feel responsibility because he immediately goes out and seeks to make good the harm he had done to the souls of others. But his quest was to help others to feel the joy and blessings of repentance that he was feeling. As he says:

    Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Alma 36:24)

    Like you say Kaimi, forgetting might be the problem. I can’t really think of any scripture that teaches a person should forget anything. But it’s a question (what should we forget or remember?) I’ve been pondering for awhile now.

  2. danithew on February 3, 2005 at 7:13 pm

    Darned italics … looks like I forgot to close some code there.

  3. Frank McIntyre on February 3, 2005 at 7:14 pm

    Perhaps this “I could remember my pains no more”
    is just a way of restating his next phrase : “yea [in other words], I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.”

  4. Godot on February 3, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    If we are to understand that Alma literally had no memory of pain in association with his past sins, then I think the answer is that that is definitely a bad thing. Nothing makes this clearer than the recent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which made a strong case for retaining our memory of everything – particularly the bad things.

    This is particularly significant when we see our “goodness” not as a list of good and bad actions, but as a quality of our character. Who we are is, in many ways, the sum of our memories and how we responded to them. Clearly it’s not the lack of guilt and negativity in our minds that brings us peace. Rather, it is the confidence of right actions gained through the knowledge of a moral conscience. Peace, it would seem, can only be obtained through experience. Experience and expiation.

    On the other hand, as danithew suggests above, I’m not sure that Alma is saying he literally had no recollection of past sin and pain at all, but that he now felt forgivien – that the pain no longer harrowed him.

  5. Jed on February 3, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    Godot’s right, the line reads “I was harrowed up by the memory of…no more,” not “I had no memory of…” Harrowed is the key word. What did harrowed mean in the 1828 Webster’s?

  6. annegb on February 3, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    There is a book :) called The Peacegiver, which has given me some comfort on the issue of repentance and forgiveness.

    I have definitely been harrowed up by the memory of my sins, especially with regard to my son, and my part in his suicide. There is no physical pain (and I’ve had three babies, gallstones, and a kidney stone) that can compare to the actual physical pain I feel about that, and about the pain I’ve caused so many people.

    But lately, I’ve been thinking maybe I could be forgiven. And my heart will rise in hope for a moment. I think, intellectually, that my son has forgiven me, of course he has, maybe God even has forgiven me, I’ve begged Him enough.
    But lately, I’ve thought, “maybe I can forgive me, maybe it’s okay to be happy, to have fun in life. maybe I don’t have to give up and just put in my time until I die.”

    I’ve read that scripture I don’t know how many times. But it means more to me, today. Hopefully, tomorrow it will mean even more. And tomorrow and tomorrow.

  7. Melissa on February 3, 2005 at 7:36 pm

    Jed,

    1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines “harrow” as “to break or tear,” “to lacerate,” “to disturb,” “to torment.”

  8. William Morris on February 3, 2005 at 8:06 pm

    Has anyone ever seen a tractor pulling behind it a large rectangular metal frame that is fitted out with a wire grid to which are attached little spikes?

    That’s a harrow. It breaks up the dirt. It comes in other forms as well. See some images here.

    After seeing one in action, that passage from Alma became even more, well, harrowing for me.

  9. Sheri Lynn on February 3, 2005 at 8:36 pm

    Annegb, you break my heart for you.

  10. Rosalynde Welch on February 3, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Godot, I really like your discussion of “goodness” as memory, experience and expiation. What do you mean, though, by “the knowledge of a moral conscience”? What exactly, in your view, is a moral conscience? And what is its function?

  11. Sheri Lynn on February 3, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    I remember the pain of childbirth by remembering how I reacted to it and how I described it. The pain itself I cannot remember, at all, not like I remember the pain of recovering from a tonsillectomy, the removal of a pilonital cyst, or the multiple (failed) attempts of a clumsy intern to do a spinal tap on me. The pain from those things, I remember well. I understand that the pain of childbirth is very commonly if not universally forgotten.

    Aren’t we reborn in a way when we sin and forsake the sin? The person we were who had a fault labors and gives pain-filled birth to a new person, in a way….

    Sorry to resort to Holy Roller lingo here, but I swear, it’s completely accidental.

  12. Rosalynde Welch on February 3, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    Hmmm, Sheri… how long since you had your last baby? At seventeen months and counting, the memory’s still pretty darn fresh for me! :)

  13. Mark B. on February 3, 2005 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks to William Morris for the link to the pictures of harrows. As we move from the farm to the city, we lose the immediacy of the images in the scriptures, which are so closely tied to the land.

    I remember Truman Madsen speaking of “remembering with peace” as coming with repentance. That is consistent with Alma’s clear recollection of his sins several decades later (when he was talking to Helaman in ch. 36) but without the harrowing.

    Analogous is the Lord’s statement in D&C 58, where he says that “I the Lord remember them no more.” How can God, whose memory is perfect, forget?

    In that case, I think we need to look to the passages where God speaks of “remembering sins against” the unrepentant. That, I believe, is the no more remembering that the passage in Sec. 58 refers to.

  14. Sheri Lynn on February 4, 2005 at 12:22 am

    Well, it has been 7 years since my last baby…but the pilonital cyst episode was 24 years ago! (Of course I was 15 and extremely mortified by the whole thing, which probably made it even worse than it was.)

  15. Godot on February 4, 2005 at 3:26 am

    It is appropriate that The Peacegiver was mentioned, for all of my thoughts are grounded in Terry Warner’s “agentivism.” Rather, all my good ideas I attribute to him and all my bad ones to myself.

    I think we see a correlation between happiness and righteousness on the one hand, and wickedness and unhappiness on the other. Of course, when I say “happiness” and “unhappiness”, I mean on the most fundamental level. But I think we commit a fallacy in assuming that correlation means causation.

    It is not so much that choosing the right brings peace, but that a third thing brings both of them. This third thing is a state of being. It is a state wherein we know that our will is in line with God’s will (or in cases where we don’t yet fully comprehend God’s will, we know that our will is in line with what we know deep down to be right). There are a number of names for this state of being: “a heart that’s in the right place” is a simple one, being “out of the box” is one that Arbinger uses, “a moral conscience” is probably an ambiguous one.

    It is, of course, not a fully black and white thing. There are different degrees to which we are in this state, but the more we are in this state, the more we will make righteous choices and the more we will be at peace.

    This, I believe, is how it is possible for Alma to be filled with joy even though he had not yet committed any good deeds. He changed his state of being – and from that he was filled with peace and made righteous choices.

    Circling back around to the original post, remembering our sins becomes important because, in many ways, it contributes to our current state of being. We are more humbler for it. And thus, we are happier for it.

  16. Rosalynde Welch on February 4, 2005 at 8:53 am

    So… sort of a fundamental state of integrity? (This has always seemed to me Terry Warner’s great message.) Where our actions, thoughts and feelings are integrated with what we know to be right?

  17. annegb on February 4, 2005 at 9:47 am

    Truman Madsen spoke at a special interest (now I think it’s singles) conference I attended years ago, on his book The Highest in Us. He really blew us away because he made the suggestion that perhaps at one time God had been in special interest. It was kind of sad how that huge group of mostly divorced people clung to that with such hope in their eyes.

    I think as a people, Mormons are very hard on themselves. We preach works to the exclusion of grace and perpetuate the false doctrine that we can do it ourselves.

    I think the peace that comes can only come from the knowledge that Christ did the hard part for us. All we have to do is let him. How many Mormons are out there, living lives of quiet desperation, trying to work out their own salvation?

  18. Katie on February 4, 2005 at 10:17 am

    Danithew: “I can’t really think of any scripture that teaches a person should forget anything.”

    While this is probably true, the Lord does make the statement that when He forgives He forgets. I think He’s being literal here. More than just not thinking about our sins or not being harrowed up by them anymore, I think in some mystical way they are wiped from the mind of God. And aren’t we commanded to be as Christ-like as humanly possible? Granted, Christ is forgetting the sins of others, not his own, which is a crucial difference. Still its seems odd to me that the things that we go around remembering and occasionally shuddering at, Christ hasn’t the foggiest idea of. A strange eternal disconnect. I think the ideal would be that we would almost completely forget about our past transgressions. If repentance is truly a change of heart in which the heart no longer desires to sin, then shouldn’t that new heart be adequate protection in keeping us from committing the same mistake? Of course this is all hypothetical, I can’t say I’ve yet forgotten my repented of sins. But I think it is worth pondering.

  19. annegb on February 4, 2005 at 10:31 am

    And you know, see if you can follow me here, but if it’s like it didn’t happen, then it didn’t happen. Like, my son somewhere is not sad, but happy and confident. The things that happened do not count. That is my hope. Sort of scary.

    So if I repent, then the consequences of my SIN are negated, wiped out. Think about that one for awhile. It’s like this world doesn’t even really exist.

    which goes with my personal philosophy that we are all having a virtual reality experience and in your world, you are the screwed up one and I am the serene wonderful one. Eat your heart out. :)

  20. David King Landrith on February 4, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    I think that you’re right, annegb. Peace comes from having faith that Christ’s atonement is real, that we can be forgiven. And lasting peace comes from repenting and obtaining forgiveness. But part of repenting is not remembering our sins and our pain–not in the sense that we literally forget, but in the sense that we let them go and they become lost to us. If this weren’t so, then repenting would not make us whole. In Alma’s case, guilt held him captive until it performed its function; it drove him to Christ and to repentance. Christ’s atonement gave Alma the promise of forgiveness, and this allowed Alma to repent, to be made whole, and to be set free.

    Guilt and the pain that accompanies it are natural and serve a definite purpose, but many people dredge up feelings of guilt long after they have made amends and received forgiveness. Satan wants us to fall into this trap, because it tricks us into putting aside the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. The more Satan can get us to wallow in our guilt, the happier he is; it’s his way of making us feel special.

    I’m reminded of a passage from Slaughterhouse-Five where Vonnegut describes an old war movie backwards: People and planes that are riddled with shrapnel are miraculously healed and repaired by other planes that use long, narrow tubes to suck the bullets out of them. Below the airplanes a city is being ravaged by fire, and some of the healed planes open their doors and exert magnetic forces that collapse the fire into small steel cylinders and then suck the cylinders up into the planes where they are stacked neatly on racks and flown to America. If the atonement is real, then it has an effect on our sinful state very much like the miraculous bullet sucking tubes and the powerful magnetic forces of the airplanes–except I don’t think that our sins end up stacked neatly on racks and delivered to America.

  21. annegb on February 4, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    Hmmm…an old movie backwards. I’ve tried by force of will to relive my life. Now I’ve been picturing my son as a tall and strong and happy young man in a white shirt, confidence radiating from his face, and love for others evident in his outlook. I had a dream that he was working with members in Africa, he was always sort of like that, I did something good, he spent three summers from age 11 to 13 volunteering with special ed kids. He was pretty great. So now I picture him what he’d be like if I’d done things different.

    Lately I’ve felt him near me, loving and strong. That’s painful, I can’t describe it, it should be comforting, but I feel so sad about it. BUT I’m letting him in. I think he’s as he would have been.

    This is cathartic, please just disregard me. I’m still a powerful, strong and funny woman. In terrible anguish. LOL Don’t anybody get sad now.

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