“From a Book of Mormon Notebook,” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 16
From a Book of Mormon Notebook
Editor’s note: Scripture reading and study have been much encouraged. Yet many have not yet discovered what “study method” works best for them. Would jotting down daily scriptural discoveries help internalize spiritual truths? We asked staff members to try out the idea. This selection is taken from the notes of one of our staff members.
I feel a little self-conscious doing this—keeping a notebook of my thoughts while I read the Book of Mormon. It seems like a pretentious thing to do, to put my tentative reflections alongside the declarations of the Book of Mormon prophets. But I haven’t been satisfied with my approach to scripture study lately, and maybe if I’m actually looking for things to write about, they’ll be easier to find.
Mosiah 12:17–19. “And it came to pass that king Noah caused that Abinadi should be cast into prison. … And they began to question him, that they might cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him.”
I’m struck by the desire of the priests and king to have some reason—some legal reason—for executing Abinadi. They didn’t actually need a reason. The people certainly wouldn’t see Abinadi’s death as martyrdom—they were the ones who had betrayed him. So what were the priests and king afraid of? Why did they feel so bound by their own “legal” process? Could it have been because something deep inside—perhaps a part of their fear, perhaps a part of their conscience—recognized and protested against injustice?
Perhaps rationalization is part of the same reaction: ourselves versus our own sense of justice when we know we’re doing wrong. Is that why we’ll accept a bad reason if we can’t get a good one—because we need the form if not the content? (Noah solves his problem by declaring Abinadi mad. That puts him safely in a category where reason—and reasons—no longer apply.)
Mosiah 18:1. “And now, it came to pass that Alma, who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi.”
Just in the natural course of a compound verb, Alma repents and starts preaching. How can it be so simple?
Mosiah 23:9–10. “I myself … did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance; Nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries.”
Well, I guess it wasn’t so simple after all, not even for Alma.
Mosiah 26:1–3. “There were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers. … Neither did they believe … concerning the coming of Christ. And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.”
First, they didn’t believe; then they couldn’t understand; and then their hearts were hardened. At that point they were trapped, presumably incapable of belief. What a beautiful description of how agency works! We have to make an act of will toward belief, and that’s not just a nice feeling—it’s actual behavior, something we can do, without necessarily feeling wholehearted about it. And it precedes both the power to believe and an understanding of the principles you believe in.
Mosiah 27:14, 16. (Angel to Alma the Younger:) “Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; … therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith … even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.”
I can imagine Alma suddenly acquiring a lot of respect for his father. The angel, a being of such power as to utterly overwhelm him, announced that he had come in response to his father’s faith.
Alma 8:15. (Angel to Alma:) “Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.”
That last sentence really touches me. All those years later, that angel must have been filled with joy to appear to Alma again and bless him especially since in their last conversation, the angel had told Alma that he could be cast off if that was what he wanted. How he must have loved Alma over the years, and watched his faithfulness with tenderness and pride!
Alma 14:28. “For the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ.”
That phrase—faith in Christ—is repeated so often in the Book of Mormon that it really seems to leap out. It makes me feel like a child, playing with a radio, knowing what’s supposed to happen but not understanding the process, fiddling with the dials and buttons, hearing nothing, then getting bored. I wonder how many of us exercise faith. I wonder how often I have, really.
Alma 30:43. “And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.”
Korihor wants to see a sign so that he’ll know, not the truth, but the force of the truth. He wants to know that God has power. That really strikes a familiar chord. How many times have I refused to yield until I’ve been compelled to surrender? When there’s such pleasure in obedience, why do I give consent so grudgingly? It reminds me of what Brigham Young said: “What do you love truth for? Is it because you can discover a beauty in it, because it is congenial to you: or because you think it will make you a ruler, or a Lord? If you conceive that you will attain to power upon such a motive, you are much mistaken.” (Journal of Discourses, 1:117.)
Alma 31:5. “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.”
A very hopeful statement—that even the sword is less efficacious than the word of God. In these days of wrath and vengeance, when force seems to be the last resort (and one easily arrived at), the only unanswerable argument, it’s comforting to know that there’s something better, something more powerful. Reminds me of Middle English, where virtu literally means strength.
Alma 32:42. “And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”
I don’t know how to describe what happened to me when I read this scripture. It drastically rearranged my inner landscape.
I’d been praying for specific help, not thirty seconds before, and opened straight to this passage. Although it didn’t really answer my question, it just went back to the basics, to what was really important. It’s not just that the promise is beautiful. It’s that I felt included in it. No, more than included—as though it were written for me alone, to me alone.
It brushes aside a lot of annoying, buzzing questions and confusing distractions—to be taken so firmly by the shoulders, as it were, and to be told so clearly and warmly, “I love you.” And here I am, with no response more adequate than gratitude—as if such an event were sunshine and laughter—as if it were happiness and tears—as if it were sorrow. To have no dissonance between knowledge and feeling. … It’s like coming home.
Alma 36:24. (Alma to Helaman:) “I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
I wonder if Alma’s descriptions of his labors are part of the laws governing the nature of happiness—after we come to love Christ, we want to share this great blessing with others.
Father Lehi desired that his children might partake of the delicious fruit. Enos, after receiving assurance that his own sins were forgiven, prayed for his brethren and even for the Lamanites. And now Alma.
I think it’s like the pure knowledge described in the Doctrine and Covenants: It “shall greatly enlarge the soul”—yes, happiness is expansive—“without hypocrisy, and without guile.” (D&C 121:42.) Oh, that’s the hard part. I can see the immense simplicity of that happiness, but I can’t just accept it simply and naturally. Maybe it’s because I haven’t learned how to judge perspective in an expanse without shadows, and I don’t yet have the “eye single” that would let me be “filled with light.”
Alma 37:6. (Alma to Helaman:) “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.”
Fascinating. Alma’s talking here about the importance of those records, but it sounds as if he’s saying something universally true as well. The Lord’s usual modus operandi is continual, slow, and undramatic. “By very small means.” (Alma 37:7; italics added.) Yet it’s usually the dramatic events we remember—the Flood, the confounding of tongues, famines, three days of darkness. Why is it so easy to forget the undramatic years that sow seeds for a harvest far beyond our own future?
Look at the Book of Mormon. It came into being with one dramatic event: a flight across an ocean. But while that society is struggling, warring, colonizing, sinning, and repenting, this one “very small means,” the Book of Mormon, continues quietly and unobtrusively from one generation of holy men to another. And why? for a people who will receive it long after the annihilation of the recordkeepers themselves.
Christ checks it for accuracy. Mormon spends his last years condensing it. Meanwhile history crashes overhead—yet what’s really important is how a whole culture delicately and unknowingly affects a later people, equally violent, equally oblivious. Us. A people who, like those first generations of recordkeepers, are about to be transformed by an Advent.
Alma 37:8. (Alma turning the records over to Helaman:) “And now, it has hitherto been wisdom in God that these things should be preserved; for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people, yea, and convinced many of the error of their ways, and brought them to the knowledge of their God unto the salvation of their souls.”
It dawned on me: this is why we need accurate personal histories, honest family histories, and detailed Church histories. Since the Lord really does work in the lives of his people, those records enlarge our memories and bring us to that rejoicing knowledge of God’s care. If we actually remembered what the Lord has done for us, it would change everything. Permanently. I wonder if proper record keeping would help us keep that promise to “always remember him.”
Alma 37:34. (Alma to Helaman:) “Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart;for such shall find rest to their souls.”
Another promise of what everybody wants: “rest to their souls.” And the means of achieving that promise comes with it—service and humility. Sure, it would work. It’s true that the fierce clamor of ego, with its seemingly insatiable demands, is the most wearying of all stimuli. And here’s a way to give it up without giving up agency.
Alma 37:36. (Alma to Helaman:) “Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.”
The supreme description of the Christ-centered life. If we really could let the affections of our hearts be placed on the Lord forever, all the rest would follow automatically. It’s divided loyalties that rip us apart. (What does the Doctrine and Covenants say about “hearts … set so much upon the things of this world”? [D&C 121:35])
Helaman 3:35. [Hel. 3:35] “They did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”
This verse on the fruits of humility has drawn me back many times. It’s such a lovely description of how the people have been consoled by their faith in spite of the fact that their brothers despise them.
But I noticed something new this time. I had thought that comfort was a form of compensation—that peace and joy replaced other feelings and that the state of sanctification was a state of stupefaction, in one sense. At that time, I had thought that other things would just become unimportant to the sanctified. But now do I catch the inkling that sanctification is, on the contrary, a state of great sensitization where we aren’t unaware of anything, and where everything has exactly as much importance as it is worth, and not a bit more?
Helaman 16:2–3. [Hel. 16:2–3] “They cast stones at [Samuel] upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him … but the Spirit of the Lord was with him. … Now when they saw … that they could not hit him, there were many more who did believe on his words.”
Here we have a literal example of the Word proving more powerful than the sword. Samuel, invulnerable to spears and arrows (and the scriptures show that not all prophets were granted the same immunity), shows the people that they are up against something stronger than physical force. The slaughter of Ammon’s people and the subsequent conversion of their executioners by the Spirit is another example.
3 Nephi 7–9. [3 Ne. 7–9] (The chief judge is murdered; society fragments into tribes; tempests, earthquakes, whirlwinds, fires, and three days of darkness testify of Christ’s crucifixion.)
This description is a macrocosm of what happens to individuals when they sin and then repent. There are stages of anarchy, wickedness, attempts at carnal security, the untempered violence of nature before which man is utterly vulnerable, the voice crying, and then promising healing and health.
Many people often go through what happened to this whole society. After an individual has embarked on the downward spiral of iniquity, his contacts with the order of the universe become progressively lost. Having rejected God and conscience, self becomes the only divinity and all relationships are sacrificed to that God. He huddles within a smaller and smaller group of fellow sinners which, ironically, still tries to regulate itself by shadows of the same laws it has rejected—justice, nonaggression, and mutual support—“honor among thieves,” as it were.
But there is no protection against the darkness, destruction, and terror of being utterly lost in the maelstrom of our own passions and doubts. We’re blessed indeed if, out of that darkness, we hear a voice calling chaos into order!
3 Nephi 11:2–6. [3 Ne. 11:2–6] (After the destruction at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the people gather at the temple at Bountiful and, three times, hear a heavenly voice calling to them.)
It’s probably no accident that the Father had to call the people three times. The description of the voice makes it clear that the physiological sensation was unfamiliar to them—it pierced them to the very center and made them quake; it caused their hearts to burn. They tried to figure it out for themselves, but they didn’t understand it. They looked to their neighbors—equally bewildered—for help. Then, finally, they looked “steadfastly towards heaven” and “did open their ears to hear it.” This time they understood it: “Behold my Beloved Son.”
There’s something beautiful about their humility, and something wistful, too—even though these people were in the right place (near the temple) and conversing on the right subject (Jesus Christ), they still were not completely prepared for his coming.
3 Nephi 11:10. [3 Ne. 11:10] “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.”
These are Christ’s first words to the Nephites, and there’s something so gentle and loving in them that they melt my heart. In that sentence, he honors, recompenses, and justifies all those men and women who bore witness of him throughout centuries, suffered for that witness, longed for his coming, and died without seeing it.
I don’t think his choice of words was any accident. In reassuring that same Nephi thirty-three years earlier that the signs of his birth would be fulfilled, the Savior had specifically said that he would “come … into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfill all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.” (3 Ne. 1:13.)
3 Nephi 11:32. [3 Ne. 11:32] “And I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me.”
Christ’s references to his unity with the Father and the Holy Ghost really strike me. When I think how anxious we are to talk about someone we love, I wonder if the Holy Ghost feels the same eagerness and joy to witness of the Savior. And whether the peace and joy we feel on those occasions are an imperfect reflection, on our own mortal level, of the pure and eternal emotions of the Holy Ghost.
3 Nephi 15:14, 18. [3 Ne. 15:14, 18] “And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem. … And now, because of stiff-neckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning [the Nephites] unto them.”
The sadness, and yet the perfect acceptance, that must have been in the Savior’s voice when he described those Jews whose unbelief cut them off from the revelation about their kindred! I keep wanting to protest, “But they didn’t know! They didn’t know enough to know what they were rejecting.” And yet the answer is always the same: the Jews had to have known enough for the Savior’s actions and words to be just.
3 Nephi 17:2–3. [3 Ne. 17:2–3] (Christ to the Nephites:) “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.”
The rest of the chapter is the answer. The Nephites didn’t understand either, but they believed regardless and didn’t reject what the Lord was saying. And the rest of that chapter is a beautiful witness that their faith was much more important than their understanding—their longing and tears kept him there to heal their sick, to let them worship while weeping at his feet, to bless their children and let them see those holy innocents encircled about with angels and fire.
Imagine the unspeakable felicity of being part of an experience that would cause the Savior to say to you with tears, “Behold, my joy is full.” (3 Ne. 17:20.)