There is a difference between sins and mistakes and the treatment for each, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve said at the BYU Campus Education Week devotional on Tuesday, Aug. 16.
"Both can hurt us and both require attention, but the scriptures direct a different treatment," Elder Oaks told the audience in the Marriott Center. "Chewing on a live electrical cord or diving headfirst into water of uncertain depth are mistakes that should be made known that they can be corrected. Violations of the commandments of God are sins that require chastening and repentance. In the treatment process we should not require repentance for mistakes, but we are commanded to preach the necessity of repentance for sins."Elder Oaks based his remarks on verses in the Doctrine and Covenants: " `Any member of the church of Christ transgressing, or being overtaken in a fault, shall be dealt with as the scriptures direct. (D&C 20:80.)'
"The clear implication of this verse is that
transgressing' is different from beingovertaken in a fault,' but that either type of action is to be dealt with as the scriptures direct," he said.
Then he cited: " `And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known.
" `And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent. (D&C 1:25,27.)'
"Under these verses
transgressing' is different from being atfault,' and to err is different than to sin," he said.
Elder Oaks recalled that when he read the Sears Roebuck catalog as a young boy, it described merchandise as good, better, and best, but didn't use the word "bad."
Then he said: "For most of us, most of the time, the choice between good and bad is easy. What usually causes us difficulty is determining which uses of our time and influence are merely good, or better, or best.
"Applying that fact to the question of sins and mistakes, I would say that a wrong choice in the contest between what is good and what is bad is a sin, but a poor choice among things that are good, better, and best is merely a mistake."
All mortals make those kinds of mistakes, Elder Oaks stated. "If we would be more understanding of one another's mistakes, being satisfied merely to correct and not to chasten or call to repentance, we would surely promote loving and living together in greater peace and harmony," he said.
Those who have not been given a law cannot sin against that law, Elder Oaks pointed out. But then he added: "Of course, all men have been given the Spirit of Christ (conscience) that they may `know good from evil' (2 Ne. 2:5; Moro. 7:16). This makes us all aware of the wrongfulness of certain conduct, such as taking a life or stealing, but it does not make men accountable for laws that need to be specifically taught. . . . Persons who break those kinds of laws when they have not received them are guilty of mistakes that should be corrected, but they are not accountable for sins. They may suffer for their mistakes, like a smoker suffers for breaking a law of health even if he has never heard of the Word of Wisdom." Parents need to consider their children's understanding of the laws of God, Elder Oaks continued. "Even after children reach the age of accountability, before we parents chasten them as sinners for wrongful actions, we should ask ourselves whether we have taught them the wrongfulness of that conduct. Have we taught them the commandments of God on that matter? This is a profound challenge and lesson for parents."
He later said, "We should correct the youthful offenders and promptly teach them correct principles to guide their future actions. Any repetition would then be a transgression."
Sins are not always more serious than mistakes, Elder Oaks explained. "Almost all sins, large and small, can be repented of, but some serious mistakes (like stepping in front of a speeding automobile) can be irreversible. This shows that a big mistake may have more serious permanent effects than a small transgression."
He concluded: "If we are willing to be corrected for our mistakes - and that is a big if, since many who are mistake-prone are also correction-resistant - innocent mistakes can be a source of growth and progress.
"We may suffer adversities and afflictions from our own mistakes or from the mistakes of others, but in this we have a comforting promise. The Lord, who suffered for the pains and afflictions of His people (see Alma 7:11; D&C 18:11, 133:53), has assured us through His prophet that He will consecrate our afflictions for our gain (see 2 Ne. 2:2; D&C 98:3). We can learn by experience, even from our innocent and inevitable mistakes, and our Savior will help us carry the burden of the afflictions that are inevitable in mortality. What He asks of us is to keep His commandments, to repent when we fall short, and to help and love one another as He has loved us (see John 13:34)."