Saturday, July 24, 2010

Alma 42

In chapter 40, Corianton had questions or doubts about the resurrection. In 41, it was the same with the principle of restoration. Now in the last chapter that Alma counsels his son, Corianton has questions or doubts about the justice of God and why people are punished for their sins. The two great laws, justice and mercy, define who God is. Without them, Alma says that God would be cease to be God. If we understand these two laws, we understand the great love God has for us. As Alma points out, there has to be law. Since we have freedom of choice, it is the basic law of right and wrong that provides that choice. If we choose right, we feel right. If we choose wrong, our conscious tells is it is wrong. There are consequences for both. When we wrong ourselves and/or others. The law of justice requires a punishment after this life. It is only right and fair that wrong doers face the consequences of their acts. The rub comes in that we want criminals and others who do bad things to face justice, but we don't want to have to face justice for our own misdeeds. If it weren't for the law of mercy, everyone of us would face punishment after this life for every wrong thing we have done.

The law of mercy is what balances everything out. As Alma said in chapter 41, "if [a person] hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness... these are they that are redeemed. It's only right and fair that if a person recognizes his wrongs, changes, and to the best of his ability never commits the wrong again, he should not have to face punishment after this life. The law of justice requires that he does, but because the Savior paid the price demanded by the law of justice, he will not have to if he repents. Alma says it this way, "And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demand of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and merciful God also." For Corianton (and all of us), verses 24 and 25 are key. "Justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved... Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God." I like how the masculine "he" is given to justice and the feminine "her" is given to mercy. I don't think that's an accident.

Then Alma gives Corianton great counsel for all of us. "Let these things trouble you no more, only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance... Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins... but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust of humility." God is patient with us as we try to repent. And as we try to improve, we shouldn't dwell on what we've done in the past, but let it just be a reminder our need to do better. I like how Alma basically tells Corianton to put this behind him, to move on and fulfill what was expected of him. To his credit, Corianton does.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alma 41

Corianton evidently has felt that even though he has sinned, when he dies, he'll still be accepted into a state of righteousness and happiness. Alma points out a basic law which just makes good sense and that's the law of restoration. Basically, there are two parts to the law of restoration. One is the resurrection where the body will restored to the spirit. The other is the restoration of our works or we are basically restored to the type of person we were on earth. Alma asks a logical question, "Is the meaning of the word restoration to take thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?" We are who we are and after this life we will continue to be who we are. There will be no sudden changes to our nature, personality, or states of righteousness. When we are judged according to our works, it will be a thorough self-examination with the results being an absolute and clear understanding of who we are and what kind of life we have led. Alma states that we will be our own judges which means there will be no place for excuses. However, it's important to remember that if in this life we strive to be repentant, that is, always trying to change for the better, then after this life, the Lord will not hold us responsible and exact the demands of justice for those things we have done wrong. In fact, the scriptures say that the Lord will not even mention them to us. We won't suddenly forget all the things we could have done better. But I do believe that healing of the atonement will take away the pain that would have been associated with the recognition remembrance of our works that needed to be repented of.

There are some great principles that Alma teaches in this chapter such as "wickedness never was happiness." This not only applies to this life, but if someone is wicked in this life, they will not be restored to happiness in the next. Another is, "For that which ye do send out shall return to unto you again, and be restored." If we send out good works, kindness, generosity, etc., those will return to us. I believe much will return to us in this life (cast your bread upon the waters), but it is in the next life that we receive the fulness of this restoration. I think the recompense for good works is going to be far greater than what we ever imagined because we will not only learn how we blessed the lives of those we touched and see the results, but we will see how each work played itself forward and blessed the lives of countless others. We should never discount the power of a kind word or a good deed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Alma 40

In this chapter, Corianton has questions and worries about the resurrection. He does not understand what it is. Alma explains that once Christ resurrects from the dead, from that point on, everyone will, at one point or another, be resurrected. Everyone person will be restored to their body, but a body that is immortal and perfect. Alma explains that all people will continue to exist after death until their resurrection. How they exist depends on how they have lived their lives. The righteous are brought home to a paradisiacal existence where they find rest and peace from all of the difficulties they battled in life. The pains, fears, and anguish that life brought are finally over and they are free to enjoy their life and the relationships they have made. The very wicked, however, continue to live in pain, fear, and anguish. They continue to suffer in a manner that Alma describes as weeping and wailing because while they understand the terrible state they are in, they have no ability to change it. They understand the consequences and can do nothing to change them.

We are so blessed to have prophets who have received additional scripture and revelation that details more about what happens after this life. Not explained in this chapter is what happens to those who are unrepentant but not necessarily the very wicked, who sin, but do not commit sins worthy of the second death. Alma will explain this in chapter 41.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Alma 39

Alma now counsels another younger son, Corianton, who has not been faithful, but has committed adultery. Alma says that because of his example, the people doubted Alma's words when he preached, "for when they saw your conduct they would not believe my words." What we say, what we do, what we wear, basically everything about us is either helping others to be strong or helping them to doubt, and in many cases, provides strength to act appropriately or excuses for others to act inappropriately. We should never assume that our words and actions do not have an affect on others.

According to the Lord, lust and adultery go hand in hand. In the D&C, the Lord says, "... he (or she) that looketh on a woman (or man) to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear." It isn't unusual for those who are commit moral sin to deny the church rather than face the responsibility of their actions. According to Elder Holland, lust is at the very heart of all immorality. He says,

"If we stop chopping at the branches of this problem and strike more directly at the root of the tree, not surprisingly we find lust lurking furtively there. Lust is an unsavory word, and it is certainly an unsavory topic for me to address, but there is good reason why in some traditions it is known as the most deadly of the seven deadly sins.2
Why is lust such a deadly sin? Well, in addition to the completely Spirit-destroying impact it has upon our souls, I think it is a sin because it defiles the highest and holiest relationship God gives us in mortality—the love that a man and a woman have for each other and the desire that couple has to bring children into a family intended to be forever. Someone said once that true love must include the idea of permanence. True love endures. But lust changes as quickly as it can turn a pornographic page or glance at yet another potential object for gratification walking by, male or female. True love we are absolutely giddy about—as I am about Sister Holland; we shout it from the housetops. But lust is characterized by shame and stealth and is almost pathologically clandestine—the later and darker the hour the better, with a double-bolted door just in case. Love makes us instinctively reach out to God and other people. Lust, on the other hand, is anything but godly and celebrates self-indulgence. Love comes with open hands and open heart; lust comes with only an open appetite.
These are just some of the reasons that prostituting the true meaning of love—either with imagination or another person—is so destructive. It destroys that which is second only to our faith in God—namely, faith in those we love."
Alma is going to try to convince Corianton not only that he has sinned, but the seriousness of the consequences of those sins.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alma 38

Mormon gives us what must be an abbreviated version of Alma's counsel to his young son Shiblon. Shiblon, however, is evidently not young in experience as he has already been imprisoned and stoned, apparently by the Zoramites. Much of what he says is similar to what he said to Helaman but what differs is his counsel to be diligent and avoid idleness, to be temperament, to avoid pride and boasting in his own strength and wisdom. He might be a bit zealous because Alma tells him to not be overbearing.

The words that jump out to me in this chapter are in verse 12 where Alma says "see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love." He doesn't say some of our passions or this passion or that passion, but all of them. I think each of us can think of things we are passionate about. Some passions are appropriate and some are not, but regardless, self control and discipline in our lives is important. I think we need to be sensitive to how this effects our ability to love and be loved. If we are overly passionate about our political views, this can eliminate the possibility of meaningful dialogue and understanding opposing points of view and push us into judging people of opposing views as being personally bad or evil people. If we are overly passionate about our work, this can adversely effect our relationships with our co-workers. If we cannot control our passions for sin, selfishness will wrap our sensitivity for others in chains and effecting not only our love for others but our love for ourselves.

I also think that it's important to note that Alma doesn't say we shouldn't have passions. It is good to passionate about appropriate things. But like the bridle helps us control and direct a strong horse, control of our passions heightens all of our abilities, especially our ability to love which is the the most important attribute we develop in this life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Alma 37

Alma passes on responsibility for the plates to Helaman. Like Nephi and all the prophets after him, Alma does not understand the full purpose of keeping a record on the plates, but knows there is a special purpose for them beyond what they do for his people. In his charge to Helaman, Alma tells him that if he keeps the commandments, "no power of earth or hell can take them from you." But if he does not keep the commandments, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind." That's a stern warning, but in a general way, that is true for each of us. Something that is sacred is regarded to be of the greatest value and should be treated with the utmost respect. By not keeping the commandments, we show disrespect for what is sacred and the Lord then takes what is sacred from us. We lose our ability to know and what was once sacred becomes common to us. Outside of the church, people in the world are generally losing a feel for what is sacred and what isn't. There is little that is held sacred and all that should respected is treated with a lack of interest at the least and disdain at the worst. Along with this comes a lack of civility. If we keep the commandments, nothing in this world can cause us to lose our testimonies or knowledge of what is true and sacred.

Nephi and Lehi had the Liahona to guide them. Alma explains to Helaman that this was a very simple thing. Live righteously and have faith in it and follow it's directions and they would travel safely and arrive where they were supposed to be. When they didn't, they lost their way, suffered from hunger and other afflictions. Alma explains that this is symbolic for both our temporal and spiritual lives, that our Liahona is the words of Christ. "For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course carry us beyond this vale os sorrow into a far better land of promise." I think most of understand that. But the important thing is what Helaman says next. "Do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way." The commandments are not hard. They are not extreme and do not ask us to do impossible things. And yet so much rides on our willingness to keep them. What a blessing it is in this confusing life to have this anchor that enables us to know we are on the right path where things will eventually work out as they should.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Alma 36 continued

Alma starts out by having Helaman remember how Israel was in bondage to Egypt and how the Lord the freed Israel from the slavery they were in. Then Alma relates how he was a slave and in bondage to his sins and how he was living, and how the Lord freed him from it. We need to remember that Alma and the sons of Mosiah considered themselves to be the "vilest of sinners" because they had destroyed so many lives. Once Alma realized the reality of what he had been doing, and realized what could have been, he suffered greatly. Over and over, Alma says he was tormented and racked with pain for what he had done. His experience was like Paul's in the New Testament and both of these are quite miraculous. Through divine intervention, Alma was freed, but only after great suffering.

Our experiences, though not so earth shaking, can be similar in that all of us become slaves to our own habits and ways of living. We come to think that this is the way it's always going to be and it will never change. Life is pretty routine and ordinary, but we have to be careful that we're not settling for less, especially when it comes to realizing our potential. Most of life is good unless we are living unrighteously. Whatever our level of righteousness is, we can have a freer and more fulfilling life and realize more of our dreams, if we trust the Lord. He won't free us from some of the hard things of life, just the unnecessary ones. Alma tells us that some things are unavoidable, but "whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles..." Later he says, I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind. God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me." And notice what the the first and last thing he says; that whoever keeps the commandments will be prospered. I believe the Lord wants us to be free of the things that hold us down. He wants us to be prosperous, happy and fulfilled. That can come if we have trust in him.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Alma 36

I'm going to spend two days on Alma 36 because I want to first share something about chiasmus and then tomorrow something about the message.

This chapter is one of the best examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. Chiasmus is an ancient form of Middle Eastern poetry that is found throughout the Book of Mormon. It gives evidence to the Book of Mormon having semitic (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.) origins. It gives evidence that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient text and not something that was written in the 19th century. In the Book of Mormon, sometimes it occurs within in a few verses, but in this case, the whole chapter is chiastic.

Chiasmus is a form of writing where the first verse corresponds to the last verse, the second verse corresponds to the second to the last verse and so on. It was not written about until ten years after the death of Joseph Smith. He could not have known about it and he certainly would not have known how to write something in such a difficult structure. Since he never said anything about it, it is doubtful he even realized it was there. Here is an outline of the overall chiastic structure of Alma 36. Look at "a" at the top and then "a" at the bottom, then "b" at the top and then "b" at the bottom and so on. The numbers at the end of each line are the verse numbers.

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1) (b) KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS of God and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (2) (c) DO AS I HAVE DONE (2) (d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2); (e) for they were in BONDAGE (2) (f) he surely did DELIVER them (2) (g) TRUST in God (3) (h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3) (i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3) (j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4) (k) BORN OF GOD (5) (l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9) (m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10) (n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15) (o) PAINS of a damned soul (16) (p) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17) (q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17) (q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18) (p') HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19) (o') Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20) (n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22) (m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23) (l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24) (k') BORN OF GOD (26) (j') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26) (h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27) (g') TRUST in him (27) (f') He will deliver me (27) (i') and RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY (28) (e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29) (d') Retain in REMEMBRANCE THEIR CAPTIVITY (28-29) (c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30) (b') KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (30) (a') This is according to his WORD (30).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Alma 35

We are 73-74 years before the birth of Christ and so about 56 years before he appears to the Nephites after his resurrection. I think there are real parallels between what is happening with the Nephite and Lamanite civilization and our own. One of the reasons we have the Book of Mormon is so we can learn not only how to govern ourselves, but what happens when a society chooses follow paths of righteousness or paths of wickedness. As we move through these years in the Book of Mormon, I think we can learn much regarding what will happen prior to the Lord's second coming. And much of what happens in the Book of Mormon, we can see happening now, and what will happen down the road if we continue in that paths we are in.

In this chapter, there becomes a clear separation of the Zoramite people. Only one type of belief is allowed and all others are cast out of the land. The type of belief allowed among the Zoramites is determined by their political leaders who pool the wealth amongst themselves and those who believe the same as they do. At the same time, the Nephites are growing more wicked which is weakening their ability to defend themselves in the terrible wars that are coming. So what does Alma do? He gathers his sons and counsels each of them to be prepared, to keep the commandments and be righteous and strong so they are prepared for the tribulation that is coming.

In our own time, the Lord has counseled us in the same way that Alma is going to counsel is sons. The Lord knows what is coming and he wants us to put ourselves in the best position possible. In the Doctrine and Covenants he says, "For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore, the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory, the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand. Remember this which I tell you before, that ye may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow. Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you, that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come." (D&C 58:2-6) The world is going to see much tribulation. How well we fare will be determined by our faithfulness and righteousness.