Yesterday in Gospel Doctrine I asked a question that I have pondered for years. Is it better for us to screw up and repent (through the experience we learn and grow) or to never have messed up at all? It stems from Alma’s discussion with his son Helaman when he implores him to learn wisdom in his youth. This seems to be pretty good advice. However, Alma was a great prophet who accomplished great things, yet he wasn’t very wise when he was in his youth. I can somewhat understand the sentiment of not wanting his son to go through what he had to go through. But I wonder, was it because of his early experiences that made him the great person that he was? I mean, how much greater was his empathy now to those in wickedness because he had gone through what they were going through? I personally have never had any problem with tobacco in my life, therefore it’s difficult for me to be empathetic to those with tobacco withdrawls. Someone that was once addicted and has overcome the cravings can sure help that person much better than I can.
(which brings up the interesting question of why wasn’t Alma more empathetic to his wicked son? He may have been. Or maybe that’s not what his son needed at that point. I’m not sure. But that is a topic for another day)
So is it a question of empathy? I mean, if we never screw up how can we relate to what others are dealing with? It’s really hard for me to have empathy on the prideful…I have no idea what that’s like…
Or is it a question of experience in order that those after us don’t make the same mistakes? That then leads to another question: from which people do we better learn our lessons? Those who have sad experience then overcome, or those who teach solely by principle?
Jesus Christ never screwed up, yet he seemed to know all the right answers and was not that bad at empathizing either. We learn in Alma that, “he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” Yet that doesn’t come through experiencing sin.
CS Lewis said something very intersting about temptation: “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.” This reasoning ultimately leads us to Christ, and that he perfectly understands temptation, therefore he perfectly understands each one of our situations, therefore he can be the merciful being that he claims to be.
So does that mean by my resisting temptations I can be empathetic? That I can say, “I know what you are going through?” I’m not quite sure. But I’m also not convinced that that is the purpose of repentance and overcoming sin. Maybe it’s just a perk, to be empathetic to those around you who are struggling.
The quick answer to the question is that it’s better to never screw up in the first place. However, we live in a society where we make poor decisions all the time and there is a mountainfull of goodness that comes from those experiences that probably wouldn’t have existed otherwise. I just don’t know if it’s as black and white as one might initially presume.