14 Now I would that ye should remember, that inasmuch as the Lamanites have not kept the commandments of God, they have been cut off from the presence of the Lord. Now we see that the word of the Lord has been verified in this thing, and the Lamanites have been cut off from his presence, from the beginning of their transgressions in the land.
15 Nevertheless I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for you, if ye remain in your sins, yea, and even more tolerable for them in this life than for you, except ye repent.
16 For there are many promises which are extended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and prolong their existence in the land.
17 And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name.
Near the beginning of Alma’s sermon to the inhabitants of Ammonihah, he contrasts their prospects with those of their enemies, the Lamanites. The Lamanites have been cut off from God’s presence because of their disobedience to His commandments. But they are actually likely to enjoy better outcomes, both in this life and in the next. Why? Because their disobedience is a consequence of their adherence to “the traditions of their fathers.” In contrast, Alma’s audience has brazenly abandoned the heritage of faith which they received from their ancestors (Alma 9:8).
The availability of God’s mercy is constant and universal. As the Apostle Paul would later testify: “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12-13). But note that there is a qualifier to this promise. God’s mercy is available, but we have to do something to obtain it. We have to be willing to call upon His name. Neither the Lamanites nor the inhabitants of Ammonihah were recipients of God’s salvation at this time. But the Lamanites were in a “state of ignorance” because of their upbringing. The Ammonihahites had intentionally turned away from the blessings of the gospel, even though they had been taught how to receive them. Therefore, when the Lamanites have the opportunity to really hear and understand the gospel, they are more likely to accept it and receive God’s blessings. They will have to overcome the pull of their traditions, but that will be easier than the challenge facing Alma’s audience: to overcome their own rejection of the gospel and the consequent hardening of their hearts.
Even as Alma delivered this speech, his good friends, the sons of Mosiah, were serving as missionaries among the Lamanites. Even though he didn’t yet know the outcome of their mission, he knew that they had started their journey with great faith that the Lamanites could be converted to the gospel and overcome their hatred toward the Nephites. (See Mosiah 28:1-3.) Surely, Alma shared their optimism and believed in their mission.
And in spite of his negative assessment of his audience’s prospects, he and his companion Amulek were there to invite them to experience a similar change of heart. Several chapters later, Alma issues the invitation to them: “I wish from the inmost part of my heart…that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name…that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.” (Alma 13:27-28).
Today, I will remember the universality and the constancy of God’s mercy. I will remember that He is ready to answer as soon as His children are willing to call. We may face different barriers which hold us back from seeking those blessings, but as soon as we are willing and able to overcome those barriers, He is willing and able to save us and give us His blessings, both in this life and in the world to come.