What Are Secret Combinations?

I wrote yesterday that responding to guilt appropriately is essential for our eternal happiness. Anything which encourages us to ignore our feelings of guilt is harmful to us in the long run. As Alma warned his son Corianton, “Ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day” (Alma 39:8).

One way we might ignore our guilt is by surrounding ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear. King Noah did this by choosing priests who were skilled at speaking flattering words. When the prophet Abinadi called King Noah and his people to repentance, the priests said, “O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?” (Mosiah 12:13).

Sometimes a group of people enters an agreement to hide one another’s crimes. The Book of Mormon refers to this type of agreement as a “secret combination.” Its purpose is to enable members of the group to commit crimes with impunity (Helaman 6:23).

Elder M. Russell Ballard has pointed out that many groups have this characteristic, including “gangs, drug cartels, and organized crime groups” (“Standing for Truth and Right,” General Conference, October 1997). Regardless of the name, any time a group of people agrees to cover up one another’s misconduct, they have formed a secret combination.

Not only does this type of organization damage the participants, it can also destabilize the society in which it operates. In the Book of Mormon, the most prominent secret combination was known as the Gadianton robbers. In the years leading up to the appearance of Christ, this corrupt organization grew to a scale that the Nephite government collapsed and the people separated into tribes (3 Nephi 7:2-6).

Interestingly, the Lamanite people had recognized the danger posed by this secret combination. They proactively eliminated it. How? By hunting them down and preaching the word of God to them. When the Gadianton robbers were converted to the gospel, the secret combination was “utterly destroyed” without loss of life (Helaman 6:37).

But the Nephites were not so wise:

The Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations (Helaman 6:38).

Moroni, who saw our day (Mormon 8:35), warned us that the Book of Mormon would be published in a time when “the blood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret combinations and the works of darkness” (Mormon 8:27). He issued a clear warning to us:

The Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you….
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people….
Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved (Ether 8:24-26).

Today, I will remember the damaging effect of hidden crimes. I will have the courage to stand up for what is right and to speak up when something seems wrong. I will avoid the complacency of the Nephites, who turned a blind eye to secret combinations which grew among them.

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What Should I Do When I Feel Guilty?

Today, I spent some time looking at the passages in the Book of Mormon that talk about guilt. Here is what I learned:

  1. There is a human tendency to suppress feelings of guilt. We know intuitively when we have done something wrong, but because feelings of guilt are unpleasant, we often ignore or deny them (2 Nephi 28:8, Mosiah 12:14).
  2. As a result, it can be painful when other people draw attention to our sins. “The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Nephi 16:2). It rips apart our rationalizations and forces us to confront the pain we had hoped to avoid.
  3. Parents and other leaders sometimes have a duty to tell other people what they are doing wrong, even when they know that the message will not be well-received (Alma 39:7).
  4. We have a tendency to surround ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear. Taken to the extreme, this had led people throughout history to make agreements to hide one another’s bad behavior (Helaman 7:5, 3 Nephi 6:29).
  5. But no matter how hard we try to hide guilt from ourselves and from others, we will one day have to face it. At the final judgment, we will have “a perfect knowledge of all our guilt” (2 Nephi 9:14), “a bright recollection of all our guilt” (Alma 11:43, 2 Nephi 9:46), and a “lively sense of [our] own guilt” (Mosiah 2:38), which will fill us with pain and make us unhappy in God’s presence (Mormon 9:3, Alma 5:18, 22-23, Mosiah 3:25). But even though we would rather not face God in our sins, “the power of the redemption and the resurrection, which is in Christ, will bring [us] to stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God” (Jacob 6:9).
  6. Fortunately, God has provided a way for us to avoid that outcome. If we can achieve a “consciousness of our guilt” today (Alma 12:1, Alma 14:6-7), and if as a result, we choose to repent, to be baptized, and to endure to the end, then we will be guiltless at the final judgment (3 Nephi 27:16). We will then have the privilege of dwelling in God’s presence in a state of never-ending happiness (Mormon 7:7).
  7. When we repent, our guilt can be “swept away” because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ (Enos 1:6, Alma 24:10). Thereafter, we can “retain a remission of [our] sins” and “walk guiltless before God” by serving other people and giving to those in need (Mosiah 4:25-26).

So the pattern is simple:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the guilt we feel. Don’t try to hide it.
  2. Repent, be baptized, and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
  3. He will eliminate our guilt and make us ready to return to our Father in Heaven.

I like Elder David A. Bednar’s insight that guilt serves the same function as physical pain:

Guilt is to our spirit what pain is to our body—a warning of danger and a protection from additional damage. From the Atonement of the Savior flows the soothing salve that can heal our spiritual wounds and remove guilt. However, this salve can only be applied through the principles of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, and consistent obedience. The results of sincere repentance are peace of conscience, comfort, and spiritual healing and renewal (“We Believe in Being Chaste,” General Conference, April 2013).

So, just like we should not ignore pain in our body, we must not ignore guilt. It is a warning that we should take action to prevent further spiritual damage.

But what if I still feel guilty after I have repented?

Elder Tad R. Callister taught that a memory of our sins, and even a memory of the pain we have experienced as a result can function as a kind of spiritual “stop sign.” That memory can protect us from falling into the same trap a second time. It is possible (and useful) to remember prior pain without feeling that pain today (“The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” General Conference, April 2019).

But as Elder Richard G. Scott taught, it is not wise to dwell upon past mistakes after we have repented and received forgiveness from God:

When memory of prior mistakes encroached upon Ammon’s mind, he turned his thoughts to Jesus Christ and the miracle of forgiveness. Then his suffering was replaced with joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving for the Savior’s love and forgiveness. Please, go and do likewise. Do it now so that you can enjoy peace of conscience and peace of mind with all their attendant blessings (“Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind,” General Conference, October 2004).

Like Enos and like Ammon, we need to trust God, so that, after repentance, we can let feelings of guilt be “swept away” (Enos 1:6, Alma 26:17-20).

Today, I will remember the important function of guilt in God’s plan for my salvation and happiness. I will avoid the tendency to ignore or suppress feelings of guilt. Instead, I will see them as opportunities to identify areas for improvement, areas where I need to repent. When I have repented and received the assurance that I am forgiven, I will avoid dwelling on past mistakes but will allow God’s grace to give me “peace of conscience and peace of mind.”

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How Can I Heal a Relationship with Someone Who Doesn’t Want the Relationship Healed?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about healing a broken relationship. I focused particularly on the Savior’s counsel in the Sermon on the Mount that we should take the initiative to be reconciled with other people before approaching God. He said to leave our gift at the altar and come back when we have reconciled the relationship.

I said that we should seek reconciliation regardless of who caused the rift. A person who has offended us may not even be aware of the offense. It is only fair for us to discuss the situation with them and make them aware of the harm caused by their actions. And of course, we must be willing to take responsibility for anything we have done or said that has harmed the relationship.

But what if our attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed? What if the other person doesn’t want to heal the relationship?

Just after the instruction to seek reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior addresses this situation. Some kinds of problems don’t age well, and the longer we allow a rift to fester, the harder it is to heal. So we should make an effort to resolve relationship issues quickly, before feelings calcify and become more difficult to change:

Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing (Matthew 5:25-26).

Steven R. Covey has suggested that “prison” in this passage may be a metaphor for the other person being unwilling to give us a chance:

To protect themselves they will put us into a mental/emotional “prison” in their own mind. And we won’t be released from this prison until we pay the uttermost farthing—until we humbly and fully acknowledge our mistake (Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 53).

When the Savior gave this same sermon on the American continent, he used the word “senine” instead of farthing, using a monetary unit familiar to his audience. And He added an additional, sobering thought about what can happen if the relationship hardens in this way:

Thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay (3 Nephi 12:26).

It sounds pretty hopeless: You won’t be released from “prison” until you pay the senine, but you can’t pay the senine as long as you’re in prison.

But there is always hope. I have experienced relationships which reached an impasse like the one described in this passage. In the short run, the other person may be entirely unwilling to accept any attempt at reconciliation. Some wounds need time to heal, and if you have made it clear that you sincerely want to heal the relationship, you may need to give the other person some time and space. They may eventually give you an opening, allowing you to pay a “farthing” or a “senine:” to make a small investment in the relationship. As you regain their trust, they may begin to let you out of “prison,” perhaps a little bit at a time, or perhaps all at once.

The important point is that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, must always seek reconciliation with others, whether or not they are ready to accept our invitations. The apostle Paul said that God, “who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ,… hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

And Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

My beloved friends, in our shared ministry of reconciliation, I ask us to be peacemakers—to love peace, to seek peace, to create peace, to cherish peace. I make that appeal in the name of the Prince of Peace, who knows everything about being “wounded in the house of [His] friends” but who still found the strength to forgive and forget—and to heal—and be happy (“The Ministry of Reconciliation,” General Conference, October 2018).

Today, I will remember that an important part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to seek peace. I will strive for reconciliation with others, and I will not give up on them, even when they do not initially respond favorably.

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What Is “Fruit Meet for Repentance?”

While John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness in Judea, a group of Saducees and Pharisees traveled to see this popular teacher for themselves. Addressing them directly, he asked why they had come, wryly attributing to them a wiser motive than curiosity: “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” he inquired. Then, he explained to them what was required of a person who wanted to be baptized: “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8).

The word “fruits” or “fruit” refers to the result of our efforts. “Meet” means “appropriate.” So John was challenging them to do something to demonstrate that they were repentant. I like how some translations of the Bible paraphrase this concept to make its meaning clearer:

  • “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (New Living Translation).

I like the focus on action. Repentance isn’t just eliminating impurities from our lives. It means turning our thoughts and our actions toward God. As President Russell M. Nelson taught in the most recent general conference, true repentance leads to positive action:

When Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” General Conference, April 2019).

The prophet Alma taught the people in the city of Ammonihah that God has the power to save everyone who “believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance” (Alma 12:15). After describing the happiness and peace experienced by those who repent, he urged them to “bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest” (Alma 13:13).

Moroni explained that, in the church organized by Jesus Christ during His visit to the American continent, candidates for baptism were required to “[witness] unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.” But just saying they had repented was not enough. “They were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it” (Moroni 6:1-2). And shortly before the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1830, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that candidates for baptism must “truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins” (Doctrine & Covenants 20:37).

Today, I will “bring forth fruit meet for repentance.” I will improve my thoughts, my feelings, and my actions. I will remember that my good works constitute the tangible evidence that my repentance is genuine.

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How Do Our Covenants with God Affect Our Relationships with Each Other?

I wrote yesterday that covenants strengthen relationships. Making promises to one another provides opportunities to build trust. So when God invites us to make covenants with Him, He is giving us the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Him.

Our covenants with God not only bring us closer to Him; they also bring us closer to other people. Consider the words of Alma, as he invited a group of people at the waters of Mormon to make covenants with God through baptism. Notice how much of that covenant relates to other people. This is not simply a private agreement between the individual and God. It is an agreement which fundamentally alters the relationships between that individual and other people:

  • “As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God” – Not just to become a disciple of Christ, but to become part of a group of disciples of Christ.
  • “And to be called his people” – Again, a reference to the group, not the individual.
  • “And are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” – By entering into this community of believers, they would benefit from one another’s support.
  • “And are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” – Not to live the life of a secluded hermit. Part of the covenant is that we will empathize, connect with, and serve other people, particularly the people who need us most.
  • “And to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death” – For what purpose? To spiritually strengthen other people. When we are baptized, we promise to help others not only physically but also spiritually.
  • “That ye may be redeemed of God” – This one sounds more individual.
  • “And be numbered with those of the first resurrection – Even in the next life, there is a sense of community, a sense of belonging to a group of like-minded individuals.
  • “That ye may have eternal life” – which means “to live forever as families in God’s presence” (“Eternal Life,” Guide to the Scriptures).

(Mosiah 18:8-9)

After all of that discussion about their relationship to one another and to other people, it is no wonder that Alma organized the people who were baptized into a church.

They were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church (Mosiah 18:17).

He urged them to avoid contention and to strive for unity amongst themselves:

They should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another (Mosiah 18:21).

The people followed Alma’s counsel. They took care of one another, both temporally and spiritually. They kept the covenant they had made. And they were filled with joy (Mosiah 18:29-30).

Today, I will be grateful for the ways my covenants with God enhance and strengthen my relationships with other people. I will be grateful for the trust and unity I experience with others who have made the same covenants. I will also remember that the covenants I have made with God require me to serve other people both temporally and spiritually.

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What Is a Covenant?

A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties (Oxford English Dictionary).

The word comes from two Latin roots: com (“together”) and venire (“to come”). So the word literally means to “come together” (See Online Etymology Dictionary.)

God loves all of His children. He wants us to achieve our full potential, and He will send blessings to help each of us.

He is also willing to enter into a covenant relationship with us. If we choose to enter into covenants with Him, we receive promises from Him which we can rely upon. We also make promises to Him which gives us the opportunity to earn His trust.

One of the messages of the Book of Mormon is that anyone can enter a covenant relationship with God. The privilege is available to anyone who is willing to believe and repent:

As many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord;… for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel (2 Nephi 30:2).

When we make covenants with God, we receive His power:

I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord,… and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory (1 Nephi 14:14).

We can be sure that God will always fulfill His promises:

He will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers (Alma 37:17).

The eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled (Mormon 8:22).

One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to teach us that we are not alone—that God has not cast us off because of the covenants we and others have made with Him (Title Page).

President Russell M. Nelson shared the sorrow he feels for good people who are unwilling to enter a covenant relationship with God:

The Savior invites all to follow Him into the waters of baptism and, in time, to make additional covenants with God in the temple….
The anguish of my heart is that many people whom I love, whom I admire, and whom I respect decline His invitation….
How I wish I could visit with them and invite them to consider seriously the enabling laws of the Lord. I’ve wondered what I could possibly say so they would feel how much the Savior loves them and know how much I love them and come to recognize how covenant-keeping women and men can receive a “fulness of joy” (“‘Come, Follow Me,'” General Conference, April 2019).

Today, I will be grateful for the covenants I have been privileged to make with God. I will remember those covenants have strengthened my relationship with Him. I will remember that I can always rely on His promises. And I will remember that, by keeping my covenants, and through continual repentance, I can eventually receive a fulness of joy.

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How Can I Know If I’ve Been Forgiven?

Repentance is a fundamental part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because we know that we can be forgiven for the wrongs we have committed, we choose to repent as a demonstration of our faith in Him. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught recently, everyone needs to repent every day:

Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance….
Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day….
Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power (“We Can Do Better and Be Better,” General Conference, April 2019).

But how can we know when we have been forgiven? The Book of Mormon tells multiple stories in which people received forgiveness of their sins. How could they tell that God had forgiven them?

  • Enos heard the voice of God, assuring him that his sins were forgiven. Because he trusted God, he felt no guilt after receiving that message. (See Enos 1:5-6.)
  • The people of King Benjamin received the Spirit of God. They were filled with joy and had “peace of conscience” (Mosiah 4:3).
  • Alma the Younger saw light and was filled with joy. He could no longer remember the pain he had felt (Alma 36:19-20).

President Spencer W. Kimball taught that, even if an ecclesiastical leader like a bishop or stake president approves a person to participate fully in the church, that person “must also seek and secure from the God of heaven a final repentance” receiving confirmation directly from God that he or she has been forgiven (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 101, quoted in “Cleansed by Repentance,” President Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, April 2019).

President Henry B. Eyring acknowledged that it can be difficult to know whether we have been forgiven. We read stories in the scriptures in which forgiveness seems to be received instantly, yet for many of us, it is a more gradual process:

“How do you know?” That was whispered to me by a woman after a stake conference, with tears running down her cheeks, when she said: “I’ve tried so long. I’ve done everything I know how. Why don’t I feel the peace of forgiveness? I want to feel forgiven. I want to feel clean again. I want to feel I can stay that way. How do I know?” It was asked in a letter that came to my desk recently. It was asked the other night on the phone in what began as a call about business. And with tears in his voice, a young man asked, “Well, how will I know? How do you know?” (“Come Unto Christ,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 29 October 1989).

President Eyring shared a story of a young man who desperately wanted to know if he had been forgiven for a sin he had committed in the past. The answer to his question was a function of his behavior over time: participating fully in church meetings, serving others wholeheartedly, humbly accepting every assignment given him by God. President Eyring concluded that it may be hard for us to know for sure whether we have been forgiven, but the ultimate test is our behavior and attitude over time:

You will have put yourself so often in the Master’s service, bringing the cleansing companionship of the Holy Ghost, that you will be on the front row, early, whenever and wherever the Master calls. It will be gradual enough that you may not notice. You will be humble enough that you may be reluctant to believe it is happening. But those with spiritual discernment who love you will know. And the Savior and our Heavenly Father will know. And that is enough.

Today, I follow President Nelson’s counsel to engage in daily repentance. I will remember that, when I have been forgiven, I can let go of the guilt associated with my sins and mistakes. Even though it may be hard for me to know when God has forgiven me, I will trust that the cleansing power of the Atonement will accompany my humble efforts to do the will of my Father in Heaven.

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