Some of the most powerful doctrine of the Kingdom of God is given in the prophet Alma the Younger’s instruction to his sons—Helaman (who would become the next prophet), Shiblon, and Corianton (the wayward son). These verses in Chapters 36-42 are so precious and contain such meat for pondering, that they actually bring tears to my eyes. These precious words cause me to hug my scriptures to my chest where I feel the testifying warmth of the Holy Ghost.
We can view them, not just as the preparation Alma gave his sons for their earthly missions and eternal life, but as a feast to prepare us for our eternal missions. Alma tells Helaman that he must be strictly obedient in keeping his record as it will someday bring “the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:7) He was talking of us. He knew we would need the Book of Mormon, and the words which he and Helaman would write for our salvation.
Our eternal missions may very well have begun in our pre-mortal life when Abraham records “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou was chosen before thou wast born.” (Abraham 3:22-23)
Women may not think they were part of this grand counsel, but from truths imparted to me in my Patriarchal Blessing, I know that while I lived in my Father’s presence, I “learned those lessons upon which your present character and personality are built.” It further tells me that because of who I was then, I received my mission from the Lord for my time here on earth. Because of the mission appointed to me at that time, and because I am indeed a woman, I draw from this the conclusion that we, as a sex, were also in that counsel of “noble and great ones.” And from the intelligence that I “learned lessons upon which my present character and personality are built,” I glean the knowledge that we began preparing for earth life and its consequent lessons that would lead us to exaltation before we were born.
And what is the overall mission that we all have in mortality? Amulek tells us in his great atonement sermon in Alma 34, chronologically only a few verses away from Alma’s “PPIs” with his sons. “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” (Alma 34:32). It is at this spiritual place that Alma later begins my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon—that great Chiasmus (A “poem” in the Jewish literary tradition that progresses verse by verse to the great message and then, verse by verse back to the beginning, with the difference that these latter verses are enlightened by the great message, or jewel, that is the center of the poem). The jewel, of course, is Alma’s powerful testimony, wherein he tells of how he, the “vilest of sinners” comes to know his Savior and the work which he, Alma, would spend the rest of his life doing. As we read it, we see that the last verse is an example of this skillful art of the Chiasmus, amplifying as it does the first verse—talking not only of this life, but of exaltation in our eternal life.
Let us examine closely then, the instructions which Alma gives in Chapter 36 to his son Helaman to prepare him for his calling as the next prophet, as well as pointing out to all of us the things we need to know to obtain Eternal Life and Exaltation.
- If we keep the commandments of God we will prosper in the land.
- The almost ritualistic beginning of any Jewish sermon—a reference to the bondage of the Children of Israel and their divine deliverance by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Thus indicating that the scriptures their forefathers brought out of Jerusalem on the Brass Plates were used and understood.)
- A beseeching to listen because of Alma’s testimony that “I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” That is quite an incentive to listen!
- An assurance that this is spiritual knowledge from God, not from the carnal mind.
- The things that he is about to tell Helaman, God made known to him by the mouth of an angel, but not because he was worthy.
- An account of his youthful wickedness, and how God sent an angel to stop him.
- An account of the effect the holy angel had on him and the sons of Mosiah whence “the fear of the Lord came upon us.”
- The angel bids them to arise.
- The angel delivers his message: “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.” (An interesting side note: this angel may have been one specifically “assigned to Alma” as later in his life when he is “weighed down with sorrow” about his rejection by the people of Ammonihah, the same angel appears to him to lend his support to Alma. See Alma 8:14-17)
- Alma recounts that he fell to the earth and was insensible for three days and nights.
- The angel continues speaking, and is heard by the sons of Mosiah, but Alma is so fearful and “amazed” by the sudden knowledge that he might be destroyed that he fell to the earth and could not hear the angel any longer.
- He goes through a period of “eternal torment” where he is racked with a remembrance of all his sins. (A good reminder to repent—man, I sure don’t want that to happen to me!)
- He is tormented by with the pains of hell, admitting his rebellion against God.
- He reasons that what he has done is as serious as murdering God’s children by leading them away from the saving truths.
- He desires to become extinct, so great is his suffering and remorse.
- This great suffering and remorse continued for three days and nights. (That doesn’t sound like a lot, but how would you like to be in hell for three days? Thinking that’s where you’d remain forever?)
- He remembers his father teaching of Jesus Christ (the scripture that gives hope to all parents of wayward children—teach them the truth in their youth)
- In desperation, he cries, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” In this plea he a.) acknowledges that Christ, alone, has mercy in his gift, thereby acknowledging also that Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world. b.) confesses that he knows very well exactly what he deserves if Christ decides to withhold his mercy, (i.e. that he is undeserving of it).
c.) submits himself totally to the judgment of the Redeemer.
- He is instantly delivered from his pains and ceased to be “harrowed up” by the memory of his sins. (He still remembered them, but they didn’t have the power to carry him to hell.)
Verses 20-22: The gem or crux of the Chiasmus—“what joy and what marvelous light did I behold.” His joy is as powerful as was his pain. Testifies “that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. . . there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” Saw God sitting on His throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels . . . yea, and my soul did long to be there.”
Let me interject here my own testimony. When I was brought by the Lord out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death (my 25 year stint of depression) this scripture spoke to me in a way that I never heard before. Whereas there had been nothing as exquisite as the pain of that blackness that had engulfed me and kept me from feeling the Spirit, when I recovered, the brightness of the Light filled me with the sweetness of honey—the love and acceptance of my Heavenly Father, through the Grace of Jesus Christ, my mediator and advocate.
In my next column, we will conclude the Chiasmus and see how Alma teaches Helaman the same truths, amplified by the understanding he received at his conversion. It is of first importance to realize that Alma begins his instruction to his son, the next prophet, with his deeply heartfelt account of how he came to know his Savior and how it changed his life forever.
Do we know the Savior on this intimate level? Has it changed our lives forever? Have we, like Alma, gone about our Father’s business, consecrating our lives to His service?
G.G. Vandagriff has been a Meridian columnist since 1999. She considers it a sacred responsibility. The author of twelve books, including Deliverance from Depression, Finding Hope and Healing Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, she loves to interact with her readers through her website and blog which can be found at http://ggvandagriff.com