This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
On Sunday I substituted for my second oldest child’s primary teacher and taught a lesson that included Alma 14-16. Previous to these chapters Alma and Amulek are preaching in the land of Ammonihah where they have received considerable opposition from Zeezrom and many of his contemporaries. By chapter 14 though, Zeezrom has been “convinced more and more of the power of God” (Alma 12:7-8) and he humbly tries to understand.
What does this mean which Amulek hath spoken concerning the resurrection of the dead, that all shall rise from the dead, both the just and the unjust, and are brought to stand before God to be judged according to their works?
Like all of us Zeezrom wanted to know what God’s plan for him was. After Alma and Amulek finish preaching many believe and many are angry. The believing men are forced from the land (Zeezrom included) and their wives and children who also believe and taken captive and put to death by fire. This is one of the most brutal and challenging parts of the Book of Mormon. We cannot help but feel the weight of this terrible injustice and be saddened by the pains of the innocent lives lost. During my lesson I felt the spirit tell me I needed to address this in depth with the children and we had a discussion about “The Problem of Evil”. Now before you tell me this is too deep of a subject for nine and ten year old kids, I must point out that many of these kids told me they have already experienced loss, injustice, and persecution. One of the kids shared how his mother had lost a baby some years before and how that deeply affected him even though he was very young at the time. He was looking for an answer as to why God allowed his baby sibling to die. This child in his own words asked me the same question that Amulek asked Alma as they were forced to watch the mass slaughter of innocent people.
How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
In my minds eye I hear these words said with tears and pleading, for we learned through Amulek’s own words that he was a native of Ammonihah, and a respected man in that community. For him these were probably friends being martyred in front of his eyes, maybe even family. I imagine a man who’s heart is broken by what he is seeing and a man who’s faith is being tried to it’s limit.
Then Alma replies:
The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
I am guessing this isn’t what Amulek wanted to hear. Then he says,
perhaps they will burn us also.
And Alma says:
Be it according to the will of the Lord.
Understanding the will of the Lord and the problem of evil is probably the most challenging obstacle we will face on a daily basis because it often comes into direct conflict with our notions of right and wrong, mercy and justice. The Book of Mormon teaches again and again that “ if ye shall keep the commandments’of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you.” (Mosiah 2:31) Yet, Amulek was forced to watch a mass murder, my faithful father-in-law still has cancer after several rounds of chemo, and as of February 2016 there are 13.5 million Syrian refugees identified by the UN. That says nothing about the seemingly limitless amounts of injustices that go on every day around the world. It would be easy to ascribe all of these things to “God’s will” but by doing so I believe we misunderstand God, our own responsibilities, and the nature of agency.
So what is God’s will and how do we recognize it?
My favorite scripture reads:
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
In only 20 words we learn all of God’s will. To accomplish this goal God has provided for us a plan, even a Plan of SALVATION. The very name of the plan teaches is purpose, to save us from sin, to bring us home to God and allow us to become like Him. God’s will is broad, which allows it room for variation and adaptation. His plan is based on the necessity of agency which allows for the existence of evil, the burden of consequence, and the confluence of both of act upon even the best people. This means life will be messy. Some of us will personally understand how it feels to be abandoned by a close friend or family member. Others will struggle with addiction, suffer abuse, lose loved ones too early, and be denied opportunities, love, safety, and even our freedom, but this does not contradict with the notion that we have a loving Heavenly Father. It does teach us that God needs us to be active in his plan. We cannot passively watch the suffering of others or experience our own without allowing it to teach us. We cannot blame God for our suffering, for he is not the author of it.
Instead we can do as Alma did, we can have faith. We can pray to find God’s will for us and through the Holy Ghost’s comfort find peace in our trials. The Bible dictionary defines prayer as “‘the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” I think that is truly beautiful.
Next, we can stand boldly and testify of truth, just as Alma and Amulek did while imprisoned. By the power of God the jail that held them captive crumbled to the ground and they were freed. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, but all strengthen our testimonies. What metaphorical prisons might we escape if we trust in God more fully?
Finally, if we see someone else struggling we can comfort them. After all that had happened to Alma and Amulek I think the most touching part is tucked away at the end of chapter 15.
Alma having seen all these things, therefore he took Amulek and came over to the land of Zarahemla, and took him to his own house, and did administer unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord.
What would have happened to Amulek if he didn’t have Alma to be his friend? I can only imagine the feelings he must have had after all of this. Today we would say that Amulek suffered from ”survivors guilt” and “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”, not to mention the fact that he was now homeless. (The city of Ammonihah is destroyed by the Lamanites in chapter 16.) We can be miracles in each other’s lives. We have the power (granted to us by God through agency) to lift, to heal, and to bless. We can be the answer to the problem of evil by the way we treat one another. Yes, bad things do happen to good people, but they don’t have to be as painful if we choose to follow the example of OUR Savior Jesus Christ.
I wanted that Primary class to understand that God’s love for them won’t erase the challenges of life, but it will always be constant. I wanted them to know that they could be “ministering angles” to their friends and family. I desperately needed them to understand that suffering doesn’t mean we need to feel alone. Why? Because I believe that understanding these things at a young age will help them to build the testimonies they need when faced with the challenges of real life.
God has a plan and coincidentally it “solves” the problem of evil with the perfect blend of divine mercy and justice. All things are made right through Jesus Christ. That was my testimony to a small primary class I had the privileged of serving, and it’s my testimony to you as well.