Friday, May 11, 2012

Alma and the two ends of a trespass

Many members of the Church are led into sin by unbelievers—Alma is promised eternal life—Those who repent and are baptized gain forgiveness—Church members in sin who repent and confess to Alma and to the Lord will be forgiven; otherwise, they will not be numbered among the people of the Church. About 120–100 B.C.
1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
3 And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
5 And now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.
6 For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
8 Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
9 And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance.
10 Now there had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled in his spirit….(Mosiah 26:1-10)

This is a really curious situation that arises.  First, people outside of the church had led church members into temptation and sin with flattering words.  (I’ve already examined flattery in detail, we should be pretty familiar with what was involved there.)  So it becomes necessary for those who had sinned to be “admonished,” or warned. 

It seems the admonishing was given first by teachers, then priests, and then the matter was referred to Alma. It could indicate that they didn’t have authority on their own to administer discipline or it could indicate that the teachers and priests must have felt their words were being disregarded and greater authority was needed to convince the sinner. 

Another thing I notice that is interesting is the sheer numbers involved in this uproar.  Verse 6 says “many” were deceived and committed “many sins,” and verse 9 says there were “many witnesses” and the people testified of the iniquity “in abundance.”  In short, the courts and their dockets were bursting at the seams.  It must have been incredibly chaotic with all the accused, and all the sins enumerated, and all the witnesses.  This wasn’t a hidden problem; it was something a lot of people knew about and it must have been festering for a time.  (This kind of reminds me of back when I was growing up and my younger siblings would come to me all yelling and demanding justice, complaining of all the wrongs the others had committed against them and denying any responsibility was theirs.  Those were always really tough to sort out.)  The sheer numbers of people would definitely have troubled Alma.

…and he [Alma] caused that they should be brought before the king.
 11 And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes.
 12 But king Mosiah said unto Alma: Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged.
 13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God. (Mosiah 26:10-13)

It seems odd to us to read of a church leader not knowing what to do when transgressors are brought to them to be judged, since we are so used to knowing about it ourselves.  One of the things I had to become more aware of was that Alma’s leadership experience was more with bringing people into the covenant who hadn’t been there before, rather than dealing with transgressors who were already in it.  He must have wondered where one draws the line between acceptable behavior for remaining in the church and unacceptable behavior that would constitute grounds for removal from the church.  With such a variety of transgression to judge, he would have to have very clear principles by which to judge, otherwise he might remove someone who should stay in or keep someone in who should have been removed. 

One insight I received a long time ago about the revelation that Alma received was how many times the Lord tells Alma “this is my church” and “they are mine” “I am the Lord your Redeemer.”  It is as if the Lord is reminding Alma that it isn’t Alma’s church, it is the Lord’s.  Just that reminder would have taken a lot of pressure off Alma, I think.  With that reminder, the main kernel of revelation comes.

28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
 29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
 30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
 31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
 32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward. (Mosiah 26:28-32)

Verse 32 is pretty plain.  Those who will not repent will not be numbered among the Lord’s people.  That means keeping a broken and contrite heart is essential for our membership in the church.

Also, though we tend to focus on the plain principles of repentance here, we can also find counsel given for those who were the plaintiffs and witnesses who testified against those who sinned.  “Ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses”(v31).  In this story, this counsel was especially important because of all the ruffled feathers that needed to be smoothed down.   And too, there was counsel for those who had difficulty forgiving:  “he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation” (v31).  It is nice to know that the revelation Alma received had instructions that pertained to the plaintiff side of the case as well. 

I’ve found that consciously forgiving people of their trespasses against me helps me feel renewed and lighter.. when I can remember to do it. (Obviously this is something I need to work on.)    It occurs to me that repentance and forgiveness are complimentary principles that we need to live by.  If we’re not on the repenting end, we’re on the forgiving end.  Those are the two ends of a trespass.


Ramona Gordy said...

I have been studying this for Primary. I had two trains of thought,one is that teacher may mean rabbi, which suggests that the teacher/rabbi is a leader of his congregation, that is if these people followed the tradition of the Jews. So maybe as a teacher/rabbi more responsiblity is put upon them. Second I wondered if because of the influx of "new" people into the community, such as the people of Limhi, the people Ammon bought back with him, some were Lamanites who wanted to become Nephites? So a thought would be that because of the growth of the community of different groups of people.some who were devout and others who were not. This could cause issues.

Michaela Stephens said...

Entirely possible. AFter all, Limhi's people were just barely improving from their sinful state.