BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20: Mosiah 25-27, Alma 36

My picture, from the Kidron Valley.
My picture, from the Kidron Valley.

(Posted from the Middle of Nowhere, Michigan.)

This lesson has us jump to Alma’s retelling of his experience being unconscious for three days, in Alma 36. The story of Alma the Younger is actually told in three places, not just two: Mosiah 27:8-37 (roughly contemporary), Alma 36 (Alma jr. recounting to his son Helaman), and Alma 38:6-8 (Alma Jr. recounting to his son Shiblon.) See the chart here and the article reprinted here.
During his time unconscious, Alma is shown a different perspective of his actions and their effects, and this different perspective plays a role in his change of heart. Alma was given a chance to enter, as it were, the Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which shows him his true place in the world. (Stephen Carter writes about using the Total Perspective Vortex in Sunday School here.)
The stories of Alma the Younger and the similar-but-different conversion of Saul/Paul are notable because they are so unusual, involving divine intervention in the form of angels, earthquakes, a divine coma, and such. While the manual calls this “conversion” the Book of Mormon says Alma is “born again.” “Conversion” is also not used in regards to Saul/Paul in the Bible, as a friend pointed out. If the experiences of Alma and Saul/Paul are so unusual, what is the value of reading about them? It’s certainly not to model or create expectations of what kind of experiences missionaries should expect to induce in those they teach. What, then, is their purpose?

Mosiah 26:13 There’s a problem, and apparently no precedent to guide the decision makers. There’s a similar story in the Old Testament, in which the daughters of Zelophehad approach Moses with a case without precedent, and so Moses takes it to God, who amends the law. (See Num 26:33; 27:1-11) The divine response has to do with repentence (Mos 26:29-32.)
A few thoughts on repentance-

Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God. –Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 148. (C.f. Words of Joseph Smith 3, from 1839)

The second principle was repentance. And what is repentance? The forsaking of sin. The man who repents, if he be a swearer, swears no more; or a thief, steals no more; he turns away from all former sins and commits them no more. It is not repentance to say, I repent today, and then steal tomorrow; that is the repentance of the world, which is displeasing in the sight of God. – Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, quoting JD 23:127, May 14, 1882.

Since repenting is “turning” ourselves around, I think a useful analogy can be drawn from the navy. When a captain decides to turn a battleship or an aircraft carrier, it takes some time for the ship to come around. Though the decision has been made, the order has been given, and the change is being carried out, it still takes some time to bring a ship about. So in our lives the decisions for Christ can be truly and genuinely made, the order truly given and carried out, yet it can still take some time and space to overcome the natural resistance of the carnal self and make the complete turn. There will be rejoicing when the turn is completed and we have perfected part or all of our lives, but should we die before it’s done, the Lord will still credit us for making the right decision, for issuing the appropriate orders and attempting to carry them out in our lives—the rest would have been just a matter of time. If we should die, as all of us do, with some sins not completely eliminated, it will not harm us. God will give us credit for what we would have accomplished given more time (D&C 137:7-8). Were we truly repentant? Did we truly desire to root sin out of our lives? Then we are justified through the atonement of Christ and will eventually achieve what we sought in life.- Stephen Robinson, Following Christ.

Tidbits
  • Strictly speaking, “Mulekites” don’t exist. The group claiming descent from Mulek son of Zedekiah is known throughout the Book of Mormon as “the people of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 25:2-4,Omni 1:14-21)
    • I used to use this as an exercise in critical thinking at BYU. See my post here, starting with “I taught two Book of Mormon classes at BYU”

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