We often think of Alma 36 as being his account of his conversion, which it is. It is also the beginning of Alma’s advice to his three sons. This lesson is mostly about parents and their responsibilities to teach their children, set an example for them, and to encourage them to live righteously. This is all easier said than done. Our personal example to our children can make or break their willingness to listen to what we have to tell them.
Reading Assignment: Alma 36-39.
The power of personal testimony
In these chapters Alma bears his testimony over and over again to his sons. He assures them that the nature of his knowledge does not come from his own intellect, but from God (Alma 36:4-6).
4 And I would not that ye think that I know of myself—not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God.
5 Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself;
6 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.
What difference does it make how Alma came to his conclusion that the church was true or that God lives and Jesus is the Christ? Aren’t the words enough? I will address my own questions. It makes all the difference, and no, the words are not enough.
We aren’t talking here about just any testimony of the gospel message. We are talking about the testimony of a father to his sons. We have probably all experienced the willingness of someone to listen to a stranger before they will listen to a family member. Why do you think that happens? We preach and preach to our children, but sometimes they just don’t listen. If we are lucky they will eventually listen to a stranger.
When we as parents want to impress upon our children the importance of giving heed to the gospel message, what can we do to increase the chances that they will trust our words enough to follow them? Well, it helps if our words are not foreign to our children. Have we born our testimony to them before? Do they really know the way we received our testimony? Sometimes we have to repeat ourselves until our children roll their eyes when they recognize the old familiar story being retold yet again.
Have we been telling our children about the source of our conversion and what we have come to know from the Lord since they were children, or have we been silent until they are almost out the door and on their own before bringing up our belief in a higher power? If we have not been very active in church attendance or with our scripture study and prayer when the children were young, it becomes far more difficult to bring up such subjects once they get older. Because they are not accustomed to hearing about doctrinal things, they often just feel we are being preachy to them.
This is not to say that some children won’t feel we are preachy no matter what the circumstances, but usually, the younger they hear it, the more likely they are to accept what we tell them. It is one thing to know that our parents are converted, but can we relate to our children our parent’s conversion stories?
I have worked with many parents who spent their main parenting years away from church activity. They raised their children outside the mainstream activities of the church. When they finally came back to church, their children were not interested in what they had to say about the church. It was an imposition on their lifestyle. So now they have to focus on helping the grandchildren come to church, because their grandchildren’s parents to come.
Alma was one such child, but his father had taught him and set a good example for him for many years. What we don’t know is how old Alma was before his father was converted. My guess is that he was at least a young teenager when his father repented of his sins. Whatever the truth is, we know that Alma the younger was rebellious and wouldn’t listen to his father’s preaching.
He wouldn’t listen that is, until he was in need. Once the angel threatened Alma with destruction if he continued on in his course to destroy the church, Alma began to see the reality of hell open before him, and he quickly developed a fear that he really was the perfect candidate for spending a lot of time there. That is when he remembered the words of his father, which means that his father had been bearing his testimony to his son and had tried to reach him. See Alma 36:12-14, 17-20.
12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
13 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.
14 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. …
17 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.
18 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.
19 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.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
The power of Alma’s testimony lay, in part, from his personal example. The lesson lists the following examples of Alma’s personal example for his sons to follow:
“Ye should do as I have done” (Alma 36:2).
“I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me” (Alma 36:3).
“Ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done” (Alma 36:29).
“Ye ought to know as I do know” (Alma 36:30).
Think about that. Can we each say to our children, “follow my example?” Do we tell them, “I know such and such to be true because I had this experience from God?” Parents are the most profound influence on a child in their formative years. And other adults hold the possibility for being a profound influence on our children during their teen years, if they have stopped listening to us. Surrounding ourselves, whenever possible, with others who also have strong testimonies, can truly be a blessing in helping to strengthen our youth, specifically our own children.
Scriptures, Liahona, Conscience, Spirit
In Alma 37:38-45 Alma compares the Liahona to the Spirit. Here are some of the key verses in this passage:
39 And behold, there cannot any man work after the manner of so curious a workmanship. And behold, it was prepared to show unto our fathers the course which they should travel in the wilderness.
40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. …
43 And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.
44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
The Liahona was a mechanical device that acted just like our conscience. When we don’t listen to our conscience, it becomes increasingly difficult to hear it. When we do give heed to what we are prompted to do, we are led to do good and are blessed. The Liahona is just like the scriptures and the Spirit. When we listen to their words, and follow the promptings we receive, we are led to do good and are blessed. When we ignore those words, we become lost in our personal affairs. We are left to spiritually wander through life until we return and give heed again to their words.
In Alma 37:46 Alma warns his son Helaman “Do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way.” This is not to say that there are not difficult things about living the gospel of Christ. But the doctrine is not complicated. The principles of obedience and faith are not that hard to learn. We just have to learn not to be so focused on what we want, and learn to focus, instead, on what the Lord wants us to do. That alone will greatly simplify our lives.
Lessons from Corianton
Alma’s youngest son was the most wayward. He struggled with the doctrine, and was too focused on the desires of the flesh. As a result, he really complicated the work for all the missionaries who went to teach the Zoramites. Because of his bad example, many of the Zoramites would not listen to the truth. Alma had to reprove his son and teach him correct doctrine.
What is wonderful when reading the words of Alma to Corianton, is the tone in his voice. He spoke straight. He spoke the truth. He spoke lovingly, and he offered no excuse for his son’s misdeeds. All the way through his discourse to Corianton there is a respect and level of dignity in how he treats his wayward son. He implores him to repent, but never sounds needy himself. Instead he gives him the straight scoop by being completely honest with him about how much he cares for him and how concerned he is for the state of his soul. We can learn a lot about how to approach our own children from Alma’s example.
Alma praised all three sons. He admonished all three sons to be careful and to keep the commandments. When there was a need, he took the time to explain the doctrine and answer questions. He addressed each son individually. He addressed each son’s needs and strengths individually. He took the time to bear his personal witness to each son, and encourage them to find their own witness of things just as he had done. In other words, he sent each son to the source of the witness, the Spirit, to seek their own confirmation.
Raising children is difficult and tiring, but we cannot afford to slacken our efforts when it comes to teaching and training in spiritual things. Their lives don’t end at death. What they adopt as their way of life will continue on after death. We need to do all we can to help them choose to follow the Lord with full purpose of heart so when they leave mortality they are ready to meet their God and give a good report.