Degrees of sin

I have heard members of the Church describe sin in degrees of severity. This is most often prevalent in Gospel Doctrine class when we discuss Alma 39. For example, notice these verses:

>”Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5)

Here, sexual sin ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù which many members assume is what Alma the Younger was referring to when he said “these things”, and which we have debated before ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù is being compared to murdering and denying the Holy Ghost. I have heard it mentioned that sexual sin, therefore, is the third worst type of sin (despite the fact that murder and denying the Holy Ghost could be the same thing.

For the purpose of this post, we will assume that the common traditional interpretations of this verse are correct. That is, there are three degrees of severity when it comes to sin: first, denying the Holy Ghost; second, murder; third, sexual sin.

At the same time, however, God does not accept sin at all. Specifically:

>”For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31)

So, I wonder then if there really are degrees of sin. By classifying some sins as more abominable, does Alma suggest that God looks on other sins with some degree of allowance. Does he suggest that God will turn somewhat of a blind eye to the less abominable sins?

By saying he does not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, is God saying he views all sin equally?

Corianton’s Sin

In Alma 39:5, Alma the Younger chides his son Corianton by saying that his actions were so bad that only denying the ghost and murdering would be worse.

Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?

So what does he mean by “these things”? Well, modern Mormon interpretation of this means sexual sins; often in a general sense. But is that what it really means?

Specifically, Alma said, “Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom. . . . thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel” (vv. 2?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú3).

So it seems that the actions Alma was reproving were three fold: boasting of his own strength and wisdom, forsaking his ministry, and going after a harlot. I’m not sure why common interpretation leaves out the first two, but it is easy to see how one could make a connection between sexual sin and going after a harlot.

But does “going after a harlot” strictly refer to sexual sin? Did Corianton actually do anything sinful (read ?¢‚ǨÀúsexual?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢) with Isabel? Or did the sin lie in the fact that he left his mission to go after her. In other words, his personal desires were more important than the Lord’s; doing what he wanted was more important than doing what the Lord wanted.

On the surface, it even seems that the question remains unanswered because Alma didn’t go into any further detail regarding Corianton?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sins. Yet, on the other hand, if Corianton?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sin was simply going after Isabel (not really that simple)?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand didn’t include any actual sexual activity?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthen Alma went into all the detail necessary, and the account is accurate.

Somehow the list that Alma gave in verses 2 and 3, however, has evolved into including everything under the sexual sun so to speak. Odd.

Does God Want to Punish People?

In Alma 14, many women and children were killed because their husbands and fathers believed the words of Alma and Amulek and converted. They were actually thrown into a fire. Amulek was astounded at this and wanted to use the priesthood to stop them (perhaps by some miracle):

“How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.” (verse 10)

Alma said that he felt inspired not to intervene because they are automatically saved for their belief in God.

“The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.” (verse 11)

The last part of verse 11 was interesting. Another reason Alma gave for not intervening is that “the Lord . . . doth suffer that . . . the people [presumable the ones doing the killing] may do this thing unto them . . . that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just”.

So he’s not going to intervene in order that God could punish (exercise judgement upon) them? If Alma and Amulek had intervened and no one was killed, God wouldn’t have needed to punish them. Wouldn’t that have been better all around?

Denying the Holy Ghost and Murder

While having companion scripture study last night, I came across the following passage in D&C 132:27:

“The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost . . . is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant . . .”

It seems that denying the Holy Ghost is not just blaspheming God and Jesus. It seems to involve murder. Keeping this passage in mind when reading Alma’s counsel to Corianton brings a different interpretation to light as well.

“Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost? For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness . . .” (Alma 39:5-6)

So all this time, we have been taught that sexual sin?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùaccording to popular interpretation verse 5?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùis the third most serious type of sin. Yet one interpretation could be that the sins of which Corianton was guilty were actually second in seriousness, shedding of innocent blood and denying the Holy Ghost being the same thing.

Lust

When Jesus visited the Nephites, one of the things he said was the following:

Whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart. (3 Ne 12:28)

Obviously this means more than simply looking at a woman, but what specifically does it mean? Is there more to this scripture than simply saying that adultery goes beyond simply as a married person having sex with someone other than his spouse? If so, what constitutes looking at a woman lustfully? Does looking at a woman and thinking she has nice legs constitute lust? Can a man look at a woman’s body on purpose without the thought of having sex with her and still be lusting after her?

Vile Sinners

While reading the Book of Mormon last night, I came across Mosiah 28:4, which said in part that the sons of Mosiah “were the very vilest of sinners”. I thought this was interesting, and it made me wonder a few things. Is Mormon speaking relatively here (they were the vilest when compared to all the sinners among the Nephites)? Is he speaking absolutely (no other sinner previous to them in all the world had been as vile as they)? Was Mormon suggesting it was their sins that were the vilest (convincing others to leave the church) and not that the extent to which they committed them was the vilest?