12 And it came to pass that when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people.
13 But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.
9 And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.
10 And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land.
11 And it came to pass that I, Mormon, did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people, because of their wickedness and abomination.
In these two passages, we see the reaction of Mormon’s people to tragedy and to victory. Unfortunately, the common denominator in both circumstances is an unwillingness to change.
In chapter 2, Mormon describes the aftermath of a series of military defeats. The Nephites lost one city after another and had to retreat to the north countries. “There was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land, both on the part of the Nephites and also on the part of the Lamanites” (Mormon 2:8). Under these circumstances, the people became depressed. Mormon was at first hopeful that this sadness would motivate them to repent and turn their hearts to God. But as he tells us in the first passage above, their sorrow did not lead to repentance. He characterized it as “the sorrow of the damned,” wishing that they could be happy in their wickedness, and unwilling to change to find true happiness.
In chapter 3, the tide turns in their direction. For ten years, there is no fighting. Mormon tries to preach to the people during this time, but with no success. “They did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance” (Mormon 3:3). When the Lamanites attacked them again, the Nephites defeated them twice in a row. They could have responded to this victory by turning their hearts to God in gratitude, but they did not. Instead, “they began to boast in their own strength.”
Damnation means “the state of being stopped in one’s progress and denied access to the presence of God and His glory” (Guide to the Scriptures). As we see in the two passages above, this state of halted progression is not imposed upon us, but is rather something we bring upon ourselves. How do we do it? By refusing to change.
If repentance is change and damnation is halted progress, then it is a simple statement of fact that those who refuse to repent will be damned. As President Boyd K. Packer put it, “Things that don’t change remain the same” (quoted by Elder Lynn G. Robbins in “Until Seventy Times Seven,” General Conference, April 2018). An obvious statement of fact, perhaps, but an important admonition given our tendency to resist change.
Today, I will learn from the examples of the Nephites in Mormon’s time. When I encounter roadblocks and difficulties, I will use those disappointing experiences as an opportunity to humble myself, turn my heart to God, and change. When I experience success, I will express gratitude to God and recognize His hand in my life, so that I can continue to grow and progress. Above all, I will remember that my continued development depends on my willingness to accept correction, to change, to repent.