We learn from Alma and the four sons of Mosiah that godly sorrow and suffering are essential parts of the true repentance process. “They suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities” (Mosiah 28:4). We have not repented if we have not suffered. (Paul also taught that godly sorrow brings repentance unto salvation; 2 Corinthians 7:10; see also Psalm 38:17–18; Ezekiel 16:61.) Alma wrote about “wading through much tribulation,” “repenting nigh unto death,” “an everlasting burning,” “the gall of bitterness,” “bonds of iniquity,” “the darkest abyss,” and being “racked with eternal torment.” In his other account (Alma 36:12–19), he added other terms of anguish: “tormented with the pains of hell,” “inexpressible horror,” “pains of a damned soul,” “harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” and “everlasting chains of death.”
A rack is an instrument of torture, and a harrow is a farm tool used to break up hard earth to make it cultivable—therefore, symbolically also an instrument of torture or torment. Alma used vivid terminology to portray to us this scene of godly suffering. Today we might use terms such as ugly, rotten, dirty, despicable, sick, and gross to sum up our innermost contempt toward the sins that we have committed.
Through all the darkness and desperation he felt, Alma had to turn to the Light; his mind caught hold on the thought of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, who atoned for sins and takes them away (Alma 36:17–20). That Light brought exquisite joy to displace the dark feelings of anguish and despair. The Holy Ghost brings to our minds and hearts the uplifting desire to come to the Savior. The Holy Ghost will cause our souls to be bothered by our sins until we either chase the Spirit away or we repent. Alma would later teach his son, “Let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (Alma 42:29).
True repentance is not merely feeling guilty for being discovered in our sins or the shame or embarrassment for having to confess—it is a deep-felt sorrow and suffering, our part of the cleansing and strengthening process to remove sin from our lives. At the same time, we turn to our Redeemer for the rest of the process of permanent removal of those sins—to make us a new person and a different person, one who would never again commit those sins.
Mighty change had occurred in a gloriously monumental way. Whereas sinful Alma admitted that “the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:14), when his genuine repentance was complete his feelings about God were dramatically altered. Said he, “There can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:21), and when he saw God in his heaven he exclaimed, “My soul did long to be there” (Alma 36:22).