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A Story from President Uchtdorf That Taught Me How We Might Have Misunderstood Sin & Repentance All Along

The January 2017 home teaching lesson “Aiming at the Center,” lovingly prepared by President Uchtdorf, shares this compelling metaphor for how we should focus our lives.

“Recently, I watched a group of people practicing the art of archery.  Just by watching, it became clear to me that if you really want to master the bow and arrow, it takes time and practice.  I don’t think you can develop a reputation for being an accomplished archer by shooting at an empty wall and then drawing targets around the arrows.  You have to learn the art of finding the target and hitting the bull’s-eye.”

I see significant spiritual principles are packed into these few quoted words from President Uchtdorf's message, including:

  • mastery achieved through effortful practice
  • willingness to try something
  • willingness to make mistakes
  • willingness to receive instructive feedback
  • willingness to make corrections

And sin and repentance are intimately tied up in these principles. 

To make the case, I’ll turn to the original meaning of the words “sin” and “repentance” in Hebrew in the Old Testament.  I believe that those original meanings are far more positively instructive to our ongoing growth toward becoming like God than our sometimes knee-jerk negative modern reactions to the words “sin” and “repentance.” When we learn what “sin” and “repentance” meant in their original Hebrew context, we may feel liberated to more fully embrace a life covered in the all-encompassing Atonement of Jesus Christ.

One of the main Hebrew words for “sins” is hata, which means to “miss the mark.” 

In archery, if someone misses the bulls-eye mark, there is no reason for them to become angry or to think that all is lost. 

A missed shot in archery simply means that the archer needs to readjust their aim and try again.

In light of this, it is significant that the ancient Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, or “to turn.” 

Just as an archer who has missed a shot needs “to turn” and “re-aim,” the same is true for any of us who “miss the mark” in our lives.  There is no need to think that if we have “missed the mark” that suddenly all is lost and we are stuck with what we have.  Rather, we can embrace the principle of agency to turn our focus to the target and try again.  We turn (repent) with the faith that we will be a little closer the next time and will eventually not miss the mark (sin) again. 

The mark we aim for is Jesus Christ.  We seek to follow Him.  If we stumble or fall, if we miss that mark at times, let us turn and re-aim for Him.  There is no need to feel inconsolable over our sins or to fear the process of fine-tuning our aim.

If we are faithful and believing, if we are diligent in practicing our aim, we will achieve masterful success through the true Master, Jesus Christ.

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Taylor Halverson is a BYU Teaching and Learning Consultant. He is also a member of the Book of Mormon Central executive committee, founder and co-director of the BYU Virtual Scriptures Group, and a columnist for the Deseret News. More at taylorhalverson.com.

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