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.