This is a long one, but if you have or have had doubts about the Church or the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or knows someone who struggles with it, I think you’ll find this worth it.
1. And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests.
2. And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God.
While breaking God’s laws might not be a civil issue that Mosiah can exercise his power to handle, persecution is. It would seem religious worship and belief is protected under Nephite law, and therefore persecution goes against it. This is more specific than that, telling “unbeliever[s]” that they can’t persecute those in “the church of God.”
3. And there was a strict command throughout all the churches that there should be no persecutions among them, that there should be an equality among all men;
4. That they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.
5. Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God.
So is this a separate “command”, or so it seems. Something that perhaps Alma sent out to the church letting them know they have the King’s protection for their freedom to worship, but that they better live up to the privileges of that freedom by living in Christlike ways and treating everyone as equals.
6. And there began to be much peace again in the land; and the people began to be very numerous, and began to scatter abroad upon the face of the earth, yea, on the north and on the south, on the east and on the west, building large cities and villages in all quarters of the land.
7. And the Lord did visit them and prosper them, and they became a large and wealthy people.
There seems to be a modern thinking that war is good for the economy. I highly doubt it’s better than peace.
8. Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
9. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.
A few notes: “one of the sons of Alma.” So he had other sons. Also, it calls him a “man.” So he’s grown, though he might be considered a man much younger than we think, in some cultures. Though it seems unlikely people would follow him and listen to his words if he were too young, unless he was just that good at flattery.
Interesting the the sons of the 2 most powerful people in the land (the secular king and religious high priest) turned out so different from their father’s (parents?). I wonder how much of the escape from the land of Lehi-Nephi Alma the Younger experienced? Was he there for any of it? It must have absolutely broken Alma’s heart that his son was exactly like he’d been in his younger days. But he also knows the power, joy, and wonder of repentance and forgiveness.
I wonder if he had to excommunicate his own son, and those of the king? It seems likely it would have been left to him because of their “high birth” even if both he and Mosiah tried to make the people all equal. Another priest would have likely deferred that responsibility to him. Perhaps that was why it was such a hard thing for him, why he was so conflicted about it and tried to get Mosiah to judge when we were previously told about. Perhaps that’s why the Lord laid it out so clearly? Based on that, it’s clear their sons are not members of the Church at this point.
10. And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king–
“Secretly” as if what they were doing was not right. And the end of the verse confirms it: it was contrary to the King’s law (or at least commands). On the one hand we think: “wow, their own son’s breaking the law and subverting the power of the king, and the priest.” But on the other, the entire Book of Mormon is filled with sons going exactly contrary to their fathers, and even seeking to kill them. Ether presents one prince after another imprisoning or killing his father to take the throne. And the same happens in the main storyline of the BoM as well. It starts with Laman & Lemuel plotting to kill Lehi. And it even happens in a reversed way that’s much more positive with Limhi wanting to do what’s right, and not wanting his father Noah killed.
It says his clear intention is to destroy the church. I think a close look at 1 or 2 of the recent high-profile excommunications shows that they’re trying to destroy the church. For all their protests, their claims of loving the church, and supposed desire to merely help people having a hard time, when you look at the overall push and attitude, those are just the “sheep’s clothing” to cover their real nature as wolves that would (and to some extent are) destroy(ing) the flock.
In our society that’s okay. And even encouraged by many groups and people’s, especially those who see Mormonism as an evil thing. But what if it weren’t? Would calling into question the validity of the Book of Mormon, especially using arguments that have been proven false, be considered “persecution”? What about claiming leaders of the Church did things they hadn’t done, or use Tithing money in ways they don’t? It can be slander and/or libel under our current legal system, so it’s not such a stretch to think it was against the law (Mosiah’s proclamation) that they were merely sewing discontent and doubt, not abusing people, or cheating them, or “wine, women, and song” type sinning. In some ways his sin is more grievous: he’s an anti-Christ. He’s working for Satan, whether he consciously believes that.
11. And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
12. And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.
13. Nevertheless he cried again, saying: 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.
Wow. This just gives me chills, and makes me want to jump for joy. I wish everyone could be given this opportunity. But the truth is, most wouldn’t change. Even after this kind of experience, most wouldn’t repent. For a while they would try, but they’d go back to all they’d done before. And that’s why they don’t receive this kind of opportunity, in my opinion (but maybe God has other reasons for making this so rare). That, and most don’t have an Alma or Mosiah for a father, or the wonderful women they must have had as mother’s, to call down the powers of heaven.
I like how he quotes the Lord. Angels don’t apologize. There’s no “I know you don’t believe in God, but….” It’s just “the Lord hath said…” BOOM! “The ground just shook and my voice is like thunder, we’re not going to debate the existence of God.” (Or which god is the correct God, as they might’ve believed in false Gods).
It’s interesting that they were going about rebelling against God. Then he asks them why they’re persecuting the church? So was their method to openly mock and tear down the faith of people? Was it to “help them out of the church”? Or some other way, such as just making sin seem really appealing? It kinda seems like “all the above” to me. But, it could be they were much more like a John Dehlin: claiming attachment to the Church and a desire to help. Maybe even not breaking the well-known individual sins such as adultery or whatever. They might have even used their fathers as a way “in” with people struggling.
In a way, it seems like he’s validating the effectiveness of what Alma is doing: the only thing that can overthrow the church is the transgression of the people. Perhaps in a way there’s a validation and accusation there that “yes, you’re overthrowing my church”?
14. 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.
15. And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
Another “boom!” Moment. But he doesn’t say “my voice shakes the earth and I’m sent from God!” He asks questions. He engages Alma at least mentally with a question, even if Alma doesn’t answer.
16. Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. 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.
Going back to v8 Alma the Younger is called “wicked,” “idolatrous,” “a man of many words,” he “did speak much flattery,” and “he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” The angel asks him why he persecutes the church, and his rebuke has nothing to do with sinning in the “traditional” ways, it’s all about the church and undermining or overthrowing it.
Alma’s (his father’s) revelation was all about people being able to “hear God’s voice.” Also, the word “persecute” has roots in “pursue”. I always think of it like harassing physically, or through a verbal/written attack. But couldn’t it mean spiritual persecution (including pursuit)? Maybe he was just preaching the gospel of dissonance. Perhaps like a John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, or Denver Snuffer, he was just making people question his father’s decisions, motives, and those of the entire leadership of the Church. Its possible he was making them doubt their faith, and put their questions and doubt first (instead of their faith), so that they could no longer hear the voice of God in their lives. Then he’d feed on those doubts/concerns they might have, and go after their faith in God next. At that point, when you’re doubting everything including your relationship with God, it’s kinda hard to listen to His voice. And without personal revelation offering that balance in perspective, you’re only left with doubt. If you stop listening to those who preach the Word, what other counter-balance is there to the doubt?
I’m getting the feeling from all this he wasn’t the kind of sinner I’ve always thought: women and wine, cheating and taking advantage of people. I think he’s the more subtle kind, the more devious kind. He’s the pseudo-intellectual out there undermining faith, trust in the church leaders, and ultimately a relationship with Christ. He’s helping people go from hearing the voice of God, to not being able to hear it. He’s helping the people forget what the Angel reminds Alma and his friends of here: to remember the great things the Lord has done for them.
17. And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
18. And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
There’s no denying it in the moment. But I guarantee that if they hadn’t really repented, they’d have soon discounted the experience. Just as so many of us discount or forget our spiritual experiences, when doubt is introduced. That’s the difference: those who cling to their faith, in spite of doubts, questions, and other challenges, are those who can remember. Those who in life’s darkest moments say “I may not feel God’s influence now, but there was that time when… …And I KNEW it then, and that’s enough for me now.” I think another difference is that those who remain faithful continually seek those spiritual experiences to increase and shore up their faith. So that memory of “that time when” isn’t 10 years ago, or even 5. It’s a few weeks ago, or a few months.