After the various missions of Alma, his sons, and the sons of Mosiah, we now discuss key discussions Alma has with his sons, Helaman and Shiblon. Alma's teachings to Corianton are in next week's lesson .
Alma’s gathering of his children is very similar to Lehi’s final words of counsel and blessing to his own children (2 Ne 1-4). Important issues are shared that pertain to the needs of each of his children with a final blessing to each of them.
Guidance for Helaman
Helaman is the oldest son of Alma. His name may be a form of Egyptian for “Her Amun - In the Presence of Amun” or "In the Presence of God." The Semitic letter “L” is made into an “R” in Egyptian, so Helaman and Her Amun are cognate names. Vowels were not used in the earliest Semitic languages, so Ammon could also be spelled Aman, Amon, or Amun. Amun Re was the chief god of the Egyptians, while Alma’s close friend, Ammon, was the chief leader of the Ammonites. It seems fitting to name his oldest son after his friend, Ammon. Helaman's name is also important as we discuss chapter 36, when Alma himself is in the presence of God, perhaps naming his oldest after this experience.
In chapter 36, Alma begins by reminding us of a common theme in many of his speeches: remember the captivity of the fathers, keep the commandment and you’ll prosper in the land, you will also be gathered together in the presence of the forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a symbol of the Godhead or Trinity.
From this, Alma will teach us about grace and the requirements for salvation, justification and sanctification.
“Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself” (Alma 36:5).
Here we see that Alma did not know about salvation, except it was taught him by an angel. This blessing was given to him, even though he had not done anything to deserve it. This is the first part of grace: God imparts his gospel of hope to us, even though we have not done anything to merit knowing it or partaking of it. This is a theme that Alma has spoken on various times before, as well as Nephi and others. It is from an angel that Adam learned why God had commanded him to sacrifice (book of Moses 5:6-12). The angel Moroni and other angels delivered key portions of the gospel and priesthood authority to Joseph Smith (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History - 1). The ministering of angels is a key in the Aaronic Priesthood and a Terrestrial function (JS History 1:68-72). It is one of the first steps in preparing us to enter into the presence of God. We will see how this works with Alma.
Alma related the story of his conversion to Helaman. As a rebellious youth, he went about trying to destroy the Church, he is stopped in his tracks by an angel.
“For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.
But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.
And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God” (vs 6-9).
The angel’s main purpose was to stop Alma and his friends from destroying the Church. The angel’s phrasing is interesting: “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed....” Alma was obviously on a suicide mission. He was angry with life and sought to destroy what he hated. While he struck out at his father and the Church, what he truly hated was himself. In collapsing into a coma for three days, he notes that he wished he could cease to exist. Complete annihilation was Alma’s real desire, because he saw no other option to end the torment he experienced as a youth and carried with him into his coma. God did not create his pain and torment, he caused it himself.
Some believe that Alma was actually experiencing a Near Death Experience. If so, then Alma’s spirit was in the Spirit World, suffering in the depths of Spirit Prison’s hell.
In a series of great posts reviewing Stephen Robinson’s book, “Believing Christ”, Joseph Spencer notes: “In response to our over-dramatic plea to the heavens, mostly offered in order to pretend that it’s God who has cut us off, there comes a voice that simply asks: “Are you ready to stop pouting yet?””
In reality, we are spoiled, little children who pout because we do not get the exact gift that father wishes to give us. We blame God for our misfortune. “If only I was born to better parents”. “If only I was taller/smarter/prettier”. Or as in the Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye sang, “If I were a Rich Man!” Only when we stop pouting and humbly accept the gift offered to us, do we see the real value in the gift of grace that is waiting to be bestowed upon us.
God's gift? An invitation to return back to the Family. No longer to be separate and alone. In philosophy, there is the concept of the "Other." We tend to categorize everyone as "Us vs Them." In depicting some as different than us, we dehumanize them and justify our own sins by making them "Other." This is how Hitler succeeded in making Jews non-human, and how many justified the slavery of black people. This is how many justify war, hatred, and many other sins.
But God wants us to forsake our justifications, hatred, anger, sins, and become One with the Godhead. We are to rejoin the family. Yes, it is on God's terms, but those are the only terms possible to see everyone as beloved family. As in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son left and made his hometown the "Other," as he embraced his new friends. But the father didn't hate his son or reject him. He just waited for him to turn himself around and return to the family. When he did humbly return, the father ran to him and celebrated his return to the family.
Alma was akin to the prodigal son. Because he refused to consider the gift of Christ, and attacked the truths of God, he suffered intensely for three days. Why did he suffer?
“But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments” (vv 12-13).
He didn’t suffer because of anything God did. He suffered because of what he was doing: insisting on having things his own way. setting God as the "Other." His actions and beliefs had brought the fullness of his sins and guilt upon him.
“...the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds” (vv 14-15).
For Alma, his only solution was to stop existing. So it is with the solutions of men. Many people live miserable lives, because their riches, friendships, lifestyles, drugs, etc, cannot bring real happiness or permanent solutions. For the person considering suicide, we must note that it does not end existence. If you suffer here, you will suffer in death as well. That is, you will suffer until you accept the solution God offers.
For Alma, it was at the moment he remembered the things his father taught that he had another option. It is this remembering that helped to save him, and it is what may save us when we are going through hell. Alma the Elder taught him that the Messiah would come and save all those who would believe on his name and repent. As soon as the young man remembered his father’s words and prayed for deliverance, he was delivered from his Spirit Prison hell.
“when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (vv 19-20)
Alma is immediately rescued from spiritual death and suffering. He is now in Paradise. He has not had to perform any works, keep any commandments, or make restitution. All that was required was to believe and repent. In this, Alma teaches us about justification. Justification is where the atonement of Christ makes us sinless or guiltless, because we believe and have repented. Justification saves us from hell and spiritual death. Herein is where mercy claims us from the demands of justice. There are two options with justice: we suffer eternally for our own sins, or we repent and let Christ wash our sins away so there are no sins to suffer for.
This simple action brings us back into the presence of the Godhead.
“Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (v 22).
From a distance, Alma sees the divine council of heaven, with God on his throne. We’ve discussed this event previously when Nephi quoted Isaiah 6, and Lehi saw God on his throne in 1 Nephi 1. There is a difference here, though. Isaiah’s lips were cleansed with a coal, and he was allowed to join the council in praising God and offering himself as God’s messenger. Lehi was given a book to read, after which he joined the council in praising God, and was given his prophetic calling as well. For Alma, he is not given that opportunity at this time. All he can do is “long to be there” with the council, and engage in its divine discourse. He still requires more spiritual growth before he's ready to fully be in God's presence.
Justification and Sanctification
There’s a reason Alma was not invited into this special circle at that time. He is not ready spiritually. Justification that comes from us repenting and Christ’s washing away our sins and making us guiltless, saves us from death and hell. It makes us ready for a kingdom of salvation. But it does not exalt us. As Alma notes:
“Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (v 24).
Once we are justified through faith and repentance, we must then be sanctified. Sanctification is a process, where we go “from grace to grace” receiving “grace for grace” (D&C 93:12-13). The process is described in the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), wherein we follow a specific path: 1) Faith in Christ, 2) Repentance, 3) Baptism/Ordinances, 4) Receive the Holy Ghost. This is a cycle, where when we first do it, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and causes a “mighty change of heart” (Mosiah 5:2) that causes us to only desire to “do good continually.” As we walk in the Spirit, we develop a greater faith in Christ, causing us to repent even more. We partake of the Holy Supper or Sacrament, and ordinances of priesthood and temple. As we do so, we then receive a greater portion of the Spirit that lifts us to a higher level of grace in Christ. Sanctification is the process that makes us holy and Celestial. When we become holy enough, God will invite us into his divine council, to speak with the tongue of angels, and engage in the work of God.
Later in Alma’s life, the angel that once condemned him will return and tell him he is ready to take his rightful place, calling him to preach destruction to a people, even as Isaiah and Lehi once were called to do (Alma 8:14-15). Alma knows that some day he will be brought into the divine council again, and be not just an observer, but a vital part of the council.
“And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory....inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence” (vv 28-30).
The Brass Plates
In chapter 37, Alma then discusses one of the Nephites’ most important national treasures, the Brass Plates of Laban. Alma explains that these writings are not just important to the Nephites, but that these writings would go forth to all nations in the future. Given that we do not have the Brass Plates available at this time, we can see that many of their precious teachings have been brought to us by the prophets in the Book of Mormon. Nephi quoted extensively from Isaiah. Jacob shared Zenos’ Allegory of the Olive Tree. Alma and Amulek quote Zenos and Zenock on their teachings regarding the “Son of God.” These plates are so important that Alma explains they will be preserved until they all come forth to the world.
“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6).
LDS often quote this passage to note that God does many great things through small and simple things. We should note that this specifically states this in conjunction with the Brass Plates and the sacred scriptures. In pondering just what great things come to pass through the scriptures we’ve received through the Book of Mormon can make for great discussion. The scriptures
“enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.
Yea, I say unto you, were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer” (vv 8-9).
What is more plain and simple than the life, ministry, resurrection and atonement of Christ? Yet it still confounds many who think they are wise. Atheists and unbelievers seek to dismiss Christ’s saving work and Godship by attacking the teachings of the Bible and Book of Mormon on historical and scientific grounds. They cannot see God, and so insist that it must all be fables and myths, like those of the Greek gods.
Yet, Alma was converted from the things his father taught him in the Brass Plates and writings of Nephi. This atheist gained his own witness by seeing that his disbelief did not have the answers nor solutions he needed in his life. The spiritual witness did not come until after he humbled himself and repented. But when it came, he was a rock of faith for the rest of his days.
“If ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land—but if ye keep not his commandments ye shall be cut off from his presence” (v 13).
Alma gives Helaman the same teaching as Lehi did to his sons before his death. There is a physical and spiritual dimension to this teaching. Prospering in the land can mean to have good crops, but it can also mean returning to heaven. Being cut off from God’s presence meant a physical destruction for the Nephites, but it also means we could choose suffering in Spirit Prison hell, even as Alma did.
The Nephite writings also contained the writings of the Jaredites, which showed the secret combinations and evils that led to their destruction. Alma warns Helaman to be aware of such dangers, but not to reveal them to the people - don’t give them any bad ideas. And the secret combinations that plagued the Jaredites and would plague his own people would plague the world in the last days.
“I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land” (vv 23-25).
Gazelem is a nickname for Joseph Smith. In the early days of the Church, some revelations were given with code names for the leaders, because it would be dangerous if such revelations fell into the hands of their enemies and contained the real names. In the sections that used the nicknames, Joseph Smith was called “Gazelem.” He is the one who has the seer stone and Urim and Thummim, stones that shine in the dark and reveal all things, including the works of evil men. This, then, becomes a major reason for us having the Book of Mormon today - to reveal to us the methods, actions and patterns of secret combinations. In doing so, we can prepare and protect ourselves from those evil acts that will occur in the latter days.
After discussing the seer stone and Urim and Thummim, Alma then discusses the Liahona - the special compass given to Lehi to direct his way in the wilderness.
“And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey” (vv 40-41).
Alma will now state that the Liahona was also a “small means” by which God brought forth great things. It worked on faith. When people rebel, they lose faith and the Liahona no longer would work for them. So it is with the Spirit of God. When we stop believing, God can do few things for us. We are left on our own to find our own solutions. So it is with faith in Christ. When we believe, he can do small things that turn into great miracles. When we stop believing, we must then do all things on our own, often to our own detriment (as Alma found out).
Teachings to Shiblon
Alma begins his discourse to Shiblon on the same lines as with Helaman, telling him to keep the commandments to have peace and God’s blessings. He discussed his conversion:
“And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul” (v 8).
Note that it was through Alma’s begging for mercy and forgiveness that he received a remission of sins. He was guiltless. His pain was healed and replaced with peace and joy.
Alma commended Shiblon for an honorable mission, and encouraged him to continue serving:
“Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness” (v 12).
Interestingly, we learn that when we “bridle all your passions,” it allows us to be “filled with love.” When we control our anger, we are able to be filled with love. When we control our lusts, we can be filled with love. When we control all of our passions, which can include romantic love, we can be filled with Christ-like love.