Was It a Sin for Alma to Wish He Were an Angel?

There is an unusual chapter in the Book of Mormon in which Alma reflects on his missionary experiences. Mormon quotes this passage (Alma 29) without introduction, and it is only from the text itself that we can tell it was written by Alma the Younger. For seventeen verses, Alma shares his deepest feelings, including his misgivings and his discomfort, about his missionary service. It is a candid discussion, in which he grapples with the gap between his vision and the realities he has experienced. Unlike Alma’s other writings, it’s not clear who his intended audience is. It reads like a journal entry, a self-reflection, intended to help him work through his own thoughts and feelings.

He opens the passage with a lament: “O that I were an angel,” he cries, “and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth.” If only he had more power, more eloquence, more influence over others, then he would be able to achieve his ultimate goal: “that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:1-2).

His motives are good. He’s not seeking power so that he can subjugate or harm others; he just wants to help them overcome their own self-defeating behaviors so that they can be happy. And it’s not hard to understand why he imagines that he would be more effective as an angel. After all, when he was a rebellious young man, it was the sudden appearance of an angel that jarred him out of his foolish state of mind, caused him to rethink his direction, and ultimately led him to embrace the blessings of the gospel. If the appearance of an angel could do that for him, couldn’t it do that for anyone? And if so, then why shouldn’t everyone have that experience?

But Alma quickly self-corrects: “I am a man, and do sin in my wish,” he says, “for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3).

Was his original desire a sin? And if so, why did Mormon choose to include it? More broadly, should we approach our discipleship with the passion manifested by Alma in the first two verses or with the circumspection of the third verse?

I think the answer is “Yes!” We need both. That is the paradox of discipleship. A true disciple of Jesus Christ loves all of God’s children and wants to do everything he or she can do to bring them back to Him. But a true disciple is also willing to submit to the will of the Father in all things. After reminding himself that God is just, that He loves all of His children, and that He gives each of them ample opportunities to choose, Alma again questions his initial desire: “Why should I desire that I were an angel?” he asks. “Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6-7). Then, he goes on to rejoice in the miracles he has been part of, the lives that have been changed by the gospel, and the success of his good friends, the sons of Mosiah, in their missionary labors. The passion was a critical part of these successes, but that passion was channeled and constrained by an awareness that Alma and his friends were acting on behalf of the Lord, that they needed His help and guidance to complete their missions successfully, and that their efforts were part of a much bigger work which was directed by God Himself.

Today, I will remember the example of Alma the Younger. I will seek to emulate both his enthusiasm to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and his willing submission to the will of God. I will strive to develop a spontaneous desire to serve others, tempered by an awareness that I can’t do everything. I will therefore focus my efforts on fulfilling the assignments that I have been given by the Lord.

Posted in Missionary Work | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Is a “Preparatory Redemption?”

In the middle of Alma’s remarks to the people of Ammonihah, he uses a phrase which appears no where else in the scriptures: “a preparatory redemption.” What did he mean by that?

In order to understand this phrase, we will need to examine the entire passage (Alma 13:1-3), one verse at a time:

And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

Why was Alma citing their minds “forward” to an event in the past? In the passage immediately preceding this one, Alma talks about the Fall of Adam and Eve, which resulted in their separation from the presence of God. He also tells them that God sent angels to teach people about the plan of redemption, so that they could “have claim on mercy through [His] Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of [their] sins” (Alma 12:22-37).

Now, Alma asks his audience to think forward. What happens next? After God provided His children with instructions for how to overcome the effects of the Fall, He then needed to institutionalize the process for passing those instructions on from one person to the next and from one generation to the next. If you give the message once and then let people talk about it any way they like, the message will become corrupted over time. So He ordained priests. What was their role? They were keepers of the doctrine. It was their responsibility to teach the principles of the gospel in an orderly way, in order to ensure that the instructions for following the Son of God and entering into the God’s rest would not become watered down or diluted by human opinions and interpretations. Therefore, they were “ordained”—set in order—and were to act in an organized manner, according to the instructions given them by the Lord God and by His Son.

And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.

The intention was that the priests would act as representatives for the Son of God, so that following the priests was equivalent to following the Son of God. This placed an extraordinary responsibility on these priests, who were mortal and human, but who would be followed and respected as representatives of an immortal and divine Being.

And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works…

Before they were born, these priests were foreordained to become priests on earth. Why were they chosen? Alma tells us that it was because of their “exceeding faith and good works.” In the pre-earth life, they exercised faith and made righteous choices. As a result, they were selected to fulfill important responsibilities during their mortal lives.

…in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling…

Even though they had been foreordained—chosen before birth to fulfill these responsibilities—these prospective priests were given time to prove themselves in mortality. Only after demonstrating the same faith and righteousness, which they had demonstrated before birth, were they ordained to hold the priesthood of God in this life.

…yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

How could they operate as priests—as representatives of Jesus Christ—without being redeemed from the effects of the Fall, without having their sins washed clean? They were imperfect, but because of  “their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God,” they “were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb” (Alma 13:10-11). They were made clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which qualified them to preach His gospel and to help other people receive the same blessing: “that they also might enter into his rest” (Alma 13:6).

A couple of days ago, we discussed the remission of sins experienced by Enos, the people of King Benjamin, and Alma the Younger. Were they perfect after receiving this gift? Were they guaranteed never to fall short again, never to make a mistake? No. They were still human. But they had received a much-needed assurance that their former sins would not prevent them from moving forward, that their past misdeeds would no longer hang over their heads, and that—for the moment at least—they were in harmony with God’s will.

We all need this kind of redemption to participate in the work of the Lord. The saving power of Jesus Christ doesn’t just prepare us to stand in the presence of God in the next life; it also prepares us to act on His behalf during this life. If we are going to do so worthily, we must be cleansed by Him, here and now. We must be redeemed by Him, preparatory to serving with Him and acting on His behalf.

Today, I will be grateful for the opportunities God has given me to serve others and to participate in His work. I will remember that Jesus Christ can wash away our sins, not only to qualify us for ultimate salvation, but also to prepare us to serve as His representatives here and now, so that we can lead others to His salvation.

Posted in Atonement, Priesthood | Tagged | Leave a comment

Why Did Jared Ask His Brother to Pray Instead of Praying Himself?

Yesterday, I wrote about the lessons we can learn about coming unto Christ from the brother of Jared. Today, I’d like to explore a more specific question: why did Jared ask his brother to pray for him? Why didn’t he just offer those prayers himself?

Jared and his brother lived at the time of the tower of Babel. They led a group of people away from the tower and across the sea to the American continent, establishing what we know as the Jaredite civilization. From the beginning of their story, we hear about Jared repeatedly asking his brother to petition the Lord on his behalf:

  • “Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words” (Ether 1:34).
  • “Cry again unto the Lord, and it may be that he will turn away his anger from them who are our friends, that he confound not their language” (Ether 1:36).
  • “Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go” (Ether 1:38).

Here are some observations about these requests:

  1. Jared and his brother were a team, and good teams leverage the strengths of each member. Jared was apparently the first person to identify problems and to seek a solution. He even seems to have had a sense of how the prayers were likely to be answered. (“Who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth?” he asked.) His brother was “highly favored of the Lord,” which suggests that Jared thought they had a better chance of receiving a favorable response if his brother was the one doing the asking.
  2. The brother of Jared approached the Lord in an attitude of humility, but he was also willing to make requests which would terrify most of us. (“Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger…that they may shine forth in darkness.” “Show thyself unto me.”) He was uncommonly fearless in his willingness to petition the Lord for extraordinary blessings. He epitomized the Apostle Paul’s admonition that we should “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). His prayers may have been more effective simply because he was willing to ask. The promise isn’t, “When you need, you will receive.” The promise is, “Ask, and ye shall receive” (John 16:24, 3 Nephi 27:29).
  3. It’s worth noting that prophets have consistently encouraged us to each develop our own personal connection with God, rather than relying on a human intermediary. It is perfectly appropriate for us to lean on one another’s spiritual strength at times, as Jared did in this situation. The Lord told the prophet Joseph Smith in 1831 that some people are blessed to know that Jesus is the Christ, while others are blessed “to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:14). But how will they receive eternal life? By coming to know God for themselves. (See John 17:3.) Moses said, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29) Jeremiah prophesied of a time when no one would challenge other people to know the Lord, “for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:34). President Thomas S. Monson said, “It is essential for you to have your own testimony…, for the testimonies of others will carry you only so far” (“The Power of the Book of Mormon,” General Conference, April 2017). And just last year, President Russell M. Nelson said, “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that ‘if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge'” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will be grateful for the examples of Jared and his brother. I will be grateful for friends with great spiritual strength, whom I can ask for help, and whom I can lean on when I’m passing through difficult experiences. I will remember that some blessings come only after I ask for them, and that I should “come boldly to the throne of grace.” I will also remember that each of us needs to learn to communicate directly with God, and that our salvation ultimately depends on our individual relationship with Him.

Posted in Jesus Christ, Prayer | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Can We Learn About Coming Unto Christ from the Brother of Jared?

brother_jared_repented_mormon_barrett

The Book of Mormon tells the story of a family who traveled across the ocean to the American continent just after human languages were confounded at the Tower of Babel. The family was led by a man named Jared and by his brother, who is simply called “the brother of Jared” throughout the narrative.

The story of their journey is really a story of a series of prayers.

  1. Jared requests that his brother ask God that their languages not be confounded, so that the two of them can continue to communicate with one another. Why was the brother of Jared the one to offer this prayer? Moroni tells us that it was because he was “highly favored of the Lord.” He did so, and his request was granted (Ether 1:33-35).
  2. Jared then asks his brother to request the same blessing for their friends and family. Again, the brother of Jared prays, and again he receives the blessing he seeks (Ether 1:36-37).
  3. Jared asks his brother to go ask the Lord whether they should leave this place, and if so, where should they go? Unlike the prior two requests, this one requires him to listen for an answer. Jared seems to already have an idea what the Lord will say: “Who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth?” The brother of Jared prays and receives specific instructions. The people are to gather in a specific valley (the valley of Nimrod), where the Lord will give them further instructions. He promises to lead them from that valley to “a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.” He explains that He has given this answer because the brother of Jared has prayed for a long time (Ether 1:38-43).
  4. When they have gathered in the valley, the Lord comes and talks with the brother of Jared. For the first time in the narrative, the brother of Jared is aware of God’s presence, and speaks to Him in close proximity, even though he can’t see Him. (“He was in a cloud, and the brother of Jared saw him not.”) The Lord tells him where the group should travel (Ether 2:4-5).
  5. During their journey, there are many more answered prayers: They are “directed continually by the hand of the Lord” (Ether 2:6).
  6. After arriving at the ocean, they simply stop. For four years, they live in tents on the seashore. They don’t build houses. They don’t put down roots. They don’t ask the Lord what they should do next. They just stay in that spot, in a state of perpetual transience (Ether 2:13).
  7. Finally, the brother of Jared again reaches out to God. The Lord visits him in a cloud and chastens him for three hours “because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” The Lord then instructs him to have the people build barges and prepare to cross the sea (Ether 2:14-17).
  8. After building the barges, the brother of Jared returns to the Lord with three problems: no light, no air, and no way to steer. The Lord says that He will steer the barges. He provides instructions for how to solve the air problem. And he asks the brother of Jared what he would like to do about the light problem (Ether 2:18-25).
  9. The brother of Jared creates 16 smooth transparent stones. He approaches the Lord and requests that He touch the stones so that they will shine. As the Lord does so, the brother of Jared sees His finger. Shocked to learn that God has a body, he falls to the ground. When the Lord asks if he saw more, he replies, “Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.” He sees the Lord, who ministers to him and shows him “all things” (Ether 3:1-16, 25-26, Ether 12:20-21).

Here are a few of the principles I see in this story:

  1. Just like all of our relationships, we have to invest time and energy to become close to God. It doesn’t happen automatically, and the relationship can weaken if we neglect it.
  2. We earn God’s trust by receiving instructions from Him and acting on those instructions.
  3. Revelation will most likely come incrementally. We need to be prepared to act on the instructions we have received, trusting that God will give us further instructions after we have completed the first ones.
  4. We can have confidence in our prayers, both as we request blessings and as we seek knowledge.
  5. We should continually seek to know what we should do next. We must avoid being “stuck on the beach.”
  6. Our relationship with God can strengthen over time until we know Him as well as the brother of Jared knew Him.

Moroni, who abridged this record, assured us that the brother of Jared’s experience was a pattern which we could follow. Speaking of us, he relayed the following promise from the Lord:

In that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are (Ether 4:7).

Today, I will remember the example of the brother of Jared. As I strive to follow the Book of Mormon admonition to “come unto Christ,” I will remember that it will be an incremental process. I will likely pass through many iterations of asking for blessings, seeking to understand God’s will, and acting upon the instructions I receive from Him. I will trust that this pattern will eventually lead me to the Savior.

Posted in Jesus Christ, Prayer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

What Are Some Examples of People Coming Unto Christ?

There are several experiences in the Book of Mormon in which people sought the Savior and found His healing power. Today, I want to look at three of those experiences and consider what we can learn from them.

  1. Enos had what he called a “wrestle…before God” before receiving a remission of his sins. His father Jacob was the leader of the church and Enos had heard him teach the gospel many times. On this occasion, he was out hunting when his father’s words “sunk deep into his heart.” As a result, his “soul hungered.” He knelt and prayed all day and into the night. Finally, he heard a voice which said, “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” Instantly, his “guilt was swept away.” When he asked how this had happened, he was told that it was because of his faith in Christ (Enos 1:1-8).
  2. The people of King Benjamin gathered at the temple to hear a final message from their king. They offered burnt offerings and sat together in families looking toward the temple, where Benjamin stood on a tower to teach them (Mosiah 2:1-7). After hearing the king testify that we can only be saved by having our natures changed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, they fell to the earth and pleaded with God to “apply the atoning blood of Christ.” The Spirit of the Lord filled them with joy and gave them “peace of conscience.” Mormon tells us that this happened “because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 4:1-3).
  3. Alma the Younger, whose father was the high priest, saw an angel who commanded him to stop fighting against the church. “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed,” the angel said, “seek no more to destroy the church of God.” For two or three days, Alma was unable to move or talk. He was “racked with eternal torment” and “tormented with the pains of hell” as he became painfully aware of the gravity of his sins. Finally, he remembered that his father had taught him that Jesus Christ would atone for his sins. Alma cried out in his heart, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” Immediately, his pain was gone–replaced by joy. (Mosiah 27:8-24, Alma 36:6-21).

What principles can we learn from these three experiences?

  1. You have to know that you need help. The process begins with a recognition of the gravity of our sins and a desire for them to go away. Our hearts must be broken and our spirits contrite.
  2. You have to know who can help you. Forgiveness doesn’t come just because we feel bad, or just because we recognize that we need help. It comes when we pray for it with faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. It can take time to find Him, but when you do, the healing can be instantaneous. Enos prayed for hours. Alma the Younger suffered for days. But when they were ready, their guilt was “swept away.” The Spirit filled them with peace. Their pain disappeared and was replaced by joy.

Today, I will be grateful for these examples of people coming to the Savior in the Book of Mormon. I will strive to follow their examples by recognizing my need for the Savior and by asking God for forgiveness with faith in Jesus Christ. I will remember that He can heal me instantly, when I am ready to be healed.

Posted in Atonement, Jesus Christ | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What Do Book of Mormon Prophets Teach Us About Coming Unto the Savior?

Over the last two days, I’ve looked at invitations to come unto Christ in the Book of Mormon. Two days ago, we reviewed Amaleki’s and Moroni’s final admonitions to “come unto Christ.” Yesterday, we looked at passages where the Savior says, “come unto me.”

Today, I’m pondering the passages where prophets use the phrase “come unto him” with reference to the Savior. In the Book of Mormon, there are six of these passages, and they are all in the first six books–the small plates of Nephi.

Here are some principles from those passages:

  • We can have confidence that our efforts to approach the Savior will be successful. Nephi assures us that “the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find” (1 Nephi 10:18-19).
  • The Savior will welcome all who seek Him. “He inviteth…all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…. And all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
  • We cannot be saved without coming to Him (1 Nephi 13:40). We can’t save ourselves, and no one else is capable of saving us.
  • We learn how to come unto Him by studying the principles of the gospel which are taught in the scriptures. Nephi uses the phrase “the very points of his doctrine,” which suggests that the instructions are precise and clear-cut (1 Nephi 15:14).
  • Coming unto Christ involves total commitment. We must “offer [our]whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:26).

Today, I will strive to follow the scriptural invitation to draw closer to the Savior. I will remember that He has invited everyone to come, and that we can all do this. I will remember that He is the only one who can save us. And I will remember that coming unto Him requires a total commitment.

Posted in Jesus Christ | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Does the Savior Invite Us to Come Unto Him?

I mentioned yesterday that the phrase “come unto Christ” appears only five times in the scriptures. In contrast, the Savior says “come unto me” 39 times in the scriptures: once in the Old Testament, six times in the New Testament, four times in the Doctrine and Covenants, and 28 times in the Book of Mormon.

Here are a few principles I’ve learned by looking at these passages:

  • The Savior invites us with patience. His “arm is lengthened out all the day long” (2 Nephi 28:32). He also wants us to continue to invite others, even when they seem unresponsive, “for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them” (3 Nephi 18:32).
  • He doesn’t reject anyone who comes to Him (2 Nephi 26:25, 3 Nephi 18:25).
  • We come to Him by repenting of our sins and being baptized (3 Nephi 21:6, 3 Nephi 27:20, 3 Nephi 30:2, Mormon 3:2, Ether 4:18, Moroni 7:34).
  • We should come to Him with a humble heart, and we should be at peace with others when we come (3 Nephi 12:3, 19-20, 23-24).
  • When we come to Him:
    • We will find rest (3 Nephi 28:3).
    • We will learn things we hadn’t previously been able to understand (Ether 4:13-14).
    • We will recognize our weaknesses, which will make us humble (Ether 12:27).
    • We will eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely, and we will partake of the fruit of the tree of life (Alma 5:34-35).
    • He will save us (3 Nephi 9:14, 22).
    • We will be filled with joy and welcomed into His Father’s kingdom (Enos 1:27, Alma 5:16).

Today, I will be grateful for the Savior’s loving invitation: “Come unto me.” I will be grateful that He receives everyone who comes to Him in humility and peace. I will be grateful for the priceless blessings we receive as we approach Him, including happiness, growth, knowledge, salvation, and joy.

Posted in Jesus Christ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment