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The Savior declared that one of the signs preceding his return to the earth in the latter days would be the prevalence and proliferation of false teachings: “For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, [who] shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant” (Joseph Smith-Matthew 1:22). Alma 30-31 describe just such a condition occurring among the Nephites about 74 years prior to the Savior’s appearance in ancient America.
Because God foresaw the flood of falsehood that would cover the earth in the latter days, he specifically designed the Book of Mormon to help. The lessons learned from Korihor and the Zoramites in Alma 30-31 can help protect us from deception. President Ezra Taft Benson has testified: “The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon is similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time…The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ… It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. (A Witness and a Warning, p. 3.)
Korihor, the Anti-Christ
Like all antichrists, Korihor ridiculed the Savior and claimed that there was no need for belief in Jesus Christ (Alma 30:6, 12). He began to teach members of the Church that their belief in Christ was simply a foolish tradition handed down from their fathers (30:13-14). He declared that he knew a better way to live, claiming that he had received a revelation. When someone, like Korihor, claims to have received a revelation that substitutes anything for Christ, we may know with absolute assurance it is inspired of the Adversary (see Moroni 7:13-17). President James E. Faust has warned, “Those who claim direct revelation from God for the Church outside the established order and channel of the priesthood are misguided. This also applies to any who follow them.” (Conference Report, April 1996, p. 6.)
The single greatest problem antichrists face is truth. At some point, either sooner or later, every antichrist theory runs into the brick wall of reality, because there really is a God in heaven, who really did send His Son to redeem us. Even the phrase “anti-christ” is an oxymoron – a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.
Within minutes of opening his mouth to teach, Korihor began to contradict himself. First he claimed that “no man can know of anything which is to come” (30:13) then he prophecies of the future! (Compare 30:28.) He told Alma there was no God in heaven (30:45,48) and then announced that an angel from heaven had appeared to teach him this! (compare 30:53) and later said he had always known there was a God (30:52). Alma immediately discerned Korihor’s real problem – he was “possessed with a lying spirit” (30:42). This was no misguided but well-meaning individual. Korihor was a deceptive liar who delighted in teaching falsehoods until, as he said, even he began to believe his own lies! (30:53.) This false “prophet” relished falsehoods! True prophets of God, on the other hand, never lead people astray. “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray,” Wilford Woodruff declared. “It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. “(See Excerpts from Wilford Woodruff’s comments regarding Official Declaration #1 in the D&C.)
Some of the sophistries used by Korihor to deceive people included the following: ridicule of sacred beliefs (30:13-14); extreme empiricism (one can only believe what one experiences with the five senses, 30:15, 26, 28); personal attacks (only fanatics believe in God, belief in God is the effect of a “frenzied mind,” 30:16); humanism (every man prospers according to his own genius, every man for himself, 30:17, 25); ethical relativism (all things are relative, there are no eternal standards or mores, 30:17); pride in sin (30:18); no belief in life after death or final judgment (eat, drink and be merry now, 30:18); commandments are foolish traditions used to enslave people (30:23); post-modernist agnosticism (no one can know if anything is true, 30:24); misrepresentations of true doctrine (30:25); outright lies about Alma’s character (30:27); demanding rights, privileges and freedoms, but never responsibilities (30:27); emotional appeals (30:31); atheism (denies the existence of God, 30:39); demands for signs (30:43); knowingly and intentionally resisting the Spirit (30:46).
Surely these are some of the false philosophies – “the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day” – which President Benson promised the Book of Mormon would fortify us against. Any one of these beliefs would skew a person’s perception of what life is all about and how life should be lived. Imagine the spiritual decline in a soul where all these falsehoods prevailed. This is spiritual schizophrenia at its worst!
When Korihor demanded to see a sign from heaven, he also tipped his hand about another personal problem he may have had (see Matthew 16:1). The Prophet Joseph Smith observed, “I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person; and that principle is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven; for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 156-157.)
The only evidence Korihor could produce that God does not exist was his word only. Alma listed the evidences that bear witness of God’s existence, including: the testimonies of many people, testimonies of the holy prophets, the scriptures, the earth and all things on the face of it, all the planets in the heavens, and the orderly fashion in which they move (see 30:43-44). Alma grieved that Korihor’s heart was so hardened and that he would resist the spirit of truth and lose his soul (30:46).
In the end, Korihor got precisely what he wished for – a sign. He was struck dumb and could no longer speak. Korihor asked for something to write with. He bore testimony that he knew God lived, that he had been deceived by an evil spirit, and that he taught his lies because they were pleasing to the carnal mind (the worldly, wicked mind of the natural man). He ended up having to go from house to house to beg for his food. He lived a lonely, impoverished life and was left as destitute physically as his teachings had depleted people spiritually. He was eventually destroyed by the very people he had tried to destroy (30:59). Mormon’s summary to this story is very insightful: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.
Alma’s Mission to Reclaim Apostate Zoramites
Next we are introduced to the Zoramites. Alma learned that a man named Zoram was teaching people to “bow down to dumb idols” (“dumb” meaning they have no power to move, speak, or do anything). Note how Alma tried to reclaim them. He organized a powerful group of missionaries and counseled them to bear down in pure testimony: “Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (31:5-6).
The preaching of pure and simple testimony carries with it spiritual power. Brief, heartfelt expressions of truth go directly to the soul. President Kimball has said, “Now, you are going to give your testimonies this afternoon. I hope that you’ll just open your hearts and let us look inside…will you? Just open them up wide and turn on the lights and let us see your hearts,…how you feel. A testimony is not an exhortation; a testimony is not a sermon; none of you are here to exhort the rest. You are here to bear your own witness. It is amazing what you can say in thirty seconds by way of testimony, or in sixty seconds, or one hundred and twenty…or whatever time you are given, if you confine yourselves to testimony. We’d like to know how you feel.” (Testimony, comp. H. Stephen Stoker and Joseph C. Muren, p. 139.)
The Holy Ghost bears witness of such testimonies (see D&C 100:5-8). The impact is profound. “Who among us,” Dr. Robert L. Millet, Dean of Religious Education at BYU asked, “who heard the final apostolic witness of Elder Bruce R. McConkie will ever be the same?” Elder McConkie, very humbly and simply bore such a pure testimony of the Savior that those who hear it or read it today, years later, are still stirred. He said, “…As pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that He is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of His witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in His hands and in His feet and shall wet His feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that He is God’s Almighty Son, that He is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through His atoning blood and in no other way.” (Conference Report, April 1985, p. 12.)
As Alma and his companions entered the land of Antionum, they were shocked to find a group of people climbing up, one at a time, to the top of a “Rameumptom” to repeat the exact same prayer – a prayer that has to be the most vain, arrogant, self-centered prayer ever offered! (31:13-18.) They were stunned to listen to these people – who never prayed during the week, who failed to keep the laws of Moses, and who persecuted others, who denied Christ – refer to themselves as “holy and chosen.”
When Alma saw this his heart was grieved (31:24). He bowed before God in great humility and offered up his heart-felt desires to help them. Contrast his prayer with that of the Zoramites. Alma prayed in faith for his brethren, for the Zoramites, and for himself. He prayed he would have the ability to touch these people with the Spirit. He prayed for their blessing: “Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee” (31:35). His whole desire was that God would grant them success in “bringing them again unto thee in Christ” (31:34). He and his companions were filled with the Spirit because they “prayed in faith” (31:38).
This mission and what results will impact all of Nephite society for the remainder of the Book of Mormon. The ripple-effect will be felt throughout all Nephite history. One of the most inspiring lessons from the Zoramites is to witness how patient God is with his wayward children, how easily entreated he is when his children begin to turn and truly desire to change. No matter how far down removed we may feel from our Heavenly Father, he always holds out the promise that we can, if we choose, return to him. President Boyd K. Packer has said, “Letters come from those who have made tragic mistakes. They ask, ‘Can I ever be forgiven?’ The answer is yes! The gospel teaches us that relief from torment and guilt can be earned through repentance. Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ That is, Isaiah continued, ‘if ye be willing and obedient.'” (Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 22.)
May God grant us the wisdom to recognize the false philosophies and practices that would lead us away from the Spirit. I am grateful for the Book of Mormon’s ability to help us discern truth from error, and for the way it identifies many of the false philosophies promulgated in our own day.