CLICK HERE to read Alma 36.
This chapter and the next are the teachings and blessing Alma gives to his son Helaman. He opens with his testimony of a principle, the promise that “inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God, ye shall prosper in the land” (verse 1). This “inasmuch” would – in modern English – be read as “to the degree”. To the degree you keep the commandments, you will be blessed.
He urges them to remember the lessons from their ancestors, that they were in captivity, in bondage, “and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham…” (verse 2). This is the same reason we read scriptures, to learn vicariously the lessons they have lived already. If we learn these lessons, we ourselves do not have to experience them directly. If we do not learn, we will live and learn.
So Alma urges his son Helaman to listen to what he has to say, and to trust God to support him in trials and troubles and afflictions (verse 3). This is important, he says, because these lessons are not temporal (physical) lessons; they are spiritual lessons (verse 4), and we cannot know them without God making them known to us (verse 5). And when He does, it is because He wants to teach us, because He loves us and wants us to return home with Him, not because we deserve it or because we are worthy of it (verse 5). To explain this, Alma tells his son about his past, about where he has come from, about who he was before God rescued him from himself. Here is his story (see Mosiah 27):
Alma (Junior) and his buddies (the sons of Mosiah) were not believers like their parents. But instead of just not-believing, they were aggressive, and went around attacking the church, “seeking to destroy the church of God” (verse 6). One day an angel appeared to them, “and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us” (verse 7). The angel told them to stand, and they did (verse 8). The angel told them that they would be destroyed if they didn’t stop trying to destroy the church (verse 9). The message and teachings they received so astonished Alma, that he fell and could not speak or move for three days (verses 10-11). What he says next is what any of us, who truly see God and truly know ourselves, it is what all of us have felt and known and grieved:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember 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 (verses 12-13).
As part of his repentance, Alma acknowledges the effect of his sin:
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. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct in both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds (verses 14-15).
It was not that he had killed kids, but that he had led away the children of God, separating them from their Father in Heaven, and so destroyed them.
He knew that not only had he not accepted true Truth, but he had led others away from it.
He had not only not kept the commandments, but he had rebelled against God.
This, he knew, separated him from God, and to face judgment in such a state horrified him.
I know this horror.
Anyone who has truly seen God, and truly known themselves, has known this horror.
Anyone who has been taught who God created them to be, and looked at who they have only been thus far, has known this horror.
It is the moment we become aware of, and acknowledge with all our being, that we cannot be who we were created to be – we cannot become the children of God – without that God who is our Father.
We cannot become like Him on our own.
On my own, left to my own devices, I destroyed everything and everyone around me.
My life, my opportunity of mortality, was very nearly wasted. I was permitted to be born on Earth to prove I would use my ability to choose well, to follow my Savior. Instead, more than anything, I proved my need for a Savior.
This is why me and Alma have been “racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (verse 16).
But God does not abandon us in that place.
There is a discrepancy between who He created us to be, and who we really have been, but He included in His plan, from before the beginning, a way to balance the difference: His Son.
This is what Alma remembers, the hope we have in Christ, who rescues us from ourselves and the destruction we cause and the pain of the injustices others cause against us.
“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” (verse 17).
This is my own chance of rescue. This is Alma’s only hope.
“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” (verse 18).
This is when we believe, enough to call out for him, enough to apply the atonement to even ourselves, enough to not just believe who Christ was (is), but that He can do what He says He can do.
It is the Sacrament Hymn, Reverently and Meekly Now (first verse):
Rev’rently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one;
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.
“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” (verse 19). This atonement, this love of Christ, this understanding of what He has done for each and all of us, this effect of the atonement is the only thing that could meet that justice, pay that price, redeem us from our debt, ransom our very souls. It is the only thing that could easy that pain, calm that fear, and comfort our deep shame.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (verse 20).
He does not just pay the price of our debt, and so ease us of our shame-pain. That is mercy. But beyond that mercy is grace, which does give us joy in equal measure. “… there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains… on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (verse 21).
Alma then goes on to describe a vision of God, thinking back to scriptures and Lehi’s vision (see 1 Nephi 1), “and my soul did long to be there” (verse 22).
This is a sacred feeling, beyond description more than the words Alma chose there.
To be in the presence of God, and to see God, and to see into the corners of eternity brings joy and peace indescribable, while to still be tied to mortality is an excruciating experience. Mortality feels heavy, and slow, and sluggish, and it is painful to be squashed back into your body.
But when one understands who God is, and who we are, when one understands they are ransomed, and chooses to serve that God, then God does quicken and strengthen us to complete our mortal missions.
“… behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God” (verse 23).
And when we understand that, then we know our covenant is to testify.
“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” (verse 24).
And when we keep our covenants, the Lord does strengthen (quicken) us for the task, and bless our efforts.
“Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;” (verse 25).
And when we testify, others also see God.
So Alma says of those of us who have also seen God, and converted, “for because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God” (verse 26).
And God does not abandon us: “I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me… I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me” (verse 27).
Ultimately, we will complete our mortal missions, and He will free us from the mortal death that comes: “I know that he will raise me up at the last day…” (verse 28), for He is the one who delivers us from bondage and captivity (verses 28-29).
This is how and why he will bless us to the degree we choose to let Him, by demonstrating through our choices that we choose to follow Him (and so are entitled to receive all He has to offer) (verse 30).