God Will Abundantly Pardon

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Jeffery Bunker

Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

May 18, 2006
Jeffery Bunker
Dean of Admissions & Records

Brethren and Sisters, aloha. I'd like to preface my remarks this morning by expressing my appreciation for my wife Stephanie and for her kind introduction. She is a wonderful wife, mother, counselor, champion, and friend.

Sister Bunker has served as surrogate mother to hundreds of students for whom I've had the privilege of serving as Bishop. Just two weeks ago, I came home from work to the sights and smells of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. As I strategically edged my way towards them, Stephanie instructed me to wait for a later batch. When I inquired as to why, she told me that she was making this batch for a boy in the ward, to whom she would eventually, secretly, give the entire pan. I asked why he would get an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and she simply replied to me, because he asked. I should have learned that lesson twenty-three years ago; but this exemplifies the kind of person she is, and I appreciate and love her for it.

As Bishop of a campus singles ward there have been many lessons that I've learned. One lesson learned just recently is that paintballs, goggles, and sling shots can constitute an effectual Elders' Quorum activity.

Another lesson learned is that with proper ingredients, and a willing Relief Society, pies can become Thanksgiving dinner.

I learned that given a large dinning room table, a beautiful piece of material, and a talented Relief Society President, dreams really can come true.
Finally, I've learned that Bishoprics come in all shapes and sizes!

There have been many fun and enjoyable lessons learned through the years of service; however, there have been many serious lessons. One of these lessons is found in a simple, succinct, scripture in The Book of Mormon which reads, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." Our Savior wants us to be happy in this life. It was He who, with the Father, created the Great Plan of Happiness. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "happiness is the object and design of our existence." This is a wonderful doctrinally-based principle that should genuinely influence our lives.

Another more serious lesson learned, is that, "wickedness never was happiness". Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave this admonishment, "Brothers and sisters, old and young, I plead with each of you to remember that wickedness never was happiness and that sin leads to misery. Young people, do not seek happiness in the glittering but shallow things of the world. We cannot achieve lasting happiness by pursuing the wrong things. Someone once said, 'You can never get enough of what you don't need, because what you don't need won't satisfy you.'

Young and old, turn your eyes and your hearts away from the deceptive messages of the media. There is no happiness in alcohol or drugs, only enslavement. There is no happiness in violence, only pain and sorrow. There is no happiness in sexual relations and physical familiarities outside the bonds of marriage, only degradation and increased momentum along the way to spiritual death.

There is no lasting happiness in what we possess. Happiness and joy come from what a person is, not from what he or she possesses or appears to be." Now, if "wickedness never was happiness", one might rightly assume that there are many unhappy people in the world. And, the only way to find happiness, which by design can be ours, is by returning to righteous living through the repentance process availed by the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the greatest, most encompassing, penetrating and permeating lesson that I've learned while serving as a singles ward Bishop, is that God is merciful. He wants our happiness. He has prepared a way for us to obtain that happiness. And that way is through repentance and baptism. This is His doctrine. He clearly and unmistakably declares it. "I will declare unto you my doctrine. And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; ...and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; ...And again I say unto you, ye must repent and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine..."

The Lord's doctrine and His directions cannot be made any clearer than this.

Perhaps some may be tempted to say, "I cannot bring myself to repent again. I've repented for the same sin so many times before. The Lord must be getting tired of hearing me make the same plea." Perhaps others may say, "I've tried so many times before to quit, and I know I'll fail again. I don't want to let the Lord down yet another time. I don't want to again feel the pain, anger, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, and humiliation. I don't want to make another promise to the Lord, only to again fail Him and myself."

Others may feel the repetitive and sinister downward spiral of seductive habits, binding addictions, or enslaving and degenerating behaviors. To you the Lord's own words should be the balm to heal and the encouragement to try once again.

In Mosiah 26:30 the Lord promises us "Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me." And in Moroni chapter 6, after the terrible and final destruction of the Nephites, Moroni looking back testifies to the truthfulness of the previous promise. He says in verse 8, "as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven." Do we believe "every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God"? If we do, we must believe Him when he says "as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me."

The Lord individually invites each one of us, as His close friend, to reason with him on the subject of forgiveness. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Again, do we really believe Him? Is it literally possible to again be "white as snow" and "as wool"? I testify to you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ that it is possible. I know it is possible because I've learned it. I know it is possible, because like Nephi, I have numerous times cried within myself, "O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me." I know it, because like Alma, I've cried out "O Jesus, thou son of God, have mercy on me". I know it, because I've experience the joy, respite, and emancipation that come through sincere and broken-hearted repentance.

Isaiah taught that the Lord eagerly, yet patiently waits for us to seek his tender mercies. "And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you." Now, although the Lord patiently waits for us, Isaiah counsels us, "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:" Finally, Isaiah testifies that God will "abundantly pardon". "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." The word abundantly means that God will richly, plentifully, and profusely pardon us. "Abundantly" exemplifies the willingness and desire God has to forgive us our trespasses. I remember a time in my life when I actively sought forgiveness for a wrong which I had committed. Not only did the Lord send His spirit assuring me of His forgiveness; He also sent a very significant accompanying blessing for which I felt, and was, most unworthy. I learned personally that our Heavenly Father wants to pardon us because of the atoning mercies of our Savior, He wants to bless us for our faith in the process of repentance, and he wants to do so abundantly.

In an earlier General Conference talk Elder Marion D. Hanks said, "[God] waits to be gracious! He loves to be merciful! The prophets call him "the Father of mercies." (2 Cor. 1:3.) They speak of his "abundant mercy," (1 Pet. 1:3), and declare that "whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy" (Alma 12:34). They declare his "wisdom, mercy, and grace." (2 Ne. 9:8.) And crowning all of this is the testimony that our Father "delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18.) The specialty of the Father is mercy. The specialty of the Savior is mercy."

To obtain this mercy we must first sincerely and with real intent seek it through repentance. As Bishop I have learned that there are some general steps that one will normally go through while in this process called repentance. Elder Neal A Maxwell says, "Real repentance involves not a mechanical checklist, but a checkreining of the natural self. Often overlapping and mutually reinforcing, each portion of the process of repentance is essential. This process rests on inner resolve but is much aided by external support."

The first step is to recognize the wrong which we have done. This is normally not a hard thing to do. We have all been blessed with the "light of Christ" which helps us to recognize our sins. With this recognition, we then feel sorrow for our committed offence. This sorrow is deeper than just sadness for not doing what's right. It is a deep and penetrating sorrow, a Godly sorrow; a sorrow reflective of the knowledge that we willfully disobeyed our Creator. A sorrow which acknowledges that our thought or our action was the source of some of Christ's suffering; "which suffering caused God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit".

This Godly sorrow leads us to confess our sins to our Father in Heaven, and when appropriate, to proper church authorities. This confession is an acknowledgement before God and man that we are willing to be relieved from the bondage of sin. Elder Maxwell also says, "Confessing aids forsaking. We cannot expect to sin publicly and extensively and then expect to be rescued privately and quickly, being beaten 'with only a few stripes.' one with a broken heart will not hold back. As confession lets the sickening sin empty out, then the Spirit which withdrew returns to renew."

Part of humble and sincere repentance includes restoring those things affected by the transgression. If a person steals a candy bar it is easy to see how one can restore the candy bar to the store owner. However, what if the candy bar is eaten? Is it still possible to achieve restoration? Of course it is; a person can pay the store owner the value of the stolen candy. When the law of chastity has been broken or sins of a moral nature committed, some may erroneously believe that restitution cannot happen. However, much restitution can and must occur. A person can restore to the offended party their confidence of what it means to date a son or daughter of God, a member of the church of Jesus Christ, perhaps even a returned missionary, or a holder of the priesthood. The person can restore ones faith in God, and trust in others. The person can restore the Spirit back into his or her life. The person can restore the once held desire to offer daily prayers, to attend church meetings, and to hold daily scripture study. Ultimately, through the proper process of repentance, broken covenants can be restored and the person can restore his or her personal relationship with their Heavenly Father and with their Savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The final step of repentance is forsaking the very acts that initiated the sorrow. Forsaking the sin is the ultimate challenge of true repentance. Wonderfully, it is also the final liberation.

To my ward members I have sometimes described life as the process of walking up and down a staircase. If physically able, we can normally navigate the stairs with neither thought nor mishap. However, if items are left on the stair steps, chances are high that we will eventually trip and fall.

Metaphorically, sins are like obstacles on our staircase. Some might even have what could be termed "toy" sins, private indulgences for which one is not really ready to remove. Imagine with me for a moment, the sin of stealing appearing on the staircase as marbles. Perhaps illegal and inappropriate substance use and abuse takes on the form of a baseball; perhaps passionate kissing and other similarly stimulating actions take on the form of a baseball bat. Finally, imagine the sin of lying taking on the form of a rollerblade. In the light of day, navigating the staircase of life with toy sins cluttering our steps is difficult and dangerous. Even worse is navigating the staircase in the dark of night, when we are tired, and when we are most vulnerable.

We need to resolutely identify our toy transgressions. Through the sincere process of repentance we need to quickly remove them from our staircase of life. We need to recognize the toy sins for what they are, destructive, debilitating, and damning; remember, "wickedness never was happiness." We need to devise methods to assure that these toys never get back on our staircase—that they never get played with again. We need to be willing to say, as King Lamoni's father said, "I will give away all my sins to know thee". Finally, we need to take steps to assure that we can navigate the future stairway with confidence and conviction.

I have walked up and down many literal staircases in my life. I can normally do it without tripping or falling. However, call me clumsy or klutzy, because there are times that I will trip or stumble, even when there are no toys on the stair steps. Fortunately, there is a safety devise immediately available to help me so I won't fall. It is called a handrail. If we continually hold onto the handrail we will most likely be protected from falling. The interesting thing about a handrail is that we sometimes, perhaps even often, don't use it. The scriptural injunction is, "do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way".

On the staircase of life, we will inevitably trip and stumble. For us the key is to not fall. Happily, our staircase of life also comes with a safety handrail. It is something that is as easy as running our hand across a literal handrail. It can and should be done each and every day. Our life handrail includes at least three things; 1) daily personal prayer, 2) daily personal scripture study, and 3) daily acts of charitable service. I submit to you that when we do these three simple things, we are metaphorically placing our hand upon the handrail of our staircase of life. We may still be tried or tempted, we may still occasionally stumble or stagger, but we will not fall if our staircase is free from toys of transgressions, and if we are firmly grasping the secured handrail of prayers, scriptures and service.

Brothers and Sisters, there is only one person who has ever or will ever walk the staircase of life without tripping, stumbling or falling. It is because of His enabling atonement that we are able to get up after we have fallen. It is through Him that the "exquisite and bitter" pain resulting from our fall is transformed into the "exquisite and sweet joy" which the prophet Alma described. It is because of His blood that our wounds and our blood on our hands, elbows and knees can be miraculously healed. It is because of His "tender mercies" and His desire to "abundantly pardon" that we can, once again, be "white as snow" and "as wool". I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

References:
2 Nephi 2:25
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255
Dallin H. Oaks, "Joy and Mercy," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 73
3 Nephi 11: 31-40
D&C 84:44
Isaiah 1:18
2 Nephi 4:17-18
Alma 36:18
Isaiah 30:18
Isaiah 55:6-7
Marion D. Hanks, Ensign, Nov. 1981, 73
Neal A. Maxwell, "Repentance," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 30
Moroni 7:18-19
D&C 19:18
Neal A. Maxwell, "Repentance," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 30
Alma 22:18
Alma 37:46
Alma 36:21
1 Nephi 1:20
Isaiah 1:18