Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Forgiving Alma

This is probably one of those obvious little things that everyone (for all I know) may have already noticed.  But it really hit me today, and it was just a great big aha! moment.  So, I feel like sharing it, because I thought it was worthwhile.

Anyway, this has to do with Alma the Younger, from the Book of Mormon.  You know, that guy the Book of Alma is named after (which, it turns out, happens to be the longest section of the entire Book of Mormon at 63 chapters).  I like to think of him as one of the most amazing people in the scriptures--a sort of hero.  He was the chief judge over all the people of Nephi, as well as high priest over the whole Church.  He sacrificed his position in the government to go out and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because that's how important the Lord was to him.  His sermons on topics such as faith, repentance, and the Plan of Salvation are well-loved and relatable, and continue to be frequently quoted in the Church today.  Alma's just a spiritual rock star.  

Yet at one point, Alma couldn't have been farther from any of those things.  He undoubtedly came from a good home, and had been taught the right way to live--after all, his dad was the prophet, and had first organized the Church among the Nephites.  I'm sure Alma had awesome spiritual support growing up.  But he was wicked.  As in, completely-try-to-destroy-the-Church wicked.  The scriptures don't tell us exactly how long this was going on, but the footnote in Mosiah 27 suggests a possible time frame of about eight years.  Even factoring some time at the end of the chapter for Alma's missionary work post-conversion, I personally find it reasonable to imagine that his phase of wickedness would easily have occupied several years of his life.  

Here's what hit me, though: 

The record we have of Alma's righteous service is incredibly detailed--I mean, look at how thick his book is. But in the narrative of the years of his life before that ever happened... we only have three verses and one line:
Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. 
And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. 
And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king— 
And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood....  (Mosiah 27:8-11)

That's it.  Later on, in Alma 36, Alma relates the story again to his son.  But he doesn't include any particular detail there, either, of his actions before he was converted.  

The focus is on what happened after he repented.

Read Mosiah 27 and Alma 36.  If you don't have a Book of Mormon handy, you can read those chapters here and here.  Pay attention to how much of each chapter is devoted to testifying of the cleansing power of Christ's Atonement.  You get a few verses mentioning what happened in the past... but then the rest of it is about the change, the healing, the cleansing that happened, and the kind of man Alma became after that.  And then we get the whole rest of the Book of Alma, filled with his own Gospel teachings and stories of his own ministry and the people he touched.  Alma the Younger became the Lord's prophet.

Do you think some people might have struggled to forgive Alma after he was first converted?  I might believe so.  Were there some who might have chosen not to trust him because of what he had done?  I wouldn't be surprised if there were.  Alma did some terrible things.  

But Alma also sincerely repented.  Why don't we have a detailed record of the mistakes he made?  Because they just don't matter anymore.  What truly matters is what he did, what he became, after he turned away from his former life of sin.  

Well, that's fine.  We all know how great Alma was.  But do we always see the modern Almas that surround us?  When we're hurt, offended, disgusted, inconvenienced, or otherwise unimpressed by someone else, do we allow that person to change?  Do we allow them to repent and make things right?  

If someone has committed some great sin, do we deny them the blood of Christ for which they so desperately thirst?  Do we deny them the forgiveness the Lord has already promised if they would repent?  

Do we do that to ourselves?  

The story of Alma teaches us that there is nothing we can do that can ever disqualify us from the healing power of the Atonement.  The scriptures are full of vile sinners... who were forgiven.  Consider that person who may have offended or hurt you, and is doing their sincere best to turn it around.  They could be a Paul, if you gave them the chance.  They could be an Ammon, or an Aaron, or an Omner, or a Himni.  They could even be an Alma.  You could be, too.    



Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lord's University

I can't describe how quickly the time has flown.  It was four years ago this morning that I first entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah--the first of many unforgettable experiences that would fill the two years I would eventually serve where the Lord had called me.

As I look back on the four years that have passed since then, I am amazed at everything that has happened in my life, and how very much has changed.  With everyone I've met and grown close to, everywhere I've been, and everything I've done and become, I could very well write volumes.  Perhaps another time, soon, I may dedicate a blog post to reflecting on where the path of life has taken me so far. 

But tonight I just want to take a moment and remember the MTC, and what it taught me.  Never have I had another experience quite like it.

In a very real sense, the MTC was like a spiritual "boot camp."  Every day was strictly regimented; every single hour had a specific purpose.  We were trained in a foreign language and how to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Morning, day, and night were devoted to the study of scriptures and the betterment of ourselves and our relationships.  And just as much emphasis was placed on feeding our spirits as there was on feeding and caring for our bodies; so we ate very well and exercised every day, too.  There were also regular opportunities for service in the cleaning and maintenance of the MTC buildings and grounds.  Really, I can't even paint a detailed enough picture to show what it was like... but everything we did there built character and testimony.  The Spirit of the Lord was there in great abundance.  It was very much the Lord's University, or His own little city upon the earth.  The closest thing I can relate it to is actually living in the temple.

I loved it.

I won't take too much time tonight, because it is late and I am very tired.  So, I'm just going to say this quickly, and you can think about it.  These are things I experienced in the MTC that strengthened me and that I want to remain in my life:  daily, diligent scripture study; strict obedience to high Gospel standards; adherence to a schedule that facilitates the study and application of truth; opportunities to grow through service; fine-tuning the spirit by caring for the body; the frequent bearing of testimony; practice in the Spanish language; regular temple attendance; appreciation and respect for the counsel of wise leaders; and the promotion of a healthy, balanced life by keeping oneself productive physically, spiritually, socially, and intellectually.  Through all of these things I have found true happiness, and I would invite you to try any of them.   

One last thought:

Jeffrey R. Holland gave an excellent talk last night on living righteously in the 21st century.  What struck me the most in his remarks was near the end, when he mentioned how when the Savior comes again, he wants to be caught living the Gospel.  I just love the way he put that, and it's what I want, too.  When Christ returns, we're all going to be in the middle of things.  He's not going to politely wait for us to finish what we're doing.  So, I want to make sure He finds me living the Gospel.

Want to be happy?  That's how it's going to happen.  I guarantee it. 

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