Alma 36, Chiasmus and Plan B
Every other week a group of my friends from church get together and engage in a study group. We have covered a wide variety of topics including women and the priesthood and the problem of evil. Our discussions are always lively and fascinating. This past week, one of our group members had her father Charles Inouye who is a professor at Tufts University talk to us about a theme that he has taught in courses repeatedly over the years. He talks about an attitude towards God and the end of the world which he calls ‘Plan B’. I will give a brief summary though it may not be adequate in any way shape or form.
Inouye defines Plan A as an attitude focused on justice and judgment. This attitude towards the world is essentially focused on being right and proving others to be wrong. Inouye sees this attitude predominate in nationalism as well as much of modern religion. This competitive attitude is one that, while often predicated on values an attempt to be good, often actually leads to fighting and opposition. To use a biblical metaphor we see the bitter fruit of this attitude when Jonah is upset that the people in Nineveh find salvation and escape judgement.
Yet, as one pursues Justice, Inouye sees that there is a point of turning. One pursuing justice to its end point will inevitably see the bitter pain associated with Justice oriented thinking. He will realize that on a cosmic scale a Plan A perspective will leave nothing. One will ultimately come to fear Justice and desire mercy.
This perspective is what Inouye calls Plan B. He identifies this perspective with Abraham bargaining to save lives in Sodom and Gomorrah or the Nephite prophets praying for the salvation of the wicked. This attitude is characterized by an intense concern for the suffering of even those that hurt and spite us. It is full of compassion rather than self righteousness. Inouye links this idea to the Buddhist conception of a living Buddha. An individual seeks to purify himself and achieve a clear state only to voluntarily return to a world of evil in order to help others progress. This attitude is associated with the condescension and mercy of the Savior.
While I was hearing this, I was struck deeply by the connection of this thought and a particular favorite scripture. The Turning motion was illustrated by a downward curve or upside down U and so I immediately thought of the Chiasmatic structure. I realized how beautifully the redemption of Alma the Younger described in Alma 36 fits this turning motion.
The A half of the grand Chiasmus is completely concerned with Justice.
“The very thought of coming into the presence of my god did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I…that I might not be brought to stand before the presence of God, to be judged of my deeds.”
Then, there is a point of turning where Alma cries out to the savior
“O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness and am encircled about by everlasting chains of death.”
The B half of the chiasmus turns away from judgment and towards mercy. Alma sees the joyful angels singing and praising God and longs to be there. He is filled with marvelous joy and is no longer pained by the memory of his sins. Yet, from this experience comes a desire to preach to reach out to others not out of fear but out of tenderness and mercy.
“Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Alma’s soul is turned away from a focus on the judgment and divine justice and towards a great longing and appreciation for divine mercy.
I love how beautifully this concept of a turning is illustrated in scripture and what a beautiful example it sets for our souls. This is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture and it truly does testify of God’s eternal love and compassion for us.