Why do I still remember my sins?” the woman who sat in my office asked me. She was distraught, yet she had an earnest desire to understand.
She told me that years ago, she had committed a serious sin. She had confessed to proper authority and had followed counsel in seeking forgiveness from the Lord, the Church, and the individuals involved. She had changed her life and was now obeying the commandments. Still, the things she had done returned to her mind from time to time.
“The Lord has said that when we repent, we are forgiven, and he remembers our sins no more. But if I still remember my sins, that must mean I have not fully repented and that the Lord has not forgiven me. What more can I do? How will I ever know that the Lord has forgiven me?”
During the time I was serving as president of the Italy Rome Mission, a Church member who was traveling through the area sought my counsel on a matter that was troubling her. I had never met this sister before. Careful questioning confirmed her attitude of repentance, obedience, and sincerity. I invited her to open the scriptures. Together, we read the Lord’s commands to forgive one another and to forgive all men. I told her that if we must forgive one another, we must also forgive ourselves.
She accepted the principle of forgiving others, but the jump from “one another” to “ourselves” seemed very difficult to her. Other scriptures brought similar responses. She was not comforted.
Next, we began to read about the principle of faith in Jesus Christ. Although I prayed silently that the Lord would direct our conversation, I was unaware that the Spirit would soon teach us with great impact. I felt prompted to turn to the Book of Mormon, to Alma 36, which I was currently reading in my own personal scripture study.
I asked her to read aloud the words of Alma the younger to his son Helaman: “And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.” (Alma 36:17.) The scripture sounded as if it were directed specifically to her! It was interesting to note that as Alma remembered his sins, he also remembered the Atonement.
She continued to read: “Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” (Alma 36:18.) This sister’s cries were the same as Alma’s!
She read verse 19: “And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my [sins] no more.” [Alma 36:19]
The words jumped off the page at me. She had read it wrong! The word was not sins.
I asked her to read the verse again. The Spirit whispered that she was about to receive an answer to the question that had caused her such anguish.
Without removing her eyes from the page, she silently reread the verse. Her eyes began to fill with tears as she came to a realization. Softly, her voice difficult to control, she now read aloud: “And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” (Italics added.)
Her eyes were filled not with tears of anguish but rather of joy, understanding, and acceptance.
I have not spoken to this sister since that day several years ago, and I do not remember her name. However, in the intervening years, I have had the joyous opportunity to be present a number of times as the Lord has blessed his children with an understanding of these principles.
Those experiences—and Alma 36—have made it clear to me that when we sincerely repent and exercise faith in the Lord and in the Atonement, we are forgiven. While the memory of our past sins may come to our minds from time to time, if we will also remember the reality of the Atonement, we will remember our pains no more. We will no longer be “harrowed up” by the memory of our sins.
Then we, too, can feel as Alma did: “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:20.)