Friday, July 8, 2016

An Amalekite’s Unbelief and Attempts at Self-justification

While the four sons of Mosiah are on their mission to the Lamanites, Aaron has this interesting experience while trying to teach the Amalekites and Amulonites about the need to repent.

5 Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him, saying: What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?
6 Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.
7 Now Aaron said unto him: Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?
8 And the man said unto him: We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.
9 Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.
10 And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake. (Alma 21:5-10)

I thought it was interesting that Mormon included this little conversation between Aaron and the Amalekite because the rest of the chapter greatly summarizes Aaron’s teaching. So it seems there was something about the Amalekite’s objections and Aaron’s responses that Mormon thought worth recording.

I think the Amalekite represents a pattern of unbelief that is very entrenched and will not receive the gospel. Perhaps Mormon met people in his day that expressed the same sentiments. Probably we will see the same in our day, if we haven’t already.

The Amalekite starts out with incredulous questions about why his people don’t have angelic visitations, while at the same time he contends his people are as good as Aaron’s people.  Then he asks a bunch of “How do you know” questions challenging Aaron’s knowledge:
--How do you know the thought and intent of our hearts?
--How do you know we have cause to repent?
--How do you know we’re not a righteous people?

Then the Amalekite tries to prove the Amalekites’s righteousness on the grounds that they have build churches and gather to worship God and that they believe God will save all men.

But when Aaron asks him if he believes in Christ’s redemption, then the Amalekite spouts a torrent of “we don’t believe” statements!
--We don’t believe you know God will redeem mankind from their sins.
--We don’t believe these foolish traditions.
--We don’t believe you know of things to come.
--We don’t believe your fathers or ours knew what they were talking about concerning things to come.

Then when Aaron tries to show through the scriptures that there is grounds for belief in the redemption of Christ, all his listeners get angry, mock him, and don’t want to hear.

So the Amalekite essentially answers his own questions, even though he doesn’t realize it: The Amalekites don’t see angels because they don’t believe in the prophecies of what’s to come that angels and scriptures would give.  (Much of what angels do is quote scripture and prophesy, after all.)  If a person has made it clear that they don’t believe in Christ when a mortal messenger declares it, is that message going to be any easier to swallow if an angel gives it?   The Amalekite has grounds to repent because he doesn’t believe Christ will come to redeem men. He’s cut off from the atonement. His people have cause to repent because their unbelief is the same.

It is quite fascinating that the Amalekites believe God will save all men, and yet they don’t believe Aaron or their ancestors could know of things to come.  But then, what grounds for belief do they have that God will save all men, something that would require revelation and prophecy to know at all?  To affirm a belief in a future event while denying the future can be known is contradictory.  Beliefs based on that kind of thought process seem more like wishful thinking.

The Amalekite seems insulted by Aaron’s teaching the truth, which hints he feels rebuked and insecure in his own spirituality. So he tries to cover it by painting Aaron as a sort of religious imperialist and by arguing that church attendance makes the Amalekites as good as the Nephites.  But if that is all the Amalekite can point to, he doesn’t understand the full extent of what righteousness is, since it goes far beyond just going to church.  In trying to justify himself as righteous, the Amalekite actually reveals that he is not.  Again, if he doesn’t believe Christ will redeem humanity from their sins, he is stuck in his sins and can’t escape them.

There are several principles that can be got from this exchange.

1)    A dearth of spiritual gifts and privileges arises out of unbelief.  We may not even know what we disbelieve until someone challenges us on it. 
2)    When unbelief is challenged, it easily turns into noisy self-justification. 
3)    Self-justification tends to be contradictory, and it is obvious to others. (It’s also pathetic.)
4)    Self-justification is not possible.  (Christ is the only one who can justify us through His grace, and that can only happen when we repent.)

Aaron knew that he couldn’t force the Amalekite to believe differently, so after trying to present his grounds for testimony and being rejected, he simply left. Likewise, when people around us reject our testimonies, we can’t do anything to change that. 

But looking at it from a different perspective, what if we find that in some respect we are like the unbelieving Amalekite?  Thinking about how the Amalekite should have responded if he had been meek is an interesting exercise.  How could this Amalekite have turned the exchange into a learning experience?

What do you think?