Elder Boyd K. Packer has taught: “If [we] are acquainted with the revelations there is no question personal or social or political or occupational that need go unanswered.” (Address to CES Personnel, 14 October 1977.)
Alma 8-12 contains answers to many important questions that mankind has wrestled with for millennia: Why do righteous people have to suffer? How can one remain steadfast in the midst of adversity or when surrounding by growing tides of evil? How can we obtain the peace “which passeth all understanding”? As you study Alma 8-12, notice how the account of Alma’s ministry and of Amulek’s steadfast faith helps answer these and other important questions. Here are several:
Why Was Alma Qualified to Preach?
Alma chapter 8 begins with an account of Alma returning to his home in Zarahemla after having served a successful mission in the land of Gideon . Alma then journeys to the land of Melek and begins to teach the people “according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called” ( Alma 8:4). No one can represent God unless he has been called of God. The authority to administer eternal ordinances in the name of God does not arise from a feeling of love for God in the heart, nor from reading and understanding scripture. “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (Articles of Faith 1:5.) “Again I say unto you,” the Savior declared to the Saints of the latter days, “that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” (D&C 42:11.) True prophets of God, like Alma , are called of God and ordained by one holding proper priesthood authority.
Why Do Some Respond to the Preaching of Prophets, While Others Do Not?
When true representatives of God teach, those in tune with the Spirit respond to the message. “And it came to pass that the people came to him throughout all the borders of the land…And they were baptized throughout all the land” ( Alma 8:5).
Have you ever wondered if you had been living in Gideon, Melek, or Ammonihah at the time of Alma , whether you would have responded to his message? Why did some accept him but not others? Their response was determined by the condition of their heart. Those who are willing to listen to the Lord’s representatives today would have listened and obeyed Alma’s message then because they share essentially the same testimony. Responding to the message of the gospel, regardless of when or where one lives, is a response to the whisperings of the Spirit (see D&C 84:46-48). “My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me” (John 10:27; see also Mosiah 26:21). Those whose hearts are most in tune with the Spirit, will respond most positively. As Amulek explained, “Therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full” (Alma 12:10). The condition of our heart affects our response to God’s word. No one rushes prematurely into the presence of the Lord. President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord.”
Amulek’s heart was prepared to receive the word. Zeezrom’s was not. Yet, even Zeezrom’s heart softened and he eventually came to know for himself that Alma and Amulek’s testimony of Christ was true.
How Can Hardened Hearts Be Touched?
Despite the general wickedness and full-scale apostasy which reigned in Ammonihah (Alma 8:9), Alma found some success with the conversion of Amulek, Zeezrom and others. Knowing something powerful had to happen if the hardened inhabitants of Ammonihah were to be touched, Alma “labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer” (Alma 8:10). Only the Spirit has the power to convert. The righteousness and caring efforts of individuals in trying to reach others is never enough. Love and concern has to be coupled with the witness of the Spirit as well as belief on the part of the listener. Alma’s example of not giving up on people who appear to be hopelessly beyond reach is precisely what the Savior has asked of us: “Ye shall not cast him [the unbeliever] out of your…places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” (3 Nephi 18:32; see also Moroni 9:6.)
Where Can I Find Peace and Solace When Rejected by Others?
The people of Ammonihah hardened their hearts so much against the Spirit that they reviled Alma, spit upon him, and threw him out of the city (Alma 8:11-13). He was “weighed down with sorrow,” and suffered “much tribulation and anguish of soul” because of their wickedness. If ever there was a low moment in a missionary’s life, this was it. But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity! At the very moment Alma had given up, “an angel of the Lord appeared unto him” with a message from God. He said, “Lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him” ( Alma 8:15). Compare what the people of Ammonihah thought of Alma with what God thought of him. The peace and assurance that comes from God is more powerful than accolades from others. Our success is not determined by the number of people who accept us, but by our simply trying to do, to the best of our ability, what God has asked of us. Of such effort, the Savior has said, “His sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase” (D&C 117:13). The desires of our heart and the efforts we give, in the eternal scheme of things, are as important to the Lord as any progress we make!
Are Meetings with Certain People in Life More Than Chance?
When Alma returned to Ammonihah, he asked a stranger, “Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?” He was surprised by the man’s answer, since he said that he had known Alma was coming – an angel told him in a vision that a holy prophet of God would be coming to his home that day. Sometimes meetings with other people and the intertwinings of our lives in mortality are more than chance – they are heaven-sent blessings. Elder Parley P. Pratt described the “sympathetic affinity” we feel around such people: “In the presence of such persons, one feels to enjoy the light of their countenances, as the genial rays of a sunbeam. Their very atmosphere diffuses a thrill, a warm glow of pure gladness and sympathy, to the heart and nerves of others who have kindred feelings, or sympathy of spirit. No matter if the parties are strangers, entirely unknown to each other in person or character; no matter if they have never spoken to each other, each will be apt to remark in his own mind, and perhaps exclaim, when referring to the interview – “O what an atmosphere encircles that stranger! How my heart thrilled with pure and holy feelings in his presence! What confidence and sympathy he inspired! His countenance and spirit gave me more assurance, than a thousand written recommendations, or introductory letters.
” (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, p.100-102.)
Why Does God Provide Witnesses?
When Alma began to teach, the people began to contend with him. They argued that even if Alma were to prophesy that “this great city should be destroyed in one day” they would not believe him (9:4). Ironically, that is precisely the message Alma had been sent to declare (see 9:12), which, within one year would occur (see Alma 16:9-10). The people also rejected Alma because he was the only witness: “Who is God that sendeth no more authority than one man” (9:6). But Amulek stepped forward and began to preach. In the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word would be established. God provides additional witnesses so that we can know the conditions of repentance and of the judgments of God awaiting the unrepentant (see Helaman 14:11). Elder Neal A. Maxwell has said, regarding those who reject God’s witnesses, “For all their decibel level, it is only loneliness trying to reassure itself.” In this case, God provided the people of Ammonihah four special witnesses: Alma, Amulek, Zeezrom (see Alma 15:12), and the elements of nature (see Alma 16:9).
Do Personal Prayers Have an Impact in Society?
Amulek testified that “if it were not for the prayers of the righteous, who are now in the land,” the city of Ammonihah would have already been destroyed (Alma 10:22-23). Individual prayers are heard by God and answered with blessings to families, and even to whole cities or nations. Elder Spencer W. Kimball testified, “There are many, many upright and faithful who live all the commandments and whose lives and prayers keep the world from destruction.” Jack Christianson similarly noted, “The next time any of us want to make fun of, or gossip about, those who appear to be ‘goody-goodies,’ or whatever we call them, perhaps we should fall to our knees and thank them for having the courage to be good. Their righteous lives and prayers may be the only reason our city or town is still on the map. That’s right. Perhaps the only reason some of us are still alive today is because a young teenage girl or boy is kneeling at his or her bedside each morning and night, pleading for the Lord to bless us all.”
Does God Have a Plan for Our Salvation?
Amulek boldly testified of God’s “plan of redemption” (Alma 12:25-26). Sometimes, when life’s journey becomes difficult, it is comforting to understand that God knows all things and has prepared a plan to save us. The word “plan” never appears in the Old or New Testament. But it does appear all throughout the Book of Mormon. It is called the “great plan of happiness” and “the great plan of the Eternal God.” Our Father is a God of planning. He has planned a way for every one of his children, who are willing, to return to his presence. His Son, Jesus Christ, is the centerpiece of his plan for our salvation (Alma 11:40). This plan is so important that God, himself, ordained it (Alma 12:28), has sent angels to declare it (12:29), has conversed with prophets and made it known to them (12:30), and has given us the freedom to choose to accept it (12:31). Alma and Amulek taught that God’s plan includes the following doctrines: Christ will save us from our sins, not in them (11:34); the truths of the gospel can only be known by revelation according to our diligence (10:10; 11:30-31; 12:9); now is the time to prepare (12:24); that only the faithful and repentant will be redeemed (11:40); we will be judged according to our works, words, and thoughts (11:41; 12:14); all will be resurrected (11:41); and that we must overcome both temporal and spiritual death (12:24-25, 34; 13:30).
God’s plan for our salvation helps everything else around us make sense. After “having made known…the plan of redemption” then “God gave…commandments” (12:32). The commandments make sense when only we view them as part of the larger plan. Understanding the plan of redemption helps us keep the commandments. As C.S. Lewis explained, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Why Do the Righteous Suffer?
One of the most difficult questions facing mortals is why God allows the righteous to suffer. Alma and Amulek are noble souls who gave up every earthly thing to do God’s will. Amulek lost his family and all his worldly possessions because he chose to follow Alma and accept the Gospel. Next week’s lesson deals with the question of why the righteous suffer, but as you read Alma 8-12 ask yourself, how did understanding the plan of redemption help strengthen Amulek’s resolve to live the gospel despite the awful consequences of that choice? How did Amulek find “strength in the Lord” (Alma 15:18) to meet the challenges he faced? What lessons of faith, and courage, and conviction do Alma’s and Amulek’s lives teach that strengthen me? How does understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ help answer difficult questions?
President Brigham Young has wisely observed: “We talk about our trials and troubles here in this life: but suppose that you could see yourselves thousands and millions of years after you have proved faithful to your religion during the few short years in this time, and have obtained eternal salvation and a crown of glory in the presence of God; then look back upon your lives here, and see the losses, crosses, and disappointments, the sorrows arising from disobedient children – from wicked parents who have opposed their children who wished to embrace the truth, the persecutions from city to city, from state to state, being hunted and driven, you would be constrained to exclaim, ‘But what of all that? Those things were but for a moment, and we are now here. We have been faithful during a few moments in our mortality, and now we enjoy eternal life and glory, with power to progress in all the boundless knowledge and through the countless stages of progression, enjoying the smiles and approbation of our Father and God, and of Jesus Christ our elder brother.'”