Asking Better Questions: Learning from Alma 5

A few years ago, I prepared to participate in a general conference of the Church by writing a list of questions. Some were quite open-ended, such as “How can I be a better father?” or “What can I do to minister to others more effectively?” Others involved specific projects I was working on or specific challenges I faced.

I learned a lot from the conference, but I noticed that much of what I learned didn’t map very well to my original questions. It felt like the Lord had answered important questions, better questions than the ones I had asked. I came away from that experience determined to learn whatever the Lord wants to teach me, but also with a desire to learn to ask better questions.

Alma 5 contains a sermon Alma preached in the city of Zarahemla, his first stop on a multi-city tour intended to bolster the faith of church members. An unusual feature of this sermon is the number of questions he asks—42 to be exact. I looked closely at those questions today in an effort to better understand what kinds of questions will help me grow spiritually. Here’s what I found:

  • Twenty-four of the questions (a little more than half) asked the audience to self-assess. These are all Yes/No questions, similar to temple recommend questions. They included questions about:
    • Their behavior: “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?” (verse 30)
    • Their state of conversion: “Have ye spiritually been born of God?” (verse 14)
    • Their future expectations: “Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?” (verse 19)
    • Their willingness to repent: “Will ye still persist in…?” (verse 53, 55)
  • Nine questions are factual in nature. These questions are generally more open-ended, seeking short answers, often related to doctrine. For example:
    • “On what conditions are they saved?” (verse 10)
    • “How do ye suppose that I know of their surety?” (verse 45)
  • The remaining nine are what I would call verification questions. Alma is making an assertion and asking his listeners to confirm that what he has said is true. For example:
    • “Did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi?” (verse 11)
    • “Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself?” (verse 45)
    • “What shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock?” (verse 59)

I believe that we will grow spiritually by asking these three types of questions: (1) How are we doing and what can we do better? (2) What key doctrinal principles can we understand more fully? (3) Will God reveal to us that what we have been taught is true?

Today, I will think about the questions I need to ask. As I prepare to study the New Testament in the upcoming year, I will think about the self-assessment, factual, and verification questions that will most help me to grow closer to Jesus Christ and become more like Him.

Here is a list of Alma’s 42 questions to the church at Zarahemla and my categorization of each question:

Question #VerseQuestionTypeTopicCategory
16And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers?Y/NPast behaviorSelf-assessment
26Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?Y/NPast behaviorSelf-assessment
36And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?Y/NPast behaviorSelf-assessment
48And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed?Y/NPast eventsFactual
59And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed?Y/NPast eventsFactual
610And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved?Short answerDoctrineFactual
710Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation?Short answerDoctrineFactual
810What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?Short answerDoctrineFactual
911Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi?Y/NPast eventsVerification
1011And was he not a holy prophet?Y/NPast eventsVerification
1111Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?Y/NPast eventsVerification
1214And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
1314Have ye received his image in your countenances?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
1414Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
1515Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?Y/NCurrent behaviorSelf-assessment
1615Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?Y/NCurrent behaviorSelf-assessment
1716I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
1817Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say—Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth—and that he will save you?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
1918Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
2019I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
2119I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
2220I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
2322And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness?Y/NFuture expectationsSelf-assessment
2422Behold, what will these things testify against you?Short answerFuture expectationsFactual
2523Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?Y/NFuture expectationsVerification
2624Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?Y/NDoctrineFactual
2726And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
2827Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God?Y/NPast behaviorSelf-assessment
2927Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
3027That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
3128Behold, are ye stripped of pride?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
3229Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy?Y/NConversionSelf-assessment
3330And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?Y/NCurrent behaviorSelf-assessment
3439And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye?Short answerDoctrineFactual
3539Behold, I say unto you, that the devilis your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this?Short answerDoctrineVerification
3645Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself?Y/NAlma’s testimonyVerification
3745And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?Short answerAlma’s testimonyFactual
3853And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?Y/NCall to repentSelf-assessment
3955Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?Y/NCall to repentSelf-assessment
4058And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this?Short answerAlma’s testimonyVerification
4159For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock?Short answerDoctrineVerification
4259And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out?Short answerDoctrineVerification

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