Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Alma 36: More Fatherly Advice

We're now entering a section in which Alma gives all his fatherly advice to his sons.  His first victim is Helaman, to whom he devotes two chapters.  Helaman must have been a very patient man to sit through all of this.

Prosperity is Next to Godliness
Okay, right off the bat, we have a problematic claim in verse 1:
My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
I feel like this can be pretty easily disproved.

Of course, I guess it depends on your definition of "prosper."  Alma doesn't explicitly say that keeping the commandments will result in financial prosperity.  Or perhaps prosperity, in this sense, refers to happiness.  Regardless, it seems like a horrible thing to tell a believer, because of the unspoken inverse:  if you're not prosperous, wealthy or happy, it's because you're not doing a good enough job keeping the commandments of God.

Way to feed the Mormon guilt factory, Alma.  Like we needed any more help.

Apparently, I'm Suicidal
In a flashback that J.J. Abrams would have been proud to include on Lost, Alma finally recounts the details of what happened to him back in Mosiah 27 when he was basically paralyzed for three days by an angelic temper tantrum.  In the midst of Alma's description of the guilt he suffered during his coma, he discusses the fact that he had torn down the testimonies of believers:
Yea, and I had murdered many of [God's] 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.
Nobody's responsible for their own beliefs or their own salvation, because you can just spiritually murder them and take their eternal fate into your own hands!  Also, if you believe a certain thing and want someone else to believe the same thing, you better be sure it's right, because you might be murdering them!

And that also means that, since I governed my own exit from the church instead of following some silvertongued troublemaker, what I did was suicide.  Interesting.

God Always Has Your Back, Bro
Alma recounts his "exquisite" joy when he cried out for forgiveness, was absolved of his sins, and restored to health.  Then he explains that he's spent the rest of his life working tirelessly for God and telling his son how God always bails his people out of tough spots.
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.
...Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; 
There are some problems with this.  Alma is telling Helaman that he can trust God to deliver him from all kinds of horrible situations.  What he doesn't mention is that Alma was in most of these situations specifically because he was trying to do God's work.  Which sounds less like "You can trust God to help you out" and more like "You can trust God to clean up the messes he makes."

Then he goes on to praise the power of God in delivering his people from bondage, citing pretty much the entire length of the Book of Mormon thus far.  But what he doesn't mention is that God allowed many of these situations to happen because his people were unrighteous and that the freedom the people experienced following God's mercy has always been temporary.  That sounds less like "God will always rescue his people" and more like "God will let his people get screwed when he's dissatisfied with them and after they've learned their lesson he'll rescue them but not necessarily protect them for much longer."

Alma's just seeing God through rose-colored glasses, I guess.  Although from his perspective, it makes a little bit more sense, because God actually did come through for him pretty much every time.  But if Alma had been one of those people God callously let burn to death in Ammonihah with the flimsy reasoning that they could be witnesses against their murderers in the last day, I doubt he'd be singing the same tune.

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