Friday, February 3, 2012

Alma’s lessons for overcoming overbearing tendencies

Shiblon is generally considered one of Alma’s good sons who is mostly commended for good work and taking persecution well. However, recently I started to see that Alma’s instructions to Shiblon in Alma 38 seem to be mostly focused on trying to curb Shiblon’s pride and tendency to be overbearing.

Just what is being overbearing and why is it a problem?

I looked up “overbearing” and my dictionary widget said it meant “expecting unquestioning obedience; authoritarian, dictatorial, domineering; having or showing arrogant superiority to and disdain of those one views as unworthy.”

This is good as far as it goes, but I couldn’t fully understand it until I had had someone be overbearing at me. It was something I had to experience to recognize.

I’ve met some overbearing people and I’ve noticed that even when they say things I know are true and righteous, their manner of saying it makes me feel like they think I’m ignorant and uninterested in the things of God. Their manner makes me want to argue or prove that I am better than them by topping them. I find that it takes a lot of effort to keep a good attitude and frequently I find that I just have to escape. (Even more troubling, I’m beginning to realize that since I have begun to see it, there is a very high probability that I am afflicted with the very same problem and just can’t see it in myself.)

When I spent some time with someone who was overbearing, at the end of the encounter I knew there was something about their attitude that I didn’t like, but I couldn’t think of a good word to describe it. After pondering over it for a while, the term “overbearing” came to mind.

Now, how did I arrive at the conclusion that Shiblon had troubles with being overbearing? The best evidence is that Alma advised Shiblon in Alma 38:12 to “use boldness but not overbearance” and Alma probably would not give that specific bit unless it was needed.

After that, I began to notice that Alma’s other instructions started to come together into a pattern.

Alma’s instructions are:

  • Remember to trust God for your deliverance (v5)
  • There is no other means besides Christ we can be saved (v9)
  • Be diligent and temperate in all things (v10)
  • Don’t be lifted up in pride (v11)
  • Don’t boast of your strength and wisdom (v11)
  • Use boldness but not overbearance (v12)
  • Bridle your passions (v12)
  • Refrain from idleness (v12)
  • Do not pray to be heard of men or praised for wisdom (v13)
  • Do not thank God you are better than your brethren, but acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times (v14)
  • Pray for God to remember your brothers in mercy (v14)
  • Be sober (v15)
  • Continue to teach the word (v2, 15)

It seems that Shiblon was strong in the gospel and was rather proud of it. It seems he had a tendency to trust in his own strength rather than trusting God, so Alma tried to remind him that Christ was the one who did the saving. Alma also reminds Shiblon that Alma’s own testimony did not come from himself (Alma), but from the Spirit that made things known. This can seem particularly self-deprecating to us, considering Alma was the high priest over all the land (and we can’t help but think he’s totally awesome), but it underlines how Alma was trying to remind Shiblon that the credit for a testimony belongs to God.

After reading about this, I remembered there was a point when Shiblon became the one keeping the records (and possibly high priest in the land.) So I went looking for it. And I found it in Alma 63. And it happened during a period of Nephite history when there is great peace in the land coupled with great righteousness, which is told in Alma 62:49-51:

49 But notwithstanding their riches, or their strength, or their prosperity, they were not lifted up in the pride of their eyes; neither were they slow to remember the Lord their God; but they did humble themselves exceedingly before him.

50 Yea, they did remember how great things the Lord had done for them, that he had delivered them from death, and from bonds, and from prisons, and from all manner of afflictions, and he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.

51 And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land. (Alma 62:49-52)

And then Shiblon takes possession of the sacred things at Helaman’s death, and then this extraordinary series of migrations away from Zarahemla begins. Scads of people leave in Alma 63, heading northward.

1 And it came to pass in the commencement of the thirty and sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Shiblon took possession of those sacred things which had been delivered unto Helaman by Alma.

2 And he was a just man, and he did walk uprightly before God; and he did observe to do good continually, to keep the commandments of the Lord his God; and also did his brother….

4 And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward.

5 And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

6 And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

7 And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.

8 And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not.

9 And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year. (Alma 63:

10 And it came to pass in the thirty and ninth year of the reign of the judges, Shiblon died also, and Corianton had gone forth to the land northward in a ship, to carry forth provisions unto the people who had gone forth into that land.

11 Therefore it became expedient for Shiblon to confer those sacred things, before his death, upon the son of Helaman, who was called Helaman, being called after the name of his father.

12 Now behold, all those engravings which were in the possession of Helaman were written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth. (Alma 63:1-2,4-12)

No contention whatsoever, just migration. This mass migration had always puzzled me, but I began to suspect that perhaps Shiblon didn’t conquer (or notice) his tendency to be overbearing, and perhaps his overbearing manner drove good people away and they felt like they had to escape. He may have even alienated his brother Corianton, since Corianton decided to take provisions to the people who had gone northward.

Maybe I am hard on Shiblon, but people don’t leave for no reason. There wasn’t contention in the land, yet they left. Shiblon had the records for three years, and then he died. When Shiblon (near death) passed on the records to Helaman’s son Helaman, Helaman did a smart thing and had the records copied and sent out in all the parts of the land so that people could benefit from the word of God without being bothered by a human transmitter-preacher. That way they could get the benefit of the scriptures themselves. Perhaps this was an effort to pull them back into the main church again.

It is rather disturbing to see Shiblon this way. We like to think of the good men of the scriptures as men without any personality flaw, but unfortunately, that isn’t very realistic because we know we all have flaws we have to overcome. To give Shiblon his due, he had some excellent points to his character too; he was patient under persecution, he was valiant at keeping the commandments of God, he was a just man, he walked uprightly before God, and he observed to do good continually. There was just that problem of overbearance.

To me, finding this out about Shiblon makes Alma 38 that much more valuable to me, since it provides a series of instructions that we can also use to make sure that we avoid being overbearing.

I have a feeling that I may be overbearing too on occasion, even though I can’t yet recognize exact times when I have been so. That means the only way I can escape this fault in my spiritual blind spot is to follow what Alma’s instructions in chapter 38. I can also pray for the Lord to help me repent. I’ll have to have the Lord help me recognize times when I have been overbearing and that will be painful because it will be times when I felt I was doing right and was proud of what I was doing. I will need to ask the Lord to help me know and practice the right way of treating people.



Heavenly Father helped me find out what happens when I am overbearing. At bottom, it arises out of my doubt in someone else’s dedication or commitment and an implicit assumption that I am better than them (pride). That leads me to a desire to control and force dedication and commitment in them by overemphasizing and overdoing my explanation. However, everyone is able to tell when someone doubts them, so when I doubt someone, they know it and they resent it, especially if they don’t think of themselves as having less dedication or commitment than me. Their resentment of being looked down upon leads them to want to resist me.

You know, I just have to say that I am so grateful that the Lord gave us the Book of Mormon for our day. The more I read it, the more I learn about what my flaws are, which gives me an opportunity to repent and get God’s help to change.


Becca said...

Wow. I needed that. Really. Really really. If there is a word to describe me, overbearing would be it.

It has created struggles in my marriage. Interestingly enough, I have been eating a lot of "humble pie" the past few days, and I am in the exact state of mind and heart to hear this and really understand it and accept this weakness in myself.

If I had read this a few days ago, I probably would have just enjoyed the insight and thought it was a great story about Shiblon. In context with the past 48 hours, this post has so much personal meaning.

Thank you.

Rozy Lass said...

So wise and insightful, thank you for posting; I, too, suffer from this malady. Crow and humble pie are frequent suppers for me. I suppose it is a weakness common to the natural man. Thanks for sharing.

Chris said...

As others have echoed, excellent post. I now have a topic to ponder and self reflect on for the next little while.

Becky Rose said...

On my mission we'd say "bold, but not overbearing". However I don't think hw can assume that a man who has the responsibility to maintain the plates was overbearing and caused everyone to leave. However I too have seen the sin of being overbearing in others and myself and the negative impact it has. Christ was never like this. He was bold, that's for sure. The apostles are bold, but always loving. So are people with good marriages, people that make an impact on a lot of peoples lives. They are loving, speak with softness and are never overbearing.

Michaela Stephens said...

Becky Rose, I admit that my connection is speculation. It is the best explanation that I could come up with based on the information given in the Book of Mormon. I am open to other explanations for all those people leaving. They may have all been just as curious as Hagoth was. But somehow it seems like curiosity is too weak a motive for packing up all those families and leaving.

Bonnie said...

Here’s my take on why so many Nephites left to settle new areas. It wasn’t because of Shiblon, who Mormon tells us “was a just man,” who walked uprightly before God, and observed “to do good continually.” I think it may have had something to do with the nearly 20 years of bitter warfare they’d just endured. The destruction of so many of their homes and cities, the enormous loss of life, the fear that the Lamanites would launch another attack upon them made them want to go in search of a safer place to bring up their families.. Admittedly, this is just a guess, but I had to put in a good word for Shiblon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Michaela. Oh, and I cannot for the life of me work this visual or audio verification thing! Waiting patiently for my husband to get home and type in the words! Thank goodness he's not a robot. :)