By: Daniel Rincon, Moroni Channel
Las Vegas Nevada, USA
This question fascinates me. It’s one that a missionary once asked a modern Apostle of the Church, and at first glance it may seem simple and maybe ridiculous (of course he doesn’t!), but if you examine it against the backdrop of life experiences, it is incredibly deep. Some experiences in my own life and the lives of other people I know have led to that question. “I thought You wanted me to take that job or go to this school…” or “I thought You wanted me to move here…” or “I really thought X and Y was for my best interest, so why have things ended up like this?” There’s a lot we can learn about the nature of God and of life from asking these types of questions.
To illustrate this, let’s go back to Alma in The Book of Mormon (I told you I’d finish his story). So he’s set out on a mission to visit his people and specifically the people of the church, to strengthen them and to set them straight if they are erring. He’s had amazing success in the first two cities he goes to, but then he comes to the city of Ammonihah. There the people flat out reject him, despite him “labor[ing] much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city” (Alma 8:10). He’s depressed about it but he knows when he’s not wanted so he leaves and tries to move on. On his way out, though, an angel stops him and tells him to return: “I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city” (8:16). So what does Alma do? He returns “speedily”.
I don’t know what was going through Alma’s head, but this tends to go through mine when I feel strongly that the Lord is guiding me in a certain direction: obviously He’s leading me here because there’s success and blessings ahead.
After a few chapters of Alma and his missionary companion Amulek preaching to the people, a few believe, but the vast majority are offended by what they are saying and imprison them. Those that do believe, the people either chase them out of town or “cast them into the fire” (14:8) and burn them. Pretty sobering results for these missionaries. At one point Amulek says to Alma “perhaps they will burn us also”. I love Alma’s response: “Be it according to the will of the Lord. But behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.”
What faith. I imagine he’s essentially saying, “Whether all we expected and hoped for fails, even if we give up our lives for this, I’ll accept it. If it’s what the Lord wants, I’ll accept it. But I know we’re meant for more and we have so much more to give. This is not the end. All going against us will burn us not.”
Such faith is always tried, though. Alma and Amulek are kept in prison, where they are constantly mocked and physically beaten, food and water is withheld from them, and they are stripped naked and bound with strong cords. The chapter says this all happened between 82-81 BC, and when they are finally free it is the tenth month of the tenth year of the reign of judges (81 BC), suggesting they were kept in prison and tortured like this for AT LEAST ten months.
Back to the original question: did the Lord give Alma an experience that intentionally impeded his progress? Prior to this, Alma was having incredible success in bringing people to the Gospel, the church was flourishing. Yet he was specifically called back to Ammonihah–to this city, to these people–that would eventually reject him and imprison him. Why? The Lord knows everything, He knows the end from the beginning. Why didn’t he steer Alma away?
Alma and Amulek, after months of physical and spiritual torture, are brought before the chief judge along with teachers and lawyers of the people who continue to question and beat them. “And it came to pass that they [the chief priests, teachers, and lawyers] all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet” (Alma 14:25). Note: the Lord waited until the LAST ONE had questioned and beat them to finally inspire them and give them the power to do something about their situation. “And Alma cried saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound” (14:26). Not only are they freed from binding cords but the prison walls fall around them from which they walk out unharmed.
I knew, several years ago, that I was to come to Las Vegas for grad school. UNLV was originally my back-up to my back-up when it came to school choices, I really didn’t want to come to Vegas, but when I walked in those doors for the day of my interview I felt strongly that this was where the Lord wanted me to be. After my first fall semester there I felt I was on a life high. I had just finished an infamously hard semester with some 20 credits worth of fundamental science classes and I had done really well, I had survived living alone in Vegas and had even met some incredible people. I was just feeling like I was nailing this whole adult thing. I remember even waking up one morning during Christmas break and thinking to myself, “Man, life is just so good right now.”
Well, that’s a dangerous thing to say sometimes, because it tends to be when the crap hits the fan. By the end of that day certain circumstances sent me into one of my worst anxiety and depressive episodes I’ve ever had in my life. At first I dealt with it well, thinking, “I’ve been through this before! And things turned out alright. Blessings always came at the end of an episode like this. Just wait and see.” Well, weeks turned into months and nothing changed, instead things got worse. “It’s just that you’re stressed with all that’s going on. Just get to the end of your first year, and you’ll see.” First year ended, nothing changed. “Well, get into your clinicals, you love working with people! Things will change.” Got into my clinicals, nothing changed. This has been the way that it’s been for several years now. I’ve never gone through something like this for so long.
Let me tell you, when your overworking mind is so prone to be dark, it’s really hard to give yourself the same pep talks and it becomes easier and easier to believe that things are never going to change. This is the new standard for life. But how could this be? I was doing exactly what I felt the Lord wanted me to be doing in my life: living in Vegas, getting higher education, and preparing to be a provider for a family. Why was life so hard and seemingly getting worse despite all these road marks that I had thought would make things easier once I crossed them?
It’s during times like these that what we believe become no longer concepts but realities. The things we read in the scriptures or hear in Church are no longer pleasantries but means of real life salvation. I can’t tell you how many very sacred experiences I’ve had over the last couple years between me and my Heavenly Father. These stories of Alma are some of them. They answer the pressing questions of my soul. They turn my doubt into learning.
In the Book of Ether, Moroni writes, “For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith. Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth” (12:12-13). It’s one thing to have faith enough to say, “Our work is not done, therefore they burn us not” and another level of faith entirely to believe in that day after day, week after week, month after month, when everything around you is threatening otherwise. When against all hope you still believe in hope, that’s faith. The type of faith that causes prisons to fall. The type of faith that sets us free. Faith precedes miracles.
To answer the original question, the ending the Lord intends (which most often isn’t the one we would have chosen but is always so much better) warrants the means. With Alma, for example, months of imprisonment and abuse fostered a trial of faith, correct decisions during that trial of faith cultivated more faith, and faith gave way for miracles. The people of Ammonihah never converted, but thousands of people “flocked” (Alma 15:14) to be baptized after hearing what happened there with Alma and Ammulek. The prison falling around them stood as a testament of God’s love and His reality in our lives, not only for the two missionaries, but for thousands around them that witnessed it.
I still struggle, some days more than others, but I have a firm believe that in my extremities God is working. He has never and will never lead me towards failure; He has always lead me to progress and learning. Things will all one day make sense, and in emotional gratitude I think we’ll all thank our Heavenly Father for His foresight in giving us exactly what we needed to get to where we are.
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