Several years ago a medical doctor who specialized in caring for patients with cancer was asked, "If you could be granted one wish, what would it be?" The person asking the question expected the doctor to say something such as, "I wish a cure for cancer could be found." Instead, the doctor replied, "I would wish that a patient would feel pain the first day that cancer starts."
The questioner was taken aback. Why would a doctor, who had devoted his life to relieving pain, wish people would suffer pain? The doctor explained that in many cases a patient does not know he or she has cancer until the malignancy has had time to grow and spread. By the time cancers in many patients are discovered, the disease is so far advanced that little, if anything, can be done to cure or stop it. If a person experienced pain at the onset of cancer, the doctor explained, he or she would be alerted that something was wrong and could then get proper medical treatment in its earliest stages. Suffering would be greatly reduced and lives prolonged.We seldom think about the positive aspects of pain. In daily life, when it afflicts us in the form of headaches, muscle strains or other maladies, we do our best to get rid of it. Shelves of pharmacies and other outlets are filled with pills, powders and ointments designed to relieve pain. At best, some merely mask it, diminishing it for a brief period of time but not eliminating its cause.
Pain serves as a warning to our bodies: If we're doing something that causes pain, we stop doing it. We are careful of that action in the future.
As pain is to the body, so conscience is to the soul. While physical pain has dozens of balms in bottles, tubes or jars, there is only one remedy for a pain-stricken conscience. That remedy is repentance. Unlike the potions for physical ailments, repentance does not mask, dull or hide pain: it goes to its root and eliminates it.
We might be able to ignore a dull ache in the body and continue with our daily lives, but we should never numb our senses to the pain of misconduct. Sin always leads to suffering, if not now then in coming years.
In the Book of Mormon, Alma - known as "the Younger" - told his son Helaman of the pain his transgressions caused him after he had gone about with the sons of Mosiah, "seeking to destroy the church of God." Alma testified that after he had been brought to a realization of what he had done, he "was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins."
Alma continued: "And now, for three days and for three nights was I 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.
"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.
"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. . . .
"And . . . my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
" . . . there could be nothing . . . so bitter as were my pains. Yea, . . . my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
"Yea, methought I saw, even as our Father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God, . . . and my soul did long to be there." (See Alma 36:6-22.)
Guilt and anguish combine to form the kind of pain that motivates us to seek spiritual relief. That kind of pain is essential. President Spencer W. Kimball said that one "has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins. . . . If a person hasn't suffered, he hasn't repented." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 88-89.)
Divine forgiveness heals injured souls. We may find it through a clearly prescribed course of repentance, which includes recognition of the sin, remorse, confession to the proper authority, prayer and abandonment of the transgression.
Who has not experienced the pain of sin? The "cure" is offered by Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself the sins of all the world in Gethsemane and on the cross. As with physical pain, we are better off if we can avoid those things that bring afflictions to the soul. But what comfort there is in knowing that through repentance we may receive all the healing, curative powers of the Savior's great act of redemption.