While this will be my second post here at UoM, and it will also be the second time Ive been thinking about and structuring a post (or a few posts) in my head and then written about something completely different than what I was planning.
Over at Various Stages
this week they have been talking about sins of omission and have had some great posts on the topic. I think a broad range of things have ben covered- with Sarah's
weekly post conspicuously absent- which I thought was quite clever whether or not it was intentional. (And by the way, congrats Sarah!)
James tells us that to know good and do it not is sin- but how far exactly does that extend? In Kaycee's post
she calls the concept of sins of omission unfair and asks the very important question "where do we draw the line?" because it certainly does seem there is always
something more that could be done. When is not doing more a sin?
I've always liked Elder Maxwell's discussions on discipleship- and in a talk delivered at BYU, The Pathway of Discipleship
, he talks about sins of omission quite a bit.
To underscore further the dimensions of discipleship in our mortal experience, one way of looking at the thou shalt not commandments is that these prohibitions help us to avoid misery by turning us away from that which is enticing but harmful and wrong. However, once we are settled in terms of the direction of our discipleship and the gross sins are left firmly behindmisery prevention it might be calledthen the major focus falls upon the thou shalt commandments. It is the keeping of the thou shalt commandments which brings even greater happiness. True, as the scripture says, wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10), but neither is lukewarmness full happiness. Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness. Then we can come to know true joyafter all, man is that he might have joy (see 2 Ne. 2:25).
It is very often the sins of omission which keep us from spiritual wholeness, because we still lack certain things.
Elder Maxwell then speaks of the rich young ruler who asked Christ what he must do to gain eternal life. "A customized commandment thus came for that man. It was something he needed to do, not something he needed to stop doing, that kept him from wholeness."
The rich young ruler had the opportunity to personally ask Christ what he must do- but how are we
to know what we must do to become whole? Further,the rich young ruler knew clearly what he needed to do to become whole- his sin of omission became a sin of commission once it was explicit. So are only the explicit sins of omission actually sins?
I think that we each have an obligation to actively seek to do good
. We also have an obligation to seek personal revelation. As the spirit prompts us, and as we see places we can help- then we can act. When we know there is something we are supposed to do and we don't do it- then we are guilty of a sin of omission. I don't think that just because more
could have been done it means you are sinning. More wasn't necessarily supposed
to be done and you can only do so much. But if you don't ever even do what you can
do- then there's a problem.
There are times we consciously chose not to do something that could be good. I think that's ok. I think that if we aren't always consciously avoiding things we should
do and we are seeking regularly to be self aware and improve who we are that's the most we can do.
If we look at everything that we could
do, everything positive that would help us that we aren't doing, etc- there becomes more than we can handle.
When I feel like there are things all around me I should do, I often avoid doing any of them well and just feel guilty about all of them- the guilt just makes it worse. For quite a while I used the word should
a whole lot. (I still use it a lot- just not as much) Well, I should... I should be...
But most of the time no real change came in accordance with it- just feeling bad mostly about things where I have no reason to feel bad. A friend told me that constantly worrying about what I "should" do but can't or don't is a pretty shouldy way to live.
And she was right.
We can be happy with where we are as individual people and also seek to grow and not stay where we are. But we also can't crap all over ourselves constantly because we aren't further along- it doesn't make us happy and it doesn't really help anyone.
more from Elder Maxwell
Wickedness is not the only mortal failure. Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God?
There is a memorable scriptural phrase about our need to have faith unto repentance (Alma 34:15, 16). Faith unto repentance covers both sins of commission and sins of omission. And so the faith of discipleship isnt simply for lifes crises, though they will come. Rather, it is especially needed to ensure our regular repentance. After all, the scriptures are filled with thou shalt commandments and with many exhortations for us to do good. James, for instance, speaks of pure religion, urging us to visit and bless the variously deprived (see James 1:27).
Repentance entails attempting to change- but it also entails turning to God, asking for his help, and giving up our guilt.
The point of discussions about sins of omission is that avoiding evil isn't good enough. If we just hide from the world all the time to avoid doing anything wrong, what do we contribute?
So should we repent for sins of omission? Of course. Give up your guilt. Just do what you can. When you know you could have done better- just recognize it, move on, and do better the next time. We don't have to cripple ourselves with guilt.