Book of Mormon Lesson 20
“My Soul is Pained No More”
A. Have you heard of Christopher Hitchens? He is a very vocal atheist who recently wrote a book called god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, in which he blames religion and the belief in God for all the problems in the world. You may remember him as the one who the Reverend Al Sharpton was debating when he implied that Mormons don’t really believe in God. You may have heard him on CNN or other talking head-news programs talking about how certain religious beliefs (specifically Mormonism) should be enough to disqualify them from holding public office. In his book Mr. Hitchens shows what an expert he is on Mormonism by telling us how the Book of Mormon is the story told by “Nephi, the son of Lephi.” If you were to place a bet in Vegas on who would be the next President of the L.D.S. Church, how many of you would put your money on Mr. Hitchens? What are the odds that in the next few years Christopher Hitchens will have a change of heart, actually read the BoM, repent, be baptized, become an apostle and eventually the president of the Church? In Zarahemla in about 120 BC these were about the odds that Alma the Younger would become leader of the church. We will be discussing the conversion of Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah today. A few things we should take away from this story.
1. The power of repentance and the atonement of Jesus Christ to heal even the “vilest of sinners.”
2. That we should never give up on wayward children or even enemies of the
Church. That we should continue to praying for them. (I have to admit, until preparing this lesson it had never even crossed my mind to pray for people like Mr. Hitchens, that they would accept the Gospel.)
3. The change that comes when we are truly converted.
A. The Nephites moved around a lot, but eventually all ended up back in the area around Zarahemla.
1. The Nephites left the land of Nephi under the original King Mosiah and found the land of Zarahemla and the Mulekites. We learn that although the Nephites were a minority with the Mulekites, that they apparently became the ruling class.
2. A group under a man named Zeniff left Zarahemla and went back to the land of Nephi. They lost contact with the people of Zarahemla. King Noah was his son. Alma the Elder lead a group that separated themselves from the other Nephites in the land of Nephi - in a land called Helam. Limhi becomes king after Noah dies. Both the Nephites under Limhi and the Nephites under Alma come under bondage to the Lamanites. Both escape and find their way to Zarahemla and join with the Nephites there.
B. This is how chapter 25 of Mosiah starts - all these different groups are together in Zarahemla and Mosiah calls all the people together and reads the records of all these different groups.
C. Read Mosiah 25:19-22.
1. It appears that up until this time Mosiah was acting as both secular and spiritual leader of the Nephites. This may be the first time in human history where a separation of church and state was attempted.
2. Up until now we don’t have mention of any organized church among the Nephites. Why now, 500 years after Lehi left Jerusalem? They had become so numerous that it was necessary. Up until then religion was taught by one person - the king - in the manner of King Benjamin.
III. The Younger Generation Rebels
A. Read Mosiah 26:1-4. Why did many of the youth fail to believe the words of King Benjamin? Is it always possible to convey our own spiritual experiences to our children? They can’t continue forever going on borrowed light. Eventually they have to get their own testimonies and have their own spiritual experiences.
B. Read Mosiah 26:6. Are there people today who use “flattering words” to try to drive people from the Church?
1. I have a close friend who is not active in the Church, but who is still a believer. We have another friend we grew up with in the same ward in Mesa. Her father was an institute teacher. She was very intelligent and had a masters in engineering at ASU. She has left the church completely and now lives in a commune in California. A few years ago she came to Arizona and went to lunch with my other friend. She said to him, “you’re a smart guy. You don’t really believe all that stuff about the church do you? Your more intelligent than that.” To his credit, my friend told her he did still believe.
2. Pride, sophistication, often makes some people question their beliefs.
C. Read Mosiah 26:7-13. A struggle between secular and ecclesiastical authority. Neither Alma or Mosiah knew exactly how to deal with these people.
D. Alma prays and God tells him that those who do not repent should be excommunicated from the church.
E. We learn that the non-believers “persecute” the people of the church. It doesn’t say how they were persecuted. In chapter 27 King Mosiah forbids persecution for beliefs.
IV. The Conversion of Alma the Younger.
A. Read Mosiah 27:8-10.
1. What do you think it means that he was an “idolatrous man?” It could mean he worshiped idols. Last month we got the Conversion of Alma the Younger DVD from the Living Scriptures for my daughter. In it, Orson Scott Card portrays Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah as worldly and materialistic. That may be what they mean by “idolatrous,” putting material things before God.
B. Read Mosiah 27:11-17.
1. Comparison with Paul (Saul). In what ways are the stories of the conversion of Alma and the conversion of Saul similar? Both were going about to destroy the church. Both heard heavenly messengers - Alma an angel and Saul the Lord. After these experience both went through a time where they were physically impaired - Alma was comatose for 2 days, Saul was blind. Both were converted and became great missionaries for the Lord. In fact, there are so many similarities between Alma and Saul that detractors of the BoM often accuse Joseph Smith of plagiarism here. They could just as easily accuse Matthew of plagiarizing Exodus when Herod slays the children in Bethlehem. It shouldn’t surprise us that God acts similarly with different people throughout the scriptures.
2. The angel tells Alma that he came to him because of the prayers of his father. How many of us have children or family members who are wayward? How many times have we prayed for them to come back to the fold and repent? Why does the Lord send an angel to Alma the Younger when sometimes it seems like the prayers for our loved ones fall on deaf ears? Did Alma’s prayers have more juice because he was the prophet?
3. Alma the not-so younger.
a. We usually think of Alma and the sons of Mosiah as a gang of punk teenage kids or twenty somethings. That may not be the case. We learn in Mosiah 29:45 that a short time after this experience Alma the elder died at age 82. If Alma the Elder was in his 70s or 80s when this experience happened, how old would Alma the Younger be? His 40s maybe?
b. Alma may have been wayward well over 20 years and his father had continued praying for him. How heart breaking was it for Alma to see his son going about trying to destroy his life’s work. And yet he did not give up on his son. He continued to pray for him, apparently for many years.
c. Maurine Jensen Proctor says of Alma’s faith: Here we see something about the constancy that is demanded of faith. Faith is not a momentary enthusiasm or sudden fling of concentration aimed heavenward. It is a steady way of living and seeing. It means that prayers are continued even when they seem to fall on deaf ears. It means hope is not dimmed when for all practical purposes it should be. It means that in the face of disappointment or failed expectations, the light inside still burns.
Alma teaches us that, and his message is particularly poignant for parents who suffer for the waywardness of their children. Even if you can do nothing else for them, you can always pray. As it turns out, praying is actually the most you can do for them. These are prayers with the eye that sees that these are not your children alone, but his.
It is irony that sometimes makes it difficult to continue to pray in faith. Irony is a bitter pill when that thing that you want the very most is the thing you don't seem to have. Irony burns when the thing you cherish the most is taken from you. Certainly Alma, watching his precious child undo his precious work, must have felt the sting of irony. But he still prayed in faith.
4. We need to continue to pray for good things and continue to have faith even when it seems hopeless. Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven more times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”
5. The same friend I talked about before, who is inactive and not living the gospel. He has made some dumb decisions and committed some grievous sins. My wife often vocally wonders why I remain friends with him. This is the reason why. I’m not giving up hope that he will come around and I’m not going to stop being his friend.
6. I went to another friend’s missionary homecoming just a few months after I’d gotten off my mission. This was back when they still let the parents speak at farewells and homecomings. His mother got up and talked about how her son always saw the good in people. She told how he had a friend that she never really liked and wished he wouldn’t hang out with because she thought he was a bad influence on him. But he still wanted to be his friend. She says she put restrictions on what he could do with this guy - encouraged him to invite him to their house and if they did go out that they bring along another friend she approved of. She said that this guy eventually turned out OK. And I thought, “yeah, Christian is a good guy who always sees the good in people. I wonder who that little jerk was......wait a minute.” Then I remembered that whenever I called him to do something he’d say, “why don’t you come over to my house and hang out instead,” and whenever we went out he always had to have our other friend Rex come too. I’m glad he and his parents didn’t give up on me (although I don’t think I was really that bad) just the way I’m not going to give up on my other friend and the way Alma didn’t give up on his son.
C. Read Mosiah 27:18-19.
1. I have often wondered why so many people in the BoM people are falling on the ground like they were dead all the time, when that doesn’t happen to us at church very much. Alma, King Lamoni, Ammon. I’ve had a theory that there was some genetic, neurologic condition that made them do this. I’ve been studying for my recertification exams for Family Medicine and I was reminded of a condition called cataplexy. “Cataplexy manifests itself as muscular weakness which may range from a barely perceptible slackening of the facial muscles to the dropping of the jaw or head, weakness at the knees, or a total collapse. Usually the speech is slurred, vision is impaired (double vision, inability to focus), but hearing and awareness remain normal. These attacks are triggered by strong emotions such as exhilaration anger, fear, surprise, awe, embarresment and laughter.” There is an anecdotal story of Allison Burchell, a sufferer of severe Cataplexy, has been sent to the morgue three times. It is a rare condition that is genetically inherited.
1. After Alma the Elder has his priests fast and pray for 2 days Alma the younger comes to.
2. Read Mosiah 27:24-31.
a. Alma had a true Born Again experience - it was as if he were dead and came back to life.
b. Alma tells us from where his salvation came - the Redeemer and his atonement.
3. In Alma 36, Alma relates to his son Helaman his conversion story. The entire chapter is an elaborate, intricate and beautiful chiasmus. (Much to the dismay of critiques of Mormonism, the BoM is filled with chiasmus.) The first part of the chiasmus describes the torment he went through because of his sins and is contrast with the second part where he describes the joy after he repented. The center of the chiasmus focuses on Jesus Christ - Read Alma 36:17-18. It is only through Jesus Christ we can be saved from our sins.
4. Again Maurine Jensen Proctor:
In this story we also see beautifully portrayed the sheer, radiant, joyful power of the atonement. If Alma the Younger, the talented, slick-tongued, evil sinner can be redeemed, and in fact born again, to be the prophet who inspires and lifts his people, this atonement must be cleansing indeed. It must be able to penetrate the darkest recesses of our soul with its marvelous light and transform everything it touches.
If Alma can repent, so can we. If Alma can remake his life into a thing of beauty with the Lord's help, so can we. We don't have to think it is too late, or the disappointment in our lives or our selves is too much. However big our weaknesses and faults, the atonement is bigger still. The Lord waits with outstretched arms to encircle us in the arms of his love. Who are any of us to think we are so ragged with regret that his cloak cannot cover us?
E. Alma and the Sons of Mosiah after their conversion
1. Read Mosiah 27:32
2. Read Mosiah 28:1-3.
3. One way to know if you have truly been forgiven and born again is if you have this type of feeling - that you want to share the gospel with others, that you can’t stand the thought of others not having this knowledge.
A. The story of the conversion of Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah is a reminder that we should never give up and stop praying for our wayward loved ones or even our enemies. It is an example of the power of repentance, that the vilest of sinners can be forgiven through the miracle of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dauvilliers Y, Arnulf I, Mignot E. - Lancet. 2007 Feb 10;369(9560):499-511.
Gibbons, Ted L.
Proctor, Maurine Jensen - Meridian Magazine.
Wikepdia entry on Cataplexy