Alma 39

I feel a bit sorry for Corianton. I would not want my own sins broadcast to the world, and yet Corianton’s have been recorded for people millennia hence, and – despite the fact that he repented of these things – he’s perhaps best known by people millennia after he died for those very sins. Perhaps he agreed to this at some stage (even posthumously), but it seems lie quite a burden.

Alma’s address to Corianton is spread over several chapters, beginning here in 39 and continuing to 42. The later chapters address specific doctrinal questions and concerns Corianton has (that may have affected his conduct), but this chapter deals directly with his behaviour itself.

Verse 5 is particularly famous:

Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?

This has generally been read as a denunciation of sexual sin. But while this is definitely part of Corianton’s problems, it has been suggested that – in view of the ambiguity of “these things” – that that is not quite what verse 5 is speaking about. If we examine the preceding verses 3 & 4, we read:

And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.

There’s several elements here that could be included in “these things”. There’s indeed the part where he went chasing after “the harlot Isabel” (so much so that he crossed over to the edges of Lamanite territory, something that really stood out this time; perhaps an indication of how such sins can lead us into dangerous territory – metaphorical or in this case quite literal – that we’d otherwise never have intended to go). But there’s also Corianton’s forsaking the ministry as well.

The following verses build on both components. Thus Corianton is instructed to “go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things” (v. 9) and to “suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots” (v. 11). However, there is also another factor that clearly concerns Alma:

Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.

(Alma 39:11)

Alongside being told not to be lead away by “those wicked harlots”, Corianton is warned not “to be led away away by any vain or foolish thing”. And why? Because of the great harm his sins inflicted upon the Zoramites: “for when they saw your conduct, they would not believe in my words”.

Thus it has been suggested that the particularly sharp denunciations in verse 5 and verse 7 may not aimed at just sexual sins per se, but at what might be termed spiritual murder. We might hesitate at that; it is clear from the quoted verses that such sins are significant, and a major part of Corianton’s problems. But it is also clear that they are aggravated and are more severe in Corianton’s case because of their effects on those around him. Thus the spirit reveals to Alma:

And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;

(Alma 39:12)

This warning may strike quite close to home for Alma; whatever the extent of his sins prior to his conversion, there’s no positive indication that sexual sins were a significant factor. But we know leading people astray was; indeed, in his recounting of his conversion experience to Helaman just several chapters ago he confesses “I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14), precisely the very thing the Lord is warning him his children may do (albeit, in Corianton’s case, by different means). Hence his urgency in encouraging Corianton to change his course.

One thing I was struck by reading this time around, however, were several steps that preceded Corianton’s more infamous missteps, mentioned right at the beginning of the chapter:

For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.

(Alma 39:2)

Here we learn that Corianton did not pay as much heed to Alma’s words as Shiblon did, and boasted in his strength and wisdom. When reading this time around I couldn’t help but think that these things – examples of pride and a belief that he already knew enough – left him vulnerable to the later temptations embodied by Isabel and others. That if he had paid more attention to Alma’s instructions, and been more humble, he would have been better protected against later temptations, whatever form they took. Just as Alma taught Helaman that God works through “small and simple things” (Alma 37:6-7), these small and simple things could have had a great effect on Corianton’s own later decisions.

 

 

Alma 24

We have here the beginning of a new conflict, as those who have not converted to the gospel begin mobilising against those who have, which includes the royal family. Thus in verses 1 & 2:

And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.

And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

The old king confers the throne upon his son (not King Lamoni), whom he gives the new snappy name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi (I guess he really liked it) and dies, leaving Anti-Nephi-Lehi, Lamoni, Ammon and his brothers and others to confer about what is to be done.

What happens next is a particularly memorable episode. The new converts are very grateful for the gospel and the mercy they have felt from God:

Now, these are the words which he said unto the people concerning the matter: I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.

And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.

And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.

And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.

(Alma 24:7-10)

However, they are concerned that by attempting to defend themselves, they could once more veer into sin. They thus decide on a different plan:

And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

(Alma 24:11-13)

Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.

And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.

And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.

And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.

(Alma 24:15-18)

Thus in a striking act of symbolism, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies bury their weapons in the ground so they can no more be “stained”, and reinforce that symbolic act with a covenant to never use weapons again. This is what motivates their decision to “not even make any preparations for war; yea, and also their king commanded them that they should not”.

Some have read this account – and what follows, in which many are killed by their persecutors “prais[ing] God even in the very act of perishing under the sword” (v. 23), act act that causes at least some of their persecutors to forebear and to even join them, “relying on the mercies of those whose arms were raised to slay them” (vv. 24-25) – as an example of pacifism and even an endorsement of it. This seems to me to be less likely. Considered as a whole, it is clear that while the Book of Mormon is very concerned with the subject of what might be termed “just war” – including legitimate reasons to fight, and what constitutes moral conduct within it – it does depict occasions when it is right to fight, and examples of those who engage in warfare without compromising moral standards. To me, what seems more clear is that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies are very concerned about the specific acts for which they have felt guilt and have repented of, and are anxious not to tread a path that could lead back to sin. This feels like it could be more widely applicable, not just to killing people. If we have repented or are repenting of some specific sins, there may be situations we may wish to avoid, not because those situations are in themselves sin, but because they could so easily lead us back into specific former sins.

For more of a discussion on the pacifism (or not) of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and implications on what the Book of Mormon teaches about the morality of warfare, Duane Boyce has written an article on the subject that is very worth reading: “The Ammonites were not Pacifists”

At the end of this chapter, we learn that some of the primary movers of the persecution were the Amalekites and Amulonites, only one of whom (one Amalekite, Alma 23:14; another episode we have no details of but which could be interesting) had converted before the persecutions, and none of whom do so in remorse at the killings. Mormon draws out a general point:

And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

(Alma 24:30)

Repentance was possible for them – one apparently does do so – but while it is possible, their previous choices mean that it is much harder for them to choose that option. It is perhaps a scary notion, but while we have agency, we do not make our decisions in a vacuum, and our spirits and our natures are not unaffected by the previous decisions we make. If we keep choosing wrong and rejecting truth, that has spiritual consequences on our ability to choose right and discern truth in the future.

Alma 22

We now have another “teaching the king scene” – indeed at this point it begins to look a bit like a type scene – albeit now with Aaron and the other brothers in Ammon’s place, and King Lamoni’s father, the King of kings, in the place of King Lamoni. There’s a variety of other interesting details too: the brothers seem to try the same thing Ammon did, and ask to be the king’s servants, but he’s having none of that (v. 3). Indeed, in some respects he’s a cannier and better informed individual than his son: while his son did not know what Ammon meant by “God” (Alma 18:25), the king here is more familiar with the term, being aware to some degree of what the Amalekites and having granted them permission to build their places of worship (v. 7). His wife seems more formidable than her counterpart too: while King Lamoni’s wife is quite touching in both her devotion to her husband (“to me, he doth not stink”, 19:5) and in the strength of her faith (19:9-10), the king’s wife, upon seeing him lying as if dead, first orders her servants to kill Aaron and his party. Then, when they refuse out of terror, she sends them to gather the people so she might send wave after wave of underlings after the Nephite missionaries. Fortunately is this averted when Aaron revives the king, and when the whole household is converted one presumes this attribute could become a positive strength.

One thing that did stand out to me on this occasion, however, was the king’s question in verse 6:

And also, what is this that Ammon said—If ye will repent ye shall be saved, and if ye will not repent, ye shall be cast off at the last day?

It’s understandable that the king would be confused by this statement: Lamanite tradition, as we’ve seen, held that “whatsoever they did as right” (Alma 18:5). Amalekite beliefs, which the king at least has some knowledge of, reject the need for repentance on the grounds of believing that God will save everyone, without condition. But it’s particularly interesting to me in light of the fact that the same notion caused serious offence in Alma 21. There one of Aaron’s Amalekite opponents took it as an accusation to be fiercely rebutted. Just like King Lamoni, however, the king’s heart is already prepared to hear the gospel because he’s prepared to ponder questions like this, and to believe answers, without being hedged up by offence. And this is despite the fact that just a couple of chapters ago, he was contemplating murdering his own son, and actively attempting to kill Ammon.

I like the summary of Aaron’s teachings in verse 12-14, for the way it gets to both the heart of the gospel and the biggest things that these people – between Lamanite tradition and Nehorite doctrine – and indeed anyone needs to grasp to repent, namely the fallenness of man, redemption through Christ, and the resurrection:

And it came to pass that when Aaron saw that the king would believe his words, he began from the creation of Adam, reading the scriptures unto the king—how God created man after his own image, and that God gave him commandments, and that because of transgression, man had fallen.

And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name.

And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.

The king’s response to this teaching, and then – upon Aaron’s prompting – his prayer are quite well known parts of this chapter, but I’ve always liked them so I’m going to quote them anyway:

And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.

But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.

And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.

(Alma 22:15-18)

This is a wonderful passage, between the king’s desires in verse 15, the simplicity of the path Aaron outlines in verse 16, and then the humility and earnestness of the king’s prayer in verse 18. Once again, as much as this is an account that actually happened to a great king, it also addresses us: we may not be great kings, and we may not have tried to kill anyone, but all of us need God’s grace. All of us need to be born of God, need help to have “this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast”, and need his Spirit so we might be redeemed at the last day. And like the king, as we approach God in humility and sincerity, he can make himself known to each of us, and save each of us.

Alma 21

We go now for another flashback (within a flashback), to follow Aaron and the others before their imprisonment, including Aaron’s attempts at preaching in “Jerusalem”.

In fact, upon this reading I was quite struck with that:

Now when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers’ nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.

Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem.

We have here a city that wasn’t just built by the Lamanites, but also by Nephite dissenters, the Amulonites and the Amalekites (which Royal Skousen suggests may in fact be the same people as the Amlicites – who otherwise appear to disappear at this point – due to a scribal error during dictation). That they chose to name the city after the holy city in the old world seems significant, especially when we learn that “they had built synagogues” (v. 4), and indeed on of Aaron’s opponents defends the righteousness of the people on the basis that “we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God” (v. 6). These were a people, in other words, that had pretensions of serving God. And yet we have the assessment in verse 3:

Now the Lamanites of themselves were sufficiently hardened, but the Amalekites and the Amulonites were still harder; therefore they did cause the Lamanites that they should harden their hearts, that they should wax strong in wickedness and their abominations.

While they lived in a city named after Jerusalem of old, and had built many places of worship which they attended diligently and defended loudly, they were actually worse than many of the people elsewhere. It is an irony, and perhaps a warning, that in fact the Amalekites and Amulonites were so bad that – despite being the ones in their society to speak of worshipping God, and to build sanctuaries and worship at them – the Lamanites within their influence become more hardened than they would otherwise, so that they “wax strong in wickedness and their abominations”.

I’ve been struck before by the initial challenge posed by an Amalekite to Aaron in verse 5:

… What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?

As I’ve written before:

The interesting and the ironic thing about the challenge at the end is that the time Aaron saw an angel (and which he is doubtless describing) was when he, his brothers and Alma the Younger were intercepted by an angel as they sought “to destroy the church” (Mosiah 27:10-19). Neither Aaron nor his brothers nor Alma could be described as a good person at that time, and so the angel’s appearance had nothing to do with their personal righteousness.

But it does make me wonder what made the difference – why did an angel appear to them but not the people in this verse. Perhaps God’s knowledge of how they would react played a role? Or perhaps it was the faith and likely prayers of their fathers? And how many spiritual blessings come into our own life undeserved by any goodness on our part, but because of the faith and devotion of others, or God’s extending to us unexpected opportunities?

However, I was also struck this time round by other parts of his response:

Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.

(Alma 21:6)

There’s several elements to this: first he takes the need for repentance as an accusation, something I’ll come back to when I write about my reading of Alma 22 (although it’s worth noting that the only accusation is a general one aimed at everyone: Aaron, based on his history, undoubtedly includes himself in those who need to repent or perish). Having taken it as an accusation, he then rebuts that, claiming Aaron doesn’t know enough to judge them, and then claims on the basis of their aforementioned worship that they are righteous. And then there’s the final element, the profession of Nehorite belief in universalism: “we do believe that God will save all men”, without requirement or condition.

After an exchange in which Aaron asks whether he believes whether “the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind” from their sins (v. 7), which the Amalekite rejects as a “foolish tradition” on the basis of a flat denial of prophecy, (v. 8) Aaron then attempts to convince him otherwise:

Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.

(Alma 21:9)

What stood out to me in all this exchange was the contrast between the two messages: on the one hand “we do believe that God will save all men”, and on the other “except we repent we shall perish” and “there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood”. On one hand, it makes clear precisely what that sort of universalism rejects: the need for repentance and the atonement of Christ. It is also interesting to me because I am sure that for many moderns it is the first message that would seem more “loving” and even that much approved term “inclusive”, compared to the perceived exclusivity and judgment and grimness of the latter two. And yet it is the latter two which are true, and rejecting them which has “unloving” effects, not just in the eternities, but – as we learn from the effects the Amalekites and Amulonites have on the Lamanites – in the here and now. And I think some of the true character of that belief is borne out in the crowd’s response in verse 10:

And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.

Anger, mockery, and a refusal to listen. Like the Amalekites themselves, this belief in universal and unconditional salvation may outwardly appear good and right, but it has noxious fruits.

 

 

Alma 14

They chose… poorly.

Some don’t: some of the people of Ammonihah repent at Alma the Younger and Amulek’s teaching. Then there’s Zeezrom who – fuelled by guilt for his role in shaping the public mind – now testifies on behalf of Alma and Amulek, and is cast out and driven out along with other believers by stoning for his troubles.

But the rest of the people choose to reject their preaching, and do so in a way that proves their culpability. They arrest Alma and Amulek, the people stand as false witnesses against them, and then:

And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.

(Alma 9:8)

Even if they had a legitimate grievance against Alma and Amulek, what right had they to take out their “hurt feelings” by murdering those who simply happened to believe their words? Or not even that: some of those burnt here are simply the wives and children of those they drove out for believing; those they burnt may not even believe themselves. It is simply guilt by association, and an act that entirely vindicates the judgment God is about to bring upon them.

It’s interesting that they burn the holy scriptures too, as if by destroying them they can remove the threat posed by those words. By while they may destroy the physical copies, you cannot burn the word of God, only be burned by it.

Understandably, Alma and Amulek – who are forced to witness this – are moved by this:

And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.

And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.

But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

(Alma 14:9-11)

It’s worth contemplating that it’s possible Amulek is seeing members of his own family burn before him. We know he has a large family: he speaks of “my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk” (Alma 10:11).* But while later it is mentioned that he was rejected “by his father and his kindred” (Alma 15:16), there is no mention of his “women” and childen. 

There’s also a bit of wordplay going in this chapter. The Greek word from which we derive the term martyr (and hence martyrdom) is μάρτυρ (martur), which literally means witness. It’s present association with dying for the faith came from the fact that, for many early Christians, bearing witness of the faith and dying became synonymous. In this passage we likewise see the very term used (“place of martyrdom”), and then notice how the word “witness” is repeated in the verses following. I write more about that here.

Of course here the focus is on what Alma and Amulek are witnesses, which is not so much of the faith (though they – and the martyrs – have surely done that), but of the crimes of the unrepentant people of Ammonihah, who by this act demonstrate that they deserve every piece of judgment coming their way. Verse 11 is particularly interesting here: God could intervene. He has done so on other occasions when people were threatened with burning (such as Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-nego in Daniel 3). As I’ve mentioned before, it might be confusing, even troubling, as to why God intervenes in some cases but not others. Divine providence in the immediate sense can be unpredictable: God is working according to a plan that we cannot see in its entirety, and the challenge is that we must trust him that – whether he intervenes, or not – that his choice will in the end be right. As indeed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego did, for while they knew God could save him, they didn’t know if he would, but they trusted that whatever he willed would be right and pledged to serve him anyway (“But if not“, Daniel 3:18).

What we do know, however, is that mortal life is one of deferred judgment. In order to give us freedom to act, the freedom to either repent or to hang ourselves, God does not immediately judge us for what we do. Alma in fact has just been teaching the people of Ammonihah this, of how this life is “a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). As Peter states:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

(2 Peter 3:9)

What this means is that in the present, the “right now”, that this life is often unjust. To give us this freedom, one way or the other, means that we live in a world in which the wicked can act against the righteous, as they do so murderously here, without immediate intervention. That can be hard for many people. Of course, Christ himself has personally experienced this injustice at the hands of men; he knows what if feels like.

But this present state of injustice is not fated to continue: while God’s judgments are deferred, they are not to be denied. God himself will impose justice sooner or later, which involves both making things right for those who are hurt, and bringing judgment down upon those who have incriminated themselves. Thus this life fulfils its purpose as an arena in which by our own choice we rise or sink, not in worldly stature, but to either rise towards goodness and godliness and virtue, or to sink into evil and depravity. The people of Ammonihah have been allowed to make their choice: those they hurt will in the end be blessed, and lose nothing, while the guilty have been left with no excuse and will lose everything.

Not that they recognise the full depth of their error just yet:

Now it came to pass that when the bodies of those who had been cast into the fire were consumed, and also the records which were cast in with them, the chief judge of the land came and stood before Alma and Amulek, as they were bound; and he smote them with his hand upon their cheeks, and said unto them: After what ye have seen, will ye preach again unto this people, that they shall be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone?

(Alma 14:14)

I suppose they think that was terribly clever.

Now this judge was after the order and faith of Nehor, who slew Gideon.

(Alma 14:16)

I find this interesting and significant. The Nehorite belief, after all, is that:

… all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.

(Alma 1:4)

That can sound good and positive to many people; indeed I know it does because I’ve heard several members of the Church say so (and even think there’s not much wrong with that statement) in recent discussions. And yet there’s a glaring omission, that of repentance. The Nehorite salvation is one that excludes the need for any repentance, and any need to meet a higher standard.

Now I’m sure there were those who adhered to the Nehorite creed who did not approach the level of the people of Ammonihah. And yet I think there is a connection, between that belief and the acts we see here. A world in which everyone is already “saved”, in which none of us need to reform or change, is a world in which no bad tendency need to be fought, no habit need to be curbed, and no effort made to prepare for heaven (defeating the very purpose of mortality that Alma has spoken about). A world in which people do not repent, do not seek to be better, is not a world of people destined for heaven. It is hell. And we see here the hellish conclusion of Nehorite belief, where the notion of moral disapproval and calls to repentance inspire murderous rage.

Judgment, of course, is coming for the people of Ammonihah, and in their case that judgment is not deferred for too long. Indeed for their leaders it comes far sooner than they can expect:

And it came to pass after they had thus suffered for many days, (and it was on the twelfth day, in the tenth month, in the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi) that the chief judge over the land of Ammonihah and many of their teachers and their lawyers went in unto the prison where Alma and Amulek were bound with cords.

And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.

And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet.

(Alma 14:23-25)

I think that fact that God intercedes at this point, after the leaders collectively make the challenge that if Alma and Amulek will deliver themselves, they’ll believe the people will be destroyed, is a significant reflection of how Alma and Amulek’s mission has become one of providing grounds for incrimination.

And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.

While from our perspective, as readers, this comes soon, I’m sure that’s not how it felt to Alma and (maybe especially) Amulek. It’s not clear how long they spent imprisoned (verse 22 simply says “many days”). Alma made his way to Ammonihah early in the 10th year, but then spent some time with Amulek and his household. But since it is now almost halfway through the 10th month, I think months is a reasonable guess.

It is interesting that these leaders begin to flee the moment the cords are broken, before any other displays of divine power, “for the fear of destruction had come upon them”. This suggests their final, unanimous, challenge was true; and now Alma and Amulek have been delivered from their bands, and now the people recognise they will be destroyed. I wonder if they recognise in these moments – perhaps they begin to sense it in full – precisely how far they’ve gone wrong, if they realise the pit that is opening beneath them, and how much they truly deserve it.

And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.

And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city.

Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek.

(Alma 14:27-29)

Thus ends the first stage of the judgment of Ammonihah.

 

* Incidentally, Amulek may be one of the few polygamous individuals in the Book of Mormon. While it’s possible “my women” may refer to other female members of the household, it seems a very strong term to describe servants or even other female kinsfolk, while Hebrew uses the same word for “wife” and “woman” (אִשָּׁ֣ה), and the Book of Mormon likewise uses “women” as a synonym for “wives” in 1 Nephi 17:1-2 & 20.

Alma 13

I remember trying to memorise the first part of Alma 13 on my mission – it was in one of the later parts of my mission’s memorisation programme – with some difficulty. I found that if one could work out how a passage should be said – its rhythm, so to speak – memorisation came easily to me, but that first part of Alma 13 is quite clunky to speak, and so trying to find a way to say it in which it flowed proved challenging. Got there in the end though.

While it might prove a bit of a mouthful for the unwary, however, Alma 13 does teach a lot of important things. It’s the one chapter of the Book of Mormon that really talks about the priesthood as priesthood (others speak of authority, and even “holy order”, but the word is only used elsewhere once, in Alma 4:20), about Melchizedek, and about foreordination, those bearing the priesthood being “called and prepared from the foundation of the world”. Some people have supposed this due to qualities – “their exceeding faith and good works” – expressed in pre-mortal life, but the fact that God knows about these due to “the foreknowledge of God” suggests against this. Another writer has suggested it isn’t talking about foreordination at all; I respond to their article here in which I delve into this chapter some more (I conclude they’re right it isn’t speaking of pre-mortal life, but that their other conclusions – including about foreordination – are flawed).

One thought that struck me when reading today, however, is not one that I’ve had previously. Verse 5 states (my emphasis):

Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared

I was struck by the line that I’ve highlighted. It’s speaking here that being called to the priesthood (and presumably all that goes along with it) is in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten. It struck me when reading this that ordination to the priesthood, that possibility of divine power being delegated to human beings, is only possible due to the atonement of Christ. That it’s only due to the atonement that that delegation is even possible, and that without the atonement no one could hold the priesthood. That people can bear the priesthood at all, can perform ordinances, and exercise that divine power on behalf of others, is another blessing given through the atonement of Christ.

Which really makes sense in retrospect, so maybe this has been obvious to others long before. After all, repentance is mentioned as a key condition (v. 10), and its only the atonement that allows the possibility of repentance. But this was a profound thought for me.

Of course, it might be wondered why Alma is going into so much depth about the priesthood at this point in its sermon, where again it might come across as a digression. Once again I suggest we should resist such conclusions. In this case, I think there is a clear thread running through: that of repentance. First Alma speaks of those ordained to the priesthood being so in part because they had chose to repent (v. 10). He then speaks of them becoming sanctified, and urges his audience to follow that example of obedience in verses 11 to 13:

Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.

Then in verse 14 he switches to a related example, that of Melchizedek, who was a high priest, and the people he was trying to teach:

Yea, humble yourselves even as the people in the days of Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order which I have spoken, who also took upon him the high priesthood forever.

Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness;

But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.

(Alma 13:14, 17-18)

Here I think Alma is drawing a deliberate, though unspoken, parallel: Alma, like Melchizedek, is a high priest after the order of the Son of God. And the people of Ammonihah, like the people of Salem, have “waxed strong in iniquity and abomination”, so much so that God has commanded Alma to threaten the people with destruction unless they repent. Follow the example of the people of Salem, Alma implies, and you too can have peace in the land instead, under the “Prince of Peace”, Christ, whose order the priesthood is, and of whom Melchizedek and the priesthood itself (v. 16) are types, helping people to “look forward to him for a remission of their sins”.

And then Alma makes this central thread more clear, beginning the last section of this chapter (and the conclusion of whole sermon) with a direct appeal in verse 21:

And now it came to pass that when Alma had said these words unto them, he stretched forth his hand unto them and cried with a mighty voice, saying: Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh;

That, after all, has been the very point of this sermon. It can always help us to understand a passage if we consider its purpose and what question it is addressing. In the case of this sermon to the people of Ammonihah, while it has ranged over matters of the resurrection and judgment, the mysteries of God, the fall and the purpose of death and now the priesthood, the central aim all along has been to persuade these people to forsake their sins and repent.

There are, of course, a lot of other interesting things in this chapter to consider too. Verse 23 is another verse that suggests that – as I’ve stated before – the Nephites were a special case in terms of how clearly they were taught of Christ and the gospel:

And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard.

Another thing from this chapter to ponder might be the various ways in which the priesthood and the manner of ordination is a type of Christ. I’ve had a few thoughts over the years: One is that Christ too was foreordained from the foundation of the world. Another is that, just like everyone must receive priesthood ordinances from someone else (we cannot lay hands on our own head), so to must everyone look to someone else – Christ – for our salvation. But I am sure there are others.

Alma 5

Due to the length & substantial nature of Alma 5, and the fact that the “Come Follow Me” schedule only has three chapters this week, I’ve decided to read Alma 5 this time round over the course of several days rather than all at once, and so this post will the culmination of several days reading (though again, it’s not a comprehensive or exhaustive post; it might actually be possible to write an entire book about Alma 5).

I love how Alma begins his sermon. I think it’s one of the greatest sermon introductions out there. It starts almost gently, recapping the story of the Church being organized (v. 3), and then being delivered from King Noah (v. 4), and then from the Lamanites and it being established in the land of Zarahemla (v. 5).

Then Alma begins with the first set of questions that he poses to his audience. A significant part of this sermon is built around the questions Alma aims at the listener/reader, but I find this first set often get missed when people discuss them:

And 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? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

(Alma 5:6)

It’s interesting this first set are all based around the importance of remembering, something of a recurrent theme in both the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament. Alma’s three questions here also appear to increase in intensity: a) do you remember the captivity of your ancestors? b) do you remember God’s mercy towards them (in delivering them?)? c) do you remember that he has delivered their souls from hell?

There then comes one of those passages that is both powerful, and has such wonderful turns of phrase (especially in verse 7), as Alma builds upon this reminder on how God delivered their fathers not just from earthly oppression, but from eternal damnation:

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

(Alma 5:7-9)

“On what conditions are they saved?”

Having reminded his audience that their forebears were saved, Alma moves to his next set of questions, asking how their forebears were saved:

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

(v. 10)

He begins his answer with a set of rhetorical questions about Alma, his father:

Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?

(v. 11)

Here we have the pivotal role of belief: Alma believed Abinadi, and Abinadi was speaking the words of God. It sometimes seems we can underestimate the role of belief (compared to testimony, and action) in the modern Church, but Alma (the younger) puts it front and centre of Alma (the elder)’s salvation. Yet I think it’s important to realise it’s not the act of believing in and of itself that’s pivotal. One after all could believe something that isn’t true, and that has no saving value at all. Rather, it is who and what we choose to believe that is significant. I think it no coincidence that this verse emphasises those very elements: Alma chose to believe a prophet of God, and chose to believe what were the words of God.

And why is what we choose to believe important?

And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.

(v. 12)

Alma’s faith, and his belief in the word of God, was a key that allowed the power of God to change his heart (I’m reminded of John 17:17: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth”). It is choosing to believe God’s word that allows the transforming power of the Gospel to convert us; to change us into a new creature (meaning a new creation). This is vital: we cannot fight our own faults through our sheer unaided willpower alone, since every one of us has a part of us that is on the other side. We have predilections and tendencies (the exact nature of which will vary from person to person, but we all have them), that seek to lead us away from God and right. But this isn’t inevitable. Our natures can become purified and cleansed, as God’s sanctifying power strengthens our desires and will to do good and helps us defeat the desire to do evil.

That this does not just apply to Alma senior alone is made plain in the very next verse:

And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.

(v. 13)

Alma heard the words of God as preached by Abinadi, believed them, and his heart was changed. He in turn preached the same word to others, who likewise believed and their hearts were changed. And in response, they humbled themselves, put their trust in God and were faithful to him, and so they were saved. I particularly like how this verse helps show the connection between our having faith in God, and showing faithfulness to God, linked but not identical concepts that are often different sides of the same coin. We can have faith (trust) in God because he is always faithfultrustworthy – in fulfilling his promises, and then we in turn show and act upon our faith in him by being faithful – that is, loyal – to him.

“Have ye spiritually be born of God?”

At this point Alma now turns his questions upon his audience, and implicitly us. I’ll be quoting a lot here since I don’t think any measure of paraphrasing will do justice to this questions.

Firstly Alma asks us whether we have experienced this change of hearts that he has been talking about:

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

(v. 14)

He then moves forward without pausing to the moment of judgment:

Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do 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?

I 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?

(vv. 15-16)

These are powerful questions. Have we experienced a change of heart? Do we have faith in Christ so we can look forward to that moment of judgment with hope? Or… well then Alma’s questions take a more accusing tone:

Or 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?

Or 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?

(vv. 17-18)

Alma is very good at evoking the potential horror we might experience if unprepared for the final judgment; he does the same in Alma 12:12-18. I think in part this is because he himself felt some of this fear during his own conversion experience, in which he describes feeling that “the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:14, see also v. 15). These are perhaps thoughts people don’t want to dwell on, and yet the judgment is a situation we will all inevitable experience.

Alma continues with his questions, all of which are aimed at this point: the degree to which we have become truly converted, so that we have “the image of God engraven on our countenances” (Alma 5:19, and that’s an interesting thought: we speak of mankind being made in the image of God, and yet Alma is speaking of an important sense in which that image is conditional, and has to be engraven upon us) and have clean hands; and the degree to which we have fallen short, in which we have “yielded [our]selves to become subjects to the devil” (v. 20) and have “stained” our “garments” with our wickedness (v. 22-23). These are questions designed to probe our readiness to meet God, for as Alma points out:

I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.

(v. 21)

“Can ye feel so now?”

At verse 26, Alma changes the focus a little, addressing directly those who have already experienced this change of heart:

And 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?

We may have experienced and felt and tasted of the goodness of God. We may have felt the gift of his forgiveness, experienced his grace, seen his hand extended in power. But can we do so now? Just as Alma the elder’s people were saved because they had faith, had the change of heart and then were faithful “until the end”, we too need to be faithful until the end. Thus Alma asks those who have been converted:

Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?

Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.

Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.

And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?

Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!

(vv. 27-31)

Even if we have been “born of God” in the past, if we don’t remain faithful and keep to that path we will not be found spotless. But I also find interesting the sins that are singled out here: not murder or adultery or so on (though Alma frequently mentions those too – indeed murder got mentioned in verse 23). But being insufficiently humble, being proud, being envious, and mocking others. Like all these questions, it prompts serious reflection of one’s own conduct and state.

“Soon at hand”

Much of this sermon is about the need for all to repent, to seriously prepare for the judgment of God, and about how the time or hour is “close at hand”. And indeed, I suppose that that time can arrive quicker than any of us expect, being one “accidentally stepping in front of the bus” away. But there’s also another sense in which these people are being told things are “soon at hand”, as Alma teaches in verse 50:

Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.

Alma is speaking here of Christ’s incarnation amongst man, which is just over 80 years away. His appearance amongst the Nephites following his resurrection – in which he will indeed come in glory and majesty, and which will be accompanied by a degree of judgment upon the wicked – is just over a century away. And indeed, that is not very far in the great scheme of things.

I was struck – not for the first time – when reading this verse today that this verse also applies to us, but speaking of Christ’s second coming, in which Christ will most certainly appear “in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion”, and which will likewise bring a defining point of judgment upon the world. We don’t know precisely when that will happen – there’s some things that have to happen first, some of which have, and others which have yet to occur – but it will at some point, and is likewise “soon at hand”, and which may be sooner than some imagine. Which underlines the relevance of the next few verses, not just for Alma and his audience, anticipating the first appearance of Christ, but also for us, anticipating the second:

And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people—Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.

(vv. 51-52)

The time to repent is now, whether it be in preparation for this appearance, or for an unexpected appointment that is much sooner.

Wolves

After more urging to repent, including of specific sins, and an exhortation to separate from the wicked, Alma warns of wolves:

For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.

And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.

(vv. 59-60)

I’ve written about this concept at greater length here, but I mention it here because it always catches my eye. Indeed Alma appears to be warning some of his audience against being wolves (it comes right after he states “if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled” in verse 58), something he’d know about, for he was a wolf that became a sheep (or a shepherd). There are others who make the opposite journey. We are required, of course, to be merciful, loving, and to refrain from judgment (or from unjust judgments in those areas that we have a duty to judge). At no time, however, does that require us to leave the sheep defenceless against the wolves, to allow people to victimise or hurt others in the name of “compassion”, nor to mercilessly sacrifice the innocent upon an altar of mercy for their predators. The Good Shepherd defends his sheep, including against those who’d prey upon them.

 

Mosiah 27

Featuring the angelic visit to, and the conversion of, those rebellious youngsters, Alma “the younger” and the sons of Mosiah. Their campaign against the Church must have particularly challenging, considering it featured the son of the high priest of the Church in conspiracy with what were effectively royal princes and heirs of the king. That Alma senior rejoices when he finds out he son has been struck down by the power of God (v. 20) suggests their relationship had become somewhat fraught.

First things first, however. There’s a very interesting sentence in verse 1 (my emphasis):

And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.

It’s just a small reference, so blink and you’ll miss it, and indeed it seems most people do; I’ve not come across any commentary on the line “[a]nd Mosiah consulted with his priests”. And it’s a really interesting line, a mention of an otherwise unmentioned group of priests associated with the king who are not so as part of the organization of the Church that Alma established.

And yet it makes sense. As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to picture the Church as this monolithic, all-encompassing organization as it has been in this dispensation, but that’s not always been the case in previous dispensations. Thus the early Christian church continued to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, and as we’ve seen, many of those who’d entered into a covenant with God under King Benjamin’s urging also felt to unite with Alma and his church. I remember thinking about this when I came across this verse, because there’s some interesting possibilities here. For example, it’s mentioned repeatedly in the Book of Mormon that the Nephites – up until the visit of the risen Christ – kept the law of Moses, which would include its sacrifices and offerings. And yet the principal duties of priests in the Church, as laid out for instance in Mosiah 19, don’t really cover sacrifices and offerings. Furthermore, since King Benjamin’s people kept the law, someone there must have been performing these ordinances too. My suggestion is that it is these priests who are mentioned here. It’s also possible that they continued co-exist with the Church and perform these offerings after this point, which would account for the fact that such must have been happening, but no one – not even the Church leaders that are mentioned – is ever mentioned as performing them. The existence of an otherwise unmentioned group performing these ordinances (possibly for most of the Nephite populace, in the same way that the priests at the temple in Jerusalem did for Sadducee, Pharisee and Christian alike) would explain this, and the fact that the record is silent about them entirely fits with the fact that it’s a very selective account that’s entirely silent about a lot of matters that must have existed (Nephites with XX chromosomes, for example).

Moving from the interesting to the important. The experience of Alma and the sons of Mosiah is of course dramatic: an angel appears, declaring with a voice of thunder a warning not to fight against the Church of God. It’s been compared to the conversion experience of Paul on the road to Damascus, and I think there’s a lot of a parallels, although also a few crucial differences (Paul, at least, thought he was doing God’s work). It may seem unfair – I’ve certainly been privy to discussions in this vein – that Alma and his crew would have this sort of experience, that it made it “easy” for them. However, I think there’s some things to bear in mind:

  1. Divine intervention can often appear unfair. I remember pondering this at a time I was experiencing a significant degree of poverty, but was also blessed that God inspired some people to help me. I was aware that not everyone got that, and that it wasn’t because I “deserved” it. Likewise there have been many faced with the threat of death by fire for the gospel. Some, like Shadrach, Meschach and Abed-Nego are delivered by miraculous means. Others, like Abinadi as we’ve recently read, or the people in Ammonihah as we will read, burn to death. This is obviously not due to the righteousness of the people involved, or any other factor that we can see. But God sees more than we do, indeed sees all, and so his reasons for intervening in one case, and not another, encompass far more than we can comprehend. A key challenge of this life, after all, is not that God have to justify his moral reasoning to us, but that we have enough faith in him to trust him, to trust that he knows best even if we’re not in a position to see why.
  2. While Alma and the sons of Mosiah do indeed convert at this point, there’s ample scriptural evidence, especially in the Book of Mormon, that such experiences are not sufficient. Laman and Lemuel’s progress in the wrong direction was barely slowed by an angelic visit, for instance. That Alma, Ammon and so on responded in this way and turned their entirely lives round at this point is down to them and their decisions. Furthermore, while certainly swift, Alma’s repentance does not appear to have been easy (“wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death”, v. 28), and he elsewhere talks of “fast[ing] and pray[ing] many days” to know the truth of the Gospel (Alma 5:26).
  3. Finally, and this may seem obvious but it only really stuck out to me on this reading, the point of the angelic appearance (at least for the humans involved; God knowing all things I’m sure considered every factor) was not so much to convert Alma and his party (although that appears to have been a factor, since Alma the elder had prayed that his son “be brought to a knowledge of the truth”, Mosiah 27:14), but to to stop them going about to destroy the Church in answer to “the prayers of his people”. Thus the angel declares: “And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off” (v. 16; interestingly this very instruction seems to have played a crucial role in Alma’s conversion according to his own account, Alma 36:9-11). The divine intervention was as much on behalf of everyone else to protect the people of the Church from Alma and the sons of Mosiah as it was to save them. That it also resulted in the latter is a happy side effect.

Finally, there’s Alma’s great statement when he rises from his stricken state. It’s a wonderful passage, beautiful and powerful, that speaks directly to the point that we all need to change, to be reborn, not just symbolically through baptism but inwardly also. Frankly I like it so much I’m just going to quote it in full:

For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.

Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.

My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.

I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.

Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye.

(Mosiah 27:24-31)

Mosiah 4

There’s one running thread through this chapter that has caught my attention before, and really stood out today. It begins in verse 1 & 2:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

Following King Benamin’s remarks in Mosiah 2-3, the people respond with sorrow and humility, and ‘viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth’. In that state, however, they then cry for mercy in the name of the Lord, and in verse 3 that request is granted.

I don’t have any absolute figures for any of this – it’s simply a phenomenon I’ve observed and heard – but it seems many in our current era are inclined to affirm that they are good people, that they don’t have anything particular to repent of. There’s people who run to the opposite extreme of course (and eras in which that is more common), who may suffer from what Catholic theology (and modern psychology) has termed scrupulosity. And that can be a serious problem: I remember when it dawned on me that such feelings can be a form of “sorrow of the world” as being sorry we got caught or such like, because such feelings can still trap us and thus “worketh death”, while “godly sorrow” produces change (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).

But feeling that we’re without sin, that we’re good and don’t have anything to repent of can also be damning. First, such notions are simply not true: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, see also Alma 34:9), and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). But secondly, if we don’t have a consciousness of our sin, then how do we recognise that we even need the Saviour? How do we call upon the power of his atoning sacrifice if we don’t feel a need for it? How do we even appreciate what he has done for us if we don’t think it’s necessary? A consciousness of sin, while an unpleasant feeling, is the very thing that impels us to seek change and lead us – as it led King Benjamin’s people – to seek mercy through Christ. It strikes me that it is perhaps one of the first and most fundamental steps of our repentance.

Yet this chapter goes further in verse 5:

For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state

This is talking about the same experience of King Benjamin’s people, but it also describes sentiments I suspect it’d be most unlikely to be urged in your average Sunday school lesson: ‘a sense of your nothingness’ and ‘your worthless and fallen state’.

The idea of realising our ‘nothingness’ is not only found here in the scriptures: In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses remarks upon the conclusion of one visionary experience that ‘[n]ow, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10). This sensation, this realisation, is not the sum total of all we are supposed to feel in regards to ourselves and our relationship with God. But it is perhaps an element that receives little modern attention.

Back to Mosiah 4, and again King Benjamin goes further, describing what we should remember not just at a moment of conversion, but throughout our lives:

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

(Mosiah 4:11, my emphasis)

Again, this is not found only here: Alma in Alma 38:14 counsels his son Shiblon to ‘acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times’. But I suspect that at the present time such passages are often passed over quickly; they are hard passages, with hard counsel. But they clearly appear to be quite essential, with King Benjamin teaching that we should always remember God’s greatness, and in contrast our own nothingness and unworthiness if we wish to retain a remission of our sins (and we surely do).

Now I do not think that these verses are preaching a kind of self-hatred: while I do not find many scriptural passages that support the modern emphasis on self-esteem, self-hatred does not seem to be encouraged. Furthermore, we are also often counselled to seek and feel God’s love towards us. In some way, then, we are being encouraged to simultaneously realise our own nothingness and unworthiness, and thus our utter dependence upon God and his mercy, and that we do not earn any blessing from him, but at the same time feel of his love and realise that, in the words of Elder Uchtdorf, ‘compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God.’

I don’t know that I can make any great claims of knowing how to balance those realisations, but I am confident that both are necessary: we need one to avoid pride, and so that we know we need help and change and grace and who to seek it from, and we need the other to avoid despair and discouragement, and so that we know we can leave judgment in the hands of God and need not seek to punish ourselves for our own sins. With that in mind, we surely need to read such passages as the above carefully, and seek to follow them, rather than pass over them swiftly.

A couple of final, tangentially related points: this chapter goes on to detail our need to help and serve others, beginning with children (and our obligation to teach them), and then towards those seeking our assistance. I find it striking how it links our response to those who beg of us to God’s response to when we beg of him, and so how our acts of service are likewise connected to seeking to retain a remission of our sins:

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

(Mosiah 4:26)

However, allowance is also made for capacity, thus those who have sufficient, but not enough to aid the beggar are addressed (v. 24), and then the general principle is also addressed (v. 27):

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

The image this conjures up for me is one of a marathon, and I believe this is a helpful image to have in mind. If someone tries to sprint a marathon, they’ll lead at first, but then their strength will ebb and they will not finish the race. Likewise, this life is a marathon, in which our means and energy are often limited, and if we are unwise, and “sprint”, we may exhaust our strength and lack the capacity to serve at a later date. We must therefore not let our zeal outweigh our wisdom, but carefully pace ourselves where appropriate to ensure that we are in a position to serve diligently up until the finishing line.

2020 edit:

Several brief notes, as I’ve already written a fair amount on this chapter about 8 months ago.

Verse 2 stands out again, this time not for how the people viewed themselves and their consciousness of their sins, but for the simplicity of their response: they called on God for mercy, asking that they might receive forgiveness through the atoning blood of Christ. I’m reminded of Alma 34:17 (in which Amulek urges much the same), and wonder if – when we think about repentance – the simple process of asking God for mercy and forgiveness is so straightforward it sometimes gets overlooked. Along with that, it’s perhaps important to remember that forgiveness is the not the product of some process we can produce via checklist, but a gift we are asking for.

I was struck also by the emphasis on not just obtaining a remission of sins, but of retaining a remission of sins (vv. 11-12 and 26), and what is necessary for that. I was reminded of Alma 5:26 (and indeed much of that chapter):

And 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?

We may have had powerful experiences in the past, like the people of King Benjamin experienced in verse 3. But how do we feel now? Do we continue to experience such feelings (in whatever degree)? Have our lives changed, and do we live up to the desire to do good we had in those moments?

I’ve also been thinking about the list of things that King Benjamin tells his people to believe in in verses 9 and 10:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.

There’s a number of different things we’re commanded to believe in here, presumably not only because they’re true but because whether we believe in them has an effect on our salvation:

  • God’s existence. The importance of that seems obvious
  • God created all things, both in heaven and in earth. I feel I need to ponder more to understand the salvific significance of believing this (though I believe it must be important, or it wouldn’t be on this list)..
  • Believe God has all wisdom. If we don’t believe God has all wisdom, we may be inclined to doubt his guidance, to suspect there may be something he doesn’t know, or that we know better. Believing he does is thus crucial to trusting him and his counsel. Likewise wisdom is also grounded in goodness, not just knowledge, and so to believe he has all wisdom is to believe that he has the will to help us,
  • Believe God has all power, in heaven and in earth. Interesting that like his role as creator this mentions both heaven and earth. The importance of this one appears straightforward to me: if we believe God lacks power, then we may well conclude he is unable to intervene on our behalf. But God has all power, and so has an infinite capacity to help us.
  • Believe that man does not comprehend all the things the Lord can comprehend. This appears to overlap with the point of wisdom, but I think particularly speaks to the fact that – even at best – we can only have a partial understanding of God and his plan for us. No matter how much we learn, there’s going to be things about life and the gospel that we don’t have all the answers too, or which don’t make sense to us. Thus I take believing in this as a recognition that we need to be humble, and particularly to always acknowledge and follow God’s wisdom as being superior to our own. I’m also reminded of the statement by Harold B. Lee that “it is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give us courage through faith to go on in the face of questions to which we find no answer in our present status”.
  • Believe we must repent of our sins, forsake them, humble ourselves before God, and ask him sincerely for forgiveness. This seems to cover ground I mention above, including the fact that we need to believe we all have sinned, and so all need to repent, and the importance of actually humbly asking God for forgiveness. But it also emphasises that repentance is change too: we need to believe we must forsake our sins (as opposed, one presumes, to thinking we can be forgiven but continue in them). And I think the point about believing we need to ask God for forgiveness also addresses another thing we must believe: we must believe he can and is willing to forgive us, and that when he forgives us our sins are swept away.

Of course, belief alone isn’t enough, as King Benjamin promptly points out: “and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them”. But our sincere beliefs do affect our attitudes and our actions, and it seems striking to me that these beliefs all centre around the factors that cause us to trust (or not) in God, and prompt us to repent, change and seek forgiveness.

Mosiah 3

This is a very well known and oft quoted chapter, particularly the portions relating to the prophecy of  Christ’s mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice (vv. 5-10) and the famous passage that really encapsulates the core of the Gospel:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

That really covers almost everything important: the fallenness of man, guidance through the Holy Ghost, repentance and sanctification through the Atonement of Christ and how we should be as disciples and God’s children.

Perhaps one bit of that verse that catches a little less attention is that whole bit about being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him’. I think it’s easy to read the verse, and see it as being willing to submit to everything God may ask of us and in addition what he permits may happen to us. But the word inflict is rather more active than that, in that it requires us to accept and submit to what God may do to us, even if unpleasant. An interesting article I’ve already linked to in this blog which discusses the concept of an Abrahamic Test quotes this verse in that context, noting that the scriptures teach that God both chastens us (which is correction or punishment upon those that have disobedient) and tries us, in which the refiners fire falls upon the righteous. It is interesting that a crucial part of our discipleship is the degree to which we accept both of these processes.

I don’t know whether I can say I’m grateful for any of the trials I’ve experienced, and in many respects I’m quite fortunate, so I don’t know how others may feel about that either. But I’ve certainly found with some unpleasant experiences that – often given time and opportunity to reflect – I’ve been able to perceive some of the positive results of them too. I don’t know that we’re actually being asked to be glad about unpleasant things (though perhaps with sufficient perspective we can be; thinking about it there are a couple of things I think I can now say I am appreciative for). But perhaps what this is really getting at is the core measure of our trust and loyalty towards him, the capacity to say “not my will, but thine be done”, no matter what that appears to entail for us.

Linked to this verse, but really catching my attention today, was verse 16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

It’s an interesting point in general that the Atonement establishes both justice and mercy (for instance, see v. 10-11 and 2 Nephi 9:26). But what attracted my eye today was the whole phrase about ‘in Adam, or by nature, they fall’. When we talk of the fall, we often talk of Adam and Eve, but really in a sense each of us falls as we grow up. We are born innocent before God (D&C 93:38), and we are not held responsible for the sins of our forebears (Moses 6:54). But as a consequence of the fall, human nature is opposed to God, and our natures mean that as we grow ‘sin conceive[s] in [our] hearts’ (Moses 6:55) and we yield to our unrighteous instincts (‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’, 2 Nephi 2:29) and become fallen people. We each experience the fall individually; I guess in a similar manner to the way in which while Christ atoned once for sins in an infinite and eternal offering, we must experience the power of that redemption individually too.

I think it’s also important to remember this self-sabotaging nature that we all inevitably have. We can become ground down trying to perfect ourselves, or we might try to persuade ourselves that some inner tendencies can’t possibly be wrong, or why would we have them? But human nature as it is is morally flawed, and is not perfectible by our efforts alone. But there’s two crucial caveats there, which again verse 19 addresses: our current nature is not the nature God wishes for us to carry into the eternities, and we can put off that nature and become something else – a saint, that is holy – as we “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” and accept the power of Christ’s atonement into our lives. God wants us to change, and through Christ’s power we can.

2020 edit:

I’m beginning to think there’s some kind of weird joke: once again when reading there’s certain verses that leap out at me, and once again I find it’s exactly the same verses I’ve already written about. Admittedly, this seems to be particularly the case in posts like this, where the first part was written not that long ago (less than a year). Furthermore, while it’s the same verses that have stood out on this occasion, there’s somewhat different aspects.

So back to Mosiah 3:16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

What caught my attention this time was the notion that “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” – that is, the sins of little children. I would partly credit Elder James Rasband’s talk this past general conference for this, in which – citing this very verse – he stated that “[a] righteous judgment also required, he taught, that “the blood of Christ atoneth for” the sins of little children.” That phrase stood out to me because I’ve never heard it put as bluntly as that. Indeed I suspect there might be some who’d recoil from that phrase. But it’s quite clearly there in Mosiah 3:16, although perhaps we may pass over it all too easily by not enquiring as to who “their” refers to. But there is only one possible referent.

How do we square this with what Mormon writes in Moroni 8, which states that “little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Mormon 8:8)? Some points are worth considering.

Firstly, Mormon is speaking of the world in which the atonement of Christ is a given fact, while King Benjamin is speaking of what would have happened if the atonement had never taken place, and what the atonement does. Mormon concurs with the role of the atonement in this, as he continues in verse 8 to relay the Lord’s statement that “wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it have no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me”. It is through the Lord’s atonement that little children have become whole. Indeed, even the condition of innocence in infancy is through the atonement of Christ, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38, bold is my emphasis – it should also be remembered that innocent is not the same thing as good).

Secondly, we must refer back to the fall, and how pervasive and powerful it is. Without the atonement, its influence would be so powerful no human being could possibly escape it. Would that be just? No, but that’s just the point: the atonement of Christ is not just a means of mercy, but also establishes justice, as is taught by Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:26 and by Elder Rasband in his talk.

Thirdly, the principle of accountability is important to understand why the effects of the atonement vary in their application. Little children (and presumably others such as the mentally handicapped) have limited accountability. Their “sins” are not sins of their own volition, in the same way ours are, and they have limited capacity to repent: thus their sins are atoned for automatically. Those who “died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11), who did not know enough to be considered fully accountable, likewise have their sins atoned for. However, the time of such ignorance is limited:

And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

(Mosiah 3:20-21)

As for those who are accountable and have a necessary level of knowledge, and so have committed sin of our own volition, then atonement for sin is conditional, “for salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:12). Thus Mormon instructs Moroni to teach “repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:10), surely meaning in this case, those capable of choosing to sin and knowing that it is wrong.

It is perhaps not always entirely necessary to know more that what Mormon teaches in this case. And yet, perhaps it may help some to appreciate even more what Christ has done for all of us, to realise that the salvation of little children was not “free”, but was likewise brought with the blood of Christ.

The forgotten fall

As might be inferred from my statement at the beginning of this edit, the other verse which caught my attention this time around was indeed verse 19 again. In this case, it was particularly the first few clauses:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless…

Obviously there’s a pretty big “unless” there – indeed the whole heart of the gospel, the “good news”, is contained and followed by that “unless”. And yet we cannot truly appreciate that “unless”, and indeed the very choices we face on a day to day basis, unless we truly understand and keep in mind those first few clauses.

Over the last decade, I have come to the conclusion that the Fall has become somewhat of a forgotten doctrine in Christianity at large. One can see this in various discussions which hinge on claims of “God made me this way”, or in which it is assumed that what is natural must be good. Even some Latter-day Saint scholars appear to misunderstand the fall, if for different reasons: it seems some get caught up so much in understanding that the fall was a necessary part of God’s plan that they forget the negative effects of the fall (negative effects which, if anything, Latter-day scripture is even more explicit about). Likewise, in their desire to defend Adam and (especially) Eve, they appear to conflate the perspective they both enjoyed at a later date after a great revelation (Moses 5:9-11), with the far more limited perspective they would have had at the time.

The fall is the necessary counterpoint to the atonement of Christ. Without understanding the fall, we cannot understand the atonement. If we negate the importance of the fall, and its negative effects, we negate the importance of the atonement, and its positive effects. Moreover understanding the fall is crucial to understanding ourselves and the situation we face right now, in our mortal lives, and the choice that has been provided to us by Christ. Understanding the fall answers so many of the questions the modern age seems otherwise confused by.

Because of the fall, none of us is as God eventually intends us, nor is this earth. Nature I’ve already written about, if in a rather speculative tone. The facts of non-human “nature”, however, should surely establish that an awful lot of it isn’t presently good: the naturalistic fallacy (the idea what if something is “natural”, it is therefore “good”) should fall apart in the face of things like infanticide amongst lions, never mind those wasps that lay their larvae in other creatures and which eat their way out.

Likewise, amongst human beings, understanding the fall means understanding that due to the fall, we must all contend against “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:29), that “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2), and that as King Benjamin points out “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Each of us has a part of us that doesn’t want to do good. It thus should not disturb us, should there be any who appear to have inherent tendencies that lead away from obedience to God’s commandments, because we all have such inherent tendencies. Such tendencies may be in areas that aren’t obsessed about or approved by our culture: we may have tendencies towards alcoholism, or kleptomania, or greed, or road-rage, or wanting to crush our enemies and see them driven before us. But whichever direction our fallen part would propel us, we all may have such a fallen part.

Now, the great and glorious and wonderful good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to give in to that part: we all have a choice. Due to the atonement of Christ, we are free to “choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein”. It’s not necessarily an easy choice, indeed it’s a choice I think we have to make over and over again until it sticks. But as Mosiah 3:19 teaches, we can “[put] off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord”. That fallen nature need not be who we eternally are, it need not be the inherent part of ourselves, but can be shed. The body can become subject to the spirit, and become sanctified so that when we stand before God we might be entirely holy. We cannot do this alone, it is true, but we do not have to: Christ purchased this choice for us, with his own life; he atones for our sins and anything in which we err; and he can give us grace and strength and power to choose his will whatever the natural man would have us do, until the glorious day when it can be kicked off entire, “that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).