Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Nephite Dissenter Helps Bring Lamanites to Repentance and Belief in Christ, Helaman 5:35-43

In the Book of Helaman, the brothers Nephi and Lehi are thrown into prison and as an army of Lamanites enter the prison to take them to put them to death, an extraordinary display of power begins as Nephi and Lehi are surrounded by fire but are not burned, the prison is hit by an earthquake and a dark cloud that overshadows all of them, and a voice from heaven is heard telling the army to repent and stop seeking to destroy His servants.

Something else extraordinary happens.  A Nephite dissenter becomes an instrument for God to make meaning for the Lamanite army and bring them to repentance.
35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.
36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.
37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.
38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?
39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.
40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?
41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire. (Helaman 5:35-43)
It is so interesting to me that the Lamanite army gets the message of repentance from Lehi and Nephi and from the voice from heaven, but they still don’t understand until told by someone else they trust.  They are told not to fear the fire that suddenly surrounds the men they want to kill.  They are told by the voice of God in a mild and pleasant tone that pierced, but they didn’t begin to listen and act until told by this Aminadab who became a sort of interpreter and guide through the marvels they saw.  (It is not completely clear whether Aminadab was another prisoner or if he was part of the Lamanite army.  Regardless, they resort to his direction in their confusion and fear.)

This is curious because Aminadab’s explanation wasn’t exactly clear.  It was garbled and full of what we would consider jargon.  He said, “You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.” (v41)  There are no explanations as to why they should have faith in Christ or how, and a reference to teachers from 40 years before, but not much about what those teachers said about Christ!  So do we assume that the soldiers knew what Aminadab was talking about?  Or do we assume that they didn’t? 

I’ve wondered for a long time just what about Aminadab’s instructions galvanized the other soldiers to action.  Eventually I realized that Aminadab’s instructions were uniquely formulated for those who did not have faith in Christ.  He told them to repent and pray to the voice until they had faith in Christ, and he promised that if they did so, the darkness would be lifted.  

Do you see how much faith that would take to promise that?  That's not a promise anyone can make lightly.  We are much more used to the idea of praying and then waiting in expectation than we are used to the idea of praying continuously until the result we need/want happens.  After all, if one decides to pray until the desired result happens, one might pray for a really long time, and can that kind of praying be kept up?  (It can--remember Enos?--and it is us who think it isn't necessary.)

It seems to me Aminadab could not have given those insightful instructions to his fellows unless he had previously tried them himself.  If so, it would mark him as a person very similar to Abish, living among unbelievers, yet having learned to believe and have faith in Christ.    We can imagine that he once dissented from the Nephites, probably because he didn’t have faith in Christ as was taught to him by Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom.  Yet their words continued to come back to him until he began to see that he had to do something if he was ever going to get over the issue of his lack of faith, so in some way he settled upon the idea of repenting and praying determinedly until he had that faith in Christ.  He carried out his plan, and faith came as he hoped.   So his presence there was certainly part of the Lord’s plan to help save the rest of his companions.

Aminadab’s instructions make this story a very powerful help for us if we or our family members or friends ever struggle with lack of faith.   The key is to repent and pray to God until faith in Christ comes.  Another way we can apply this kind of faith to pray until our desire is granted is to pray to resist temptation when temptation comes.  We can pray for the power to resist until the temptation goes away.  I have done that before and it works.