BoM 10: Taking Responsibility

In the past when I’ve read Alma 31 I’ve always found it a little insulting that Alma tells the poor, humbled Zoramites that they would be better off if they chose to be humble. This time around I wanted to better understand why Alma highlights a value difference between being compelled to be humbled and choosing to be humble.

And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

Alma 32:14, BoM

As I pondered the intent of Alma’s initial words to the poor Zoramites I realized that, far from trying insult them, Alma is actually extending an invitation for the people to look beyond the life that has been forced upon them and take action available to them to find truth and a spiritual life in God.

Before launching into what has become a classic Gospel analogy, Alma tells the group of poor Zoramites that their knowledge of eternal truth “shall be unto every man according to his work” (Alma 32:20, BoM). Upon this reading, that phrase struck me as an invitation to be teachable and actively learn about God. Then Alma presents his analogy comparing the word of God to a seed. When planted in fertile ground (desire to believe) and properly nourished with belief and religious practice, the word of God will take root, strengthen faith, and begin manifesting good fruit, which will result in the development of personal knowledge of truth. 

Alma and Amulek’s message culminates in a powerful testimony of the coming Savior. They have already established a beautiful groundwork for the progression of desire, belief, faith, and knowledge and Amulek brings the lesson full circle, citing the knowledge that he has gained about salvation as well as reiterating the steps the people can take to build their own knowledge of the truth: 

Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world….

…and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea infinite and eternal.

And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name….

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance….

Alma 34:8, 14, 15, 17, BoM

This is the point of Christian belief, to exercise faith in Christ to repentance and eventual salvation. What Amulek and Alma make clear for the poor Zoramites is that they can choose to pursue this work on their own, in their families, even when a house of worship is not available to them. As long as they humble themselves by opening their hearts to the word of God and being teachable, they can work out their salvation in partnership with Christ.

NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

Day 61: Choose to Believe

Helaman 4:23

One of the saddest phrases I have come across during my reading is “and they began to disbelieve” (Helaman 4:23). Speaking of the Nephites, the Book of Mormon writer summarizes their behavior in the lead up to their loss of faith and Gospel knowledge.

This phrase highlighted for me how critical it is to be actively engaged in your faith. Belief takes work. It is a choice we make to believe in the Gospel or not, to believe in Jesus Christ, to believe that there is life after death. Because many of the Nephites made choices to disobey the commandments, to murder, rob and steal, they, in effect, chose not to believe.

Keeping the commandments, serving others, participating in the Church all foster belief. That kind of action reflects a deliberate choice to believe; it is so important to actively growing faith in Jesus Christ.