The Hebrew word meshubah (מְשׁוּבָה) means “turning away.” It appears twelve times in the Old Testament: once in Proverbs, nine times in Jeremiah, and twice in Hosea. In the Jeremiah and Hosea appearances, the King James translators rendered it as “backsliding.” Other translations use words like “apostasy,” “faithlessness,” and “waywardness.”
I like the word “backsliding,” because I can relate. I don’t usually rebel against God or intentionally turn away from Him. But I do slip into bad habits when I am not vigilant. I may not even notice the gradual decline if I’m not paying attention, actively monitoring my spiritual health.
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him,” says the Lord through Hosea. “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” But Israel did not reciprocate: “My people are bent to backsliding from me,” (Hosea 11:1, 4, 7).
What is your response when you love another person and they turn away from you? What if it’s a close family member or even one of your children? At our worst, we may respond with anger or disengage. At our best, we may continue to love them patiently, waiting for them to come around. But God not only waits for us to return to Him. He actively works to help us make that choice.
“I will heal their backsliding,” He says, “I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4, see also Jeremiah 3:22). He respects our agency, but He doesn’t abandon us, even when us abandon Him. He remains engaged, ready to help us return as soon as we are willing to receive His help.
The word “backsliding” doesn’t appear in the Book of Mormon, but a similar expression—”fall into transgression”—appears 17 times. Many prophets, including Enos, Alma, and Mormon warn of the consequences of drifting into a sinful state. Like Hosea and Jeremiah, these prophets also teach that God will not give up on us. Consider, for example, Limhi’s candid assessment of the reasons for his people’s captivity:
If this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them….
But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.Mosiah 7:25, 33
Today, I will strive to avoid backsliding. I will remember that bad habits can grow imperceptibly if I am not careful. I will also take comfort in the Lord’s promise to heal my backsliding as I trust in Him.