Alma 32 begins the most famous lesson on faith in the Book of Mormon. Alma teaches the people of Zoram about the miracle that a little faith can create. Faith in Christ is the key, and he spells out the process by which anyone can gain a testimony of Christ and his gospel.
Reading Assignment: Alma 32-34.
Alma and Amulek are approached by the poor of the people of Zoram. They have been cast out of the synagogues they, themselves, built. Because they are poor they are not deemed worthy to enter the churches to worship like the wealthy. They come to Alma and Amulek with the question, ‘What can we do? How can we worship if we are not allowed in our own churches?’ Alma sees that the Lord has humbled these people and readied them to hear the word. But first they need to learn how to exercise faith in Christ, whom they have been taught doesn’t, and won’t ever exist.
I have written a modern story about someone learning how to exercise faith. The principles are the same as those outlined by Alma. I’ll discuss them more after you read the story.
Jerub and the Tomato
Many years ago there was a young man named Jerub. He was a city boy. His whole youth was spent in the alleyways and side streets of his metropolis. Food was one of life’s mysteries to him, like the water that flowed from the pipes of his tenement building. He didn’t have any idea where it came from or how it was prepared by others so it was safe for him to drink from the tap. He only knew that turning the handle caused water to come out. He assumed all water was safe to drink. That had been his experience.
His food was the same way. Burgers were made in kitchens with well-stocked shelves and refrigerators. The tomatoes and lettuce were just things that existed inside of refrigerators. Thinking about their origins was like trying to contemplate the source of the air he breathed. Fruits and vegetables were supplied by the corner grocer or came in cans. If you asked him where the grocer had gotten them he probably would have answered that they came from the factory where such things were made.
Jerub wasn’t stupid, he was just unfamiliar with certain realities of the world. He knew well enough about the realities of gangs and schools, youth clubs and bars, for these were all around him. But the things of the natural or spiritual world were completely foreign territory.
As Jerub matured he began to have questions that he had never considered before. He began to wonder if his routine each day was all there was to life. The more he thought about the reasons for why he did what he did each day, the more pointless it all seemed. Life appeared to be one endless round of repetition, but for what purpose?
Jerub was surrounded by diverse cultures. Among these cultures there were belief systems of all types. There were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and those who either didn’t care about any of it, or were very antagonistic toward anyone who claimed a higher power existed than humanity itself. Jerub had dabbled in bits and pieces of different religions, especially those held dear by his close friends, but he never seemed to see the answers to the questions he had in what he had seen of their beliefs, so he set them all aside as oddities of society to be treated politely and with respect, but not necessarily embraced.
Several years went by, and Jerub was busy and occupied with the affairs of daily life, but the nagging questions within him grew. It was like they demanded to be answered, whether he liked it or not. “What is the purpose of this life? What happens when I die? Is there such a thing as an ultimate truth that defines all other behavior, or is life just open for free interpretation? Does it really matter?”
Television didn’t have the answers. Books all disagreed about the answers, and the religions he had been exposed to were no help either. They all claimed to have the truth, but they all contradicted each other, with no way to tell which was right.
One day, when Jerub was in his mid twenties, he met a new renter in his building, named Sander. Sander was only 20, and had just moved to the city from a small farming community in the Midwest. Never had Jerub seen anyone look so lost and lonely as Sander. Everything that was as natural to Jerub as breathing air was completely foreign to Sander.
Sander didn’t know how to use the subway, how to hail a taxi, loudly negotiate a price with a street vendor, or anything that was taken so for granted by Jerub. Sander was quite a novelty and source of fascination for Jerub. He took this big-city neophyte under his wing and decided to teach him the ropes.
For months they spent time together, Jerub showing Sander how to negotiate his new life in the city. But the lessons were not all one sided. The more Jerub learned about Sander, the more he realized that there was a whole way of life out there he had never experienced. He began to suspect that he would be just as lost in Sander’s world on the farm as Sander was lost in his world of the city.
One day the two friends got into a conversation about crops. Jerub was stunned to hear the tales of how corn was grown and how gardens were planted. He had never planted anything in his life. When Sander learned that Jerub had never grown anything, he challenged Jerub to grow a tomato plant on his balcony. His apartment was south facing and had a great view of the city. It would be a perfect place.
The concept that it was possible for Jerub to actually grow food on his own then be able to harvest and eat it was almost comical to him. Impossible! Sander brought him a pot and a package of seeds and challenged him to try it. For days Jerub paced his apartment taking furtive glances at the pot filled with soil and that package of seeds. Could he really do this? Is this really how tomatoes were made?
Finally, Sanders said to Jerub that he would never know if he didn’t try the experiment. But it would take a while for it to happen, so he needed to focus all his attention on how good it would be to finally get to pick his own ripe red tomatoes and enjoy something he had grown himself. Eventually, Jerub decided to trust Sander and he did as instructed. He pushed a few seeds into the soil, covered them up then gently watered them so they could begin to soften and grow.
Days went by. Nothing happened. Jerub openly questioned Sander about the futility of this experiment, but Sander assured him that regular watering and spending time in the warm sun would eventually produce a plant. It might be small, but it would be a tomato plant nonetheless.
The day the first seedlings pushed their heads above the top of the soil was one of celebration in Jerub’s apartment. He couldn’t take his gaze off this miracle that had sprouted up before his very eyes. But when would he get his tomatoes? Sander assured him that consistent watering and caring for the plant would indeed produce his end product, or in this case, his end produce.
Weeks went by and the plants got bigger and bushier. Eventually, little yellow flowers began to open then when they fell off, little green balls began to swell where the flowers had been. Jerub was no longer doubting Sander like he did in the beginning. Everything Sander had told him had come to pass, just as he said it would.
After a few months his little green balls had grown and matured into ripening red tomatoes. The day Sander gave the go ahead to pick the first tomato was a day of celebration for Jerub. He fixed a big sandwich and sliced his very own home-grown tomato and placed the slices carefully onto the meat. He bit into the sandwich. His eyes rolled back into his head as he moaned with delight over the bursting flavor of his tomato. He had never had a tomato with so much flavor. He didn’t know such a thing could exist. He was filled with the pride and joy of his accomplishment.
Lessons from the story
The story discusses issues in Jerub’s life that are common to many people. The questions he had regarding the purpose of life and the validity of any particular religion were not resolved, just as they remain unresolved for many of our neighbors and family members. After reading Alma 32 about the story he gives of planting the seed, consider the answer to the following questions.
What did it take for Jerub to finally plant the tomato seeds? What motivation does such an act require? Do you think he only wanted to shut his friend up or do you think that he was enticed by the promise of the final reward of having raised his own crop of tomatoes?
When we are told by Alma to “give place” in our hearts for the seed to be planted, what does that mean? How do we “give place” or make room in our lives for an experiment on the word of God? Do you think we engage in the experiment of faith because we are drawn to the end promise of the tree of life and the fruit that it bears? What is the tree of life? (It represents eternal life.) What does the fruit represent? (It represents the love of God.)
At some point in our lives, each of us must decide for ourselves that we are going to “give place” or make room in our life for the word of God. This testing of God’s promises, and the resulting evidences that He always honors his promises, is what teaches us that the word of God can be trusted. The more experience we have in testing His word, the more implicitly or completely we learn to trust Him.
The moral of the story of Jerub and the tomato is that the fruits or end result of our labors of trust far outweigh our expectations. The blessings that await us for a life faithfully lived will exceed anything we can imagine, just as Jerub was so taken by surprise that the tomato he raised himself could have so much more flavor than anything he had ever had before. The Lord always fulfills His promises. We are always pleased and surprised by how much more we get than we imagined we would from the effort we put forth to get our reward.
The Lord always over delivers and never under promises. How much we experience in the realm of faith is completely up to us. It is a matter of choice. The more we are willing to put the Lord to the test and learn how far we can stretch ourselves in trusting Him, the more knowledge and faith we learn to have in the Lord and his promises. The end result of every promise is more knowledge, greater joy, and more forgiveness of sin. These are the direct result of the love of God. His love makes all this possible.