The Consequences of Perceived and Real Godly Punishment
Alma 4:3 talks about how the people thought that all the afflictions they had gone through were because the judgments of God were upon them. They felt that their afflictions came upon them because of their wickedness. They reasoned that if they were bad, bad things happened to them. They consequently reasoned that if they did good things, good things would happen to them. Weather their afflictions were caused by God or not, they “awakened [them] to a remembrance of their duty.” How do I apply this to my life? I apply it the same way. Sometimes I go through hard times. Those hard times may or may not have come on account of my sinfulness, but for whatever reason they came, the effect was still the same … those hard times humbled me and spurred me to be stricter in keeping the commandments.
Attributes to Avoid and Purge from Our Lives
Alma 4 describes many sins of which the Nephites are guilty.
Pride is an oft mentioned topic in the Book of Mormon. It is the subject of the talk President Benson delivered in the April 1989 General Conference. President Benson defines pride in his talk.
"Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
"The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
"Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.)" (Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4)
Pride is manifested in many ways. Alma 4:9 lists several. According to dictionary.com, the following terms are defined.
Scorn - open or unqualified contempt; disdain. A derisive or contemptuous action or speech
Envy - a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc.
Strife - vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism
Malice - desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of a deep-seated meanness
These are all attributes of the natural man.
Sadly, the pride of the church was so deep that it exceeded the pride of those who did not belong to the church … perhaps exceeding that of the Nehors whose main doctrine was founded on pride (see Alma 1:3-4). The church's pride became a stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church (Alma 4:10).
Willful Submission to God
We combat pride by submitting our will to the Father. Alma 4:13-14 describes how the true saints in Alma's day submitted their will to God. They abased themselves … they did not think they were more important or better than others. They succored those who stood in need of succor. They gave their substance and food to the needy. In sum, they suffered all manner of afflictions for Christ's sake.
A true disciple of Christ submits his will to God. Elder Maxwell has so poignantly said, "I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship. There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we’ve really given Him the one final thing He asks of us. And the other things are not very, very important. It is the only possession we have that we can give, and there is no lessening of our agency as a result. Instead, what we see is a flowering of our talents and more and more surges of joy. Submission to Him is the only form of submission that is completely safe." (Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights from My Life,” Ensign, Aug 2000, 7) (see also Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father’,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 22)
The Gift of the Holy Ghost: the Gift of Hope
Often in the Book of Mormon I find one liners that stick out and provide insight. Alma 4:15 has one of those inspiring one-liners. We know of Alma's rebelliousness as a youth … he and the sons of Mosiah sought to destroy the church. We can probably assume that Alma possessed many of the qualities of pride in those dark days. When he saw that those prideful attributes began to surface among the church members, he "began to be very sorrowful." After all the work and labor to convert and teach and build up and establish, the members were beginning to fail and this depressed Alma. And here is where Mormon's one-liner is written … "nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him." I almost wish that period were exchanged for an exclamation point.
This one-liner reminds me of the servant in the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5. At one point, the master of the vineyard is very discouraged and weeps and laments that all the work he has done was in vain. He asks his servant many times, "What could I have done more for my vineyard?" (Jacob 5:49) It seems that the servant has great hopes and believes the vineyard can be salvaged. He counsels the master more than once to "nourish it a little longer" and to "spare it a little longer" (Jacob 5:27, 50). The attitude of the servant did not fail the master of the vineyard; nor did the persistence of the Holy Ghost fail Alma.
So too, we must remember that the Spirit will never give up on us. Indeed we will need to do our part to "come unto" the Lord, but as for the Lord … his hand is "stretched forth … all the day long." (Jacob 5:47; see also 2 Nephi 19:17, 28:32)
Alma Goes to Work
Alma does not sit idly and watch the people dwindle in unbelief. He gives up the judgment seat and decides to "go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions." (Alma 4:19)
The only way he saw to reclaim these people was by "bearing down in pure testimony against them."
We too do not have to sit idly and watch those over whom we have a responsibility drift into unbelief. We can and ought to do something to help our brothers and sisters in need.