Moroni 1-6

These six chapters are among the shortest in the Book of Mormon. These really tiny little nuggets of chapters weren’t even going to be written. Moroni had finished what I imagine and to be a monumental task to summarize the history of the people of Jared, thinking he was finished with the record, “but I have not yet perished” (Moroni 1:1).

Moroni was a general in the civil wars described in the final records recorded by his father Mormon. His people had been wiped out or absorbed. Moroni was among the lone survivors. The Lamanites were on a cultural genocidal rampage “and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni will not deny the Christ; (Moroni 1:2).

What’s interesting here, even though Mormon described the civil wars to be between the Lamanites and Nephites, it seems here that the Christian identity and not the Nephite identity was at the heart of the conflict. This makes sense given that in 4 Nephi, the Lamanite and Nephite populations had dissolved into a single group for two hundred years – intermixing and inter-marrying, organized around Christian principles after Jesus visit. Eventually, class conflict, pride, and tribalism produced the civil wars that ended what’s identified as the Nephite population but I question that framing.

Some speculation here – the Nephites were likely those who remained Christian, not necessarily those literal descendants from Nephi, while others had fallen out of the Christian tradition taken on the older Lamanite tribal identities. The Nephites ended up no more righteous than the Lamanites but likely continued to maintain their Christian identities, using it as a marker and justification for their own self regard in ways that are counter to the spirit of what Christianity is supposed to be doing.

Moroni was among the sole survivors who tried to live the spirit of the Christian message while remaining loyal to the culturally identifying group he was born into. He could tried to assimilate, repudiating his Christian/Nephite identity, but he chose to remain true to his covenants and so wandered in isolation.

In this desperate state, expecting to be captured and killed, but finding some additional and unexpected time and space, he decided to write down some of what he felt were among the most precious truths that would someday, he hoped, be of benefit to the descendants of those people who would hunt him down and murder him if given the chance. What are Moroni’s most precious truths?

In the next few chapters, Moroni details the structures of the functioning church Jesus had set up 400 years earlier. In chapter 2, he describes the manner in which Jesus gave the disciples power to invoke the Holy Ghost through the laying hands upon heads. In chapter three, he describes the manner of ordaining priests and teachers who are called “to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” Moroni 3:3. Once again, the core purpose of a Christian church is to guide the individual into a lifetime of repentance, faith, and service to others. That’s it. That’s the gospel.

In Chapters 4 and 5 Moroni gives us the sacramental prayers word for word. Finally (at least for this Sunday school lesson, Moroni continues on for four additional chapters), in Chapter 6, Moroni describes the purpose of weekly church.

And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of the bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

Moroni 6:5-6

These weekly meetings, the regular habits we build up, to come together, to practice our virtues. To recommit each week to really think of the life of Jesus, a life of consecrated service and sacrifice. Moroni having survived a brutal civil war, wandering alone, cutoff from community, holding onto his faith, reminds us how precious these simple things are, the weekly meetings that we too often take for granted, that become routine events in our lives, that we sit through habitually. We need to hold onto them with greater care and attentiveness, allowing the regular rituals to work deeper into our hearts, to purify our souls and put us in greater concern and care for others. If that’s not happening, church isn’t happening.

Ether 12-15: Faith, Hope and Charity, Plus The End of a Civilization

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the book of Ether completely. Mormon ends his summary of the Nephite people describing the complete downfall of his civilization into chaos and civil war. His son, Moroni carries on for a couple of chapters describes the dismal landscape and what seems like isolation and despair – the aftereffects of being the last member of an annihilated people. In the midst of this, he decides to include the summary of a still more ancient people and their annihilation. This people, the Jaredites, a people originating from the Biblical narrative detailed in Genesis about the confounding of the languages at the tower of Babel. Their language is not confounded, but they are scattered, led by the power and mercy of God to the New World. Hundreds and hundreds of years go by until their society is utterly and completely destroyed. Their record left behind for the Nephite civilization to discover it and for Moroni to summarize it.

Moroni, in the midst of his own war-torn hell-scape feels compelled to summarize the hell-scape of a people who preceded him. Right before the end, Moroni pauses on the last prophet, Ether, for whom the record is named, who “could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him. For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance…” (Either 12:2-3).

The Book of Mormon speaks primarily at societal levels. Occasionally, the narrative zooms into the personal as it does here for a moment with Ether, who nonetheless is trying to address his entire community. It’s kind of vague here. How exactly was this message delivered? What does the scriptures mean here by repentance? Of what, precisely?

Perhaps, the point of the Christian message is not the precise sin that we’re guilty of, perhaps there is a general call to all people to enter into a life of repentance and forgiveness. Perhaps we need to recognize our fallibility and our proneness to error and lean into each other all the more. At a societal level, violence occurs when softer means of communication stop working. If we took on the spirit of good-faith, trust, meekness, and faith, war breaks down to. Perhaps this is what Ether is responding to.

Ether 12:4 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

Either 12:4

This passage is a way to address the fundamental unjustness of the world. No matter who we are or where our place in life lies, we can with surety hope for a better world. This hope within us to make this world better. It’s the hope for a better world that can become an anchor to our souls, sure and steadfast, moving us into greater charity, love and concern for others. It’s our call to do what we can to make that world better now all the while recognizing a hope for a better world to come.

Through the rest of the chapter, Moroni injects himself into the commentary. In verse 6, he defines faith using words very similar to those found in Hebrews: “I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” Ether 12:6.

Faith and hope are tied together here. Moroni spends several verses listing examples of faith. That it was through faith Jesus came to those in America, through faith prophets were called, faith that Moses brought forth the law, faith that Alma and Amulek brought down prison walls, faith that Nephi and Lehi converted the Lamanites, faith that miracles happen, and it will be by faith that this record will come forth to the ancestors of the very people who destroyed Moroni’s tribe and by faith this record will bring them to the knowledge of the gospel.

It’s here that Moroni is worried about the countless people who will read his writing, unedited as it will be. This level of insecurity comes natural to any of us who’ve tried to work on something for the benefit of others, that our gifts will be rejected. “‘Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing;…'” God responds, “my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; and if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:23, 27.

I’m wondering if this is why it’s so hard for us to come unto Jesus. We come unto Jesus so that he will show unto us our weakness. The price of admission is deep humility, an utter dependence on God’s grace. Then through grace, God will magnify our sacrifice, sanctifying it so that we can bless the world, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those who may receive it.

Moroni recognizes his weakness will be amplified through grace, but even that may not be enough if the recipient fails to receive our gifts. The recipients of the record must extend charity, “wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” (Ether 12:34). And that is true not just here but in all parts of life. We do our best, we pray for grace and we hope that those who accept our gifts will receive it with charity that it may have maximum benefit. And it can. As we receive, listen and read works produced by others with an open heart full of love, both the hearer and the receiver are edified.

In Ether 13, Moroni returns to the prophecies of Ether and the people’s response to him:

For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether, for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;

Ether 13:2

The prioritization of the sacred history runs through the Book of Mormon. We forget or minimize our history to our peril. It’s our duty to see the sacred narrative of the world, recognize our place in it. This passage also seems to prioritize the land, to an extent, over the people who occupy it. Sacred places persist long after the human lives who try to exploit it.

This chapter also elevates sacred cities, the restoration of Jerusalem and the creation of a New Jerusalem in the new world, tying the new world directly to Israel. Interestingly, the United States, historically, is linked to Britain. Our cities and regions are linked to European cities, “New England, New York, New Hamphsire”, etc. We don’t have a New Jerusalem, only an old. Bringing new version of old things from Eurpoean culture out into the broader world has always been a product of imperialism, oddly. Israel has never participated in such. They’ve always the scattered, holding on to an ancient culture and religion despite the world’s best efforts to purge it from the earth. But the US has always been predominantly a Gentile country, although a friend to Israel. But the Book of Mormon’s prophesies of a gathering and describes it as an adoption into the Israeli family. There are many ways to think of this, I believe the most expansive interpretation is correct. Where the global cultures inspire and influence into something bigger and more expansive. A religion to hold all religions. That the Book of Mormon speaks to this phenomenon using Jewish words is not as relevant as we think.

Ether’s message is ultimately rejected and Ether departs from the narrative. The rest of the book continues the carnage of earlier chapters.

In the very last chapter, 15, verse 2:

“Coriantumr began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him. He saw that there had been slain by the word already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children. He began to repent of the evil which he had done; he began to remember the worlds which had been spoken by the mouth of all the prophets, and he saw them that they were fulfilled thus far, every whit; and his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.”

Ether 15:1-3

It was too late. Ether had warned him earlier that if he would repent, the Lord would preserve him and his kingdom. But by this point, too much blood had been spilt. Coriantumr had already killed Shared. Shared’s brother Gilead was slain. Coriantumr killed Gilead’s successor Lib, and now Lib’s brother Shiz refused Coriantumr’s offer for peace. His response was that he would spare his people if Coriantumr would sacrifice his own life. I suspect that if Coriantumr had done so, for the good of his people, it wouldn’t have ended the war, that the war would have continued on without him. However, Corianumr refused the demand, the war continued until the society completely collapsed in a monumental, cataclysmic, societal destructive civil war.

And that is where Ether ends. And I think it’s fair to ask, why do we have this in our sacred text? How is this relevant? This death spiral of grievance. This willingness to let hate consume our souls. It’s perhaps a warning or maybe a call into a more virtuous cycle of ever willing repentance and forgiveness.

I think that has been the ever-consistent message of the Book of Mormon.

Come Follow Me – 3 Nephi 27- 4 Nephi

Thoughts on Chapter 27

Up through chapter 26 of 3 Nephi, the people experienced Christ first hand. They were simultaneously chastened for past sins and lifted up through first-hand exposure to the core essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, transformed through amazing spiritual experiences. With Christ’s departure, the designated disciples worked diligently to establish the church but got stuck early-on over names. In response, early on in Chapter 27, they unite in “mighty prayer and fasting” (verse 1) over what to name the church.

Why is naming things correctly so important?

Christ responds to their prayers with a final visit, instructing them to search the scriptures, wherein they may find the answer to this particular question. To be Christ’s church it must be called in Christ’s name. Being called in Christ’s name would make it Christ’s church but only “if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (verse 8).

In these sets of verses we get some clues about the role the gospel of Christ should play in our lives – the gospel needs to be foundational. We build our lives in individually unique ways according to our gifts and circumstance, but the foundation of our lives must rest firmly on the rock of the gospel of Christ. Which begs the question, what is the gospel of Christ? This question is answered, yet again, in chapter 27.

The gospel of Christ is to uplift, to elevate, but the only way to do that truly is to “do the will of my Father” (verse 13). Christ’s life was fully consecrated to do the will of the father, which led him inevitably to the cross. And through that sacrifice, our lives may be lifted up as we dedicate them fully to the will of the Father. “Now this is this commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” (verse 20) Baptism is a way to dedicate our lives fully to Christ through covenant.

Earlier, Jesus warns about the lives not built upon the gospel, that “I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast in the fire, from whence there is no return.” (verse 11)

I don’t think this is quite as harsh as it sounds, but it is descriptive. Life is short, everything that begins must end. It is this way by design. As we fully consecrate everything to Christ, we share in the eternal round of God. We die in God, we are renewed in God. We die but then we live again.

Think of art. Really great art, architecture or music fully produced through the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ lives in some capacity, ever renewing and expanding as one generation’s art inspires and informs the next. As we flow within the conversation of deep time (to use a Richard Rohr concept), we contribute to an ever-growing, ever-continuing, never really dying life of humanity. We become one. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but that’s the way I experience it right now.

Thoughts on Chapter 28

In Chapter 28, Jesus asks the disciples, “one by one, saying unto them ‘What is it that ye desire of me’ after that I am gone to the Father?” Nine of the twelve asked to have a full life fully consecrated to God and then when it’s done they can enter speedily into the kingdom of heaven. A full life in these terms is 72.

Can you imagine requesting this? 72 used to be a long, blessed life, considering the many ways life could be cut short. Now it’s considered an early-ish death. But this request shows a deep embrace of life’s temporariness. Having direct experience with eternity, these nine had no fear of it. They wanted a full life and a gentle transition into eternity. Contrast that with the more typical experience we all endure, the uncertainty and ever-present possibility of our lives cut short. We live life like it will never end, but it will, sometimes sooner than we expect.

The remaining three disciples, however, wanted something different. They wanted their lives extended to see and experience first hand the events to unfold on this earth until Christ returns again. They wanted to live on earth like the rocks or the trees, a permanent fixture, living on, while others died, that they may have a direct influence for good over the course of events while they remain.

After these blessings are requested and granted, the twelve disciples “were caught up into heaven and heard unspeakable things”. (verse 14).

When I think of unspeakable things, my mind goes in two directions – the information conveyed in the words being taught are so deep, requiring a level of sophistication, experience and training for the words to be understandable at all, they might as well be unspeakable. I can imagine going to a conference event in a field meant for people in an industry, where I have no direct training, and finding what’s being said to be, from my perspective, unspeakable.

Second, I can think of experiences that I cannot properly convey through language. Perhaps experiencing a devastatingly beautiful landscape or being captured in beautiful music at just the right time my entire soul is raptured. There’s no way to really communicate what I experience to another person that will give that experience justice. I’m imagining some combination of both is what’s being experienced here.

Mormon concludes describing the experiences of the three disciples that continue to live, writing as he is 400 years after the time described here, having encountered them himself.

Thoughts on Chapter 29 and 30

As the Book of Mormon comes forth into the world and as people all over the world really engage with its text, then you may know the time of Christ’s covenant to his people of Israel will be fulfilled, that Christ will remember the remnant. But not just the remnant of Israel but the Gentiles also. Now is the time for the gathering of Israel, a gathering that excludes no one. We will all be gathered in a final time.

Thoughts on 4 Nephi

Imagine if the Book of Mormon were organized differently. 4 Nephi consists of a single chapter, 49 verses covering three generations and two hundred years. This single chapter of 49 verses covers considerably more time than Alma, a book that takes up 1/3rd of the Book of Mormon. Imagine if Alma were one chapter of 49 verses, and 4 Nephi expanded out like Alma into 60 chapters, filled with multiple sermons and specific experiences described in as much detail. I think it’s wrong to think nothing of note happed during the time of 4 Nephi. Mormon applied editorial discretion in his summary for reasons I’m not sure are clear. Mormon knew war, named his son after Captain Moroni, a central hero of Alma.

But know, fourth Nephi is remarkable. Describing in some detail that the people achieve Zion over multiple generations, for 200 years.

“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (verse 3)

They rebuilt their civilizations. The people did “wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast.” (verse 10)

“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders… and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (verse 16, 17).

But halfway through this chapter, Mormon slows down the pace considerably to dwell on the fractures that begin to take place. In verse 24, he describes the pride creeping in because of their riches and at that time, the society starts to divide into classes. Divisions crept in, multiple churches were created, some who claimed Christ but did not live up to his gospel, others denying Christ fully.

They begin to divide into historical tribes, Nephites and Lamanites, Nephites were they who believed in Christ and those who didn’t united as Lamanites. And then finally, they bring back in the “secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton” (verse 43).

Three hundred years had passed away and both the Nephites and Lamanites both become exceedingly wicked. The end of 4 Nephi brings the narrative right up to the time of Mormon, the prophet who had been narrating the story since Mosiah.

My Ballot

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

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

AZ Central overview
Sellers seems like the more experienced candidate, however the board of Supervisors is weighted heavily toward Republicans. Going with the young guy for a bit of balance.
County Assessor Eddie Cook, Aaron Connor Aaron Connor AZ Central Summary Aaron Connor has more relevant experience. Eddie Cook seems more politically bent.
County Attorney Allister Adel,
Julie Gunnigle
Julie Gunnigle Debate

The Gaggle Analysis on the candidates
Both candidates seem pretty good, but we need serious reform, Gunnigle is the better pick.
Country Recorder Adrian Fontes, Stephen Richer Adrian Fontes AZ Central Summary Fontes had some early-term missteps that seem to have been (hopefully) mostly corrected. Richer is an interesting candidate, but I’m not sure his criticisms of Fontes are fair or non-partisan.
Country School Superintendent Steve Watson, Jeanne Casteen Jeane Casteen Liberal blog’s perspective Both candidates seem good, tie goes to the Democrat
Sheriff Paul Penzone, Jerry Sheridan Paul Penzone The debate Jerry Sheridan worked for Joe Arpiro, I don’t have a reason to vote against the incument.
Maricopa County Treasurer John Allen, Daniel Toporek John Allen AZ Central overview

AZ Central Overview
Allen’s experience seems more relevant to the position.
Constable Kyrene Ben Halloran Ben Halloran Running unopposed
Maricopa County Special Healthcare District Mary Harden, John Farnsworth Mary Harden AZ Central Overview Harden is a registered nurse, Farnsworth isn’t (she’s also the incumbent).

Blog On the race
Proposition 449 Yes The case for yes Its a continuation of a tax that pays for public health.
Maricopa County Community College District At-Large Shelli Richardson Boggs, Linda M. Thor Linda Thor AZ Central overview An entire career working with junior colleges, seeking her second term.
Maricopa County Community College District 1 Jacqeline Smith, Laurin Hendrix Jacqeline Smith Same link as above Hendrix is a politician, Smith works in education at ASU
Tempe Union No. 213 Lori Bastian, Don Fletcher, Berdetta Hodge, Sarah Lindsay James, Sandy Lowe, Armando Montero, Michael Myrick, Paige Reesor Sarah Lindsay James, Paige Reesor, Sandy Lowe Ahwatukee Overview My wife tells me Sarah Lindsay Page is fantastic, Paige Reesor is the only other teacher in the running and Sandy Lowe is the incumbent. I’m intrigued by Armando Montero, but the other’s bio’s fall short for me.
Tempe Elem No 3 Monica Trejo, Allison Ewers Running Unopposed
City of Tempe Question 1 2, 3, 4 Yes on all of them. Information on the City of Tempe’s website I’m an automatic yes for bonds to fund infrastructure.
Judges Judicial Review

AZ Republic Opinion
Legalization of recreational marijuana: Proposition 207 N/A No The Reason website takes a stab on recreational marijuana I’m sympathetic to it, but the negatives outweigh the positives in my opinion.
Proposition 208 N/A Yes The Case for No

Laurie Roberts case for yes

Robert Robb’s case for no


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


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

3 Nephi 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Nephi 13

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

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

3 Nephi 14

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

3 Nephi 15, 16

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

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

3 Nephi 1-7

3 Nephi 1 – The Sign of His Birth

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

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

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

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

3 Nephi 2 – Disbelief and War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Nephi 4 – Robbers Cannot Subsist without Something to Plunder

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

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

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

3 Nephi 5 – A Moment of Mormon Commentary

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

3 Nephi 6 – A Descent into Inequality

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

3 Nephi 8

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

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

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

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

3 Nephi 9

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

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

3 Nephi 10

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

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

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

3 Nephi 11

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Build Your Foundation Upon a Rock

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

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

Helaman 5:12

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

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

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

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

Helaman 3:35

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

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

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

2 Nephi 2:6

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

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

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

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


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.