Peace is often connected in the scriptures to promises associated with eternal life and exaltation. In Alma 38, the prophet Alma the younger helps us understand how to receive peace in this life, a peace that prefigures the permanent and eternal peace of the next life.
Alma recounts his conversion story for his middle son, Shiblon, in this father-son interview of counsel and Gospel teaching. Alma hasn’t made any secret of his wild and wicked youth, and uses his experience as a launch pad to help others understand the importance of the Gospel and the reality of Jesus Christ. Alma is a powerful witness of the mercy of God and the saving power of Jesus Christ. He tells Shiblon that after the angel warned him and the sons of Mosiah, Alma “was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul” (Alma 38:8). Have you ever felt “bitter pain” or “anguish of soul”? Can you imagine feeling that constantly for three days?! But when Alma, remembering something his father had preached, called upon Jesus Christ to have mercy on him, he received “a remission of [his] sins” and found “peace to [his] soul” (ibid.)
In Alma’s experience, receiving a remission of his sins resulted in peace. There’s the obvious explanation that a person feeling tormented by his/her sins will be at peace once s/he has repented and received forgiveness from God. But I see additional insight here into the nature of peace and what Alma is really getting at. We experience peace in this life when our conscience is clear and we are in good standing with God. If we are keeping the commandments and following God’s counsel and laws, we will have peace. In my own experience, I can have this kind of peace even in the midst of stressful situations, life challenges, or other problems that typically cause pain and distress.
True peace comes through Jesus Christ as we repent regularly, keep God’s commandments, and live up to our covenants.
Celebrating Thanksgiving today put me in mind of gratitude and its supreme importance to this life. When a person is grateful, s/he humbly acknowledges the contributions others make and genuinely appreciates them. King Benjamin taught his people that gratitude constitutes one of the most important ways we can try to repay God for everything He does for us. As I read through verse 38 in Alma 34, I realized that Amulek shaped much of this sermon to the Zoramites around being thankful––why we should be grateful to God and ways we can appropriately show our gratitude.
First, why should we be grateful to God? King Benjamin instilled in his people a sense of their indebtedness to God. At the heart of our debt to God is the willing sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son to “atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry and “great and last sacrifice” give our lives meaning and preserve the purpose for which we were created: we cannot reach our divine potential and inherit God’s kingdom without access to repentance and forgiveness (v. 16). The Great Plan of Redemption comes as a gift from Christ, for “he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name” (v. 15). Jesus encircles us “in the arms of safety” through His Atonement, saving us from the harsh demands of justice by satisfying them Himself (v. 16). God pours out “mercies and blessings” upon us (v. 38).
We are truly indebted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus for everything they do for us! Our existence is only made possible through them. Rightly did Amulek counsel the Zoramites to “live in thanksgiving daily.” He provides specific instructions for how we can appropriately show our gratitude. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for starters and “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (v. 15, 17). We need to call on God in prayer everywhere, all the time, every day for mercy, for protection, for strength (v. 17-26). We need to pray for others and deliberately and compassionately serve the poor and needy (v. 27-28). We need to soften our hearts and “prepare to meet God” (v. 31-32). We need to repent, cleanse our souls, and fear God (v. 35-37). We need to be patient and develop “a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (v. 41).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a 2000 Brigham Young University devotional, “Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration” (Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Speeches [Oct 2000]). As we follow Amulek’s counsel to continually demonstrate our gratitude to God, the quality of our lives will improve, our spirits will be strengthened, and our love for God and His children will grow immeasurably.
Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36 and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”
Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.
The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.
Alma the younger’s amazing conversion from church-destroyer to High Priest over the Church gave him a unique perspective on and zeal for God’s work. His first attempt at preaching in Ammonihah dampened his spirits, though, and he was prepared to turn his back on the city. But as soon as the angel commanded him to return and try again, he went, no questions asked.
One of the things I love in this anecdote from Alma’s ministry is the poignant lesson about how the Lord works with us to fulfill His work, even with our weaknesses. When Alma returned to the city (by another way––there’s a lesson in that as well), “he was an hungered” (v. 19). Remembering that hunger is a condition of our mortal bodies, Alma probably could have continued working, being strengthened by God. But the Lord worked with Alma’s weakness (hunger) in that moment to progress His work of bringing salvation to all His children. The man he asked for food was reactivated and became a powerful missionary.
I experienced this same kind of mercy as a brand new missionary one evening in a northern European city in January. It was freezing cold, we were miles from our apartment, and I was exhausted in more ways than one. We waffled in that difficult period of the day where you have just enough time to make a few more contacts (but not teach a full lesson) and still arrive home for missionary curfew. My trainer asked for suggestions. I was so tired that I responded, “let’s just go home.” She thought for a moment and then agreed. So we headed out of the train station toward the ferry. Moving with the crowd, we approached a tram shelter. We were about to pass when a man called out to us in English. We looked for the speaker and discovered a man smiling and waving at us. He had traveled from the Philippines as a worker for a cruise line and was a member of the Church. He had not seen his family in six months nor had he been able to attend Church. He was overjoyed to see us and felt his spirit renewed.
Even in the depths of my exhaustion and eagerness to get home, the Lord worked through my weakness to perform a miracle. Through us He ministered to one of His children and accomplished His work.
Alma the younger’s conversion provides one of the finest examples in the scriptures of the power and mercy of God. Alma the younger was on a collision course with eternal damnation but, through the faith and prayers of his father (as well as family and friends), Alma was given an opportunity to change directions. He went from “vilest sinner” (Mosiah 28:4)––intent on destroying the Church––to preacher, high priest, and missionary. God showed Alma great mercy in sending an angel to call Alma to repentance.
When Alma revives after being struck dumb as a result of the angel’s visit, he arises and testifies of his conversion, the mercy of God, and the Plan of Salvation, as in verses 25-26:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)
I love the phrasing in verse 25, that the Plan of Salvation applies to “all mankind”; lest you think that excludes anyone, “yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” No one is excluded from God’s plan for the eternal happiness and salvation of His children. And furthermore, we are ALL His children! He loves each of us––regardless of where mortality has placed us, regardless of the differences of culture, language, color, or political affiliation that have become distinguished on earth––and He wants us to succeed in qualifying for the greatest blessing He has to offer.
2 Nephi 8:12-13
Several weeks ago I gave a talk in sacrament meeting in which I told the congregation that my default emotions are fear and anxiety. Ever since I was young I have worried (to an almost debilitating degree) about what people think of me. I fear their judgment, treatment, potential insults, attitude; and then I fear repeated contact. Serving a mission helped me overcome some of this fear but I have found recently that much of my social and interpersonal fears still prevent me from sharing the Gospel the way I should. Fear is a problem for me. This is probably one of my crosses to bear in mortality but many of us wrestle with fear, whatever form it takes on an individual level.
Which is why I find Jacob’s quotation from Isaiah so poignant! The Lord questions, “who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die” (v. 12)? I perked up when I read this. Isn’t God always reminding us in the scriptures that man is nothing (see Moses 1:10)? Why should I fear man who will die considering that God is eternal? And He further reminds us that “the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth, He is “the Lord thy God, whose waves roared” (v. 13, 15). God is all powerful, He created the Earth and all humankind. He is the only being in the universe we should fear. But this fear that He asks of us is respect and obedience. Even though He could reach out and destroy anything He wanted, instead God has “covered thee in the shadow of [His] hand” (v. 16). God wants to protect, preserve, and bless us. He is merciful and kind. Like the Psalmist, we can say with absolute confidence, “The Lord is on my side” (Psalm 118:6).