Friday, September 24, 2010

“O That I Were an Angel!”: A Look at the Wish of Alma’s Heart

We are familiar with Alma’s exclamation in Alma 29 when he wishes he could be an angel so that he could cry repentance to the whole earth. But he turns away from this wish with words that have consistently puzzled me: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish” (Alma 29:3)

How did Alma sin in his wish?! Every time I read these words, I would go back to the preceding verses, trying to detect that sin because if Alma (an undeniably righteous man and a high priest) detects sin somewhere, it would behoove me to understand what that sin is so that I can avoid it myself.

His wish is:
  • To be an angel
  • To go forth
  • To speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth
  • To cry repentance unto every people and declare unto every soul repentance and the plan of redemption (that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth)
On the surface, it has always seemed like these wishes were harmless, but when I began to think about the motive behind the wishes, I began to notice that Alma realized his motives weren’t right and that later in the chapter he worked hard to remind himself of some important truths to get himself to relinquish those wishes.

Alma wants to be an angel because he thinks that would make him a more effective teacher. I suppose he remembered how amazing it was to have that first angel visit him and the four sons of Mosiah to stop them from fighting the church, and he thought that a more dramatic or powerful appearance would give him more success. I imagine that his run-in with Ammonihah stubbornness caused him to yearn for ever greater powers of persuasion and authority.

I suppose that we may fall into the same sin if we think, “Maybe if I were a bishop/relief society president/stake president/general authority, then people would listen to me better when I’m trying to share the gospel or teach an important principle.” We forget that the Lord has taught that those who receive His servants receive Him, and those who receive Him receive His Father. I imagine that promise applies whether the Lord's servant is a nursery leader, 16-year-old priest, or prophet.

Alma eventually tells himself this: "But behold, I am a man, and… I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me." (Alma 29:3) It’s a good hard look at reality and a reminder that his state is something that the Lord has given him to make the best of. “Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6) He already has a special calling to do—he’s the high priest!
4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires, the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience. (Alma 29:4-5)
Alma had to remind himself of the principle of agency and that it wasn’t proper to violate that agency. No matter how powerfully persuasive and authoritative the servant of God, ultimately they can’t coerce their audience.

There’s another part of his wish that is problematic: that of wishing he could declare repentance to every soul. It sounds good, but if just one person does all the preaching and teaching, no one else gets any experience, and that’s not what Heavenly Father wants.

It might be helpful for us to take a minute to think about how this wish might have arisen in Alma’s heart in the first place. Alma was a very skilled and effective teacher and evidently he was a prolific writer as well. Consider that the largest book in the Book of Mormon is the Alma’s portion, and that is after Mormon abridged it. Alma probably saw a lot of other peoples’ teaching, saw what they were doing ineffectively, and wished he could have done it instead so that those errors could be avoided. But he recognized this would be contrary to the wisdom of God:
7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth?
8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true. (Alma 29:7-8, emphasis added)
Well, just like Alma wanted to be an angel, I wanted to have the best scripture blog that everybody in the world reads. I want everybody to learn from me. BUT… this chapter has taught me that it is wisdom in God that there be many people from all nations writing about the scriptures and witnessing online about the gospel. I know very well that it is impossible to write something edifying without learning by the Spirit in the very act. So when I see so many bloggers' edifying posts, I’m happy because I know that the Spirit is teaching those writers and I remember how the Spirit has taught me. And when I see so many of these good blogs with so many attentive readers, I’m happy because that means so many of my brothers and sisters appreciate the things of God and are seeking out what is virtuous, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy. Ultimately I feel to echo Alma at the end of chapter 29:
15 Behold, they have labored exceedingly, and have brought forth much fruit; and how great shall be their reward!
16 Now, when I think of the success of these my brethren my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from the body, as it were, so great is my joy.
17 And now may God grant unto these, my brethren, that they may sit down in the kingdom of God; yea, and also all those who are the fruit of their labors that they may go no more out, but that they may praise him forever. And may God grant that it may be done according to my words, even as I have spoken. Amen.
(Alma 29:15-17)


Anthony E. Larson said...

Like Alma, I, too, would like to have a bully pulpit from which to teach the Saints what they have overlooked and disparaged. Only in my case, it's not about me; it's about the message. As near as I can tell, no one else is out there offering the keys to prophetic symbolism and temple ritual. Yet these are vital elements of the restored gospel. Do you care to see what those are?

I share Alma's wish, but I don't have his misgivings.

Anonymous said...

I love this scripture and this post. I love it because it highlights Alma's understanding of the Lord's will, and his humility.

By the way - you do a great job with your blog. I love reading it and getting inspired. As a fellow blogg-er, I know the temptation it is to want to be the best. In fact, it isn't that way only in the blog-world.
It's funny how, even in doing things that are right, we can be tempted to sin, and maybe even commit a little bit of a sin.

Thankfully, we have the Spirit and the good examples of others to keep us in line!

LeAnn said...

As usual you have enlightened my mind. I love how you analyze the scriptures and I like the thoughts that you have. Keep up the good work; I love reading your posts.
Blessings to you and for your deep love of the scriptures.

Ramona Gordy said...

Thank you for your awesome blog. I really mean this. I have learned a lot from you. As a new member,I always feel that I have a lot of catching up to do. I look for teachers and sometimes there are none available. But then the spirit will guide us to those needful things, such as the doctrine in your blog. We only have 30-45 min max in Sunday School to take in what is being taught, no time for questions after class. So it is a wonderful thing to come to your blog and find answers.
Don't be discouraged,keep on doing what you do.You inspire me to read more and pray more.
Thank you

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks for all your kind words, all.