Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alma 37: Wisdomy Wisdom

Still addressing his son Helaman, Alma begins to discuss the importance of preserving the scriptural records.

Why is this Even a Thing?
Verses six and seven have been committed to memory by me and countless other seminary students.  Reading it now, I can't help but wonder why it's even a Scripture Mastery.  Take a look:
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. 
Verse six is pretty much a fortune cookie.  It's a nice little thought that, while profound, doesn't really seem like the kind of thing that God really needs to make sure his children know.

Verse seven is, appropriately, confounding.  It seems to be telling us that God works subtly, behind the scenes, and without grand theatrical gestures.  This kind of contradicts the story of Noah, the Tower of Babel, the walls of Jericho, the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the many miracles of Jesus, the story of Daniel, the story of Nephi's sea voyage, the fighting prowess of Ammon, the miraculous escape of the people of Alma, as well as (spoiler alert!) the survival of the Stripling Warriors, the protection of Samuel the Lamanite, and, of course, the dramatic arrival of Christ on the American continent.  You know, just to name a few.

And apparently God uses all these "small means" to save "many souls," which is a load of hooey.  God should not be bragging about how many souls he's saving, considering his vehicle for salvation is basically a crapshoot.  Why is this a Scripture Mastery again?

Yes, "Wisdom" is What That's Called...
There's a second Scripture Mastery in this chapter (verse 35):
O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.
That's not wisdom.  That's obedience.  That's self-preservation.  That's self-consignment.  Alma's just reinforcing the value of brainwashing:  son, the sooner you start toeing the line, the easier things will be for you.

A Liahona is Better than an 8-Ball
Alma concludes by comparing the Liahona to the word of Christ.
And now I say, is there not a type in this thing?  For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
 Let's examine the differences between the words of Christ and the Liahona.

The Liahona was a tangible object that could relate very simple and clear instructions.  It pointed the direction in which Lehi's family was supposed to travel and it contained written messages that were specifically intended for them.  Its services were also unavailable when any member of the group did something wrong, like pick on God's favorite person.

The words of Christ (in the context of Mormonism) are intangible and relate very complex, sometimes contradictory instructions.  They offer no literal direction and leave the user to rely on vague emotions and indefinable feelings to make decisions. Its services are supposedly available to anyone who is faithful and has a sincere desire to know the truth (see Moroni 10), regardless of how murderous their family members may be.

So is the Liahona a physical representation of the value of the scriptures?  Sure, maybe a sloppy one.  I mean, I can see where the comparison is drawn from, but the problem is that the Liahona, in its capacity as a tangible, specific and personalized object, was far more useful than the scriptures ever were. With the Liahona, when God says, "go south," you go south.  With the scriptures, when God says, "don't drink hot things," you know coffee is bad but you're not sure if herbal tea is okay because hot chocolate is clearly acceptable.

The comparison is too simple.  It doesn't really work.  But it was a nice try, Alma.

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