|Del Parson, At Her Master’s Feet. When a woman who had made severe mistakes washed the Savior’s feet, the Lord gave the parable of the two debtors to teach about forgiveness of sins.|
The Savior spoke parables in order to teach eternal truths. The Bible Dictionary points out that “the application of a parable may vary in every age and circumstance,”1 so we shouldn’t be surprised if several valid meanings can be drawn out of any one parable. However, just because a parable can be applied several different ways does not mean that any or every possible interpretation is true.
The Parable of the Two Debtors
There is one particular parable that I would like to discuss: the parable of the two debtors. While I do not claim to know all the profound and true interpretations one could make with this parable, I do know one interpretation we can rule out as incorrect.
I focus on this parable because it has implications in answering the problem of evil. In this series, I hope to show how understanding the nature of sin helps us better understand this mortal test and how a good God can allow evil. The misunderstanding itself, in fact, is a testimony of just how powerful the atonement is. First though, let me quote the parable.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.
And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.
And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. (Luke 7:40–43)
A Sincere Misinterpretation
To be honest, I can see how this parable could easily be misunderstood. The Savior seems to be implying the more you sin, the more you will love Heavenly Father. It’s not too far of a jump to conclude, “Hey, sin away, just as long as you repent. That way you’ll love Heavenly Father more!”
One time in my elders quorum in a student ward, while discussing sin and repentance, my friend suggested, “Well, repentance and forgiveness are good things, so maybe it’s good to sin, because then there’s more repentance and forgiveness going on.” It seems easy to discount this interpretation when it’s stated hypothetically like this, in a tongue-in-cheek manner (and I think my friend may have been playing devil’s advocate a little in order to create discussion and liven up my boring lesson). But let me rephrase his hypothetical suggestion by telling of a real-life situation.
My friend Antonio2 was in an elders quorum meeting during a similar discussion of sin and repentance. Another brother in the quorum was in his second marriage. His first marriage had ended because he had been unfaithful to his wife. Thankfully, after several years of working to get rebaptized, this brother had come back into the Church. Not only that, the woman with whom he had made the mistake later converted and the two were eventually able to be sealed. So it wasn’t totally incomprehensible when Antonio heard him make the following suggestion.
“I think that sometimes it’s good that we sin, because we learn so much from it. It seems like we’re wiser and more caring by sinning and repenting.”
When you think about it, you can see how this brother came to such a conclusion. He’s thinking, I’m back in good standing within the covenant, and I’ve learned a lot about the atonement first-hand. I’m also happily married to the woman I love, and I wouldn’t be married to her if I hadn’t made the mistake I did. So it was a good thing that I made this particular mistake, right?
I don’t think this is a rampant doctrinal misunderstanding in the Church, but I have heard it more than once, expressed in different ways.3 Ultimately, the question being asked is, “Is it necessary for us to sin, in order to learn certain lessons? Is sin a good thing, because of how we grow in the process of overcoming it?”
Antonio told me that he usually doesn’t say anything when he hears a doctrinally incorrect comment in church meetings, often because they are usually minor, harmless mistakes. “But,” he told me, “I just couldn’t let that one go.” I will discuss why he objected in the following posts in this series.
1. Bible Dictionary, “Parables.”
2. Name changed.
3. Take this example: “I got pregnant and placed my baby for adoption. Out of sin was borne, literally, a life for a wonderful LDS couple who could not have children of their own. I often wonder if I had the choice to do over again, would I still have sex and committ the sin. The answer is always yes, for the blessings wrought from that sin will manifest themselves forever” (Jessica C., 14 Jan. 2006, comment on Kaimi Wenger, “The Spiritual Benefits of Sin,” TimesAndSeasons.org, 14 Jan. 2006.