At the end of Alma’s life, he held a final interview with his son Helaman. He asked Helaman to reaffirm his belief in Jesus Christ and the words of the scriptures and to recommit to obey the commandments which Alma had taught. He prophesied of dark times ahead, including the complete destruction of the Nephite people. He blessed Helaman and his other sons, the earth, and the members of the church. And he reaffirmed a fundamental principle about God: “The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16).
Alma had taught this principle before, using different words. To his son Corianton, he had testified, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). He had urged Corianton not to make excuses for his bad behavior:
Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.Alma 42:30
Alma’s missionary companion Amulek had also affirmed this principle. Asked by Zeezrom whether God will save His people “in their sins,” Amulek replied, “I say unto you he shall not, for it is impossible for him to deny his word” (Alma 11:34). As Alma’s grandson Helaman later explained, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, God will save His people from their sins. He will not save them in their sins (Helaman 5:10).
So He will certainly have mercy on repentant sinners, but that mercy consists in helping them overcome their sins. He doesn’t lower His standards; He helps us meet them.
In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reaffirms this principle. After stating that He is pleased with the church as a whole, He clarifies that this approval does not apply to every action by its individual members: “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” But He immediately adds the following words of reassurance: “Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30-32).
What are the implications for us?
- We should hold ourselves to a high standard of behavior, and we should not make excuses when we fall short of that standard.
- We must continue to be optimistic that God will help us to improve and grow.
In the poem “Talk” by John Holmes, the narrator celebrates the time he spent with “a deaf old near-sighted wrestler who had been to sea, and made ship-models for a living, and didn’t say much.” Watching the older man work, whittling small boats for hours on end, this young man learned an important principle: “However you build it, the ship must sail; you can’t explain to the ocean” (“Talk,” Collected Poems of John Holmes, Tufts Digital Library).
After quoting this passage, Elder Quentin L. Cook provided the following counsel: “Do not suppose that rationalizations about bad choices will be any more effective than trying to explain to the ocean why the ship was built in such a way that it could not float” (“Strengthen Faith as You Seek Knowledge,” Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional, 14 March 2006).
Today, I will avoid rationalization. I will hold myself to a high standard of behavior, acknowledge where I fall short, and trust that God will help me overcome my sins and weaknesses as I choose to repent and obey Him.