18 And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say—Let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him who hath hid it up—behold, it shall be accursed.
19 And if the Lord shall say—Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever—behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever. (Helaman 12:18-19)
When I started thinking more carefully about this, I thought, Huh, it seems kind of silly to curse riches. Riches aren’t alive and can’t feel anything. But then I realized that the curse is related to the people who own them or want them.
To a person who is wicked, riches would be a curse because the riches 1) increase their ability to do more iniquity, thus adding to their sins, and 2) insulate them from the temporal need that usually humbles people and brings them to seek the Lord.
Further, riches can be a curse whether they are accessible or not, as the above verses show. Inaccessible riches can be a curse because of all the effort and time diverted to trying to access them. As an example, all you need is a rumor of buried treasure somewhere, and greed crawls out of the woodwork. I’m sure you can think of other instances when riches seem just out of reach and people go to extraordinary lengths (honest and otherwise) to obtain them.
Then there are curses that come upon man.
20 And behold, if the Lord shall say unto a man—Because of thine iniquities, thou shalt be accursed forever—it shall be done.
21 And if the Lord shall say—Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence—he will cause that it shall be so.
22 And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared. (Helaman 12:20-22)
At first read, these seem like two ways of saying the same thing, but I think they actually describe two different kinds of people. In v20 is someone who never knew the Lord and refused to ever repent. They love darkness rather than light and prefer their iniquities. Without repentance, they really are cursed forever. In v21 is someone who once knew the Lord, but fell into sin and would not repent. They are cut off from the Lord’s presence. (They had to be in the Lord’s presence in the first place to be cut off.) Both of those sound pretty awful.
Happily, Mormon goes on to say that repentance is declared to try to save people from being accursed like this.
Curses and being accursed is kind of a negative thing to think about, but if we think about it as the opposite of a blessing, that might make it a little less weird. I think it can help us if we look at our own lives and try to see if we can discern where there might be a consistent pattern where we just can’t seem to catch a break or make any progress, or where we might be regressing. That might indicate a place where our iniquities are bringing a curse upon us. There might be a principle we are neglecting or a commandment we are deliberately breaking, and the way it plays out through our life and relationships brings a curse on us. Those kinds of sins are often very deep-seated and require a lot of work to repent of. But they have to be addressed.