Alma 12 is one of my favourite chapters, and there’s just so much in it, so that I feel that anything I choose to mention is only just picking at a few of the things this chapter has to offer. Some of those I have written about elsewhere though, and in any case this series isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but just sharing a few things from my latest reading.
Some things always seem to stand out a little, but some of these I’ve written about elsewhere. Thus, I believe I have commented on verse 32, and its statement that “God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption” elsewhere (ah, here!), which I think it is interesting to ponder. Certain commandments only really make sense once we have the framework of God’s plan to put them into context, and – while God doesn’t always explain the reasons for his commandments – knowing why can I think help us to live them. Likewise Alma 12:33-37, and its re-shaping of the provocation that prompted God’s wrath (Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness in Psalms 95:7-11, Hebrews 3:8-11 and Jacob 1:7, but here clearly referring to an earlier primordial event, likely the fall, the “first provocation”) received a bit of commentary in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.
I was struck by verse 5 & 6 (especially verse 5), where Alma is now speaking to Zeezrom (who is beginning to have doubts about his prior course). Speaking of Zeezrom’s abortive attempt to offer to bribe Amulek (but keep the money), Alma states:
Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. Now I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all.
And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.
I find it significant that Alma states that Satan was Zeezrom’s adversary. Zeezrom has been doing the devil’s work so far, and being a lawyer this probably wasn’t the first time. But Alma’s correct identification of Satan as Zeezrom’s adversary I think really makes clear that – despite Zeezrom doing his work – Satan doesn’t will any good towards him. He wants to drag him down and make him miserable too. All but the worst human tyrants have generally wanted something good for somebody – their followers, lackeys, spouses, pets – even if they were utterly evil towards everyone else. But Satan doesn’t; indeed thinking about it I doubt he does for those who followed him from the very first, and he certainly doesn’t for anyone mortal. He is omni-malevolent, a reverse image here of God who is omni-benevolent and would have everyone to be saved.
Verse 9 is something that’s often stuck on the mind:
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
I think it’s a powerful concept: that although there are many things which haven’t been collectively revealed yet, that God may and has shared some of these mysteries with individuals as they’ve sought to follow and know him, that there are less limits to what God is prepared to reveal than we may assume. This verse really prompts three thoughts for me:
- On one hand, we may be living below our spiritual privileges. It may be that we have questions that – although not generally answered – God is prepared to answer for us if we seek them.
- On other hand, this verse really underlines the need to be careful and hold in confidence the thing things God has revealed to us and the sacred experiences he has blessed us with. There is an implied connection: in order to receive those mysteries God is willing to bless us with, we have to be sufficiently trustworthy to keep them in confidence. In connection with this, there is President Marion G. Romney’s statement (as quoted by Boyd K. Packer, commenting on this verse): “I do not tell all I know; I have never told my wife all I know, for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.”
- I remember reflecting on this verse once in connection with various speculations I and other missionaries had been arguing about. It struck me then, and it still does, that we also need to sometimes be restrained and careful about what we speculate in terms of the gospel. For it makes little sense if those of us who are speculating are being loud and even dogmatic about things we don’t actually know about, while those who know must keep quiet. If there is an issue about which an answer has not been publicly revealed, the only noisy voices will be the ignorant, and this does not seem wise.
Verses 10-11 contain a concept also elucidated in 2 Nephi 28:27-30: those who accept the word of God will receive more and more, while those who reject it will receive less and less until they actually lose what they already had. However, while 2 Nephi 28 is particularly addressing how people respond to scripture (i.e. the written word of God), particularly in the form of the Book of Mormon (or the Bible for that matter), here it also clearly encompasses any form of “the word”, including that received in personal revelation:
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
I think that when it comes to knowledge, we tend to assume that we know what we know, that we somehow possess our knowledge and that knowledge is ours. And yet this isn’t really the case when it comes to knowledge of the gospel: our knowledge of the gospel depends upon a living link to divinity. And so what we know may be increasing, as we seek to try and follow God and do his will, or may be diminishing when we rebel against him, but it’s not a static thing we can hoard. Our knowledge of the gospel then is more like an internet connection and a cache rather than having an actual hard drive.
There so many fantastic things in this chapter one could go through verse by verse: notice again Alma’s power to evoke the feeling of the final judgment in verses 13-15; again in terms which evoke his own experience as described in Alma 36. However, one thing I appreciate about this chapter is Alma’s argument for “why death is a good thing”, which is not an argument that many have tried to make. An interesting point about this is that apparently immortality would bring about immediate judgment, foreclosing any period of preparation or change:
And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.
I’ve wondered about this: does this mean that our current state of mortality, and all that goes with it, is particularly conducive to change? Does immortality lock us in into some unchanging state? However, this perhaps risks getting into areas that I at least don’t about.
However, on this week’s reading, I was particularly struck by verse 24:
And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
It is particularly that phrase “probationary state” that stuck out to me. It’s a phrase that has been used fairly frequently within the Church, and certainly isn’t unknown to me. However, I wonder if we sometimes use it a bit unthinkingly, without really pondering all that encompasses. I think I certainly have. All of this life is a probation: it’s not the main event, but the mere prelude in which we are observed, tested and evaluated. And everything – everything – that we do or come across in this life isn’t an end in itself, but is part of that probation, part of that preparing to meet God and experience eternity. It’s an interesting concept to contemplate, and a perspective I think I need to have more.