Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Clues from Alma’s great pain and sorrow over the Zoramites

When Alma sees the Zoramite errors and wickedness, his reaction is exceptionally pained for the type of things he observes.

The Zoramites
--pray insincerely
--exult in their supposed election
--set their hearts on riches
--believe they’ve had revelation that there would be no Christ

These characteristics are really no different than what we see in society today, so why is it that he is hurt so much?

One clue we get is from the exclamations from his prayer. “O, how long, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that thy servants shall dwell here below in the flesh to behold such gross wickedness among the children of men?” (Alma 31:26) and “O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people?” (Alma 31:30)

We can’t say Alma observed unimportant sins; all sin is offensive to God and his servants. Yet Alma's agony is particularly acute.

The cry “O how long wilt thou suffer...” is very similar to his cry at the climax of his imprisonment in Ammonihah, a time when his suffering was greatest.  At that time, the Lord answered with a devastating earthquake that destroyed his captors and set him free.  It may be that subconsciously at least he hoped for another dramatic answer to his prayer, but we eventually see that he eventually focused his petitions on asking for help suited to his situation.

The cry “O how long wilt thou suffer…” hints that Alma was somehow re-living his suffering from Ammonihah when seeing the sin of the Zormanites and that he was dealing with a post-traumatic stress disorder trigger.  It shows us he wasn’t untouched by the horrific abuse he went through at Ammonihah, but he had to re-confront those feelings to carry out his high priest office and preaching duties.   Think how hard that would be, to have those difficult pains and fears triggered while trying to serve the Lord.

Alma knew he had troubles from it, and also in his prayer we see him praying for help with it.
…O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul.
31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me, because of the iniquity of this people. (Alma 31:30-31)
Even if he didn't know he was dealing with a trigger, He realized the triggering was making him infirm and was hurting and depressing him and that he’d have to suffer through it with patience if he was ever going to help the Zoramites. He was afraid that he’d suffer the same things among the Zoramites that he had in Ammonihah. He also asked for his soul to be comforted in Christ.

Realizing this gives me a whole lot more respect for Alma the Younger and what he was able to accomplish among the Zoramites. He wasn’t impervious to pains, doubts, psychological traumas, and so on. Even if he didn’t fully understand what he was going through, he persevered through it by faith in Christ and by praying for comfort, strength, and patience to bear with his afflictions.

It may also be post-traumatic stress that Paul had to deal with too, when he refers to the “thorn in the flesh”

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul too called it an infirmity and weakness.  And from Paul’s list of sufferings that he had gone through, we can see there was plenty of opportunity to develop some psychological trauma.

24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. . . .
30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. . . .
32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
 (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, 30, 32-33)

There’s a lot of speculation about what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, and this is my take on it. 

So often we think the ancient prophets were impervious to the difficulties they passed through, but I think this hints that they struggled too.  And I think it gives us hope that if they overcame their infirmities by relying on Christ for comfort, patience, and strength, so too can we.