Friday, July 6, 2012

Alma 32-35


In order to understand why Alma taught what he did in these chapters, we need to understand the interesting method of worship practiced by the Zoramites.  They had a tower in the church called a Rameumptom, and only one person could climb it at a time.  This was allegedly the only place they could worship.  They said their prayer out loud in front of the congregation, and it was a set prayer.  There apparently was a fee or a status or something to belong to the church, because the poor were excluded.  The Rameumptom itself was a symbol of their entire church society.  What were some of the elements involved in worship via Rameumptom?  Competition, exclusivity, self-elevation, etc.  It was a type of priestcraft.  The method of their so-called worship was just a reflection of their society, not an improvement upon it, as religion should be.

Looking over the prayer uttered upon the Rameumptom (Alma 31:15-18), we learn more.  They believed God was just a spirit, there was no Savior, some (namely, themselves) were elected over others, and no faith was necessary.

As Alma was trying to preach the true gospel to these self-centered people, some of the poor came to him and asked how they were supposed to worship without access to the Rameumptom.  Alma could see that they were experiencing great trials which had humbled them.  He said something which must have really struck them as odd:  "I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye." (Alma 32:8)  Why would it be a blessing to be "lowly in heart?"  Well, isn't that the same as saying "poor in spirit?"  This is the first step in the very important process of coming to Christ.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."  (3 Nephi 12:3) 

Poor in Spirit    +   Come unto Christ     =    Kingdom of Heaven

They had the first part of the formula!  The greatest missionary in the world cannot convince anyone of the truth if that person lacks this vital component.  Alma said to the poor Zoramites, "It is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues that ye may be humble that ye may learn wisdom."  Neither of these (humility or wisdom) was possible to achieve at the Zoramite church, because it functioned under priestcraft.


Alma then began to teach them this most important concept that was lacking from what the Zoramites taught:  The need to come to Christ.  But in order to teach them about Christ, he had to teach them that they could believe in something they couldn't see.  In other words, he had to teach them about faith.  He began by first telling them what faith isn't (Alma 32:17-18,21)--it isn't knowledge.  So if faith is not absolute knowledge about something, if faith means you don't see the Atonement yourself, how does faith help you know something is true?

Alma taught the people that they could find out truth by experimenting.  The analogy he used was a seed.  But let's be careful to establish what the seed is.  The seed is not faith.  The seed is the Word.  And what is the Word?  The doctrine of Christ and his Atonement--the "word" or communicative connection, defense, and reconciliation between us and God the Father. So here is the experiment:


(Alma 32:28-36)

  1. ye give place (let the desire work in your heart)
  2. it be a true seed
  3. ye do not cast it out

     it will swell in you

So, by virtue of empiricism (personal experience), pragmatism (producing the desired result--see verse 31), and revelation (see last week's lesson for an explanation of epistemology, or of ways of knowing things):


     "It must needs be that this is a good seed."

  1. It enlarges the soul
  2. It enlightens understanding
  3. It becomes delicious (or causes you to crave more of it) 
As Alma explained (Alma 32:35-36 beginning with "is your knowledge perfect?"), this experiment does not give you a perfect knowledge of everything, but it establishes just one thing.  All through this section, look for the word "know."  It appears six times, emphasizing the point that you gained a concrete knowledge of one truth.  That truth is:  "The seed is good."  In other words, "The Atonement (the Word) is real--Christ is real."  That is the first part of the experiment.


(Alma 32:37-43)

Now you have a sprouted seed.  The next part of the experiment is:

      you nourish it with great care

  1. It will get root
  2. It will grow up
  3. It will bring forth fruit
If you don't do this, the seed will not grow and produce the fruit, but will wither and die away, not because there is anything wrong with the seed.  The goodness of the seed has already been established in the first part of the experiment.

 My then 4-year-old son planted this bean seed
in preschool, nourished it, and was not at all surprised--
despite what the rest of us had predicted--
when a blossom and then an actual bean
appeared on it, 
in the screened-in kitchen window sill!

Now, an important question is, What does nourishing consist of?  There are three things involved in nourishing.  They are so important that they are mentioned three times in the next few verses:
  1. Faith (expecting success)
  2. Diligence
  3. Patience 
"And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" (Alma 32:42).

So what is the fruit?  The best commentary on scripture is always other scripture. Is there another analogy in scripture with these same symbols, a fruit that is sweeter and whiter than any other?  This one is a perfect match with Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:10-11, 11:21-22).

Gospel Principle            Lehi's Vision                Alma's Analogy
WORD                         Rod of Iron                 Seed
LOVE OF GOD           Fruit                            Fruit
EFFORT                       Holding the Rod         Nourishing the Seed
FAILED FAITH           Letting Go                   Barren Soil

So the second part of the experiment establishes that the seed (the Gospel of the Atonement), if nourished in us, will bring us the Love of God, and Eternal Life.


(Alma 33)  Alma taught the people of Zoram that the simplest step, the beginning step, in nourishing the seed is prayer.  Prayer requires
  1. Faith
  2. Diligence
  3. Patience
Since these people had only heard the Rameumptom prayer, Alma gave them an example of a personal prayer, offered by the prophet Zenos, from their scriptures.  Zenos prayed about the practicalities of his own life:
     Verse 4--His fears
     Verse 5--His work
     Verse 6--His family
     Verse 7--Himself
     Verse 9--His "ward" or "branch"
     Verse 10--His enemies

Six times in his prayer Zenos thanked God for being merciful to him.  Nine times he recognized that God heard him.  The Zoramites also taught that God heard them and that God was merciful to them (only them).  But what was different here was the addition of the reason that God was merciful.  It is found in verse 11: "Because of thy Son!"  In verse 16, another prophet, Zenock also stated that mercy from God comes "because of thy Son."

So it's an interesting circular concept:  Prayer is the most elementary way to nourish the seed or bring the Atonement into effect in our lives.  And, on the other end, the Atonement is what makes prayer effective. Our words in prayer bring the effects of The Word upon us. The two are inextricably connected.

Alma told the people just what the Atonement was and what it would do.  "Christ will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works" (Alma 33:22) .

And in closing, Alma did what all apostles do at the ends of their talks:  He encouraged the listeners by telling them that they could really do what he just taught them, and that it would be a great blessing to them. 

" And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith.  And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.  And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son.  And even all this can ye do if ye will.  Amen" (Alma 33:23).


Amulek, the missionary companion, the second witness, stepped in to add his testimony to Alma's, Zenos's, Zenock's and Moses's (Alma 34:7) that the Atonement is real and can save us.  He established Alma's word.

Alma already explained what the Atonement is; now Amulek explained why it is needed.

(Alma 34:9)  He expounded upon Alma's words.  This is what a second witness does.

Then Amulek shared his own testimony about prayer and how personal it should be (verses 17-27).  And one more thing that the Zoramites taught incorrectly:  Prayer by itself is not true religion  What is true religion? Our good works prompted by prayer. (See James 1:27.)

"And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith" (Alma 34:28).


In verse 31, we find an interesting truth. "Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you" (Alma 34:31).

 Notice the word "immediately."  What does it mean that "immediately" the great plan of salvation will be brought about in us?  Certainly it doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will die and be brought before the judgment bar!  And it probably doesn't mean that as soon as we repent, we will have our calling and election made sure and be guaranteed Eternal Life.

Part of the purpose of Christ's Atonement was to make him able to succor his people "according to the flesh" (Alma 7:12). In both the vision of the Tree of Life, and in the Analogy of the Word as a Seed, we are told that we can reach the fruit of the tree in this life.  The fruit is the Love of God manifest through the Atonement.  "And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son"  (Alma 33:23).  The Atonement, then, is not just for Judgment Day, but for every day.  As Zenos said in his prayer, the mercies of God help him, through the Atonement, in every aspect of his life.

The Atonement also has the power to change us, bit by bit, day by day, to become the Children of Christ. 
(One of my awesome readers "The Brown Family" posted the following bit in the comments.  For convenience, I have cut and pasted the information here.  Thanks, Browns!!!)  "The Chinese characters for repentance are hui gai 悔改. The first character, hui means 'regret, repent or feel sorrow for.' The second character, gai means 'to change, alter or transform.' The first character, hui is made up of two simpler characters: xin and mei 心 and 每. Xin is 'heart' and mei is 'every,' commonly used in 'every day'. So the meaning of the characters for repentance can be: 'with your heart, every day, change.'"

We need all the time we can get for this process; we shouldn't wait to repent (Alma 34:34-35).  This is what we call "working out your salvation (verse 37):  It requires effort on your part.  There is an effort in holding to the iron rod through mists of darkness and taunting of others.  There is an effort in nourishing a plant from a seed to a full-grown tree (Alma 34:38-39).

You might end with this YouTube reading of Ruth Krauss's charming children's story, The Carrot Seed.


The Brown Family said...

The Chinese characters for repentance are hui gai 悔改. The first character, hui means regret, repent or feel sorrow for. The second character, gai means to change, alter or transform. The first character, hui is made up of two simpler characters: xin and mei 心 and 每. Xin is heart and mei is every, commonly used in every day. So the meaning of the characters for repentance can be: with your heart, every day, change. I have used this visual many times in teaching repentance. It was fun to find your reference as I read your lesson plans today.

Wade Henderson said...

What an amazing and simple lesson that is being taught here. Alma is one of my heros. He prayed for guidence, found common ground and taught the simple truth on how to return to the savior. And my favorite verse 32:23- That your burdens may be light, through the joy of his son.. is emulated by President Monsons message of find joy in the Journey. Thank you Nancy.. Great lesson.

Heather said...

I came across this blog entry when searching google for ideas on how to teach Alma 32. I am teaching the Beehives in my ward about Having Faith in Jesus Christ from the Come Follow Me curriculum and your commentary really helped me get a grasp on how to organize Alma 32:26-43 into the two experiments. Thank you!