14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
In Alma’s sermon to the city of Zarahemla, he asks a large number of questions. I’ve been thinking today about the purpose of these questions, and I’ve been focused on the three questions in the passage above:
- “Have ye spiritually been born of God?”
- “Have ye received his image in your countenances?”
- “Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”
After King Benjamin’s speech, delivered about 40 years earlier, the people testified that their hearts had been changed, that they had been spiritually born of God:
Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty changein us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2)
Likewise, the people who followed Alma’s father in the land of the Lamanites experienced a similar conversion:
Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word (Alma 5:7).
Alma’s questions represent a challenge to the people of the city: Have you been changed by God as your parents were? If not, why not? What do you need to do to be changed?
Why did Alma present this challenge in the form of a question? Why not say, “You need to be spiritually born of God,” or, “I know that you haven’t been spiritually born of God.” Because the question preserves the agency of the listener. Instead of making assertions or assumptions about their spiritual state, he asks them to self-assess, giving them the opportunity to identify the remedial actions they need to take.
Elder David A. Bednar taught about the value of good questions in helping gospel learners act for themselves:
Consider the question posed by Heavenly Father to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). The Father knew where Adam was hiding, but He nonetheless asked the question. Why? A wise and loving Father enabled His child to act in the learning process and not merely be acted upon. There was no one-way lecture to a disobedient child, as perhaps many of us might be inclined to deliver. Rather, the Father helped Adam as a learner to act as an agent and appropriately exercise his agency (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Ensign, September 2007).
Today, as I have the opportunity to teach, I will remember the value of questions. I will ask questions which invite the listeners to think deeply, to self-evaluate, and to make customized commitments which are appropriate to their needs and which they will be motivated to fulfill.