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.
Alma the younger was serving as the High Priest of the Church and as the first Chief Judge over the Nephites when the Church began facing a crisis of membership. Persecution, pride, sin, and apostasy began to take their toll and even “many [members] withdrew themselves from among them [the Church membership]” (v. 24). The emphasis on community and interpersonal relationships in this chapter suggested I pay attention to the family and friends who take part in and/or observe a loss of faith.
I have seen people withdraw from Church involvement in my own lifetime and noted what happens to the family members and friends who are closest to the individuals. As a youth I watched helpless as a friend left the church, only to be followed by her parents and siblings. Recently I have watched friends leave the Church, their spouses and young children remaining active for a time but eventually leaving the Church as well. I was a ministering sister to a couple who left the church years ago soon after three of their children “withdrew.” I sensed that my friends’ inactivity was a result of feeling hopeless: They wondered what they could have done more for their children but no longer saw a point in remaining active in the Church.
The response of the Nephite church members is instructive. “Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith” (v. 25). I appreciate that the writer here acknowledges how difficult (heart-rending even) it is to watch members of your church community (friends and family likely) lose their faith and withdraw from participation in the Church. But pay attention to how they deal with their disappointment: “nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God” (v. 25). In the case of my ministering family, I felt strongly that if they would renew their faith and be steadfast in keeping the commandments, they could bring so many blessings to their entire family. It would not be a hopeless case if they would keep the faith and honor their covenants.
I really believe that if we will honor our covenants, keep the commandments, be steadfast and immoveable, God will keep His promises to us, even to benefit and bless loved ones who have left the Church.