Monday, March 31, 2014

Alma 16: Continual War

Suddenly, without warning, we're back into war mode.  Even though we're fresh off a block of missionary chapters, by the end of verse 1 there is "a cry of war heard throughout the land."

Pre-Modern Revelation, Or Why Alma Prays For Other People
The Lamanites attack the Nephite nation suddenly, swooping in to level a city and take a bunch of suburbanites captive.  Nephite commander Zoram and his two sons hurry over to Alma, who is still the church's high priest, to beg for his help:
...therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.
Alma prays about it and returns with the location of the Lamanite army.  Zoram uses this information to surprise the Lamanites, rout their forces, and rescue every last one of the captives.

And that's all great.  Except that's not how revelation is supposed to work according to Mormonism.  Zoram should have been able to pray for his own answers.  After all, God is no respecter of persons, so Alma's prayer should have had no greater effect than Zoram's would have.  Why run to the prophet, especially considering Alma's stewardship was over the church, not over the military?

You Keep Using That Word...
Take a look at verse 12:
And the Lamanites did not come again to war against the Nephites until the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.  And thus for three years did the people of Nephi have continual peace in all the land.
This is the eighth usage of the phrase "continual peace" in the Book of Mormon so far.  The earliest chronological mention of "continual peace" was in Mosiah 10, which was at most 110 years before this.

Furthermore, this is the third usage of that same phrase so far in the Book of Alma alone, which means that, over the course of just fourteen years, the people of Nephi have enjoyed three separate periods of "continual peace."  If you ask me, it's not very continual if it only lasts a few years.  And I feel like the eternal God that supposedly inspired this book would have agreed.

Justice, Sweet Justice
The big story in this chapter is the destruction of Ammonihah.  When the Lamanites attacked, they started with Ammonihah, the city that had rejected the gospel, burned the righteous, and kicked out the prophet:
...and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
That sounds to me like:
...and everybody in Ammonihah was slaughtered.  The city, which Nehor's followers had claimed was indestructible, was also obliterated.  And thus we see that those arrogant godless dicks got what was coming to them.
Rejoice!  God is good!  He doles out harsh blanket punishments on large groups of people like they're all identical!  He destroys the wicked by the hand of the even more wicked!  He wreaks vengeance upon those who test his power!  Truly he loves us all!

Why Not Ammonihah?
Following Zoram's victory over the Lamanite armies, the Nephite civilization lapses back into another period of continual temporary peace.  The gospel was taught, the church grew, and the people were excellent to one another.  And this happens:
...the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming
That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy... 
If God can manipulate the masses so easily by simply pouring out his spirit so that they don't reject his word, why couldn't he have done that to the people of Ammonihah?  If he'd just "prepared their hearts" properly, God could have spared those people physical death and spiritual doom.

Sure, maybe there were a lot of wicked people in Ammonihah who wouldn't have received the spirit, but considering how many Alma and Amulek were able to win over, he could have at least softened the soil a little bit so that there wasn't such a violent backlash against the believers.  With God all things are possible, right?

Nope.  Let's just let a whole bunch of people die instead.

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