Monday, February 7, 2011

Helaman’s insight into helping others keep covenants

Alma 56 begins the letter Helaman writes to Captain Moroni to report on the affairs of that area. I notice that Alma 56:4-8 seems to be repeating many of the same details that Mormon wrote earlier in Alma 53:10-19 to introduce the stripling warriors, except we know that it probably was the other way around—the Helaman’s letter came first and Mormon felt inclined to introduce the stripling warriors a few chapters before inserting Helaman’s letter. However, I wondered why Mormon felt like he had to introduce the stripling warriors in pretty close to the same language.

When I compared those two sections, I noticed there was a difference in the motives ascribed to Helaman for persuading the Anti-Nephi-Lehis to not take up arms. Mormon’s introduction says that Helaman feared that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would lose their souls if they broke their covenant (Alma 53:15). On the other hand, Helaman himself says that, “I would not suffer them that they should break this covenant, supposing that God would strengthen us, insomuch that we should not suffer more because of the fulfilling the oath which they had taken” (Alma 56:8).

It would seem that Mormon specifically wanted to highlight the danger to a person’s soul if they deliberately break their covenants, and that he assumed that Helaman was well aware of this danger too, though Helaman hadn’t stated it in the letter. Mormon’s own construction is certainly both valid and powerful, and we see that he is honest about his sources, since he could have put his own ideas into Helaman’s letter and no one would have known the difference. Instead, he separated his ideas from Helaman’s.

Mormon’s view of the situation seems the more powerful statement at first glance, but I don’t think we should focus on Mormon’s view to the exclusion of Helaman’s because Helaman has an equally important point, though it has not received much attention. His statement makes us aware that when a group of people make a covenant, the surrounding society must accommodate those covenantal conditions and deal with the limitations when some behaviors are limited and others are enjoined. And a charitable society will accommodate it, when it is a good covenant. And it will happen that those covenantal conditions can cause difficulty, suffering, and sacrifice to both the covenant society and the accommodating society. But this does not mean the covenant is bad. The Nephites, to accommodate the Anti-Nephi-Lehi covenant of nonviolence, had to do the fighting for both, while the Anti-Nephi-Lehis helped the best they could by providing food for the war effort. Again, it was difficult, but that didn’t make the covenant bad.

Further, Helaman makes the surprising statement of faith that shows us that God’s power can actually help those who accommodate a covenantal people so that the accommodators don’t suffer overmuch for assisting others in covenant-keeping.

How do we see this in our lives? One immediate example I can think of is families with a father or mother in a demanding calling. The Lord helps these families so that they don’t suffer overmuch. Can you think of any other examples, either in your life or in the church?


Gdub said...

Great, and thought-provoking commentary. I'd never realized the difference before.

I posted a bit more of a response on my blog.

Curls said...

Great topic! Here's what I came up with:
We can dress modestly to help those who have made temple covenants keep them.

We can let others know when we are struggling so that they have an opportunity to honor their baptismal covenants.

When we have someone new coming into a calling we can give them good training and support to help them fulfill their calling.

We can help our children learn how to be reverent in sacrament meeting so those around us can have the opportunity to renew their baptismal covenants.