26 September 2013

"Having the Image of God Engraven upon Your Countenances," Alma 5:15-19

Alma 5:15-19

Picking up where we left off yesterday, Alma goes through another set of probing questions designed to till the ground, turn over the dirt that had grown hard to allow for increased growth among the people. Of course, I speak figuratively, drawing a parallel to gardening.

The reality that Alma is illustrating in the minds of the people is the eventual judgment before the tribunal of God. He reminds the people of their resurrected and perfected state in which they will have a perfect knowledge of all their guilt. But he doesn't start into this group of questions that way.

In verses 15 and 16, the questions that Alma poses are actually optimistic and upbeat. Yet that almost has the effect of being more condemning and of greater cause for self-interrogation. Consider these questions:
  • "Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?"
  • "Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?"
  • "Can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?"
I actually appreciate having these separated out and labelled as positive or optimistic questions. It has the same effect upon me as considering some of the words of the Savior, which often times I have tended to think as being mean-spirited in nature, when in reality they are loving, warm invitations to consider our course of action. 

Alma then switches to more probing and difficult questions. Yet with the previous consideration in mind, I tend to feel that a strong spirit of love must have been compelling him to dig so deeply. We ought to give some attention to these questions:
  • Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day... and that he will save you?
  • Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?
This later question has me to consider some interesting facts. Commandments of God are not these cold rules by which some removed supreme governor remotely observes and laughs at our inability to comply with impossible requirements. Rather, a loving Eternal Father has outlined the course, or the directions to follow (Doctrine and Covenants 82:9),  for our safe return home to His presence. It is the rejection of that loving invitation to come back to Him that constitutes wickedness. Knowing the love and the joy that emanates from that Supreme Source of light, why would we want to remain in the darkness?

In verse 19, Alma steps back to a more optimistic tone and actually comes back to the subject of having the image of God upon our countenances.  In this verse, there is a footnote on "image" which equates this idea of taking the image of God upon us with 1 John 3:1-3. The manner in which John explains this, it has to do with love and purity: love which is bestowed from the Father, after such a manner as is uncommon to the world, and purity which is given to everyman that lives according to the commandments of God and has the hope of seeing God, who is pure. So in other words, to receive the image of God upon our countenances is nothing less than our becoming like Christ, full of love and who is pure and holy.

22 September 2013

"Have Ye Received His Image in Your Countenances?" Alma 5:14

Alma 5:14

After completing a brief review of the terms of salvation that were extended to the previous generation of Saints, Alma goes on to ask three very direct questions in succession :
  • Have ye spiritually been born of God?
  • Have ye received his image in your countenances?
  • Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Now the first and the third questions, I can find references to elsewhere in the scriptures to broaden my understanding of what Alma is asking. For example, the first question ("Have ye spiritually been born of God?") sounds very similar to the Savior's conversation with Nicodemus. "How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?" (John 3:4)

The third question ("Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?") also has meaning elsewhere. King Benjamin's people exclaimed that "because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2) That phrase "mighty change" is familiar and finds expression in other stories throughout the scriptures.

But the second question, "Have ye received his image in your countenances?" This question I'm having a harder time of finding a corollary reference elsewhere. There are a couple of scriptures over in the New Testament that seem to be wanting to say something similar (Colossians 3:9-10, Romans 8:29). But even in Romans, it seems to be suggesting that it is talking of Christ being in the image of the Father. Perhaps there is a parallel there though.

Yet the question is a straightforward one. Perhaps we could rephrase it to say: Are you like Christ?  Or, do others think of Christ when they see you? Or, does the light of Christ shine from your face? But the use of the word "received" suggests that the action is to be taken by us. Perhaps something like: "Have you done what is necessary so that your faces shine with a reflection of Christ's light and love?" I won't dwell too much more on this point, but the question is an interesting one. It seems to suggest that we should be much more familiar with Christ and his character and attributes.

20 September 2013

"Have You Sufficiently Retained in Remembrance," Alma 5:1-13

Alma 5:1-13

There is a lot of good doctrine to cover in this chapter. I recently have been reminded of the need for appreciation (gratitude) in my comings and goings. Alma seems focused similarly in his introduction to the people of Zarahemla. The history of the previous generation of the Church, of their oppressions and deliverance, is the topic of Alma's introduction. Alma first discusses their physical captivity, but then goes on to ask if the people had also remembered that the Lord had delivered their souls from hell. (vs. 6)

Then in verses 7-9, Alma explains how it was that their redemption (deliverance from hell) was made possible:
  • The Lord "changed their hearts" 
  • The Lord did awaken them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. 
  • "Their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word"
  • The bands of death were broken, and the chains of hell loosed, and their souls did expand to sing songs of redeeming love. 
Alma then states that their souls are saved, and then goes on to explain the conditions of that salvation. Alma explains that his father began by hearing the word of God from the mouth of Abinadi, a holy prophet. (vs. 11) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)  It was then Alma's faith in the word of God that brought a mighty change in his heart. (vs. 12)

This process was then repeated among his own community, where Alma then became voice for the word of God, and many believed on his words. Subsequently, "they put their trust in the true and living God," and remained faithful until the end of their lives. Hence, Alma concludes that because of this their faithfulness to the end that they were saved. (vs. 13)

This was the inheritance of the the people of Zarahemla during the reign of Alma the Younger. Hence, the first thing that was required of the rising generation was for them to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices and faith that they had inherited from their fathers. The key to greatness is in humility, to recognize that we could not stand where we do now stand if it wasn't for the faith and sacrifice and endurance of those that came before us.

01 September 2013

"That He Might Preach the Word of God," Alma 4

Alma 4

(It is curious how that even in making a chronological study of the scriptures, the Lord is able to line up my life experiences with where I am at in the Book of Mormon.)

The wars, of which were made mention of in the previous chapter, led to a considerably dearth of resources among the Nephites in the following year, for they had lost men (brethren), flocks and herds, and fields of grain. But this caused the people to be humble, so much so that they were made to be aware of their duty. This attending to their duty meant that "they began to establish the Church more fully," and consequently, thousands had joined themselves to the Church of God.

So in the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there were some 3,500 persons baptized into the Church and the people of Nephi enjoyed peace in their land. The very next year, the people, because of this freedom (blessing) given them of the Lord, began to be prideful. The cause of their pride was their material possessions. (see vs. 6) The result of their pride was their focus was on their possessions and they treated one another with contempt.

It is interesting to note that at the same time there was a part of the church that got caught up in pride and selfishness, while on the other hand there was another part of the church that picked up the slack by living the true religion, and making even greater sacrifices to attend to the needs of those around them:
"...succoring those who stood in need of their succor, such as imparting their substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake, who should come according to the spirit of prophecy." (vs. 13)
Verse 14 explains why and how this part of the people were able to maintain their faith. It was that they had a testimony, or a personal witness of the doctrines of the truth. They looked forward to the day of Christ's coming, knowing that in Christ was the promise of a remission of their sins and the reality of the resurrection of the dead. 

Alma is thus in a unique position being both in charge of the judgment seat and  also being high priest for the Church. Alma knew that he could do more good through preaching of the word, instead of sitting in judgment against the people, and so he chose to put off the judgment seat and confine himself solely to the preaching of the word of God. Alma chose the expose his people to mercy, rather than justice, hoping that they would be reminded of their duties and forsake their sins. (see verses 16-20)