Today’s Gospel Doctrine lesson: the conversion of Alma the Younger.
I often hear this account used as an inspirational story for parents of wayward children. I think it works beautifully to that effect, as long as it’s not taken at surface value, i.e., this isn’t a simple matter of “pray real hard and an angel will make your kid repent.” Some thoughts along those lines:
The angel says (among other things):
Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people. And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; 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. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
It’s important to note that, while Alma the Elder’s faith plays a heavy role here, he’s not the only mover. The church as a body is under persecution; the church as a body has been praying for deliverance. It’s clear from the wording that Alma has bumped against a boundary set by the Lord that trumps personal agency. The angel says, in sum, If you want to ruin your life, go ahead. But keep away from the church, for the Lord will not suffer it to be overthrown by the likes of you. It’s not clear what would’ve happened if Alma continued persecuting the saints, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume he would have been forcibly prevented from doing so.
However, the angel also says that he has come in response to Alma the Elder’s prayers, so that Alma the Younger may be convinced of the truth. What gives? Why don’t other parents get this kind of dramatic response to their similar pleas?
Answer: I believe they do. But the convincing often comes without a bona fide angel as messenger. Sometimes it comes through a different kind of messenger–someone boring and mortal like you or me. Sometimes it comes through the logical consequences of the child’s actions. Reading Alma’s words, it’s clear that it wasn’t the angel per se who sparked his repentence; rather, it was driven by the pain and suffering which ensued once he became aware of the truth concerning himself.
I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds. And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul. And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
I’ve had similar experiences myself, and so have many others I’ve known. Maybe we weren’t knocked into a coma by the force of the truth, but we were knocked hard. And this knocking came when we hit rock bottom. A close friend of mine once prayed regarding her wayward son: May he fall fast, and fall hard. It worked.
Is that what Alma the Elder prayed for? We don’t know. But he sure was happy when he saw his son in a comatose state. In fact, he called for everyone to come take a peek. And then they all prayed for Alma the Younger’s revival.
Again, the health of the church was at stake here–the whole community, not just Alma the Elder, was invested in the Lord’s dealings with the younger Alma. But Alma the Elder’s prayers were strong ones. Here’s one reason why: just prior to the beginning of this story, he had his calling and election made sure. In Mosiah 26: 20 the Lord said unto him:
Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
Obviously Alma the Elder had been true and faithful to his covenants, so true and so faithful that the Lord had guaranteed his exaltation. Most LDS parents don’t have that guarantee–not yet. But many do have conditional covenantal promises. Every endowed member of the church has been taught the connection between their own faithfulness and the Lord’s freedom to bless their posterity.
The take-away lesson? As we keep our own covenants, we can pray with faith that the Lord will bless and preserve our children. But the answers to those prayers may come in unexpected ways. Often, things may get much worse before they get better. Fallen mortals are stubborn. Many of us won’t repent until it hurts more to keep sinning than it does to stop. And many of us won’t feel those pains until our freefall ends against solid rock. Good thing the rock of our Redeemer is strong enough to bear our weight.
And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.