Sunday, February 12, 2017

My reading of the end Chapters of the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.

In 1 Nephi 19:23 Nephi tells us that he read the books of Moses and of Isaiah to his people and that he did “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” I think this is good advice, but it is sometimes harder to “liken the scriptures” to ourselves than at other times, and sometimes we just forget to try. We can be so intent on just “getting through another chapter” that we don’t even try to “liken”. When I say “we” perhaps I just mean “me”. Perhaps I am the only one who reads and doesn’t “liken” and just tries to get through another chapter?

The chapters towards the end of Alma can be particularly difficult. All this war and bloodshed is not something that we can easily “liken”. Most of us are not fighting for possession of our homes and cities. Most of us are not in armies doing this away from our homes.

I think most of us are very familiar with the story of Helaman and the 2000 stripling warriors, young men who were sent in to battle as their parents had made a covenant that they would not be involved in any more bloodshed.

Helaman, with his 2000 young warriors, Gid and Teomner were fighting under the direction of Captain Moroni and Moroni reported directly to Pahoran, who was the Governor of the land.
Moroni was “angry with the government because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country”. In Chapter 60, Moroni wrote to Pahoran, complaining fiercely about the lack of support from the government while his soldiers were struggling in battle to maintain possession of many of the cities in the land. He used some of the strongest language possible in complaining to Pahoran about the government. But behold, great has been the slaughter among our people; yea, thousands have fallen by the sword, while it might have otherwise been if ye had rendered unto our armies sufficient strength and succor for them. Yea, great has been your neglect towards us.
 And now behold, we desire to know the cause of this exceedingly great neglect; yea, we desire to know the cause of your thoughtless state.
 Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren— This is a  classic verse that I have always loved. He goes on to say that the “inward vessel (of the government) shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also", referring to the fact that he may return and "cleanse" the inner vessel (the government) if they do not help him and his men.

For the rest of the chapter Moroni complains about the lack of enthusiasm, and the lack of provisions being sent to the soldiers in the battle. It is, in my opinion, one of the best chapters in the Book of Mormon, but it has often puzzled me as to why it was included in the Book, as most of what Moroni was complaining about was not justified.

In Chapter 61, Pahoran responds to Moroni saying, "Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul." He then explains to him the difficulties that he is facing with a rebellion at home, which was so fierce that he had to flee to the land of Gideon and he had lost possession of Zarahemla.  In verse 9 he says “And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free.”

Pahoran tells Moroni that the rebels, the kingmen, had forced him from the judgment seat and that he and his supporters had fled from the city of Zarahemla to the land of Gideon. He felt unsure about going to battle against his brethren, but then when he heard from Moroni, who said that if they did not repent he felt he was justified in fighting them, he asked Moroni to come back and help him re-take Zarahemla. Once Zarahemla is back in their possession, they would be able to send more provisions back to Helaman, Teancum and Gid.
In chapter 62, Moroni, with some troops, marches to the aid of Pahoran. On the way back he gathers more followers around the “standard of liberty” and arrives at Gideon and strengthens Pahoran and his followers. They then go to battle against Pachus and his followers who had taken possession of Zarahemla, killing Pachus and taking his men prisoners. His (Pachus) men were put on trial and if they did not repent and covenant to fight with Moroni and Pahoran in defence of their country, they were put to death.
Moroni and Pahoran then take an army with them to go and re-take the city of Nephihah. On the way there they meet an army of Lamanites in battle, killing many but taking about four thousand of them prisoner. They cause them to enter in to a covenant to “no more take up their weapons of war against the Nephites” and send them to live with the people of Ammon (the parents of the 2000 stripling warriors) helping them with their agricultural tasks in providing for the Nephites.

This is all very interesting, but how do we “liken it to ourselves”. I have always loved Moroni’s letter of complaint to Pahoran, but have been puzzled by its inclusion in the Book of Mormon. In Chapter 48 of Alma, we learn the type of character that Moroni was. This chapter could taint our view of Moroni, in that it could paint him as a person that makes wild and false allegations against his leaders. To me, it actually strengthens my view of him. He is passionate in his defense of truth and right, and passionate about getting the support that his troops need, to the point where he is willing to risk his relationship with Pahoran. He uses powerful and persuasive language to try to get what he needs for his men.

Elder Neal A Maxwell once labelled Pahoran’s response to Moroni’s letter as “gracious”.  Is this a pattern for how we should respond to accusations that are made against us, whether true or false? Moroni then responds by gathering forces to go to the aid of Pahoran, rather than just digging in his heels and feeling hard done by.

In a general sense the wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites can be viewed as a battle between good and evil, as can the rebellion at home against Pahoran. But more specifically it can be likened to the missionary efforts of the Church and the battle the Church can sometimes face within its own ranks as various individuals and groups “murmur” and even come out in open rebellion against Church leaders, seeking to dethrone them. (A recent unsuccessful law suit filed against Thomas S Monson in England comes to mind see this link)

Try thinking of Moroni as a modern day Area President and Helaman, Teomner and Gid as Mission Presidents. Without modern communications it would be difficult for Moroni to know what was happening back in the “heartland” and with the Church President (Pahoran), with the rebellion he was facing at home.

Missionaries engaged in full-time service of the Lord can sometimes wonder why the regular members that they are serving with, or the Church back home, don’t send more “provisions”. Provisions from local members could be seen as referrals to teach their non-member friends or literally provisions in the form of food. Provisions from Church headquarters or from family back home could be seen as resources to help the missionaries succeed in their fight against evil. Why do you “sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor while the enemy spreads the work of death around you?” Why don’t you give us more referrals?
But these accusations are usually unfounded. The local members are battling the enemy by striving to raise righteous children (who may eventually become missionaries). They’re striving to fulfil their Church callings and to earn a living. They may be fighting health issues that restrict their capacity to give more. They are living in the world and desperately trying not to be a part of the world (spiritual Babylon).Church leaders use the Church resources very conservatively and with great wisdom and planning, to strive to bring the Gospel to as many people as possible.

Fortunately, missionaries and mission presidents at some stage return home, mostly like Moroni returned to Pahoran and probably his family, with honor. They come home and strengthen the Church by serving in their callings, getting married, raising a righteous family, and even doing their missionary work. They get a good education, and commence a fulfilling career, thereby providing “provisions” to those back in the mission field.
So what messages do we take home from all this?

If you are a missionary “lift where you stand” as President Uchtdorf said in October 2008 General Conference. Don’t complain about what the members aren’t doing. Focus on encouraging them in their battle against the forces of evil.
If you are a returning missionary, return with honor and help strengthen the Church in your home ward and aim to marry and bring more of Heavenly Father’s spirit children in to this world.

As an established member of the Church, strive not to “sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor”. Don’t be guilty of that accusation. Make sure that if you do get falsely accused, you accept the accusation graciously and explain your situation, and perhaps, as Pahoran did, ask your accuser for assistance. Do not rebel against the Church leaders and if you do know people who are rebelling, reach out to them, if possible and reasonable to do, and help them see the error of their ways.

I am sure other people will get something else out of this part of the Book of Mormon, but this is what I “take home” from it as I strive to do as Nephi suggested, that is, likening the scriptures to ourselves for our profit and learning.

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