Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 19 (Light of the Glory of God)

6 Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness–yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God–
I love this description of the operation of the Holy Ghost on the individual. When we let the Holy Ghost work on us, it begins to transform us. It lifts the dark veil of unbelief. It lights up our mind with the light of the glory of God. We become very aware of his great goodness and mercy. And we are filled with great joy because we are secure in the guarantee of eternal life.

I have experienced the beauty and joy of the Holy Ghost working in life. It’s an amazing experience. But it’s very difficult to preserve this feeling. The natural man wants to reject the operation of the Holy Ghost. He wants to focus on the things of the world rather than the thing of God. The eternal and more meaningful joy of eternity is crowded out by the carnal pleasures of the moment. We are more in love with the flesh than our love of God.

It is difficult to retain the Holy Ghost in our lives, but it is essential. We need to do more to try to keep its operation flowing in our life. We need its power and influence in our relationships. We need its influence on our selves.!

Nephi and the Categorical Imperative

Philosophical theories of ethics are typically divided into two great categories: consequentialism and deontologicalism/categoricalism. Consequentialist argue that an action is moral or immoral based on the consequences of that action. So a certain action, such as murder, may be moral or immoral depending on whether that action produces more good or bad consequences. On the other hand, a categorical/deontological approach would say that certain actions are inherently good or bad regardless of situation or consequence.

The bible appeals to both sides of this ethical divide. On the one hand, God sets strict and rigid commandments with very stark consequences for disobedience. On the other hand, in certain cases God appears to encourage gross deviations from those norms.

I believe that the scriptures of the restoration can teach us much about resolving this philosophical tension. 

One of the places that is most often pointed to as an example of consequentialism is the Lord’s instruction to Nephi to kill Laban. The spirit famously tells Nephi, “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” This is at first blush highly consequentialist thinking. Killing can be justified if the utility is high enough.

Yet, it would be a mistake to take away such a simplistic message from the story. I believe that Nephi’s struggle and process for reaching his decision is illustrative. Nephi when first told by the spirit to commit this killing recoils in horror. He declares that he and never killed a man and has no intention of doing so. It is only after repeated and unmistakeable instruction from the spirit that he listens and kills Laban. It was his certainty that God spoke to him which led Nephi to act.

Compare this story with a scriptural counter example–this one found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith has given the 116 pages to Martin Harris who subsequently loses them. The Lord reveals in D&C 10 that wicked men have acquired the plates and seek to alter them. What is truly fascinating is why these men have decided to do so.

Verse 13 notes that these individuals were strongly convinced that the Book of Mormon was not of God, and so they decided to lie in order to say that they had caught Joseph Smith in a lie. They had come to believe that the virtue of stopping Joseph’s deception justified egregious conduct in their part. The Lord’s declaration about these men is stark and decisive:

23 And thus he has laid a cunning plan, thinking to destroy the work of God; but I will require this at their hands, and it shall turn to their shame and condemnation in the day of judgment.

24 Yea, he stirreth up their hearts to anger against this work.
25 Yea, he saith unto them: Deceive and lie in wait to catch, that ye may destroy; behold, this is no harm. And thus he flattereth them, and telleth them that it is no sin to lie that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him.
26 And thus he flattereth them, and leadeth them along until he draggeth their souls down to hell; and thus he causeth them to catch themselves in their own snare.
Even though they have come to believe that their conduct is justified in order to prevent what they believe is an evil, they are deceived. And it is Satan who leads them and plants in them the false idea that they are justified in sin. But God will make it clear in the last day that they were not justified.

The message that I believe we can take from these two stories is this: 1) When we truly understand the eternal consequences of our conduct, it is true that the ends can justify a violation of a commandment, but 2) We as human beings are really really bad at truly understanding the eternal consequences of our conduct. It is easy to come to call good evil and evil good. It is easy to fall into an ends justify the means mindset to rationalize away sin. This is especially true since there is an adversary that seeks to destroy us and deceive us.

So, 3) Commandments provide guidelines that keep us safe from falling into the consequentialist trap, and 4) unless we clearly and unmistakenably are directed to break a commandment, we should keep it. Finally, 5) as Nephi did, when we are told to break a commandment we should be very careful to verify that it is truly from God and not from the adversary.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 18 (He Looketh Down upon All the Children of Men)

32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning.
I love this simple and profound explanation of the power of God. Ammon emphasizes a couple of comforting and essential truths. 1) God personally created all of us (by his hand. 2) He is an active presence in the world and knows what is happening (he looketh down) 3) he knows us intimately and personally (he knows our thoughts and intents). Ammon makes clear that God is not an aloof Great Spirit, but an active personal and loving deity. This is the foundational truth upon which all other gospel truth builds. This is why missionaries today always begin by emphasizing that God is our loving Heavenly Father. If that truth is not understood, everything else about the Gospel is incomprehensible.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 17 (Patient in Long-Suffering)

11 And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be  patient in long-sufferingand afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.

These verses reach an important truth, namely that missionary work requires great patience and faith as well as a willingness to “dwell among” those that we serve and care about. We must be willing to truly live with those who do not agree with us and show our faith through patience and long suffering.

This is really hard work. It’s much easier to expect miraculous conversions and great miracles. It’s much harder to instead have enduring faith and patience. Long suffering is much less glamorous than miracles. But that faith and patience is what cements and proves our discipleship.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 17 (Still his Brethren in the Lord)

2 Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

4 And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him.

I love how this chapter describes the joy of Alma at seeing his fellow converts still active and strong in the Church. It is so wonderful to see those who entered into the waters of baptism with you staying strong. It is a similar feeling to what a missionary has when he looks onto someone he taught and baptized. There is an unparalleled joy.

 And there is also an unparalleled sadness when those we love leave the church and are no longer are our brethren and sisters in the Lord. Lately, I’ve been grappling with sad news as friends have been leaving the Church. It always makes me wonder what more I could have done to help and encourage them.

What I’ve noticed is that one of the most glaring warning signs is when the light of missionary fire leaves the eyes of these concerts. When they first join, they write, blog, preach, and prophesy or Christ and his Church. They long to shout as an angel and tell all the world of the truth. They are zealous like the sons of Mosiah. But in time, they lose that fire and begin to instead find cause to complain or criticize the church. The beauty and power they felt becomes commonplace and forgotten. 

The sons of Mosiah stayed strong because they never lost that spark. They never forgot their miraculous conversion or the joy they felt. And they kept their faith strong through diligent study and through sharing their light with others.

If I could give one peace of advice to my friends who have joined but are beginning to waver, it would be this: remember always what you felt when you were baptized, and strive with all your heart to share that with others. I believe that these two things will keep anyone on the right path.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 16 (Inquiring of the Prophet)

5 Therefore, he that had been appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites, (and his name was Zoram, and he had two sons, Lehi and Aha)–now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.
This story is a great example of how a prophet can give advice about matters both temporal and spiritual. The chief captain is not sure about a risky military removal, and so he seeks the advice of the prophet of God in order to know what to do. And the Lord reveals a particular plan that is much more successful than that which would have been thought up on ones own.

It’s much easier to accept the teaching of the prophet and apostles on spiritual matters than it is on social, political, or other matters. But as Ezra Taft Benson made clear, a prophet can speak on any matter with divine authority. God can and does reveal truths which are applicable to all aspects of our life.

God is mindful of us and cares about the choices we make in life. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he reveals truth through his Prophet that touches upon all facets of our life.

Having Questions in your Heart

I love that Elder Jairo Mazzagardi speaks about his process of seeking answers to a perplexing and long unanswered question. The actual question he grappled with–why did the Restoration happen in New York rather than elsewhere—is a fascinating one in and of itself. It’s one that tripped up many investigators in Russia who could not believe that God would work through an American prophet. But the more significant aspect of Elder Mazzagardi’s talk is how he describes the road to revelation.

He first descries the rush of his conversion and the joy that he felt. He got an answer to his payers “[a]fter a great spiritual struggle” and was was then baptized and sealed in the temple. Therefore, he had the foundational understanding that “the Lord knew and cared about me as He answered [his] prayers.” And he also understood that getting answers is hard work. These basic experiences likely helped him to know what he had to do when later doubts emerged.

Then, he faced a question that he could not easily resolve. He struggled to understand why the Restoration happened where it did rather than in the land of his ancestors. And therefore began to doubt or question key facts of the restoration narrative such as the existence of crowds of people debating religion.

So, he turned to read “everything [he] could” in two languages. And he spoke to a lot of people about his concerns. “But [he] found nothing that could calm [his] heart.” Nevertheless he continued to search.

He also formed a tentative answer for himself. This answer did not fully satisfy his desire for knowledge, but it tides him over and gave him increased faith.

Then, he chose to seek out a sacred place to pray and get an answer. He was eager to do so when the opportunity arose to visit Palmyra for himself. He prayed in the Sacred Grove, but still did not get the answer he sought. Finally, he was led to someone who “had an intense glow in his eyes” and he felt promoted to speak to him about his concerns. As the man spoke his “mind was enlightened and [his] spiritual eyes were opened by God.” “In [his] heart an immense joy and peace calmed [his] soul. [He] was filled with gratitude.

As all of this flood of insight and understanding came, he “now clearly understood why. Once again the Lord had given [him] knowledge and light.”

Elder Mazzagardi’s conclusion ring’s true: “If you who hear me have any questions in your heart, do not give up!” When he declares this, he is able to do so with power and authority because he has experienced it personally.

This story resonated with me as it was consistent with my drawn out process of getting answers to difficult questions that I have described elsewhere.I agonized, prayed, pondered, made tentative conclusions, and sought light. And ultimately I was led to the place where I could get answers to my concerns. Like Elder Mazzagardi, I know that we can get answers to our concerns and doubts. God will help us to know.