At the end of the last chapter (35), Alma saw the people getting hardened to the word of God, but he didn’t get discouraged or cynical about this. He gathered his family together instead, to strengthen them in Christ. He gives blessings to his sons, and chapters 36 and 37 are a blessing to his oldest, Helaman (a future prophet).
Alma begins by telling him to “give ear to my words” (1) and swears to him that if he keeps the commandments he will prosper in the land. He tells him to always remember their forefathers, how they were in bondage and delivered by the hand of God… “and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.” (2)
He tells him “that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (3)
That is the key to happiness—trusting in God with all our hearts, holding back nothing from Him. Remember the Anti-Nephi-Lehies earlier, how they were willing to give ALL to know God. That is the point we must reach, where we are willing to sacrifice and give all we have, all we are, all we will be to God.
Alma talks about his own conversion, how he has “been born of God.” (5) He confesses his unworthiness and praises God for His mercy to him.
For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.
And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.”Alma 36:6-7
Just seeing an angel doesn’t convert someone. Laman and Lemuel in the first book of Nephi saw an angel, but they still hardened their heart against God and always murmured about their trials, instead of trusting Him.
So, how does one experience this change of heart that is spoken so often about by the prophets?
Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”Helaman 3:35
It seems that yielding or submitting to God’s will is central to this change. Believing in Christ and believing in His promises so much that we put aside our own desires for His, knowing He will guide us in the best ways to grow to become more like Him.
Conversion includes a change in behavior, but it goes beyond behavior; it is a change in our very nature.
Conversion is a process, not an event. Conversion comes as a result of righteous efforts to follow the Savior.Conversion – Gospel Topics
Conversion, or this change of heart Alma talks about, comes only through repentance. Alma discusses his experience with this greatest gift from God. After the angel spake to him, he fell to the earth for fear that he would be destroyed.
I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.”Alma 36:12
The word ‘racked’ makes me imagine an ancient torture device that pulled and twisted a man’s body in unnatural positions, causing him to think he would be torn apart. Alma’s torment came from remembering “all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. (13) Yea, and I had murdered many of his 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.” (14)
Any time we sin, we rebel against God. Alma doesn’t downplay or justify his past sins. He talks about leading others away from the truth, which he equates to murdering many of God’s children.
We all will stand before God someday—sinner and saint. Alma gives a glimpse of what the unrepentant will feel at that day. Inexpressible horror. While the repentant will feel inexpressible joy. For three days he felt this horror at the thought of standing before God. He calls it the “pains of a damned soul.” (16)
Remembering was what pulled Alma out of this scary abyss of despair.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.”Alma 36:17
This shows how at any point in our journey—whether we have committed horrific sins, like Alma the elder, or minor sins—as soon as we remember Jesus Christ and turn to him, immediately the plan of salvation can take hold in our hearts and begin to change us.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.”Alma 36:18-19
Immediate relief and forgiveness came when he exercised faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!”Alma 36:20
That is a beautiful gift Christ holds out to ALL of us. No matter where we are, or what we have done, as soon as we turn to Him, He can banish our pain, our guilt, our chains tying us to the devil, and fill us with joy. This is what being born of God looks like, feels like.
One of the ways we can know if we have experienced this mighty change of heart, like Alma, is by whether we have a desire to bring others the happiness we feel inside ourselves—that joy of repentance. Alma served God from that day on.
Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”Alma 36:24
When you have tasted of God’s redeeming love—this sweet and precious fruit that surpasses all other fruit—you want to share it with others. You want them to experience the joy you feel and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
True conversion leads to a missionary mindset.
Alma is using a Hebrew form of poetry in this blessing to his son, called chiasmus. He started with the concept of remembering the past and trusting in God that He will deliver us, to ending with that same theme. And in the middle, as he tells about his own conversion story, that is the central theme of what trusting in Christ does for us.
This chiasmus ends with Alma telling his son that God has supported him through every trial and trouble “and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.” (27) He once again urges his son to remember his forefathers and how they were in captivity and delivered when they turned to the Lord. Remembering this helps us know God will deliver us as well in our afflictions.
Once more, he tells Helaman this truth that is stated again and again throughout the Book of Mormon.
Inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word.”Alma 36:30
Alma has just circled about in his chiasmus to give his son three truths to hold onto:
Remember our forefathers, who have built the framework which we stand upon. History is a great teacher, if we are humble enough to learn from it. Some aren’t. Many today want to judge and try to erase history (which never leads to good results). When we burn down the framework beneath us, we will fall.
Our forefathers have lived before us, and they have had trials and challenges. They’ve made mistakes, they’ve done amazing things too. Some have turned to God in their hard times, and have written about their deliverance by Him. Others have not, and have been damned in their progress. When we look back to learn from the past, we can see more clearly how God blesses those who trust in Him (that is the second truth).
Trust in God, knowing He will deliver us from our trials and prosper us as we demonstrate faith in His Son, our Savior. Trust requires the whole heart, not just part of it. God never promised us that He wouldn’t give us trials in life, but He has promised that He will support and help us through them.
At one point in my life, I realized I help back part of myself from God, out of fear. Fear that if I fully committed myself to Him, He might test me even more than I could bear, by taking a loved one from me or some other challenge I didn’t think I could endure. When I finally (after many years) repented of this fear and truly gave Him my whole heart, trusting that He would help me through whatever trial came my way (even ones I didn’t believe I had the power to get through on my own), I finally felt true peace and comfort. My fears left me as faith in my Savior pushed them out.
Fear and faith cannot abide together.
This total trust, or complete faith in Jesus Christ, helps us be patient in afflictions and not fear the future, because we know we will be blessed in the end—either in this life or the world to come. That makes us trust that God knows best and is using mortality to teach us and help us grow to become more like Him…which is the third truth.
Become like our Savior. When we remember our spiritual and physical heritage, that leads to trusting God no matter what happens to us. And as we go through trials and hardship, our trust and faith in Jesus Christ unlock the saving and enabling power of His atonement, and we become more than we could be on our own, through Him. Jesus is the one who changes our hearts. He is the one who helps us to become More.
Remembering, trusting, becoming. How are you doing in using these three principles?