CLICK HERE to read Alma 39.
This chapter, through chapter 42, is Alma’s talk with his son Corianton.
Alma has “somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother”, because Corianton is in big trouble. The previous chapter had a short and sweet blessing of peace and strength and counsel to a son who had been obedient, completed his mission, and was continuing to teach the people.
But Alma’s youngest son, Corianton, has not been faithful. He went on his mission and hooked up with a non-covenant girl in non-covenant ways. But that was just where the mess culminated.
It started with pride. Corianton was boasting in his own strength and wisdom, instead of acknowledging that it comes from the Lord (verse 2). But then he provided he had little strength, because he did not finish his mission, and he had little wisdom, for he abandoned his mission all together (verse 3).
That’s where he met the non-covenant girl and did non-covenant things.
Alma agreed with Corianton’s defense (you can almost hear him whine, “But, dad…”), saying that this girl was a “harlot” and had charmed many, “yea, she did steal away the hearts of many”… but he confronts the poor choice, saying “this was no excuse for thee, my son” (verse 4). Corianton knew better, had been taught the covenants, and was trusted to serve his mission. “Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou was entrusted” (verse 4).
If he had not been lost to pride and false wisdom, he would not have been lost to sexual sin.
Part of true humility and true wisdom is knowing and understanding that we need correction, instruction, and guidance to choose well – and expecting it. It comes from our daily prayers, our daily scripture studies, and through our priesthood leaders and church meetings. It comes from prophets and apostles and personal revelation. But it does come, for we do sorely need it.
Sexual sin, especially in the case of this charmer, can be very subtle. Most people – not all, but most – do not start out hoping to commit some big sexual sin. There are many layers to this subtlety. Non-sexual attraction is natural and appropriate, and different people resonate with us for different reasons. There are also some people who are more attractive than others, either physically or emotionally or intellectually or in some specific trait kind of way that we find preferable. That’s okay, and it is how we choose friends and enjoy each other’s company. And as part of friendship, it’s even okay when there is some emotional interdependence, with turn-taking in supporting one another or helping each other through life’s challenges. That’s “mutual edification” when applied spiritually, and it is good and right and part of the plan. So that’s okay. It’s not a problem.
The problem comes when that emotional interdependence slips into dependence, or attachment, or steps out-of-bounds of a healthy relationship. That’s when trauma-drama starts, when people are overwhelmed because someone expects them to “save” them, or when people drown because they think someone else can do their work for them, or when inappropriate emotional attachments (or “emotional affairs”) begin to develop.
This is when we need correction, instruction, and guidance.
We may receive this correction and instruction and be able to develop the skills to put things back in balance, and be just fine.
We may receive this correction and instruction and not have the skills to keep things in balance, and so need to withdraw (separate ways, like Abram making peace with Lot) in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.
There may be some combination of the two, depending on whether the other person also receives correction and instruction and is able to keep things in balance or not.
But it only requires one person to keep good boundaries for everyone to be safe. So it is always our own responsibility. If we are each responsible for ourselves, that also means any slippage is both person’s faults, and not just one person’s fault. So it is critical that we ourselves accept the correction and instruction that comes, and repent, and let the Savior restore the balance of things or withdraw ourselves if it cannot be restored or is too spiritually dangerous.
But if we refuse the correction, and ignore the instruction, and stray from the guidance, then we fall into a mess of our own making.
And it is a big mess, the worst, except for murder or denying the Holy Ghost (verse 5).
Denying the Holy Ghost is big because it means you deny yourself access to the presence of God, and murder is bad because taking another’s life deprives them of the opportunity to repent and obtain forgiveness (verse 6).
Sexual sin is bad because it takes what is good and right and applies it out-of-Order. It is good and right and holy, but it also has a place, and timing, and context – and that place and timing and context is granted by the proper authority. So to take it out of place, out of timing, or out of context also takes it out from under the proper authority, and that is a lot of out-of-Order-ness.
Alma discusses this directly with his son, saying that he “would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good” (verse 7). But it’s a big deal, and needs to be address directly. Alma addresses it directly not to shame his son further, but to help him to full repentance so that he can find his way back to God. “… ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day” (verse 8).
So, says Alma, “I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes” (verse 9). This is an important part of repentance, to stop doing what was out-of-Order. He also tells him to counsel with his older brothers, who are wise because “thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers. And give heed to their counsel” (verse 10). This is another reason it is important for us to have good friends whom we choose wisely, for they do counsel us and can help hold us accountable so that it does not happen again.
Alma also discusses with him the effects of his sin. Besides sexual sin, the effects of his bad behavior included destroying the testimony of the prophets. When Alma went to preach to the people, part of why they did not believe what he said was because they had seen how his son behaved (verse 11). His son was not just some kid with bad behavior, but was there on a mission preaching to the people but not walking the talk. This was hypocrisy, and the people called him out on it. We must live as we teach, and this is often part of our correction: testifying of that which we know because we have been corrected and instructed in the matter.
So this is part of Alma’s instruction to his son, for him to “do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; that ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done” (verses 12-13).
Our testimonies are not only our words, but our actions.
If I have been loved well and taught what it means to be part of a family, then my testimony is not only talking about family-related principles, but also working hard to love and care for my own family as much as they will let me.
Part of our testimonies is also acknowledging that we fail, when we fail, and sharing in a way that teaches the principles we are learning and testifying of repentance and the atonement. This is not the same as dwelling on the past, focusing on negative things, condemning ourselves, or not forgiving ourselves – those things deny the atonement and do not allow it to work through its full process in us. We do share in process, but then we also move forward, line upon line. Alma recounted his conversion story to his sons in detail, but it is only recorded once. The rest of his teachings are about other principles, and what he has learned since then. We should always be moving onward and upward, one step at a time. The plan is based on progression, so we must move forward.
Alma then reminds Corianton that Christ will “come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people” (verse 15). Corianton knows this from growing up in the Gospel, but needs this message in a personal way as he goes through his own repentance process and deepens his own conversion. This message of hope and mercy is the mission he was called to serve, “to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming” (verse 16). It is time for Corianton to claim that hope and mercy for himself.
Finally, Alma answers Corianton’s questions about how they know Christ will come before he comes. It is not that Corianton doubts Christ will come, but he is asking why they should know about it ahead of time. Alma answers, “is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” (verse 17). Christ came for all people, not just the people of His day. He came for the people born long before He was born in Bethlehem, and He came for those of us born long after. “Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children?” (verse 18). “Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?” (verse 19).