A Meandering Thought on Inoculation

June 5, 2009    By: Matt W. @ 8:53 am   Category: Apologetics,Bloggernacle

I am trying for something devotional here. A fire and brimstone sermon to myself, if you will…

One thing I loved about my high school freshman year of Catholic History was the chapter on the Spanish Inquisition and discussing the horrible things done then. It opened up discussions of religion which I had never before considered and helped me gain an understanding of and frankly a dislike of those evils which had come before. But this acknowledgement of evil was not enough to keep me in the fold. Confessing to evil isn’t enough. It only makes you guilty.

Let’s flash foreword seven years to when I was joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One thing that was new to me was a concept of personal repentance. This may seem silly that as a 21 year old, the concept of righting my wrongs was new to me, and no, in many ways it wasn’t, after all, repentance is intuitive in all of us, a desire to make amends. But to have it so simply articulated to me, and to be given a chance to understand what its application really meant…These things were more than fresh paint on old walls. These were breaths of life into what otherwise would have been a spiritual cadaver, only useful for examination of sins past. But even with breaths of life being pushed in, a desire to live had to come from myself. And it was hard! It was so hard to let go of all my yesterdays, all those scars that defined me.

And I experimented upon the word. I went to the woman who I loved and wanted to have a relationship with, and I told her all the wrongs I had done. Her response was the response of faith. “That was then, this is now. You are not going to do those things anymore. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it matters who you are now.” And this faith lifted me, and made me loosen my cold grip on those scars.

But when you open your hand to let go of scars on your palms, not surprisingly, the scars don’t fall off. They are part of your skin, divots in your flesh left behind by wounds long self-inflicted. And so I learned the last lesson of repentance. It does not release us from consequences; it only prepares us in how to deal with them. This can be described in two ways.

When I was young, my Dad didn’t go to church, he stayed home and watched Star Trek. I never loved it, but I did have a soft spot for James T. Kirk. He once said-

Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!

Second Description:

Elder Dallenbach, once the General Young Men’s President, once said that when we are tempted to sin, we should not say “no”, but firmly say “Never!” And if we have sinned and cannot say “Never!” we must shout “Never Again!”

Our sins past become monuments calling for future righteousness. We look to them, and shout “Never Again”. We need to look hard at the Spanish Inquisition and call out “Never Again!” We need to look hard at Mountain Meadows Massacre, at the racism of blacks and the Priesthood, at the sexism of polygamy, at the deception of baseball baptisms, and cry out “Never Again!” We need to take these scars and own them. Not just saying they happened impartially, but be sure to declare they were wrong, they are disgusting, and that we will have no part of them. We need to never forget them, so that we can ensure that they will never happen again. Thus our scars truly do define us and make us who we are. It is only in owning, repudiating, and mastering the evil within that we can become ourselves.


  1. Great message. This is why I kind of have a soft spot for the old nail in the board analogy (the residual hole being the consequences/entanglements of our dalliances with sin).

    Comment by Mephibosheth — June 5, 2009 @ 11:36 am

  2. Matt,

    I have asked God several times to help me remember how I felt after I had hurt others so that I would remember the cost and never want to do it again. What value would life have if you couldn’t learn from your mistakes because you forgot them when you repented? There is a certain element of pain that is removed by Christ when we repent sincerely and that is the pain that is debilitating and unproductive because it keeps us from trusting ourselves to love others. I think God leaves me just the right amount of pain to bless my life.

    As to the old board analogy: I remember hearing the story with the complaint that then you look at the flaws that are left behind. I also think Stephen Robinson promoted the idea that when you repent you get a new board and there is no hole. I think the analogy just begs the question of application too much since depending on your theory of atonement each element could mean anything.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 5, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  3. Mephi: I think he board analogy is, like most other analogies, dependent on it’s context for success.

    Kent: Regarding the atonement removing pain, I love how Kathleen Flake put it in an “on fath” post:

    For Latter-day Saints, God’s mightiness to save is defined not by his capacity to prevent evil, but to create good when only evil seems possible. He doesn’t turn evil into good, but he overcomes it with the good. In the words of the New Testament, he “returns good for evil” and so can we if, as Jesus commanded, we would be “perfect, even as your Father which is in haven is perfect.” Thus, for Latter-day Saints, God’s perfection is in his capacity to make life in the midst of life’s many deaths and to engender in his children the power to do the same, even calm the seas.

    To me this says Christ may not be removing debilitating pain, but giving that pain context in which it can be meaningful and valuable. I have never prayed to remember pain, but I have prayed to have pain taken from me, only to receive a loving “no” for an answer.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 5, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

  4. Well said Matt, beauty for ashes and all. Although it may be lame to quote myself, like I said about Faith in my last post:

    He also promises us that everything we may think is negative about our lives and experiences on this earth will be turned into good for us. If we will have faith in Christ and His atonement, all the negative effects of the Fall, all the pain and suffering in this world, will have no lasting impact on us; rather we will eventually be grateful for ALL of our experiences.

    Do you truly feel that once a person has received the forgiveness of the atonement that he may still be tormented by the pain of the sin, not having peace or the ability to trust himself others? The anguish of the act may never disappear, but does it have to be debilitating?

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 5, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

  5. “…trust himself WITH others?” is what I meant to type.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 5, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

  6. Kent: I think we may be talking past one another. Let me attempt to clarify. I think a person can have the pain of sin still after he has repented and sought forgiveness through the atonement, but that the power of the atonement reaches in and enables that person to put their pain in a context where the pain still exists, but no longer needs to be debilitating. It gives him a reason to fight on, despite his betrayal of self, and thus he can gently and slowly trust himself with others due to the context.

    One of these days I’ll get around to that post on what I think pain is in context with sin (think Avidya)

    Comment by Matt W. — June 5, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  7. Great post Matt!

    I think of the scars of guilt and pain as transformed into blessings in light of repentance. Before I repent, the same problems keep showing up over and over again . . . but more insistent and demanding every time they come around. Until I learn the lesson there for me to learn, I keep reinjuring myself and others more and more.

    When I repent, the things I did don’t change. I change. The meaning of what I learned from these experiences is transformed from something that holds me back and damns me into something that has blessed my life. I am who I am because of these experiences. The worst experiences in my life, the most challenging and painful, have become transformed into experiences I wouldn’t give up for anything because they are essential to my progression to learn to love others and to grow into the person that I am. Repentance transforms what is evil into a blessing in my life.

    I love your (future) wife’s response to you. She saw that you, like all of us, are works in progress and we aren’t done yet. More, she didn’t hold you in your past but allowed you to grow into someone who has learned from experience. What a great blessing and example.

    Comment by Blake — June 5, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  8. Thanks for the great thoughts, Matt.

    Comment by Clean Cut — June 6, 2009 @ 7:57 am

  9. Thanks Blake and Clean Cut. Blake, I agree with what you said.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 6, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  10. Matt,
    Enjoyed most of your thoughts. Your comment that polygamy was “wrong, they are disgusting, and that we will have no part of them. We need to never forget them, so that we can ensure that they will never happen again” seems to have been swallowed whole by your readers. I don’t swallow that whole, but would love read other discussions about it. Can you link me to some?

    Comment by Hal — June 7, 2009 @ 10:02 am

  11. Hal, he was referring to the sexism that was part of some polygamous relationships. I personally believe that God instituted polygamy in the church, but that doesn’t mean that everyone practiced it well. The idea I get from Matt is that we can look at the evil perpetuated by some of the church’s members and learn from it. Sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc.

    Comment by Kent (MC) — June 7, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

  12. Kent pretty much is right. I am saying the sexism associated with Polygamy was wrong,disgusting, and we will have no part of it. We should only look at it to see what not to do. I am not expert enough to make a judgment on the practice of polygamy itself. In any case I do believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that polygamy was to God’s purposes.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 7, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  13. Got it.

    Comment by Hal — June 7, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  14. This was a very excellent discussion. I hope you’ll forgive my awful self-promotion in extending the discussion to include not only guilt and the effects of sin, but also the pain and grief and sorrow we experience in general even when we have not necessarily brought it on ourselves. A loved one dies, for example. I would extend the post to include these accidentals.


    Comment by BHodges — June 8, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  15. No worries, I don’t have a problem of expanding the idea to grief, but the post is really about how we talk to members about issues in church doctrine. I think it is important that we own where we were wrong, and move forward with a reminder to not do wrong again. If you want to include a loved one dying accidentally, that scar has power too, and through the atonement we can hold to the good and bad and honor the one while rejecting and learning from the other.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 8, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  16. I should be more specific and say that theodicy as experienced in actual lives needs inoculating for as well, including in some cases a better grasp on the idea of sorrow.

    Your post was a great read, thanks.

    Comment by BHodges — June 9, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  17. Thanks.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 9, 2009 @ 11:53 am