Alma 32

Alma 32

While this is part of a series of posts called “Reading through the Book of Mormon”, it’s probably clear that’s not quite what I’m doing at the moment. While my personal reading has taken me several times through since I started such posts, at the moment I’m kind of dotting around. This is somewhat ironic, in view of the fact (and this is perhaps directly relevant to today’s chapter) that I believe there’s a lot of advantages to reading the Book of Mormon in sequence. Unlike the order of books in the Bible, the Book of Mormon was deliberate arranged and composed in the order in which we find it. Furthermore, the present chapters and the versification we find inside it were put there in 1879 by Orson Pratt, and while the original Book of Mormon did have chapters (and – per Royal Skousen – those appear to reflect original divisions in the text), they were often much longer. While chapters and verses are very useful, they can cause us to break our reading up in ways that hinder our understanding of the text.

Alma 32-34 is a great example of this: in the original Book of Mormon this was one chapter (in fact Alma 30-35 was one chapter!), and when one looks at these three chapters they are one continuous sermon, begun by Alma in chapter 32, and then picked up by Amulek in chapter 34. But we may break it up into parts without paying sufficient attention to the rest of the unit, which would be like trying to watch a conference talk in only 5-10 minute segments, only returning to it the following day. We may be able to still learn much from doing that, but it’d be very easy to lose the main thread of the conference talk.

So it is with Alma 32-34, which is wonderfully knit together: The poor (both in possessions and in spirit) come to Alma, wondering how they can worship when cast out of their Synagogues. Alma first addresses how they can test his words and build faith in them with his simile of the word as a seed, then (in chapter 33) he returns to their question, quoting Zenos about praying in the wilderness and so on (33:4-5). This quote, however, also refers to God’s son, leading Alma to then talk of the need for Christ and for the Zoramites to plant this word in their hearts, quoting other scriptures (Zenock and Moses) for this purpose. Then Amulek gets up, clarifies the real question is “whether the word be in the Son of God” (34:5), and then after referring to Alma’s quotation of scripture then adds his own witness of the same “behold, I will testify unto you of myself”, speaking of the Atonement of Christ. He then exhorts them to exercise their faith by repenting, the first step being to pray to God and ask him for mercy, and once again addressing the initial question of “where can we worship God” by making clear that one can and should pray everywhere. It’s a wonderfully tight and powerful sermon, that one could pull lots of things from (and I hope to, when I look at Alma 33 and 34) , and incidentally a great example to missionaries on how a companionship can pass off to each and other teach together effectively.

As to Alma 32, there was one subject that loomed large in my mind, even before I actually read the chapter this time round, one which is often misunderstood.

 

Faith is not compared to a seed

Alma 32 is understandably – and rightly – referred to often, when people talk about faith and the process of gaining a knowledge of the Gospel. However, when this has happened in my hearing I have often heard people claim that Alma is comparing faith to a seed. This is not true. It is not faith that is being so compared, and I think correctly understanding Alma’s imagery can help us better understand faith, and also its relation to works, an often vexed subject.

So what is Alma comparing to a seed?

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed…

(Alma 32:28)

It is not faith that is the seed, but “the word”, namely the word of God (v. 22). That word may be received in many different ways for, as Alma states, “he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also… little children do have words given unto them many times which confound the wise and the learned”. We might receive the word of God through the words of another (a friend, a family member, a Church member, a leader, or a missionary). We might read them for ourselves in the scriptures, or elsewhere. We might receive it directly, though angels, or through the inspiration of the spirit. The word too might refer to a specific instruction on a topic.

Where does faith come in? As Alma goes on to state in verse 28:

… Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Faith then is not the seed, but allowing the seed to be planted: that is, to believe the word. In contrast to disbelieve it is to cast out the seed. And when we believe the word of God it brings a spiritual change (Alma 5:11-13).

And I think when we understand that relationship between the word and faith, we are in a better position to understand the relationship between faith and works. The subject of much controversy throughout Christendom, within the Church we usually understand well that – following James in James 2 – faith without works is dead. Sometimes, however, I see that over-corrected, with claims that faith means action, in short to effectively conflate faith and works. But the two are distinct, for if faith without works is dead, works can be dead also (D&C 22:2-3). As Mormon teaches (Moroni 7:6-7):

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

The phrasing in verse 7 is particularly suggestive, considering the statement given in Genesis 15:6 about Abraham’s response to God’s promises:

And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Or as Paul quotes it in Romans 4:3:

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Genuine faith leads to action, to works. But works motivated by some other reason, that are not accompanied by belief and real intent, have no saving value.

So there is a distinction between faith and works. Yet these should not be seen as being in opposition to each other; such was certainly not James’ intention when he taught that “seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” (James 2:22). And it may be easier to see how the two work together when we bring “the word” into the picture, and see both faith and works as a response to God’s word. Our initial response to the word will be of belief or unbelief: if we believe, we plant that seed and it beings to “grow”. That can strengthen our faith, but as Alma goes on then to teach in verses 38-39:

But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.

Once we have planted the seed – once we have exercised even “a particle of faith” – we must continue to exercise our faith, by acting upon the word of God that we claim to believe in. And so we must nourish the tree, by our acts of devotion (prayer, study of the scriptures and so forth) and by our obedience to what the word of God says. In this way, the “seed” will continue to grow, and our faith will become stronger, wrought with our works:

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.

(Alma 32:41-43)

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The disappeared paper and the Grievance Studies Scandal

Some recent articles that reflect on the current (poor) state of academia.

On one hand, here’s an account of a paper which was ultimately suppressed and removed after publication, after some academics found it politically unacceptable (that is, they did not address the actual arguments or content of the piece: they simply disagreed with its conclusions and so strove to make it disappear):

Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole – Quillette

On the other hand – and on a related theme – there’s the recent academic scandal in which several authors have attempted to expose some of the problems currently pervasive in academy (especially in certain portions of the humanities), by seeking to publish fake, and deliberately ludicrous, articles in several academic journals. Which they successfully did. To quote from the following article:

“To date, their project has been successful: seven papers have passed through peer review and have been published, including a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory and published in the Gender Studies journal Affilia.”

Source: The Grievance Studies Scandal: Five Academics Respond – Quillette

Apparently the sort of sentiments one finds in Mein Kampf are far more acceptable to a number of academics, provided they’re directed at the right targets (the linked article – which is mostly the reactions of some other academics – doesn’t in fact mention one particularly egregious case, in which the authors pretended to argue for a pedagogic technique in which some demographics – white males for example – should be ignored in class and even kept on the floor in chains. Apparently some of the peer reviewers felt that the authors’ paper was too sympathetic to such demographics).

It should be increasingly recognised that there are growing portions of academia, especially within the humanities, that are both intellectually corrupt, and politically in thrall to what are ultimately evil ideologies.

Jacob 6

Several years ago I began a series of posts related to my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I would pick out something that struck me through that read through. As happens, other pressures meant that while I continued reading, the posts stopped just after Jacob 5. I don’t think that’s a complete coincidence considering the approximately 20,000 words that I wrote on that chapter and the surrounding passages, for The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. At the time it doubtless seemed a tad exhausting, and I certainly felt I’d written a lot about it.

However, it is my conviction that we can always learn more from reading the scriptures, that we can never – except at the perfect day – say we have learned everything from any particular passage, especially since the Lord may well use such passages to teach us things that the human authors never had in mind. And since I’ve always intended to return to the series (and have briefly from time to time) and finish it, that includes those chapters I might have written a lot about elsewhere, like today’s.

There is much that could be said about Jacob 6, especially as it relates to Jacob 5, but what stood out for me today as I read it comes in the very first verse:

And now, behold, my brethren, as I said unto you that I would prophesy, behold, this is my prophecy—that the things which this prophet Zenos spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive tree, must surely come to pass.

That last phrase – “must surely come to pass” – really stood out. Sometimes those things which are prophesied of seem so distant or far off from every day life. But, no matter how long it will take for them to happen, they will be fulfilled. Sometimes that requires waiting longer than thought: when reading this I thought of 3 Nephi 1, where despite being given a time-frame, many thought the time had already passed, and those who still kept faith with the prophecy faced extermination from those who did not. It seems some times that faith in such things is tested to the very brink, and then beyond some. And yet, all such things “must surely come to pass”.

The prophecy that Jacob is referring to here, of course, is particularly about the restoration of Israel, and then the end of the world (v. 2):

And the day that he shall set his hand again the second time to recover his people, is the day, yea, even the last time, that the servants of the Lord shall go forth in his power, to nourish and prune his vineyard; and after that the end soon cometh.

I’ve commented to some people before that the Book of Mormon is principally focused on the gathering of Israel, and the accompanying judgment upon the Gentile nations, rather than the Second Coming itself and those events that immediately precede it (see, for example, Nephi being commanded to leave writing about the latter to John the Revelator in 1 Nephi 14:18-25). And that’s true, but the Book of Mormon does talk about end of the world, and while distinct, the two events are linked: the gathering of Israel and everything accompanying it will be a necessary precursor to the Second Coming that will follow. And while some people have perhaps focused too much on such events, it is at the same time important to keep this in mind. This world – and the culture, and habits, and entertainments and so on built around it – will end. If we want anything we do to be of lasting value, we must build for another.

I’m also slightly intrigued by the mention that the servants of Lord (depicted as the servants of the Lord of the vineyard in Jacob 5) will both nourish and prune the vineyard. It’s easy to see things like the work of the Church, especially in things like missionary work, to be part of nourishing the vineyard (and in Jacob 5 itself, transplanting the various branches about). But what form will the pruning take, and what part will the servants of the Lord play in that?

Journaling Book of Mormon in the flesh

So I produced a format of the Book of Mormon for journaling recently, with freely downloadable PDFs in A4 and A5 for anyone who wants to print it out and bind it. I was anxious to see what it looked like in the flesh, however, so I had a copy of each printed through Lulu (with a cover I swiftly put together). Although it took a little while to print, they arrived today:

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You can see how the texts on the inside here. They’re coil-bound so that they can lie open flat:

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Just the A4:

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And then in comparison with the A5:

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I felt that in the A5 printing the inside margin was just a little too close to the coil binding. So I’ve adjusted the A5 PDF (and my Lulu file) to move a couple of extra millimetres from the outside to the inside margin. That should be more pleasant on the eyes, and it otherwise appears exactly as shown here.

All in all, I’m quite pleased with the results, especially for a project that I did within 20 hours. Hopefully this format will be useful for those looking for a Book of Mormon for journaling or note-taking.

The Abrahamic Test | Religious Studies Center

I’ve come across this rather interesting and thoughtful article on Abrahamic tests by Larry E. Dahl (a retired BYU professor), which is available from the BYU Religious Studies center. Some particularly important excerpts:

Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test. Let me repeat. Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in speaking to the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, said: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.[1] That is not a particularly comforting thought, but it is one that cannot be ignored if the scriptures are taken seriously. Why must there be an Abrahamic test? And how can we all be tested like Abraham was tested? Why use Abraham as the standard? What is there about the test Abraham experienced that is universally applicable? When our test comes, will we recognize it? How can we prepare?

and:

What about us? How are we to be tested “even as Abraham”? Being asked to offer a child as a sacrifice just does not relate to our time and circumstance. But wrenching heartstrings does relate—to all times and circumstances. And there are many ways to wrench the heart in any age: being asked to choose God over other things we dearly love, even when those things are good and have been promised, and when we have worked for them, yearned for them, prayed for them, and have been obedient and patient; or being asked to persevere in righteousness and service (perhaps even Church service) in the face of terrible difficulty, uncertainty, inequities, ironies, and even contradictions; or watching helplessly as the innocent suffer from the brutal misuse of God-given agency in the hands of evil men.

 

Read the full thing at: The Abrahamic Test | Religious Studies Center

The Mercy and Justice of God

I find God’s justice and mercy fascinating, not only because he perfectly embodies such qualities, but because we as human beings apparently have such a hard time reconciling them that we are apt to build a more selective image with only one of those qualities. Thus in the 17th century, it seems many were apt to forget God’s love and mercy in favour of his wrath and hatred of sin. Today we seem apt to commit the reverse error: we emphasise God’s love and mercy, but forget his justice and righteousness. In doing so, we not only build up a false image of God, but also diminish the quality of God we do remember. His justice and mercy are linked, for his justice is connected to his love and mercy for those we have sinned against. To paraphrase something I’ve said before, to be merciful without condition to predators is to be merciless to their victims. Hence God’s mercy is conditioned upon repentance. Likewise God’s desire for us to change and repent and follow him is based in his love and his desire for our exaltation: a love that never asks us to change or repent is one that would be content to leave us stuck in mediocrity, one that would ultimately be happy to sit back and watch us be damned.

A particular quote that I feel captures both God’s justice and his mercy was expressed by Joseph Smith. However, I often find it quoted with the second half missing, in keeping with the bias of our current era. So I thought it worth quoting in full:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.

– Joseph Smith, 18 April 1842

 

The Book of Mormon for Journaling

This was an unexpected project, prompted by a friend looking for an affordable version of the Book of Mormon for a study group that had extra wide margins for journaling, allowing someone to add personal reflections, drawings and whatnot in response to their reading. Deseret Publishing is apparently releasing a Journal Edition next month, at what looks like a very reasonable price, but it’s not out yet, and of course availability outside the United States may be somewhat limited.

So using the public domain Book of Mormon text from Project Gutenberg, I’ve prepared this PDF. The text follows the 1981 LDS edition, but does not include any of copyrighted elements, such as chapter descriptions, footnotes and so on. It’s formatted at A4 size, so anyone wanting a Book of Mormon text with extra wide margins can print this off at home, or have it printed and bound as they desire (spiral would probably be best). I’ve looked at other printing options, but would obviously want to make sure that such is on a non-commercial basis.

As a disclaimer, this PDF is not officially endorsed or distributed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nor do I lay any claim to ownership of the text. As public domain, this PDF may be freely copied, shared, and printed without restriction.

Book – The Book of Mormon for Journaling – A4

Edit: I’ve also managed to get it at A5 size too:

Book – The Book of Mormon for Journaling – A5

The Stealing of the Daughters of the Lamanites

As announced, here’s an article in PDF format, entitled ‘The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh’. This is based on research that subsequently (mostly for reasons of space), never ended up in my book, and examines the possible connections between the story of the stealing of the daughters of the Lamanites, found in Mosiah 20, and that of the stealing of the daughters of Shiloh, found in Judges 21, and the possible meaning behind any deliberate connections.

The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh

I’ve also created a new page – PDF Articles – for this and for future articles I release on this blog.

Upcoming articles

Just as a notice, I plan to release several Book of Mormon related articles via this blog in the coming months as downloadable PDFs. First shall be “The Daughters of Shiloh and the Daughters of the Lamanites”, which examines the possible relationship between the stories in Mosiah 20 and Judges 21. This is based on material that was originally intended for my thesis/book but omitted due to length. This will likely be followed by “The Book of Mormon and the ‘great man’ theory of history”, based on a presentation I gave at a conference several years ago now about how the Book of Mormon depicts historical cause and effect.

Following these, there are several posts on this blog – primarily those about Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon – I plan to make available as PDF articles, possibly with some revision and expansion (I have several ideas in mind for showing the linkages between the two). The original posts will continue to remain available.