My Ballot

Office Candidates My Vote Links Commentary
President Biden, Trump Duh The first debate if you can stand to watch it. Let me count the ways
US Senator Martha McSally, Mark Kelly Mark Kelly The debate Martha McSally moved away from her moderate pragmatic past and has become a full-on Trumper.
US Rep Congress District 9 Greg Stanton, Dave Giles Greg Stanton The Debate David Giles is not a serious candidate and has no chance of winning.
State Senate District 26 Jae Chin, Juan Mendez Jae Chin Jae Chin’s backstory Mendez is ambitious but has gone pretty far left to the extent I’m not sure what he’s doing in the legislature. And Jae Chin has an interesting story.
State Rep District 26 Bill Loughrige, Seth Sifuentes, Melody Hernandez, Athena Salman Seth Sifuentes, Athena Salman A brief summary of the candidates from ASU State Press Loughrige is too conservative, Hernandez too inexperienced. Sifuentes has some interesting ideas and Salman is the incumbent.
Corporation Commission Lea Marquez Peterson, Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar, Jim O’Connor, Eric Sloan, Shea Stanfield Lea Marquez Peterson, Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar AZ Central summary

The Debate
Peterson is the only incumbent and seems non-ideological Bill Mundell and Ann Tover both have relevant experience. Jim O’Connor is far too ideological conservative, Eric Sloan seems compromised, and Shea Stanfield seems a bit disconnected.
County Board of Supervisors District 1 Jack Sellers, Jevin Hodge Jack Sellers Liberal Blog Perspective

AZ Central overview
Sellers seems like the more experienced candidate.
County Assessor Eddie Cook, Aaron Connor
County Attorney Allister Adel,
Julie Gunnigle
Julie Gunnigle Debate Both candidates seem pretty good, but we need serious reform, Gunnigle is the better pick.
Country Recorder Adrian Fontes, Stephen Richer
Country School Superintendent Steve Watson, Jeanne Casteen Jeane Casteen Liberal blog’s perspective Both candidates seem good, tie goes to the Democrat
Sheriff Paul Penzone, Jerry Sheridan Paul Penzone The debate Jerry Sheridan worked for Joe Arpiro, I don’t have a reason to vote against the incument.
Maricopa County Treasurer John Allen, Daniel Toporek AZ Central overview
Constable Kyrene
Maricopa County Special Healthcare District
Proposition 449 Yes
Maricopa County Community College District At-Large
Maricopa County Community College District 1
Tempe Union No. 213 Lori Bastian, Don Fletcher, Berdetta Hodge, Sarah James, Sandy Lowe, Armando Montero, Michael Myrick, Paige Reesor Sarah James Ahwatukee Overview My wife’s telling me to vote for her.
Tempe Elem No 3 Monica Trejo, Allison Ewers Running Unopposed
City of Tempe Question 1
City of Tempe Question 2
City of Tempe Question 3
City of Tempe Question 4
Judges
Legalization of recreational marijuana: Proposition 207 N/A No https://reason.org/voters-guide/arizona-ballot-initiative-analysis-proposition-207-2020/ I’m sympathetic to it, but the negatives outweigh the positives in my opinion.
Proposition 208 N/A Yes The Case for No

Laurie Roberts case for yes

Debate

3 Nephi 12-16 – The Sermon on the Mount in America

Introduction

These chapters cover Christ’s teaching immediately after his arrival to America after his resurrection. In chapter 11, he allows each of those who happened to be at the Bountiful temple to touch his wounds, he calls twelve among them to lead, and then he provides a brief introduction for what is about to come next. I consider this text the absolute core of Christianity, from which the Book of Mormon provides a direct second witness as the Christ’s sermon on the mount gets repeated a second time.

3 Nephi 12

Jesus works through people, so we need to “give heed” to them to indicate a recognition that Christ speaks to us through human conduits. First to those with authority, the twelve that were called, 3 Nephi 12:1, but also to anyone else who happen to be Christ’s witnesses, both directly and indirectly, 3 Nephi 12:2. The sign that indicates this belief is a willingness to “come down into the depths of humility” and be baptized from which comes the Holy Ghost and “a remission of sins”.

Christ then jumps into the beatitudes, from which Christ connects specific blessings to spiritual gifts of the heart in ways that seem somewhat disconnected. The poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven. Those that mourn receive comfort as a blessing. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled with God’s Spirit. The merciful receive mercy. The peacemakers are called the children of God. These are the same behaviors Christ showed and it’s through these attributes we draw strength.

It’s clear that Christ works through those who have these attributes to bless the whole earth. At least it becomes clear in verse 13-16 comparing Christ’s followers to the salt of the earth giving the world its flavor, or commanding Christians to be lights to the world.

Jesus concludes this chapter by talking in specifics how Christ has come to fulfill the law of Moses. What’s required now is a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” and a directive to “come unto Christ”. What does that mean specifically? It means, not only don’t you take another person’s life, you avoid anger, nor can we come to Christ until we’ve reconciled our broken relationships (12:23, 24). More than that, reconcile disagreements quickly.

Not only shouldn’t we cheat on our spouse, we should avoid lustful desires from entering our hearts at all. We should cherish our marriage relationships and work desperately to make them solid. Our communications should be filled with goodness and integrity. Others should trust us. We should follow through.

The climax of the chapter sums it all up, that we should love our enemies, “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you” (3 Nephi 12:43).

3 Nephi 13

Jesus continues the sermon in this chapter imploring the people to give to others with sincere, authentic attempt without ulterior or selfish motives. He describes the manner of prayer, to do it in secret, without vain repetitions, with reverence, a willingness to yield to God’s will, a desire to forgive and repent, a plea for strength against temptation, and a recognition of our desire to seek God’s kingdom (3 Nephi 13:1-13). Jesus describes the proper way to fast, implores the people to seek for heavenly and not earthly riches, and to keep our eye single so that our whole body can be full of light.

The final passage of this chapter makes an interesting distinction. Those who are called should be fully focused on the ministry without concern for food, clothing and shelter. This is a directive to the twelve which I think means that most of us should be concerned with these because I think working hard is also a spiritual practice in itself.

3 Nephi 14

This sermon is rapid fire. First he implores the people not to judge unrighteously. He tells the people to hold precious that which is precious, “do not give pearls to swine” but then gives hope. It’s ok to ask questions, to seek, to knock and that as we spend our lives doing so, answers will come. Christ talks about the strait gate and the narrow way that we all must walk through to find Christ. He warns of false prophets and how to detect them.

3 Nephi 15, 16

These last two chapters mark an interesting shift. Here Jesus digs in about his global concerns, that he is concerned with all people, “that other sheep I have which are not of this fold, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (3 Nephi 15:17). And that “it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you” or “that they now not of them” (3 Nephi 15: 19, 20). These passages seem to indicate that we should really know about other nations and cultures and what they can teach us as well as what we might teach them, such that we can ultimately become one fold and one shepherd.

Chapter 16 concludes with a summary of earth’s history and destination, that it would be one of scattering of God’s people throughout the earth because of unbelief and God’s effort to gather them again which is the core point of the restoration, that “God will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel”. (3 Nephi 16:11). He concludes by quoting Isaiah’s prohecy of zion, “when the Lord shall bring again Zion”… “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.” 3 Nephi 16:18-20.

3 Nephi 1-7

3 Nephi 1 – The Sign of His Birth

Helaman ends with the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, prophecies that had unprecedented specificity, laying out the precise timelines for Christ’s coming and how they would know of his birth based on a night that doesn’t grow dark. Somehow, Samuel and his prophecies have a surprisingly harsh and divisive affect on the people. Perhaps, the trigger is that Samuel an outsider, comes into Nephite lands, calls them to repentance, seemingly without any authority and then some number of them actually believe in these prophecies? For some reason this is all too much for them to bear, so the non-believers set a day apart that “they should be put to death except the sign should come to pass.” (3 Nephi 1:9).

Nephi, the prophet and spiritual leader, prays for his people, “all that day” (verse 12). His prayer is answered remarkably by Jesus himself, who declares that on that very night “shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” I imagine the mother Mary and her husband Joseph large with child. And using a science I can only imagine, this very Jesus has the ability to answer Nephi’s prayer directly, while his body remains in the womb. “on the morrow come I into the world”.

The sign appears, destructive plans are thwarted, causing an almost universal shock so extreme that people en-masse fall to the earth, a response that mirrors Alma the younger or King Lamoni’s conversion. When your narratives are shown to be false with incontrovertible evidence, the shock and pain can almost be too much. Hard hearts need to be softened and making hard things soft can sometimes be painful. But still people struggle with their narratives, verse 22 describes how “lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen;” Nonetheless, many hearts were softened and many believe and were converted and baptized.

Despite this remarkable sign, the resulting peace proves temporary, only a couple of years later, the Gadianton robbers, held up in the mountains this entire time, grow in their ranks. What conversion appeal they had on the people, the text does not say. Dissension is especially acute in the rising generation possibly not aware of Samuel’s prophecies and less impressed by the earlier heavenly sign. Somehow the verse connects Zoramite philosophy with the Gadianton band and those words are convincing casuing many dissent.

3 Nephi 2 – Disbelief and War

A big part of their unbelief is not only the temporal distance away from signs but also simple callousness. The people began to be “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts.” And the people did persist in their wickedness, despite “the much preaching and prophesying which was sent among them”. As the numbers increased for the Gadianton robbers, their power to inflict real pain on those in the cities increased as well. The robbers “did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage” that the Nephites and Lamanites joined forces to try to beat down the Gadianton robbers. Their common enemy united them at last.

Chapter two ends with this reference to the Lamanite “curse” being lifted, noted by their “dark skin”. I find this reference troubling given the long, troubled history of justifying racism by attempting to correlate skin color with righteousness as is done here. The most straight forward interpretation of this passage is incredibly problematic and should be rejected and the Book of Mormon gives us a number of ways to do so without rejecting the entire text. The reader can take a more apologists route and try to find alternative interpretation – that it’s not literally talking about skin color. You can accept the Book of Mormon’s own admission that if there are mistakes in this record they are the mistakes of the human beings authoring it and assume this is one of those human mistakes, or you can accept translation, even revelatory translation that came through Joseph Smith can never be perfect and that Joseph Smith through the imperfection of language injected some 1800’s racism into the text. It’s impossible to say with certain which of these interpretations is most correct, but I can say with certainty, righteousness and skin color are absolutely not and never have been correlated.

3 Nephi 3 – The Motivations and Ideas Behind the Gadiantons as noted in the letters exchanged

Analyzing the letter quoted in this chapter by Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadiantons provide some clues to their philosophy and motivations, notably at the very end, “that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government,…”

The Book of Mormon doesn’t spend a lot of time on details or backstories, but one common strand of difference is that righteous leaders who obtain power, at times voluntarily yield it, but hold it as a way to serve and benefit those they lead whereas wicked leaders who seek for power as if they are entitled to it, that it’s their right, and any action is justified in obtaining it.

Another idea to note is the transition into righteousness by the united Lamanite and Nephite people. I think a lot of it had to do with the righteousness of their leaders in verse 12, “Now behold, this Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the demands and the threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi.”

Lachoneus is righteous but he also appoints righteous military leaders to lead them, who would rather orient themselves in a defensive posture rather than to pursue the robbers in the mountains, verse 21, “The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us…”

3 Nephi 4 – Robbers Cannot Subsist without Something to Plunder

The Nephites and Lamanites prepared themselves at the center of their civilization with seven years of provisions. The Gaddianton robbers came down without scouting it out in a rush, confident in their “unconquerable spirit” only to find much of the land deserted. The robbers did not want land, they wanted the civilization. To plunder they needed a vulnerable population that was plunderable.

Their only choice was to take on the people in battle. They did and were slaughtered as a result. Verse 10, “But in this thing they were disappointed, for the Nephites did not fear them; but they did fear God and did suppliate him for protection; therefore when the armies of Giddianhi did rush upon them they were prepared to meet them; yea, in the strength of the Lord did they receive them.”

This chapter describes two attempts at Gadianton subjugation, the first was open confrontation, the second was a siege. Both attempts fail. In the end, their suffering drew them in to repentance, drew them into a united defense and gave them the strength and wisdom to eliminate the Gandianton threat, verse 33, “And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.”

3 Nephi 5 – A Moment of Mormon Commentary

With the victory over an incredibly ominous threat complete, Nephite society enters a time of peace, prosperity, and righteousness. Verse 3, “Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.” In this chapter, Mormon takes a step out of the narrative and perhaps filled with gratitude and the love of God, explains his role in composing this history, declaring his hope for his descendants in verse 26, “And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of god; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands…”

3 Nephi 6 – A Descent into Inequality

3 Nephi 8-11 – Christ in America – In Extreme

3 Nephi 8

In verse one, Mormon is careful to lay out before he gets into it, the credentials of the author of the record from which he uses as the source of his summary. Presumably the record had been kept by Nephi, who in chapter 7 certainly qualifies as someone “who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus” (verse 1) That credential was enough, he could presume of Nephi’s integrity and purity and that he would have the wisdom and insight to interpret current events with insight and truth.

The people begin to look for the signs of Jesus’ death just like they had done for his birth. It seems they were expecting a day without light as a compliment to the sign of his birth, being a night without darkness. Samual also prophesied destruction and calamity, something I expect, they hoped to avoid or at least survive.

In verse 5, the calamity begins, “there arose a great storm, such an one as never have been known in all the land.” He continues in the record to describe the destructions and the general destruction of vast populations – by drownings, fire, earthquake and tempests. The storms and earthquakes spanned the land and lasted for a solid three hours (verse 19) followed by complete darkness, described as a vapor (verse 20), such that the sun, the moon and all of the stars in the sky were completely blotted out. The people could not even light a fire. How difficult to endure and survive a three hour, multi-dimensional destruction, in which the natural world seemed to come at this civilization from multiple directions only to end it in complete darkness lasting for three days.

The people quickly connected this destruction to their own sins, crying with painful regret, “‘O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla.'” verse 24.

3 Nephi 9

And then in chapter 9, a voice is heard who takes full credit for the destruction and calamity, “Behold that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire” (verse 3), “And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea” (verse 4), “that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth… to hide their iniquities and their abominations from before my face” (verse 5). This continues through 7 more verses, spanning 13 additional named cities but concluding with “and many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and abominations.”

Then in verse 13, the voice describes those who survived as those who were “more righteous than they” but still in need of deep repentance. And then in verse 15, the kicker, the voice names himself, Jesus Christ, who “created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.” He announces the fulfillment of scripture, the fulfillment of the law of Moses, an announcement that burnt offerings are unnecessary anymore, that all that’s required is a “broken heart and contrite spirit”.

3 Nephi 10

After the words of Christ cease, there is silence for many hours. And then the voice comes again, “how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and have nourished you.” (verse 4) Jesus here reminds the people of his continual mercy and of the deep regret that despite that mercy, the people “would not” (verse 5).

This signal of gentle rebuke and a reminder of opportunities lost send the people back into a spiral, “they began to weep and howl again because of the loss of their kindred and friends.” (verse 8). And as often happens after a period of deep mourning and loss, the light eventually returns and life begins anew.

Mormon pauses the story to remind the reader that that all of these events have been prophesied, that those who were spared were more righteous, those who had not slain the prophets or killed the saints. And that these who were spared were about to experience “great blessings poured out upon their heads.” (verse 18)

3 Nephi 11

I’ve personally read chapter 11 multiple times. On my mission, we assigned this chapter as one of the first to be read by someone investigating the church and would read it with them when they inevitably wouldn’t. We felt this chapter of any in the Book of Mormon had the convincing, conversion power.

The chapter begins in Bountiful. A lot of people had gathered at the temple to talk about the remarkable events they just survived – the destruction and its consequences, the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies and the voice of Christ. In verse 3, they heard the voice again, but this time, rather than something from an unknown source that could be heard by all, it was a voice that “came out of heaven”, verse 3, and at first they could not understand it because “notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.” (verse 3).

Only after they did “open their ears” and “look steadfastly towards the heaven” were they able to hear the voice. This time the voice wasn’t Jesus, but it was presumably the father (although it could have been his mother) introducing Jesus who was in process of descending out of heaven into their midst. From here, Jesus announces himself and lets the multitude feel his wounds.

Next, Jesus calls forth Nephi and others to give them power and instructions on baptism. The first order of business is to organize his church anew. The next order of business is to distill the doctrine of Christ down to the core fundamentals, that the doctrine isn’t about disagreement or disputations, but it’s about unifying across tribes and disagreements – that all people everywhere should repent and believe in Christ. And after belief, turn that into covenant through baptism. This is the doctrine. That’s it. Building our lives on that central tenant is like building your house on a rock. And in way that seems to echo the physical storms these people just passed through, building our lives upon the gospel of faith, repentance and covenant is to have a life that can withstand the storms.

Conclusions

These set of chapters are really challenging. What to make of this massive, apparently willful destruction of the wicked but presumably not just the wicked because many of “our fair daughters, and our children” would “not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah” (3 Nephi 8:25). It’s hard to imagine a precise destruction sparing just those more righteous.

That’s not my sense of how the world works. My only good way through these chapters is to think of this more as attribution where attribution is not warranted. In many ways, however, our connection to the earth is directly related to our righteousness in ways that don’t contradict natural law. Not being in-tune with nature, leads to all sorts of bad outcomes. Being out-of-tune with our surroundings is one fundamental way we sin. Sin is isolating, distracting, self aggrandizing, leads us into complacency, pride, and arrogance.

Righteousness recognizes how our behavior affects the world. Righteous people are sensitive to human activity that pollutes the world and then through inspiration works toward solutions. I think there are parallels here with our terrible pandemic response, our failure to manage our forests leading to horrific fires, our unwillingness to pivot away from carbon energy leading to global warming and the resulting disasters that has caused. God wasn’t directly responsible. We were. Then and now.

Build Your Foundation Upon a Rock

If you’ve been following the Come Follow Me schedule, I’m sure you’ve noticed a shift in mood as the book transitions from Alma to Helaman. The political divisions are more complex, Nephite dissensions grow darker, and the Lamanite military victories become more threatening. Nephite society seems to be tilting on the precipice. The pace quickens considerably as well. In the very first chapter, after Pahoran’s death, three of his sons contend for the judgment seat. By the chapter’s end, all three of them are dead. Helaman’s son Helaman takes over only to survive an assassination attempt in chapter 2. By chapter 5 not only has leadership responsibilities passed onto Helaman’s son Nephi, Nephi has relinquished it and with his brother has determined to spend the remainder of his life preaching the gospel. In a moment, perhaps of quiet introspection, Nephi remembers the words of his father, from which I’m going to base my talk on, in Helaman 5:12.

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the arock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your bfoundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty cstorm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

Helaman 5:12

Notice the promise. We won’t be free from storms. We won’t necessarily avoid pain, heartache, sorrow or sadness. But as we build upon the foundation of Christ, we are promised that we will endure.

And certainly, we are now facing a number of modern-day storms. We’re facing a pandemic keeping us sequestered from each other in our homes to avoid spreading this disease. We are experiencing a significant economic downturn that will likely take a long time to fully recover from. We’re seeing significant divisions in our country that feel unprecedented at least in modern history. I’m sure many of us have our own personal, internal storms raging, many of which may not even be noticeable to others close by. Perhaps we’re struggling from health difficulties, financial problems or trouble in our families or in other important relationships. Life is difficult. Storms are inevitable.

So how do we do it? How do we build our foundation upon the rock. Just a couple of chapters earlier, right after the Nephite society experienced incredible expansion and growth, internal divisions take root as they always seem to. Many faithful members in the church trying to cope as they struggle with the deep bite of internal persecution. Mormon describes what they do in Helaman 3:35:

“Nevertheless they did afast and bpray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their chumility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the dpurifying and the esanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their fyielding their hearts unto God.”

Helaman 3:35

That last phrase is key here, to build a foundation on Christ requires us to yield our hearts to God. To build, we must yield. It’s a paradox. It’s not as simple thing to yield. It takes courage. It takes strong humility and a firm faith. Regular sincere fasting and prayer are prerequisites.

All the way back to the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Lehi gives counsel to his sons right before his death. In 2 Nephi 2 describes the counsel he gives to Jacob. I’m just going to highlight verse 6:

“Wherefore, aredemption cometh in and through the bHoly cMessiah; for he is full of dgrace and truth.”

2 Nephi 2:6

Grace and truth are essentially bound together. We experience grace to the degree we dedicate are lives to truth. Yielding our hearts to God means that we allow God into all parts of our inner life, even those parts we are most ashamed of, especially those parts we are most ashamed of. The Catholic theologian Richard Rohr describes this as “shadow work”. To the degree we open our whole hearts to God, in full honesty, we feel his redeeming love and the power of his redemptive grace. Our hearts can be purified and sanctified. When we feel God’s love in our hearts, we have greater capacity to love others.

And feeling love and compassion and a desire to serve and be there for others is a critical next step in building our foundation in Christ. We pray and fast individually, but we also do it together, as families and in our wards and for and with our community. We build our foundation on Christ, not just individually, but our foundation becomes much more powerful to the degree we do it collectively, with each other, as we pray together and serve one another. As we are drawn outward, allowing other’s concerns to become our concerns, we feel a greater desire to more fully live up to our baptismal covenants to mourn, comfort, heal and bless each other. And as we progress deeper into these covenants, we are drawn inevitably to the temple, where we can, through covenant, seal are most important relationship, for all eternity. And as we return, our hearts remember our fathers and mothers who have who have died before us. Our foundation on Christ grows stronger as we draw strength from our ancestors.

I wish I could tell you that I feel firmly rooted on a foundation of Christ. I struggle just like many of you with my own storms. Trying to build my foundation on the rock of Christ has been a lifelong struggle. This week has been especially difficult, as feelings of anxiety has been almost a constant presence. For much of my life, I’ve treated prayer, temple attendance, service and callings as ways to earn God’s love, to qualify for his redemptive grace but never feeling like I’ve done enough to earn it. I’m still trying to learn how to more fully yield my heart to God so I can allow God’s unconditional love more fully in. It’s something I’m still trying to do. May we all do so more effectively in Jesus’ name amen.



Alma’s Conversations with His Sons – Alma 36-42

Introduction

It’s fair to say that Alma has been through quite a lot of trauma – war, murder, contention, faithlessness, apostasy, rejection.. more than any of us can imagine who have experienced life in relative peace and prosperity. In Alma 35, this despair once more comes out in verse 15 which motivates him to speak to, encourage and teach his three sons as stated in vs. 16.

Now Alma, being grieved for the iniquity of his people, yea for the wars, and the bloodsheds, and the contentions which were among them; and having been to declare the word, or sent to declare the word, among all the people in every city; and seeing that the hearts of the people began to wax hard, and that they began to be offended because of the strictness of the word, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.

Therefore, he caused that his sons should be gathered together ,that he might give unto them everyone his charge, separately, concerning the things pertaining to righteousness.

Alma 35:15,16

Alma 36-38

Just by way of landscape and structure, Alma starts by spending two chapters 36 and 37 (77 verses in total) with Helaman, his son who had been designated to take over record-keeping responsibilities, which was also a kind of the prophetic passing of the mantel of spiritual leadership for this community. We learn very little about Helaman in these two chapters. Chapter 36 is the famous account of Alma’s conversion written in a chiasmus form. It’s worth your time to see the chapter laid out on this page at BYU. Alma 37 is a plea from Alma to Helaman to take seriously the work as a caretaker of the records that he has been called into. Shiblon gets a single, small chapter, 15 verses that echos much of Helaman’s content but with far more brevity. Corianton, however, gets four chapters, 91 verses in all, a lot of what appears to be speculative theology on the nature of salvation. It seems that Alma feels the need to really dig into the doctrine with Corianton perhaps because he messed up in a serious way and he’s hoping to help Corianton to repent. Corianton presents Alma with a problem and Alma uses these four chapters as his attempt to solve it.

I think there’s something to this. Life is hard. We’re all human. We so easily stumble. We’re anxious, stressed, proud and we hurt each other. But these are the times, in deep humility and in penitence, that much of what’s good in the world comes sprouting out. In this post, I want to linger on these chapters Alma spends with Corianton.

Chapter 39

Alma kind of has a rough start making a classic parenting mistake, comparing Corianton unfavorably with his older brother Shiblon (verse 1). Alma bluntly points out ways Corianton messed up when he was supposed to be trying to reclaim the Zoramites (verses 2-3). His first crime is pride, but more seriously in verse 2 Corianton wanders off after the harlot Isabel.

Alma spends some time early on laying into his son, trying to get him to recognize the state of his soul, verse 5, “know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord”, comparing it some of the worst sins anyone can commit. Alma expresses deep disappointment in verse 7, “And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime.” And then in the same verse, “I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.”

This is judgment day for Corianton. Something we should all do on a regular basis. Assess the state of our soul because, truly, in verse 8, “ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they stand as a testimony against you at the last day”. Judgment is justice, we cannot cover up our sins, but we can repent of them which is where Alma goes next, pleading with his son to “forsake [his] sins…” and “cross [himself] in these things”. Alma knows Corianton can’t do this alone, none of us can, he tells him to “counsel with [his] elder brother” (verse 10). The advice to “cross himself” seems like an allusion to Galgutha, or perhaps another way of saying, check yourself regularly, where is your heart, stay focused.

In verse 11 and 12 Alma gives some hints why Alma considers Corianton’s mistakes to be so serious, “Behold, oh my son, how great iniquity we brought upon the Zoramites” and “Command thy children to do good, lest they lead the way the hearts of many people to destruction;” Alma seems to worry here that perhaps Corianton’s heart not only wasn’t into the work, but that he carelessly and through bad example was acting in a way that could undermine the work Alma was so desperate to succeed in. Verse 16, “And now, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds;” Consider this for a moment. Alma seems to be in near constant pain. He worried about what sort of problems the Zoramite apostasy might bring. He justifiably worried that it would bring division and ultimately war and mass death and destruction. He needed his sons to be there for him and Corianton simply wasn’t.

Alma finishes chapter 39 by describing the heart of their missionary message was and why it was so important to preach Christ even though Jesus had yet to come to the earth, that “a soul at this time [is] as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming.” (verse 17) Christ’s life and mission, the atonement, a timeless act, one that works retroactively, through all time. I think there’s something urgent about the atonement, something not to be postponed or waited for but embraced in each and every moment. Alma here wants Corianton to feel that redemption but more importantly feel what was at stake on the mission he failed to take seriously.

Chapter 40 – Time and Mystery

While spiritual awakening takes on urgency in Chapter 39, Alma lays out the vast timelines of salvation in Chapter 40. In verse 3 he cautions “the resurrection is not yet.” The resurrection is a mystery Alma admits, but a mystery Alma has spent significant time with and spends time here with a few insights, perhaps in the the hope he might be able to contextualize things for Corianton. In verse 4, all shall come forth from the dead. We will all live again, even though the timing is known only to God (verse 5). We will all die, we will all be resurrected and there is a space in between. This death we will all experience.

In verse 8, Alma complicates time, saying that “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men”. We recognize and our cognizant of time in this life, its shortness, its seasons, the days, our schedules, timelines and deadlines, our tendencies to procrastinate, and time’s ever-present anxieties.

The mystery though for Alma is not the resurrection, it’s the state of the soul between life and the resurrection. What happens when we die? (verse 9). In verse 11, we are “taken home to that God who gave [us] life.” But the fate of the soul, though temporary is contingent on the state of our soul when we die. The soul of the righteous shall know peace and rest, but the soul of the wicked will know sorrow and pain (verse 12, 13). But this state is temporary. He speaks in binaries in these verses as is typical in the Book of Mormon, in ways that I don’t believe reflects reality. Perhaps the message is the state of the soul during death is one of stagnation, that we’ll be what we were while living, full of regret and remorse, bitterness or jealousy and whatever that was left un-redeemed, unresolved and unfinished but with peace and rest to the degree we’ve found atonement and resolution. This understanding feels like an expansion of what Alma experienced in microcosm during his conversion experience described in detail to Helaman a few chapters earlier. And perhaps something of what we experience late at night, at the end of the day while trying to fall into sleep but not quite able to as our heart and head deals with unresolved anxiety that constantly lurks deep in our soul.

But I think Alma is too pessimistic here. He describes this space between death and resolution as a stagnant state and I’m not sure that is true given modern day revelation and ordinances for the dead. As we connect the living with the dead, perhaps that connection provides the lifeline needed for progression. That’s speculative (and partly influenced by the movie Day of the Dead). Nonetheless, I like to think we can our soul can heal after death.

But death is not final, death will succumb to life, verse 19, as a gift to all, “the wicked and the righteous”, the timing of which is not settled at all. Another word, perhaps a better word for resurrection is restoration (verse 22) “of those things which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets”. “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul;” and ends in a hopeful way in verse 25 “And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God.”

Chapter 41 – Restoration

Resurrection moves Alma into restoration which is a word deeply embedded within the Mormon tradition. Mormonism itself is a restoration project, restoring the gospel from ancient times when we’ve had it and lost it. Life is full of temporaries. Everything we have will be lost. Everything will eventually break, be lost or die, even the most precious of what we have – relationships, our youth, our energy, our voice. We need to make the most of the time we have, extend it as long as possible and then look forward to a time when what we have will be restored. “Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.” (verse 2).

Life can be so arbitrary, difficult and short. If this were it, it would feel so incredibly unjust, so it makes sense that the resurrection is requisite for justice to have full effect. The resurrection restores, returns what was. In verse 4 “And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame.” He talks here about endless misery and endless happiness, but endless is not necessarily time-based because as we learn earlier, time is not measured by man, but all is as one day with God. Endless, though, can be interpreted according to Doctrine and Covenants 19 and something that comes through God.

Verse 9 is interesting because here Alma tries to bring these teachings back home to Corianton’s personal experience warning, “do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto asked to commit sin.” I’m wondering here if because Corianton is young and careless. And when we’re young, time and life seems so big and so endless, it’s hard to contextualize a short life within this eternal context and it seems like Corantion’s sin stems mostly from carelessness, youth and casualness.

Alma gets more specific with restoration in the next few verses. Death and resurrection on their own cannot bring happiness. We have to achieve that here now and what we achieve now in mortality shall be returned back to us. We won’t be returned something we haven’t at first acquired. Verse 13, “but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal… good for that which is good.” And how can we receive mercy, goodness, justice? Verse 14, 15, by doing good, extending mercy, dealing justly. How we treat others often becomes how we are treated. More often, how we treat others is how we treat ourselves.

Alma 42 – Mercy and Justice

I can relate to Corianton in verse 1, worried as he is to suppose that ” it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.” In response to this concern, Alma starts from the beginning, Adam and the fall. The fall in a sense is not really a fall but an ascension where man “becomes as God, knowing good and evil” (verse 3), but that ascension required mortality for reasons not fully explained. And then this life (verse 4) becomes the time to repent, to yield, to turn our hearts to God. So, we’re placed in a state, separated by God in a state of impermanence, pain and separation, to succumb to our own eventual nothingness and to give ourselves, eventually over to God.

But our tendencies, our pride, probably in some sense stems from our inherent potential and power, and knowledge. We become carnal and sensual (v10) really out of necessity – food, shelter, sex are all necessary for survival, but it also put us in this miserable state (v11) cutoff from God. The way out was the plan of mercy brought about through the atonement (v15).

Verse 16 breaks things down carefully. We have natural laws (v17) and our own tendencies to break those laws, sin (v17) and the necessity to come to terms with this disobedience (v18). Law brings sin, sin brings punishment and mercy, only mercy brings salvation (v22). Mercy can only come through repentance.

Verse 22 is particularly poignant:

For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also amercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.

Alma 42:24

And time becomes the central theme of chapter 40 – the chronology of salvation.

But verse 30 is my most favorite of all:

O my son, I desire that ye should deny the ajustice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his bmercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in chumility.

Alma 42:30

I think this is the key, we need justice. Justice brings judgment, judgment brings remorse, humility and penitence, repentance brings mercy and ultimately healing.

I can speak to both sides of this. When I’ve been wrong, it’s deeply healing when the person who committed the harm, recognizes it, feels true sorrow for my pain and expresses regret and shows penitence. I’m healed and so are they and most importantly the relationship is healed. And maybe not even just healed, strengthened.

This is the key of salvation, deal with our impermanence, recognize we have so little time, make the absolute most of it, try to be in a constant state of penitent concern for others, repent quickly forgive even more quickly. Have hope that what we lose will be restored in the end. Goodness for goodness, mercy for mercy, justice for justice.

There’s a lot here that we cannot understand but a lot more here to have hope in.

The Word is a Seed

The sermon Alma gives in Alma 32 really should be studied in the much larger context that spans through chapter 35, the last chapter of which Amulek fills in some essential gaps left by Alma. I think it’s also interesting to compare and contrast Alma’s other significant sermon to the people of Zarehemla in Alma 5. Obviously, the audience is different. In Alma 5, the people in Zarehemla were beginning to stray and Alma was desperately trying to bring them back into the fold. In Alma 32, the sermon really gets going when he encounters the poor Zoramites who have been rejected by the rest of society and approached him with a poor heart and humble mind. The people in Zarahemla needed to be humbled, the Zoramite poor were already there.

But I think Alma was different as well. The Alma in chapter 5 was early in his ministry. He’d experienced war and trauma but he had yet to witness the horrors of burning women and children in Ammonihah. The language in Alma 5 is much harsher: “how will any of you feel standing before God having your garments stained with blood” (verse 22), “every tree that does not bring forth good fruit shall be burned to the ground (verse 52) as two examples. He pleads with them to experience a mighty change of heart in Alma 5 but does not really explain the process. It’s an urgent, harsh, even shame-filled approach he takes in that chapter, he ultimately has success.

Chapter 32 by contrast is gentler, more careful, more hopeful and provides pretty clear instructions, especially with Amulek’s helpful chapter 34 there to fill in necessary gaps. The first thing that strikes me with Alma 32-34 is that it seems to be a re-play of King Benjamin’s sermon in the early chapters of Mosiah but with a more careful instruction on the conversion part.

The first step for conversion to have a heart and mind willing and receptive to receive the word of God. In this case, the people were humbled and prepared through circumstance. Verse 4 describes them “of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world.” In verse 6, Alma recognizes “that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word. In verse 13, ” for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy;”. 

The Book of Mormon clearly says the essence of the word of God is faith, repentance, and a change of heart through the power of Christ’s atonement. This pattern gets replicated here. After Alma recognizes their receptive heart, he transitions right into faith.

I’m not sure Alma explains faith well in this chapter, but let’s see what sense we can make of it. In verses 17 and 18, he contrasts faith with sign seeking. Fresh off of the Korihor encounter, someone who rejected God, the afterlife and the need for and belief in Christ’s atonement. Korihor asked for a sign and was struck dumb. Having a heart open to the movements of nature or art. Willing to admit and live within the smallness of our individual lives in contrast to the vastness of all of life itself, takes an act of humility and faith or willingness to let go of certainty or easy answers. Faith is an embrace of mystery. Sign seeking is an attempt to reduce God into a comprehensible package. Our natural impulse is to shrink God and elevate ourselves in ways that are unnatural and unworkable. We will always fail in this pursuit eventually because the world is too big, too complex for our individual ability to make sense of it or even to survive its harshness. In the end, we all die and death, despite our best efforts, is the ultimate unknown. Faith is an acceptance of what’s real, what’s true.

But what of faith? Verse 21, faith is not to have a perfect knowledge, rather it’s rooted in hope and it’s based on truth. And that’s where Alma leaves it. I get hope. I have hope for a better world, better relationships with others, better ability to align my efforts to produce something in this world with value. Often faith, hope and charity come bundled in scriptural text. Perhaps I’m not sure what faith is, but I suspect hope plays a major role.

Verse 22 seems like Alma’s way to offer some hope to the poor Zoromites, promising that “God is merciful until all who believe on his name.” God’s mercy drives everything and is available to all who believe on God’s word, which is?

Something you can find everywhere, according to verse 23. God’s word comes through angels to men, women and even children from time to time that “confound the wise and the learned”. God’s word, then, is not complicated, not doctrinally dense, but also not explicitly explained.

He goes no further. His next move, rather, is to describe his famous experiment, comparing the word to a seed. If the word is the seed and if the soil is our heart and soul, we need some way to decide whether the word is good. The only way to find out is to run the experiment, plant the seed and see what grows. If it’s good, the initial feedback comes quickly according to verse 28, ” behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

These early experiences with the word, increases faith, but much more is required. The seed has to grow (verse 32) and as it does (verse 33-36), “your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” More signals of a good seed worth spending time with. These early signals is an invitation to do the long, patient work faith invites us into. Verse 37 teaches us the plant must be continuously nourished, cared for so that it will take root, deep enough to withstand the trials (verse 38), the dark nights of the soul, or the bright heat of the sun scorching the tender plant unprepared for such extremes. Not because the seed was bad, but because the ground was barren and that deep roots had yet to be established.

The word has to be good but our hearts and minds need to be open, patient and careful. The reward comes in verses 41-43, after long, hard diligent faith and patience with the word, providing constant nourishment, making sure the word gets planted deep in our hearts, we can finally after all of that pluck the fruit which is “sweet above all that is sweet, white above all that is white and pure above all that is pure.” (verse 42).

All of this is rather obscure, poetic can beautiful, but it leaves the people with still more questions, and that’s how chapter 33 begins. How can we plant this seed? “What manner should they begin to exercise their faith.” and who is this God anyway and is there more than one of them?

Alma quickly comes back to worship, the scriptures consistently describes worship as something that becomes a part of everything we do. Zenos in verse four describes a prayer wrestle while out in the wilderness, while in the field working, at home, even in his closet, or even when cast out as the Zoramites had been. And not just Zenos, but Zenock and also Moses. With Moses, we’re reminded about how difficult even simple moves can be. All the people had to do to be healed was to look, a simple act of faith that many refused to do. Alma leaves it there with a final testimony and plea to the people.

In Alma 34, Amulek reminds them that they have been taught all of this before their dissensions. Perhaps they were taught, but these ideas are difficult to understand and hearing them before we’re ready makes understanding difficult.

In verse 5 and 6, Amulek gets really specific about what the word is, “my brother has proved unto you, in many instances, that the word is in Christ unto salvation.” That’s it. The word of God is found in atonement, redemption, salvation. The pattern in the scriptures is consistent, repeated testimony, a call to remember the sacrifices and lived testimony of our past and then to hear the testimony of those struggling with is. That’s the transition Amulek makes, in verse 8, “I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”

But he continues to explain why atonement is necessary and this is not easy to parse out cleanly. Why should Christ suffer for our sins? Why is that necessary? How is that just? Verse 11, Amulek has the same thought, “Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. ” In verse 12, Amulek justifies their current law and their use of the death penalty, something incidentally I find profoundly unjust especially the way it has been used in American history.

He continues with more mystery in verse 14, “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” We often miss this. The law and obedience to the becomes an end in itself. Amulek reminds us that this can never be. We’ll never live up to the law and without atoning sacrifice of Christ, we’ll be condemned by the law. That Christ’s sacrifice unleashes mercy “to satisfy the demands of justice” (verse 16). And the way to unleash mercy in our individual lives is to exercise faith (verse 16-17).

And then as if their initial inquiries are always in the background of this sermon, Amulek urges them to keep earnest prayer constantly alive in their hearts (vs 16-27).

Then, in an echo of King Mosiah, Amulek teaches in verse 28, that after they commit themselves over full to Christ’s graceful mercies their hearts need to turn to others. If they don’t care for the needy, visit the sick and give of our substance to those in need, “behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.”

Next, Amulek urges them to take these steps immediately, do not procrastinate, that this life is the time to take these steps. These verses (verses 33-36) are difficult because they place deadlines and time windows on God’s mercies in ways that are difficult for me to fully accept. But I know by personal experience, the longer I let bad habits go, the more difficult they are to break. The sooner I respond to faith, mercy, and repentance, the sooner I reach out within difficult relationships, the easier things are to heal. I’m not sure I accept impossible situations, but life can become more difficult the longer we wait. I have no idea how things will be after we die, so better to take care of things now, while alive.

Amulek finishes with a final plea for patience in afflictions. Patience is the twin sister of faith. The power to endure difficulties. These are difficult even incomprehensible principles made a bit easier with these chapters.

Chapter 35 is a useful overview with the consequence of Alma and Amulek’s interventions in this city trying to separate themselves from the broader Nephite culture. Those that are converted, rejoin the Nephites and are nurtured and provided for (verse 9). The people of Ammon “did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants.”

But the elites, the rich, those who cast out the poor from the synagogues were angry because the word of God “did destroy their craft”. They felt they held the keys to salvation. The text doesn’t say, but perhaps they used this power for enrichment. The word disrupts class distinctions, placing everyone in an equal position, utterly helpless on atonement, finding salvation in the care of each other.

The result of this disruption, ultimately and unfortunately is war.

Alma 30-31 – A Lesson on What Not do Do

Alma 30 describes an interaction between the anti-Christ Korihor with different Christian leaders eventually ending with Alma. Reading this chapter carefully, I found a few unexpected insights.

The chapter begins with the Christian community reckoning with the disastrous wars described in previous chapters. In verse two, Mormon describes the Nephites deep mourning, fasting and prayer as a result of mass death from war. This deep reckoning with the horrors thrust upon them seem to place them into deep humility, righteousness and peace. In verse three, “they were strict in observing the ordinances of God.”

The preceding chapters in Alma were horrifying. Alma’s witness of the mass slaughter of women and children. Ammon’s converts being slaughtered after laying down weapons of war and taking on a covenant of pacifism. The resulting wars and violence that ensued because of the political upheavals that occurred after the religious conversion of Lamanite kings.

Korihor interrupts this two years of peaceful pause by coming into Zarahemla and the surrounding cities to preach against the gospel of Christ.

It’s difficult to miss the common experiences Korihor has with the Nephits and Ammon and Aaron have with the Lamanites just a few chapters earlier. In both cases, these missionaries preach against the dominant positions of the community. In verse 14, Korihor preaches against the “foolish traditions of your fathers.” (Alma 30:14, compare with Alma 17:9, among other references). When Korihor confronts the people, they tie him up and bring him to their leaders, in much the same ways that happened to both Ammon and Aaron. There doesn’t seem much toleration with pluralism in these communities despite that Mormon tries to convince the readers otherwise (see Alma 30:7-11).

One thing to note about Mormon’s interjection about the freedom of speech was this emphasis on justice in verse 11 in that “all men were on equal grounds.” There was a law, there was a punishment, everyone in society was subjected to it. They were all equal.

Back to Korihor. First of all, what was driving him? He did not believe in the prophecies of Christ. The Book of Mormon is unique in that it describes Christ life, ministry, death and atonement in remarkable detail ahead of when he would come. Through the chapters of the Book of Mormon, various prophets describe revelation in terms of angelic visits, visions and dreams about the coming Christ. But what’s at the core of the belief of Christ is atonement. Verse 16, “Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins.” and Verse 17, “telling them that there could be no atonement made for the sins of men, but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature;”

Korihor rejects the need for and the possibility of atonement. He rejects the resurrection in verse 18, “telling them that when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.” What seems to be driving Korihor is the reliance on empirical evidence, none of which exists for him in a belief in Christ, see verse 13, “Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come.”, verse 15 “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.”, and verse 28 “offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who anever has been seen or known, who bnever was nor ever will be.”

And he suspects the motives of religious leaders is less than good, binding them down to foolish traditions, verse 23 “to usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance” and in verse 27 “that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands.”

No one knows what to do with him, so he’s passed up the ranks until Alma engages with him. Alma, wearied Alma, who has fought and has been injured in civil wars of mass slaughter among his people. Alma, whose already had to deal with Nehor, killer of Gideon, who was bound with Amulek while women and children burned. And then more war. Alma knew deeply the consequences of bad ideas.

Alma’s responses are interesting. He first shuts down Korihor’s first attack., in verse 32-35, “Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have alabored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine bown hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people.”

And then the question in verse 35, “And now, believest thou that we deceive this people, that acauses such joy in their hearts?” Of which Korihor simply answers “yea”. But the question answers itself. The entire point of the doctrine of Christ is to “cause such joy in their hearts.” There’s no deception there when the aim is joy.

Then Alma turns the table on Korihor, “what evidence have ye that there is no aGod, or that Christ cometh not?” Korihor has none. And Alma recounts his – the witness of prophet after prophet recorded and passed down from generation to generation. But this is not all, he describes the wonders, mysteries and copmlexities of nature, in verse 44 “The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the bearth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its dmotion, yea, and also all the eplanets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”

The confrontation ends in the same way the interactions between Jacob and Sherem ends, Korihor asks for evidence, a sign, and Alma strikes him dumb. I find Alma’s pessimism here disturbing, though given Alma’s life experiences, understandable. What’s interesting is that Korihor loses his ability to speak, he becomes disabled, and vulnerable and utterly reliant on the care and goodwill of society, which goes exactly against the ideas he was touting in verse 17, “therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength;”.

But society ends up being incapable or unwilling to care for him and he’s run over by the Zoramites and that leads to a convenient transition to chapter 31.

I think we can see a distinct change going forward with Alma. Chapter 31 describes Alma’s deep pain, verse 2 “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrow because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.”

Worried they would collaborate with the Lamanites and start a war, they decided an intervention was in order, verse 5 “And now, as the apreaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just.”

What they witnessed, shocked and horrified them. Rather than incorporating deep faith and humility in a way that would lead to transformation and care for others, they didn’t think of God on any day but one. On the “day of the Lord”, they would enter their synagogue, stand up on a high pedastal and recite a prayer of thanks that God chose them over everyone else, the elite, those worthy of God’s favor, while all those around them would “cast by thy wrath down to hell.” verse 17.

The Zoromite theology rejected Christ and the atonement believing it to be “handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers” verse 16 and “that he did not lead them away after the tradition of their brethren, and that their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.” verse 22.

But none of this is transformational nor did it have to be. They were born into this elite status, chosen by God, so therefore, “they returned to their homes, anever speaking of their God again.” but rather were caught up in their riches and pride and elitism.

And again Alma’s pain at seeing this, verse 26, “O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh, to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?” and verse 30 “For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.”

Alma’s love for these people is palpable, verse 35 “Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.”

Alma here is different than the one we read about in the early chapters of this book. He’s scarred, torn, tired and desperate to redeem these people.

Finally, how much of Korihor and of the Zoromites do we see among us today? The strict reliance an empirical evidence, the elitism, the unwillingness to live in solidarity and concern for others, the rejection, if not explicitly, of atonement. I think much of this is prevalent today, but within and outside of religious communities




A Missionary Response to War – Alma 17-29

What does it take to help others to conversion.

Spiritual Preparation:

  • Alma 17:3 Given themselves to much prayer and fasting
  • Alma 17:9 – Fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit.

Recognition and full awareness of the Task at Hand:

  • Alma 17:14-16 – The Lamanites were in bad shape.
  • Alma 21:3-4 – Built synagogues after the order of the Nehors.
  • v5, 6 – Why haven’t we seen angels? How do you know we have cause to repent?

Willingness to serve.

  • Alma 17:11 – Patient in long-suffering and afflictions, showing good examples. Become instruments in God’s hands. Establish the word of God.
  • Alma 17:23, 25
  • Alma 22:3 – Aaron expresses a desire to serve.

Deep Faith in His Abilities to Solve Difficult Problems

  • Alma 17:29, 31 – Didn’t give up when flocks were scattered. Re-gathered and defended them.

A Deep Concern/Love for those We Serve

  • Alma 17:23, 25 – Desire to dwell with this people for the long haul, even until they day I die.
  • Alma 18:10
  • Alma 19: 8-9 – Perhaps the Queen was already converted. She believed readily in the words of Ammon who she felt was a prophet from God.Alma
  • 19:14 – Ammon’s deep love for these people.

Your Worldview Gets Disrupted

  • Alma 18: 4, 5 – He worried that he had done wrong in slaying his servents.
  • Alma 19:17 – The people would see their political leaders collapsed with a Nephite.
  • Alma 19:29 – Abish took the queen and lifted her up. The Queen’s testimony.
  • Alma 20:26 – Ammon had no desire to destroy him and had deep love for his son Lamoni.
  • Alma 22:3, 5 – For I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and greatness of the words of thy brother.
  • Alma 22:22-23 Aaron raised the king. Family and servants are converted by the king.
  • Alma 22:25 – The king administered the people.
  • Alma 23:2-4 King changed the laws, culture and systems to give the gospel more currency with the people – allowing for broad conversion.
  • Alma 24:23-24 Converted when they saw their brethren praise God while being slain.
  • Alma 25:6 Converted after much loss and many afflictions stirring them up in remembrance of the words which Aaron and his brethren had preached.
  • Alma 25:13 Could not overpower the Nephites returned to dwell with those who were converted and then converted.

Teach about God first, history second, redemption third

  • Alma 18:25-33 – Ammon teaches about God.
  • Alma 18:36-38 – Their history from Adam to present.
  • Alma 18:39 – Plan of redemption.
  • Alma 22:7 – Start with God.
  • Alma 22:13 – Began with the creation of Adam, the fall, the redemption.
  • Alma 23:5 – Thousands brought to the incorrect traditions of the Nephites.

The individual’s own heart has to be open and willing to experience the full weight of their reality and dependence on God’s grace

  • Alma 18:40-41 King Lamoni’s prayer and collapse
  • Alma 19:6 – Ammon knew he was experiencing the marvelous light of his goodness.
  • Alma 19:13 – I have seen my Redeemer. Born of a woman.
  • Alma 19:16 – Abish’s earlier conversion on an ccount of her father’s vision.
  • Alma 22:15 – What shall I do that/ That I may be born of God and have this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast?
  • Alma 22:18 – If there is a God, if thou art God, make thyself known unto me.

Results of Conversion

  • Alma 19:33 – They had no more desire to do evil.
  • Alma 23:6,7 – Converted and never did fall away. Became a righteous people, laid down weapons of rebellion..
  • Alma 23:16-18 – A new name, Became an industrious people, friendly with the Nephites, the curse of God did no more follow them.
  • Alma 24:6 Now there was not one soul who would take up arms against their brothers.
  • Alma 24:8 – Soft hearts.
  • Alma 24:10 – Taken away our guilt through the merits of his Son.
  • Alma 24:17-18 They ritually buried their swords into the earth as a testimony
  • Alma 24:21 – They did run up to meet them, prostrated themselves before the earth, called on the name of the Lord.
  • Alma 25:15 – Obedient to the law of Moses – a type of Christ’s coming.
  • Alma 25:16 – The law did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ.
  • Alma 27:17 Joy of Ammon was so great, swallowed up in the joy of his God.
  • Alma 27:18 None receiveth it save the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.
  • Alma 27:27 – Distinguished for their zeal towards God and men. Perfectly honest and upright, firm in the faith of Christ.

The Two Prayers

Prayers of Ammon – Alma 26

  • What were his blessings.
    • Alma 26:3 – Lamanite conversion.
    • Alma 26: 9 Brethren – who were enemies.

Sing the song of redeeming love.

Alma 26: 21 – No one knows these things save it be the penitent.

Alma 26:22 – Repent, exercise faith, bring forth good works, pray constantly, know the mysteries of God

Alma 26:37 – God is mindful of every people.

Prayers of Alma – Alma 29

Oh that I were an angel.

Alma 29:2 – That there not be sorrow upon all the earth.

Alma 29:4 – I ought not to harrow

v11 Remembererd the captivity of his fathers.

Tragedy: Alma 8-16

Introduction

I can’t help but noticing that Mormon devotes a very short chapter in Chapter 7 to Alma’s sermon to the righteous people of Gideon, but lingers on for eight chapters in order to describe Alma’s encounter with the people of Ammonihah, definitely among the worst people described in the Book of Mormon. The challenges Alma faces in Ammonihah, seems to draw from Alma religious and spiritual insights not previously seen as he struggles to bring these stubborn people into repentance. While Alma has partial success, helping to bring notably Amulek and Zeezrom along with others who aren’t named. However, the majority not only rebel, they rebel with unspeakable violence.

The story begins early in the tenth year of the reign of judges (Alma 8:3). From the beginning, but throughout the narrative, we get a sense of Alma’s anguish:

Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow,

And now, my brethren, I awish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great banxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not cprocrastinate the day of your repentance;

Alma 8:10, 14, 13:27

His first attempt doesn’t go well, the people of Ammonihah don’t respect his authority, reject his message, spit on him and cast him out of the city. He was about to give up and move on but instead an angel tells him to return. Which he does, speedily, by another way and immediately meets Amulek, who had been prepared for this meeting through an Angelic intervention.

The People of Ammonihah Response

Reject Alma’s Authority – Twice

“And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us;”

“Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of aone man,”

Alma 8:12, 9:2

Reject Alma’s Traditions

” we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.

Alma 8:11

Insulted at Alma’s harsh words

Now it came to pass that when I, Alma, had spoken these words, behold, the people were wroth with me because I said unto them that they were a hard-hearted and a astiffnecked people. And also because I said unto them that they were a lost and a fallen people they were angry with me, and sought to lay their hands upon me, that they might cast me into prison.

Alma 9:31-32

Shocked at Amulek’s Witness

And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was amore than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them.

Alma 10:12

Tried to bait them into committing false witness

Alma’s Strategies to Convert

An appeal to a shared tradition embedded deep in their shared family history

And have ye forgotten so soon how many times he adelivered our fathers out of the hands of their enemies, and preserved them from being destroyed, even by the hands of their own brethren?

Alma 9:10

An appeal to a deep sense of vulnerability – their very survival hangs in the balance

But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly adestroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his banger, and in his cfierce anger he will not turn away.

Alma 9:12

This messaging doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t think God works this way. I don’t resonate with an angry God that exacts revenge. I prefer to see this differently. They were outnumbered, surrounded by the Lamanites who hold a centuries long grudge against them. They were a people surviving in the wilderness. They’ve built cities and have prospered, life on this planet is tenable at best, especially then. They needed deep societal commitments and care to survive and prosper. Ammonihah’s individualism left them vulnerable.

I think the numbers game helps make Alma 9:13-23 work for me. Over the history of the Book of Mormon, many Nephites desert and join with the Lamanites, thereby receiving the same fate described in these verses.

For there are many promises which are aextended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the btraditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of cignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and dprolong their existence in the land.

Alma 9:16

But to keep a covenant community in place within this environment without the benefit of modern technology required constant vigilence.

For behold, the apromises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall butterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?

Alma 9:24

An appeal to prophecy

“And anot many days hence the Son of God shall come in his bglory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of cgrace, equity, and truth, full of patience, dmercy, and long-suffering, quick to ehear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.

Alma 9:26

Alma responds to Zeezrom good faith question with deep theology – Accountability

For our awords will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the bmountains to fall upon us to chide us from his presence.

Alma 12:14

At some point we need to be honest with ourselves, our words, our thoughts, our intentions, our desires. We need to face who we are at a deep level. We can surrender into the loving, goodness of God and experience redemption through grace, or we can persist in our self-deceit, pretending we are more than what we are, and in our damaged, self-deceptive state, leave a wake of hurt and damage in our path.

Zeezrom is forced to reckon with himself whereas everyone else doubles and triples down in a violent and hateful response.

Then is the time when their torments shall be as a alake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever; and then is the time that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction, according to the power and captivity of Satan, he having subjected them according to his will.

Alma 12: 17

These words are later used against Alma and Amulek as they invoke a literal hell on earth by burning women and children in a fire, forcing them to watch.

Alma responds to Antionah’s bad faith question with deep theology

Alma describes the fall of Adam, and the reasons why we find ourselves in this fallen world.

And we see that adeath comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto bman in which he might repent; therefore this life became a cprobationary state; a time to dprepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.

Alma 12:24

I struggle a bit with Alma’s pat, easy answers throughout these chapters. Describing this life as a test, that we’re on “probation” until we can prove ourself worthy of returning home with God, does not resonate. I’m wondering if this is why he has a more difficult time than he should have otherwise because of this. I’m wondering if the message in Alma 5 would have worked better? But I like this better:

Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on amercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a bremission of his sins; and these shall enter into my crest.

Alma 12:35

The call really is simple. A step into grace through commiting to a life of repentance and humility (a soft heart), dedicating our life in Christ, retaining a remission of sins, finding rest in a troubled, at times difficult world.

The Priesthood – Eternal and Holy

Now they were aordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end

Alma 13:8

Melchizedek through his role as high priest did establish peace in the land as Alma is striving to do.

Amulek’s Strategies to Convert

Appeals to his connections to this people

Amulek begins by laying out his family history, reminding them that just like them, he descends into Lehi. He describes his connections – family, friends, reputation among those in the city. (Alma 10: 1-4)

Describes his Conversion Story and his Testimony

And the angel said unto me he is a aholy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God. And again, I know that the things whereof he hath testified are true; for behold I say unto you, that as the Lord liveth, even so has he sent his aangel to make these things manifest unto me; and this he has done while this Alma hath bdwelt at my house.

Alma 10:9-10

Strong Rebuke

O ye wicked and perverse generation, ye lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God.

O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?

Alma 10:17-18, 11:23

Expounds Deep Theology

In response to Zeezrom bad faith questions, Alma does a deep dive on the Resurrection (Alma 11:40-41).

“The wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made…”

The people burn women and children

All of this deep, sincere, anguished, painful effort by Amulek and Alma end up in horrifying tragedy.

And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be acast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be bburned and destroyed by fire. And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of amartyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire. And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the apower of God which is in us, and save them from the flames. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in aglory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the bjudgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the cblood of the dinnocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

Alma 14:8-11

This level of brutality comes at us quick. I could see the anger in their questions and responses. The frustration coming from Alma and Amulek is clear as their rebukes and pleadings get stronger and stronger. The hostility was there from the very beginning, Alma was spit upon right from the beginning. But it makes no sense to kick out the men and burn the women and children. And then to do it as a way to mock Alma’s own words:

After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a blake of fire and brimstone?

Alma 14:14

Or when they question his own power to delivery:

Will ye stand again and judge this people, and condemn our law? If ye have such great power why do ye not adeliver yourselves? And many such things did they say unto them, gnashing their teeth upon them, and spitting upon them, and saying: How shall we look when we are damned?

Alma 14: 20-21

This who experience from beginning to end takes just less than a year. Alma and Amulek find deliverance with a desperate plea from Alma:

And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great aafflictions, O Lord? O Lord, bgive us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto cdeliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.

Alma 14:26

Soon after, Alma and Amulek find Zeezrom in agony and fever, worried over the damage his words and influence caused having been convinced of his own sinful state by his interaction with these two prophets. He’s healed, repents and begins a life of ministry. In Alma 16, less than two years later, Ammonihah is destroyed by the Lamanites as if a fulfillment of Alma’s warnings.

These are tough chapters. I don’t resonate with everything Alma and Amulek say in these chapters. In some sense, their teachings seem too transactional, too simple. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency to tie everything to God, including the Lamanite desire for their demise, that God steps in or doesn’t based on His whim or our righteousness.

I think taking a few steps back, for a moment, there are real consequence for sin. Real sin, prideful, unrepentant sin, brings division and hate. In our sin, we forget, willfully or not, our own vulnerabilities and dependencies on each other, on a functional society and on God. And as we forget, we leave ourselves more vulnerable and consequences come from that vulnerability.

I think we also learn from these passages how helpless we can be, even when we act with courage, repentant and humble, to real tragedy. We all die, but some of us die tragically, at the hands of evil or by the whims of nature. There aren’t always good explanations for it. Life can be tragic and hard.