Instagram Follow

O That I Could Just Fix Everything in the Whole World

I was reading Alma chapter 29 recently and I thought I’d share some observations that I think are particularly relevant to today’s world.

I love how you can keep coming back to scripture to find new things. As we age, mirrors reveal changes, but the mirror does not change, we do.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that one cannot step twice into the same river [1], so perhaps one cannot read the same scripture twice. Additional knowledge, insights and understanding gained through time and experience cause previously bland verses to come to life in new and exciting ways.

Alma 29 begins with a ponderous Alma wishing that he could change the world in a dramatic way.

1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.

Remember that this is the Alma who was called to repentance by an angel who spoke with a voice that shook the earth [2]. Alma had this incredible experience and feels that perhaps others would respond in the same way if they experienced the same thing. In a way, we do the same thing when we think that the problems we see in the world could be fixed “only if” we could impose our own solutions. I think a lot of people are frustrated by this and might think, “O that I could have the wish of mine heart and the church would do this or that differently…” or “O that my perspective would be accepted by everyone in Gospel Doctrine class, then there would be no more confusion!”

Don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing. I see legitimate problems everywhere, with everything, and with everyone – it can be difficult not to. The real challenge is how to react appropriately to the things we perceive as wrong in the world. Like Alma, we wish things could be different or that we could be in a position of power to affect a real and immediate change.

Initially this sounds like a reasonable desire, I mean, who wouldn’t want to eradicate sorrow, confusion, violence, perversion, oppression, slavery, rape, murder or any other kind of evil off the face of the earth? Yet Alma realizes that his “wish” is a sin.

3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.

Alma realizes his limitations and begins to realize that he was effectively trampling over God by denying his justice.

4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.

5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

6 Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?

He acknowledges that God is perfectly just and that his own limited vision perceives only suffering and chaos. God sees more, He understands perfectly while man does not. He knows the hearts and minds of all, and man does not. God places good and evil before everyone and they are each in his hands. If God is truly just, then Alma would be denying one of God’s most essential attributes by wishing to impose his own solution for the perceived flaws he sees in the world [3]. This doesn’t mean that we stand by and do nothing, it means that we keep our focus on the mission God has given us, otherwise we risk looking beyond the mark [4].

Next, Alma reveals a very profound idea that impacts everyone on earth:

7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth?

8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.

Verse 8 has very powerful implications that can and should be challenging to the perspectives of many Latter-day Saints who may think that we have a monopoly on truth. According to Alma, God grants all nations the ability to teach his word according to whatever he sees fit that they should have at the time. Therefore, all humanity is in possession of various truths to one degree or another. Some truths apply to salvation and doctrine, others apply to understanding government, art, music, nature, chemistry, and mathematics.

The first implication is that all religions, governments, cultures, societies and sects currently possess all that God sees fit that they should have. When he wants anyone to have more, he sends messengers. The people then decide whether to soften or harden their hearts. I think this is why it is so important to operate within the bounds God has set, and Alma realized this. We can wish for great things, or we can pour ourselves into our individual callings and be blessed to do great things.

The second implication has to do with us. We are at a similar disadvantage as the rest of the world in that we only possess that which God has seen fit that we should have. We are missing the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, the records of the lost tribes, possible prophecy, ordinances, revelation, knowledge, truth and countless other blessings. Though we are disadvantaged in many ways, we are also quite blessed in others. If we focus on these blessings and apply them within our spheres of influence while being open to gather other truths in the world, great things can happen.

Sure, we have been given authority to do certain things that are necessary to God’s plan, but Mormonism doesn’t have the monopoly on truth. The reality is that Mormonism is a philosophy that embraces all truth [6] [7]. It is a context in which all other truths in this world can be gathered into one great whole.

Instead of looking down on other faith traditions, discoveries of science, art or culture, we should look up to them and gather in the good while rejecting the bad. Institutionally this is a slow process, as it involves many, many individuals all trying to find balance. Individually, however, we seek and gather truth wherever it is found with less friction.

In the process of collecting truth, we speak with others, we ask them questions and learn about their traditions. In my experience, this has opened up so many opportunities for mutual sharing and edification rather than just a one-way “listen to the message I have for you” rant. Remember the stark difference in the way Ammon and Aaron approached the Nephites; it was service rather than preaching that opened doors [8].

The only Zion any of us may ever build is the one in our individual hearts and minds, [9] and maybe in our families.

Searching out the truth is a process of trial and error, both individually and collectively as a church. Some may think that the restoration was commenced and finished off in the mid-1800s. If I may, I’d like to propose an alternate way to look at Doctrine and Covenants 1:30:

30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—

The more I read this verse, the more I become convinced that the restoration laid down a foundation and began the process of bringing forth a church. This true and living church is still in the process of coming forth out of obscurity and darkness. The church is not a building or a temple or lesson manuals, we are the church which will only come forth out of obscurity and darkness as fast as each individual does.

Note how the early Saints progressed only as fast as they were obedient. As they did the will of God, they moved forward and were promised protection and blessings. As they disobeyed or were slothful, they brought curses and disasters upon themselves. Instead of building a New Jerusalem, their temple was burned along with their homes and they were driven into the wilderness.

I believe that the church has always fluctuated along this spectrum and does even today. The church fluctuates because we fluctuate, and it’s always been this way. To lack compassion for the church is to lack compassion for ourselves as a people.

God gives us all that he sees fit that we should have. How are we doing? How seriously are we taking God’s plan? Do we refuse to do the simple things, because we think there are larger, more important matters we could be involved in? Maybe this is why there are so few miracles among the masses. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can lift curses by turning back to God and by giving greater attention to the Book of Mormon [10]. Time and time again, I always find inspiration there to regain my focus on what is important and how powerful things can come from a simple shift in perspective.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. [11]

References

  1. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/
  2. Mosiah 27:11-29
  3. Lecture 4:7,13
  4. Jacob 4:14
  5. Alma 12:10-11
  6. Joseph Smith on Truth
  7. Brigham Young on Truth
  8. Ammon & Aaron: Two Approaches
  9. Doctrine and Covenants 97:21
  10. “In 1832, as some early missionaries returned from their fields of labor, the Lord reproved them for treating the Book of Mormon lightly. As a result of that attitude, he said, their minds had been darkened. Not only had treating this sacred book lightly brought a loss of light to themselves, it had also brought the whole Church under condemnation, even all the children of Zion. And then the Lord said, “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:54–57).

    Has the fact that we have had the Book of Mormon with us for over a century and a half made it seem less significant to us today? Do we remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon? In the Bible we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word testament is the English rendering of a Greek word that can also be translated as covenant. Is this what the Lord meant when He called the Book of Mormon the “new covenant”? It is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why we have recently added the words “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon.

    If the early Saints were rebuked for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, are we under any less condemnation if we do the same? The Lord Himself bears testimony that it is of eternal significance. Can a small number of us bring the whole Church under condemnation because we trifle with sacred things? What will we say at the Judgment when we stand before Him and meet His probing gaze if we are among those described as forgetting the new covenant?” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion, Oct. 1986)

  11. Alma 37:6