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.

Alma 5-7: Conversion

Introduction

So far in the Mormon’s summary in the Book of Mormon, everything seems to hinge on the first few chapters of Mosiah when King Benjamin delivers an eloquent sermon urging listeners to “put off the natural man” and become children of God. He explains conversion, urges listeners to put off their ego and accept grace, repent of their sins and becoming a new person in Christ, moving those in attendance into an intense experience of conversion, “having no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually”. Deep conversion, according to Benjamin, moves a person into love, compassion and service toward others, having no concern for wealth or fame, but rather a devoted life towards establishing Zion, which means the elimination of poverty and violence.

Alma 5 is no different. Alma the younger, who in Chapter 4 gives up the judgment seat, realizing the deep struggles happening within the church. He begins Chapter 5 with a plea to remember their ancestral deliverance. As I look back into Mosiah, I find three narratives, but Alma focuses in this chapter on the one most relevant to his specific family line.

For reasons not totally explained, King Benjamin was able to get almost universal conversion through the power of his sermon, earned, likely, through the deep trust and love his people had in him based on years of faithful service for and with his people. Benjamin passes on the kingdom to his son Mosiah and the people experience a period of peace in Zarehemla, though the details are not well documented.

Alma’s father, Alma, a member of King Noah’s court in a community established by Zeniff near Lamanite land was complicit in Noah’s wicked rule. Alma becomes Abinidi’s sole documented convert, possibly because Abinidi spoke within no obvious authoritative position. Alma, by contrast, preaching the words of Abinidi, converts a number of people, who afterward flee into the wilderness when discovered by Noah’s people. Through inner dissent and a Lamanite invasion, the people kill Noah, but then succumb to the Lamanites. The rest of the people, led by Limhi convert after suffering the consequences of war and bondage to the Lamanites. Both groups, led by Alma and Limhi make it back to Zarahemla. Alma establishes a church in Zarehamla. “And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yeah even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” (Mosiah 25:22)

But something happens with the next generation, a generation that didn’t hear King Benjamin’s speech or weren’t part of Limhi’s or Alma’s deliverance from Lamanite bondage. Like every new generation, they had to find their own path into deep conversion. But growing up within a believing, faithful community, perhaps, they experienced nothing to really push them into faith in God. Prominent men like King Benjamin’s sons, Alma’s son Alma, Nehor and Amlici and many others, developed skepticism in the coming Christ, in the need for conversion and even in the existence of sin, believing as Nehor did, “that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.” (Alma 1:4)

Through the prayers of faithful and concerned parents, an angel confronts Alma the younger and Mosiah’s four sons. This miraculous confrontation force them into a realization of the damage they have done as they have actively tried to tear down the church their parents have built. This event moves these men into deep, sincere conversion and a desire to repair the damage. Alma realizes his fairly to fully consider the painful lessons his father learned and God’s mercy in their ultimate deliverance.

Remember and Learn From History

Perhaps that’s why Alma the younger starts off his sermon in Alma 5 with a plea to remember.

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in aremembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has bdelivered their souls from hell? Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the abands of death, and the bchains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

Alma 5:6-7

The stark contrast separating the two sides of conversion seems to mirror both Alma’s experience and the experience of his father, but it doesn’t reflect the conversion experiences sparked by Benjamin’s speech, nor does it reflect my own experience. I can’t really describe my life by a clean before/after hinging on one memorable experience. There’s no obvious story in my history that I can point to in quite this way. I don’t think Joseph Smith’s life, the person who kickstarted Mormonism, reflects this either. I believe, though, we need to remember and learn from our history so that deep knowledge can be passed down, keeping each new generation from the pain of having to relive passed mistakes. It feels like we struggle to do this well.

The Nature of Conversion

Alma’s next set of question begins in verse 14:

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?  Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

Alma 5:14-16

Here, as in many other places in scripture, conversion is compared to birth. I think this is a nice metaphor but I think there is something literal about this point of view. Conversion as a birth experience brings us into a new life born into the Spirit, a child of God. This new life puts us on a life-long journey to become like God, walking a child, still immature at first but willing to grow. To learn how to care for and nurture others in an expansive way. We become a seed of Christ, another metaphor. His seed begins to sprout in us. We become new creatures, with a deeply changed heart. It doesn’t mean we’ll no longer make mistakes, but it means our life should be changed forever.

Alma’s Frustration or Why The Harsh Language?

After describing being spiritually born of God or the experience of a mighty change of heart, Alma describes the consequence of not doing so. The audience, he says later, is in a deep struggle.

18 Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect aremembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?

Alma 5:18

It gets much worse later.

Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire— For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever abringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.

Alma 5:35-36

and here:

And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the aax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be bhewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.

Alma 5:52

I get the rhetoric to an extent. We all believe or want to believe we’re on the right path. I think conversion requires deep humility. That without a mighty change of heart or a spiritual birth, we can never really get on that path. We’ll always fall short. He describes God’s ultimate rejection if we fail to experience conversion which is a rough way to think about God. Perhaps it’s more like just being outside the fold, not God’s rejection of us, just us not accepting the invitation to become part of God’s family. Maybe we don’t feel like we fit in because we’ve lived our lives outside of Godly concerns.

But Alma gets violent in these later verses. An ax laid at the root of the tree, to be cut down and hewn into the fire? Harsh. I don’t believe it in any literal sense. I have a hard time imagining in a figurative sense, other than those people who are bitter here, engulfed in pride, jealousy and hatred for others, not able to feel engulfing love with others close to them, I don’t know.. fire?

He shifts slightly to address those in his audience that probably have already experienced conversion but had begun to slide from earlier commitments.

Not Just Once, But Again and Again, For All

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Mosiah 5:26

First of all, these phrases, experiencing “a mighty change of heart”, “singing the song of redeeming love”, can only approximate the experience of being born into the spirit, its mystical, revelatory, prophetic. It’s a loss of control, irrational, a step into the poetic. And this verse makes it clear, it’s an experience one should try to have throughout one’s life. I think, perhaps having conversion, being someone with deep love for others, it’s a change in how one is, not just in how one behaves. It’s the act of becoming, an identity, one tries never to move out of.

Life is not a resume to be filled up. Being on this earth is not about developing a list of achievements. Our primary task is to experience a conversion into grace. I use grace here as a replacement for Christ because I believe non-Christians have access to this as well. This born again experience is something all of us ought to experience, regardless of age.

And now I say unto you that this is the aorder after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be bborn again.

Alma 5:49

Sin

Alma lingers on all the way a person can stumble. We tend to get caught up in ranking sin. And certainly, the degree to one strays away from having their heart deeply enveloped in love for others, the greater likelihood they’ll behave in a way that causes deep damage to others. But Alma, for reasons not fully explained, lingers on specific examples – pride (Alma 5:28), envy (Alma 5:29), making a mock of others (Alma 5:30), heaping upon persecution of others (Alma 5:30), turning your back upon the poor and needy (Alma 5:55).

Christian Identity

A better way of thinking of God as a being with infinite love, ever patient, ever merciful, ever beckoning upward. Consider, though, the specific way Alma describes this beckoning. It’s almost as if he’s tuned into a specific frequency and we have to be tuned into it to even hear it.

O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are apuffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as csheep having no dshepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath ecalled after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not fhearken unto his voice! Behold, I say unto you, that the good ashepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not bhearken unto the voice of the cgood shepherd, to the dname by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.

Alma 5:37, 38

God calls us in his own name. The way to hear is to tune in our lives as if we already were born into the Spirit. We need to have the desire to be like Christ to become like Christ. We have to take upon his name to hear his voice. One way to express that desire is through the very public event of baptism.

Church

 For I say unto you that whatsoever is agood cometh from God, and whatsoever is bevil cometh from the devil.

Alma 5:40

The Book of Mormon lives in binaries and I think these binaries can be hopeful or harmful depending on how they get interpreted. In one sense having only two options really flattens lived reality. It’s hard to really categories people, their actions, their motivations into only one of two options.

But in some sense, talking about church in this specific way is hopeful. To think that anything that leads people to do good comes from God should and does include a lot of institutions, religious and otherwise. No one church can be all things for all people. Having a plurality makes the world rich and interesting. As they come together in interfaith cooperation, I believe we can do more good in the world than if we’re forever in interfaith competition over membership.

In Alma 6, Alma describes the response and gives a nice window into what church should be about.

Now I would that ye should understand that the word of God was liberal unto all, that none were deprived of the privilege of assembling themselves together to hear the word of God. Nevertheless the children of God were commanded that they should gather themselves together oft, and join in afasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God.

Alma 6:5-6

In Alma 7, Alma discovers the people in Gideon are doing well. The phrase in 7:3 that they continue to supplicate in God’s grace is another poetic phrases that’s really required because this sort of life in Christ is difficult to pin down precisely in language. Alma presumes in verse three that through grace, we can become blameless. I’m not sure this is instant. We sin in church, but if we do it while in Christ, we find a way toward healing and repair. Grace makes us blameless, lifting us out of our mistakes.

And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God, and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace, that I should find that ye were blameless before him, that I should find that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla. But blessed be the name of God, that he hath given me to know, yea, hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness.

Alma 7:3,4

Finally, in the conclusion in chapter 7, Alma describes church beautifully:

And now I would that ye should be ahumble, and be bsubmissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. And see that ye have afaith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.

Alma 7:23, 24

It always comes back to this, faith, hope and charity, always abounding in good works – the outcomes of conversion.

Alma’s Final Testimony to the people in Zarahemla

In earlier chapters, we hear of Alma’s dramatic confrontation with the angel. The angelic intervention was an obvious turning point for Alma, forcing him to reckon with who he was and what he was doing, but more work was required. It’s interesting here, in the first full sermon presented from Alma, he doesn’t mention this experience at all and more interesting in his closing testimony he describes the work that went into his own conversion experience. It required fasting and prayer for many days – pure desire.

And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I aknow of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety Behold, I say unto you they are made aknown unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have bfasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of crevelation which is in me. And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.

Alma 5: 45-47

Christ

I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.

Alma 5:48

As an aside, I think describing Christ as being full of grace and mercy and truth has a poetic feel, but I’m wondering if there’s a need to include both grace and mercy here as complementary but not exact descriptions. I don’t think we should be quick to pass over truth. I think being born into Christ requires a firm loyalty to truth no matter how inconvenient they may be.

What does it mean to fast and pray on behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God? What does it mean to know not God. That ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace – what does that mean?

Notice the sins Alma is concerned with in Alma 7:6 -> unbelief, pride, heart set upon riches, heart set upon the vain things of the world, idol worship, worship of the true and living God, repentance and faith for a better world to come.

Alma 7:8 – The limits of prophetic knowledge.

Alma 7:15 – ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his comma

How is Alma so perceptive regarding the state of the souls in Gideon

Attributes of the converted soul: Alma 7:23 – Be humble, submissive, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of patience, long suffering, temperate, diligent, prayerful, grateful. Faith, hope, charity.

Book of Mormon – A Story of Conflict

Book of Mormon – A Story of Conflict

Disputes between Laman/Lamuel and Nephi

  • 1 Nephi 2:11 “for behold they did bmurmur in many things against their cfather, because he was a dvisionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem,”
  • 1 Nephi 2:12 And they did bmurmur because they cknew not the dealings of that God who had dcreated them.
  • 1 Nepth 2:13 Neither did they abelieve that Jerusalem, that great city, could be bdestroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.
  • 2 Neph 5:3 Yea, they did murmur against me, saying: Our younger brother thinks to arule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to brule over this people.

Disputes between Lamanites and Nephites

  • Mosiah 10:11Now, the Lamanites knew nothing concerning the Lord, nor the strength of the Lord, therefore they depended upon their own strength. Yet they were a strong people, as to the astrengthof men.
  • Mosiah 10:12 They were a awild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the btradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were cwronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
  • Mosiah 10:13 And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their afirst inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore bhe was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness.
  • Mosiah 10:14 And his brethren were awroth with him because they bunderstood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord.
  • Mosiah 10:15 And again, they were awroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the bruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him.
  • Mosiah 10:16 And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the arecords which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he brobbed them.
  • Mosiah 10:17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.
  • Alma 3:11-

Disputes between Jacob and Sherem

  • Jacob 7:2 And it came to pass that he began to preach among the people, and to declare unto them that there should be ano Christ. And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might boverthrow the doctrine of Christ.
  • Jacob 7:And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and akeep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence. And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is bblasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot ctellof things to come. And after this manner did Sherem contend against me.

Disputes between Abinidi and Noah

  • Mosiah 12:28 => And they said: We teach the law of Moses.
  • Mosiah 12:32 => And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.

Disputes between Alma and the next generation

  • Mosiah 26:2 => They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
  • Mosiah 27:8 => nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an bidolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much cflattery to the people; therefore he dled many of the people to do after the manner of his einiquities.
  • Mosiah 27:30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto aall.

Disputes between Alma the Younger and Nehor

Alma 1:3-4 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he atermed to be the word of God, bearing down bagainst the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become cpopular; and they ought dnot to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. And he also testified unto the people that aall mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they bneed not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had ccreated all men, and had also dredeemed eall men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

Alma 1:12 But Alma said unto him: Behold, this is the first time that apriestcraft has been introduced among this people. And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but hast endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were bpriestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.

Disputes with followers of Nehor

  • Alma 1:17: therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for bhis belief.
  • Alma 1:22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their afists.
  • Alma 1:32 For those who did not belong to their church did indulge themselves in asorceries, and in bidolatry or cidleness, and in dbabblings, and in eenvyings and fstrife; wearing costly apparel; being glifted up in the pride of their own eyes; persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, committing whoredoms, and murdering, and all manner of wickedness; nevertheless, the law was put in force upon all those who did transgress it, inasmuch as it was possible.

Disputes between Alma the Younger and Amlici/Amlicites

  • Alma 2:4 Therefore, if it were possible that Amlici should gain the voice of the people, he, being a wicked man, would adeprive them of their rights and privileges of the church; for it was his intent to destroy the church of God.
  • Alma 2:10 Now when Amlici was made king over them he commanded them that they should take up arms against their brethren; and this he did that he might subject them to him.
  • Alma 3:18 Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open arebellionagainst God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them.

Church of God

  • Mosiah 25:21 – 24 Therefore they did aassemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma. And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one achurch, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God. And now there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla. And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the aname of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God; And they were called the apeople of God. And the Lord did pour out his bSpirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land.
  • Mosiah 26:18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my aname; for in my bname shall they be called; and they are mine.
  • Mosiah 26:22 For behold, athis is my bchurch; whosoever is cbaptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall dbelieve in my name; and him will I freely eforgive.
  • Mosiah 27:25 Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be aborn again; yea, bborn of Godcchanged from their carnal and dfallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his esons and daughters;
  • Alma 1:26 And when the priests left their alabor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man baccording to his strength.
  • Alma 1:27-29 And they did aimpart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the bpoor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly capparel, yet they were neat and comely. And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions. And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly arich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of bsilk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely ccloth.
  • Alma 4:13 Now this was a great cause for lamentations among the people, while others were abasing themselves, succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the apoor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of bafflictions, for Christ’s csake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy;

Book of Mormon – Prophetic Transfer

  • Nephi (brother)- Jacob -(son) Enos – (son) Jarom – (son) Omni – (son) Amoron – (brother) – Chemish – (son) Abinadom – (son) Amaleki – (non-related) Benjamin -(son) Mosiah – (not related) Alma

Politics In the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 29- Alma 4

Key Verses & Themes

Dangers of a kingdom.

  • 29:1: A democratic election for kingship.
  • 29:5-6: for ye are desirous to have a king. Now I declare unto you that he to whom the kingdom doth rightly belong has declined, and will not take upon him the kingdom.”
  • 29:9 And if my son should turn again to his pride and vain things he would recall the things which he had said, and claim his right to the kingdom, which would cause him and also this people to commit much sin.
  • 29:13 “Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.”
  • 29:17 “For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!”
  • 29:21 “ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood….”
  • 29:26 “Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right;

Benefits of a democracy

  • 29:10 “Do that which will make for the peace of this people.”
  • 29: 14: “to teach you the commandments of God, and to establish peace throughout the land, that there should be no wars nor contentions, no stealing, nor plundering.”
  • 29:28-29 “And now if ye have judges, and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that they may be judged of a higher judge. If your higher judges do not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause that a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together, and they shall judge your higher judges, according to the voice of the people.”
  • 29: 30 “That if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.”

Doctrines and Consequences of Nehor

  • Alma 1:3 – 4 “preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men, in the end all men should have eternal life.”
  • Alma 1:16: “Nevertheless this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor”.
  • Alma 1:22: “Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; they would smite one another with their fists.”
  • Alma 1:32: “For those who did not belong to their church did indulge in sorceries, and in idolatry or idleness, and in babblings, and in envyings and strife, wearing costly apparel;
  • Preaching for wealth and popularity skews natural incentives if those are the motives. There’s no room to change your mind. You’re kind of tied to your audience.

Questions

  • Why would the people be so insistent to have a king? Why is Mosiah’s oldest son the person to “whom the kingdom doth rightly belong.” How does this help explain the original schism and the Lamanite’s long-lasting grudge with the Nephites?
  • Is Mosiah right that democracy protects society against societal sin? The main argument he makes is that while the minority often wants that “which is not right”, it is “not common” for the majority to go against that “which is right”. Is this actually true? (thinking here of slavery, genocide, etc.).
  • It’s interesting that Mormon describes a society anxious to have “an equal chance throughout all the land” and a “willingness to answer for his own sins” and that “they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them”, as if this weren’t already true, but reading about King Benjamin and Mosiah, it seems like they had these experiences were already given to them. I understand the risks they might lose this and maybe it’s a projection of that possibility but it seems like inevitably, democracy and accountability doesn’t end up saving them.
  • Nehor’s doctrine is similar to Noah’s in that they wanted the people to lift up their heads and rejoice that they will be saved as they are. (Salvation in their sins. Salvation by the law of Moses alone), but Nehor seems to take it further, dropping the law of Moses altogether, whereas other dissenters, including Alma the Younger’s dissension focused on Christ.
  • Sherem, Alma the Younger and Mosiah’s sons seem to have similarities but are decidedly dissimilar to Nehor (we don’t know actually exactly what Alma the younger or Mosiah’s sons preached). But in the cases of Sherem, Alma and Mosiah’s sons their conversion was triggered by a miraculous intervention and their testimonies healed their community.
  • Nehor had no such conversion and in fact enforced his words with the sword, killing Gideon who withstood his words.
  • What is priestcraft? What are modern day examples of those who preach for the sake of riches and honor?
  • There’s some interesting descriptions about the church – they were modest, their hearts were not on riches, they cared for the poor, but then they prospered far more than those who were seeking for riches. There’s something about wealth, that if you don’t seek for wealth, often you get it, especially if you’re goal is to use it for good.
  • What is this attraction for Amlici? Alma 2 describes the vulnerabilities of a democracy. You can vote away your freedom.

Sin and Redemption – Mosiah 25-28

Introduction

The Book of Mormon is an ambitious book in it’s scope, covering 1000+ years of history and multiple civilizations, while putting forward, as its primary purpose, a sophisticated theology. As a result, the narrative runs pretty quickly, weaving together the story with enough strategic pauses to make these theological points. Given the scope and reach of the book, it leaves plenty of room for personal interpretation, forcing the reader to fill in gaps, often with their own biases and predispositions. The narrative is delivered from the point of view of very human narrators. If the reader believes in the book’s historicity, the primary narrators are Nephi, Mormon and Moroni, if not, than Joseph Smith with possible assists from Oliver Cowdery and their contemporary influences tell the story. Either way, the book’s narrative comes through flawed filters, allowing for very human, though potentially, and I will try to make this case, inspired points of view.

I worry, then, that the standard interpretations of the Book of Mormon suggested by official church manuals, have played too heavy of a hand for the typical, faithful reader. As church members are encouraged to read the Book of Mormon daily, we aren’t encouraged, often enough, to read it carefully or critically. We don’t allow, nearly often enough, the book to take an active role in our lives. The characters in the book are portrayed superficially, not spending time on backstories or motivations that might paint the “evil characters” with greater sympathy and nuance or the “good characters” more critically. The casual reader may assume the book to be merely a training manual on how to be on the good side of that ledger. We need to go deeper and allow the book to challenge us in unexpected ways .

Background

With that introduction, let’s dive into Mosiah 25-28. Mosiah begins with a deep dive into King Benjamin’s sermon, but then moves back in time to describe the story of Zeniff’s attempt to build a society near the Lamanites. After establishing a successful community, things change abruptly when Zeniff’s wicked son Noah takes the reigns. Abinidi’s warning sermon to Noah and his priests that lead to Abinidi’s death. Alma, one of Noah’s priests, end up becoming Abinidi’s lone convert, but as he attempts to share Abinidi’s message, enough people are convinced to form a church. Forming that church gets them chased into the wilderness. Things don’t end up well, when Lamanite military conflict lead to Noah’s death and Lamanite control over the people. Both Alma’s people and Limhi’s people ultimately escape Lamanite bondage and control and find their way back to the people of Zerahemla under King Mosiah’s rule.

Brief Summary of Mosiah 25-28

Mosiah 25 describes the reunion, Alma’s call to organize churches among the people of Zerahemla. In Mosiah 26, we read about the rising generation that include both Mosiah’s and Alma’s children who reject the church’s teaching and work to persuade others out of belief. Mosiah 27 describes Alma’s and Mosiah’s conversion through an angelic rebuke. Finally, Mosiah 28 describes Mosiah’s sons desire to live among Lamanites in hopes of converting them to the church.

Through these chapters, church organization, conversion and rebellion contrasts the conflict between believers and unbelievers. In that tension, we can about the role sin plays for those inside and outside the church, what it means to live lives of faith, and why and how each of us must experience our own conversion.

The next three sections describe general themes and verses that specifically reference those themes.

Theme One: Sin

  • 25: 11 “And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.”
  • 26: 1 “They did not believe in the traditions of their fathers. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.”
  • 26:2-4 “And now because of their unbelief they could not believe the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.”
  • 26: 32: “Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.”
  • 27:8 : Alma “became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.”
  • 27:14 “that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.”
  • 27:16 “Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.”
  • 27:30 “I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.”
  • 28:2 “That perhaps they might bring them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and convince them of the iniquity of their fathers; and that perhaps they might cure them of their hatred towards the Nephites, that they might also be brought to rejoice in the Lord their God, that they might become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land which the Lord their God had given them.”

Theme Two: Church

  • 25:15 “And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto them repentance and faith on the Lord.”
  • 25:18 “and as many as he did baptize did belong to the church of God; and this because of their belief on the words of Alma.”
  • 25:22 “And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.”
  • 25:23 “And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God; and they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land.”
  • 26:15-18: “Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi. And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them. And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people. Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.”
  • 26: 22 “For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.”
  • 27: 5 “Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the graceof God.”

Theme 3: Conversion

27:25 “And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in no wise inherit the kingdom of God.”

Questions and Possible Answers

  • These verses are very vague on what what it means to sin, what sort of sins do these verses point to?
  • These verses describe a very active role within church membership. It comes down to repentance and faith in the Lord. But there are a few passages that connect belief, primarily belief the resurrection and the coming prophecies of Jesus Christ to this kind of life. How are belief and behavior connected?
  • The Book of Mormon constantly connects prosperity with righteousness. How are they connected in ways that don’t sound like the prosperity gospel?
  • Why is it important to remember the sacrifices, deliverances, and traditions passed down from our heritage or to consider the sins and mistakes of this heritage? Verses in these passages describe both.
  • What is church and how broadly can we define it?

Possible answers:

  • When the Book of Mormon describes sin and righteousness, I think it has much more to do with a willingness to be led by truth. If God is truth, belief in God is belief in truth. It’s a willingness to shed ideologies, personal stories, or anything else that keeps us from living in the world in its fullness.
  • Facing the world without deep conversion is unbearable. We must accept our own limitations, we must be willing to deal with pain, the pain we experience and the pain others feel, and in all the ways we’ve been complicit in it. We must accept our own failures. This kind of honest living in the world, requires grace. A willingness to walk in faith, live by grace, readily forgive others, readily repent and ask for forgiveness. It’s not easy. It requires deep conversion.
  • Conversion is a willingness to become children of God, to live and abide in spirit, to connect ourselves with others, to be merciful and to accept mercy. To be concerned with the welfare of both the group and of the individuals living within the group. To seek for both equality and peace and to love our enemies.
  • A willingness to live in deep truth, opens up the doors toward prosperity in ways that are equitable and sustainable. Conversion does not free us from suffering, but in the suffering, we learn and as we learn, we find connection with others and with the world in ways that allow us to live with more fullness, deeper understanding and in this way, with more abundance.

Broader application:

  • Deep conversion yields fruit, allowing us to face our heritage – it’s sins as well as its accomplishments – American slavery and native American genocide, but also the drive toward freedom, equality and prosperity. Or within the Mormon tradition, the deep and painful consequences of polygamy, exclusions of blacks from the priesthood, early Utah theocracy, Mountain Meadows Massacre, etc. But also the strong leadership of Brigham Young, the vision of Joseph Smith and the significant sacrifice of early Mormon pioneers who managed to build up the Utah community and eventually build a thriving, global church.
  • Expand the notion of church that extends beyond institutional boundaries. Recognize that there are many who live by word and deed in grace, forgiveness, and a vision for a better world. There are churches across the world, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist that share in these goals. We should find common cause. Deep conversion happens across institutional boundaries. We should support each other in the core goal of broad conversion and help as many people find their way to it through whatever cultural and religious contexts works for them.

Why do I need to learn this crap anyway?

My daughter was stuck on a particularly challenge mathematical proof. She felt like she was close, but couldn’t quite push it further to resolution. The problem was to show that:

(1+cot^2y)(cos(2y) + 1) = 2cot^2y

She had a sheet of identities she could use as reference. Not really knowing how to get there from here, she played around with identities that seemed like steps in the right direction only to hit a roadblock. Stooping over her shoulder, I tried to play around with it and struggled.

I finally had to get my own sheet of paper so I could play around with it on my terms – my mind just works better with pen on paper. I love problems like this.

Not that there’s any immediate application for it in my life currently. At one point I worked on developing software for modems in military radios and there is, believe it or not, application for this in the real world. Cosines and sines are ways to model waves mathematically. Waves are all over the natural world – oscillating impulses of energy propagating through space. It all begins with a unit circle – a circle with a radius equal to one. To represent a position on that circle in terms of the angle, cosine represents the value of the x position,  sine gives the y-position. Rotating around the circle at a certain speed, the x and y position oscillates between one and negative one in a periodic fashion that looks a wave.  The frequency of the wave is the speed of the rotation. The mathematics is deeply embedded in my brain from years of calculus starting in high school extending deep into an Electrical Engineering undergraduate degree and as I said, practical application when I coded modem software for military radios not too long after graduation.

Anyway, it turns out the solution to the proof is fairly straightforward but requires a bit of pattern recognition, searching for steps that get you ever closer to the goal, the steps are as follows:

Step 1: (1+cot^2)(2-2sin^y) => using the idenity cos2y = 1-2sin^y, and then adding the 1’s together.

Step 2: 2-2sin^2y + 2cot^2y – 2sin^2ycot^2 => multiplying everything out.

Step 3: 2-2sin^2y -2sin^2(cos^2y/sin^2y) + 2cot^2y => convert cot^2y to cos^2y/sin^2y

Step 4: 2-2(sin^2y + cos^2y) + 2cot^2y => cancel out the sin^2y and factor out the 2.

Step 5: 2-2 + 2cot^2y => sin^2y + cos^2y = 1, pythagorean theorem,

Proof: 2cot^2y = 2cot^2

There’s a certain amount of endorphin kick solving this, but it’s also frustrating to get stuck on it. Frustrating and demoralizing. My daughter gets stuck on these problems, more often than not. And I know having your parent help you sucks for teenagers. Everyone’s brains are wired differently. Training has something to do with it as well – nature vs. nurture.

During the pandemic, with schools basically closed, I’m trying to get my son to take a music theory course with me on coursera. The video we watched today, we had to recognize chords and identify whether they were tonic or dominant. I got the basic idea, but I had trouble recognizing them by ear. My son could hear it far better than me – he’s better trained musically. Or maybe he has musical genes (from my wife) I just don’t have.

I don’t know.

Showing my daughter the proof she screamed, “why do I have to know this stuff anyway”. I don’t have good answers for it. It’s a basic existential question on the utility of school generally. Everyone understands the basic utility of math through algebra, the basic utility of reading comprehension and the importance of learning to write well. But school, especially a college prep school, pushes students far past this – reading books not especially enjoyable to read, especially for a young person without life experience, then being forced to write something enlightening about this book they could barely get through. Why do we teach writing in this precise way?

The problem with these question though is I have no idea. She’s 17. Nobody really knows what knowledge will end up being useful for her down the line. Most of it will largely not be. But I think there’s something essential about learning as much of the world as we possibly can, so we can make sense of it, recognize our place in it, and then perhaps have a shot to make some small contribution within it.

Steve Jobs took calligraphy in school for the fun of it. He then later revolutionized fonts on apple computers, largely because of this training he happened upon. Likely nothing that extraordinary will come out of any of this. Sometimes it’s just fun to use our brains – or not.

I don’t know.