Harrowed

After an angel called Alma to repentance, he “fell to the earth, and…did hear no more” (Alma 36:11). For three days, he was “racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:16). During that time, he was “tormented with the pains of hell” (Alma 36:13). It was only when he remembered that his father had taught him about the Savior, and only when he cried out to the Savior for relief, that his pain was replaced by joy (Alma 36:17-21).

What role did his suffering play in his repentance? I was wondering today which of the following two interpretations is accurate:

  • Interpretation #1: Alma’s suffering was a critical part of his repentance process. He was forgiven when he cried out to the Savior because he had suffered enough.
  • Interpretation #2: Alma’s suffering was a result of not repenting. If he had remembered the Savior and repented earlier, he wouldn’t have had to suffer as much.

After pondering this question for a while, I decided that both interpretations are correct. The clue that helped me understand was a word Alma used three times in describing the experience: “harrowed.”

A harrow is tool “consisting of a heavy frame set with teeth or tines which is dragged over ploughed land to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seed.” To harrow something is to drag a harrow over it in order to prepare the soil for planting. (Oxford English Dictionary).

In the parable of the sower, the Savior compared our hearts to different kinds of soil. The seed represents the word of God, but it can only grow if the soil is prepared to accept and support it (Matthew 13:3-23).

Alma used a similar analogy to teach the Zoramites, telling them that if the word of God doesn’t grow in their hearts, it is because “your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree” (Alma 32:39).

With all of that in mind, I think Alma’s use of the word “harrow” in describing his experience is significant:

  • “My soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins” (Alma 36:12).
  • “I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” (Alma 36:17).
  • [After crying out to the Savior] “I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19).

Here is my interpretation of Alma’s experience: Alma suffered until he was ready to receive God’s grace. He didn’t reach out faster because he wasn’t ready. The suffering he endured had one purpose: to prepare his heart to accept the gift that only the Savior could give. Until he had passed through that agony, he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t willing.

Today, I will remember the imagery of harrowing. I will remember that the suffering associated with repentance serves an important purpose: to change my heart; to prepare my “soil” so that I can receive the grace of a loving God.

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