Alma the Younger (Part 2) Man's Descent
M. Catherine Thomas
The account of Alma's life in the Book of Mormon begins with his description as a wicked and idolatrous man who went about trying to destroy the church of God (Mosiah 26, 27). But after the angel's visit, we witness Alma's rapid ascent from spiritual darkness to spiritual power and to the holy order of God. We read his discourses, which span the great doctrines of the kingdom, discourses delivered by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. The account of Alma's life ends in Alma 45 with his being "taken up by the Spirit" even as Moses (Alma 45:19). We understand from the this verse that Alma was translated in order that he might extend the work of redemption on the earth.
Perhaps among all the important things that one could learn from Alma, the account of his life gives us hope that there is a mighty power that can take a lost and fallen person and work a miraculous transformation. As one who has been redeemed, Alma can teach about the process of redemption and strengthen our faith that if we learn to work the principles that he did, we too can be born again and experience the joy promised in the scriptures, no matter who or what we have been.
Alma teaches a series of truths that are mysteries to the natural man pertaining to the Fall and to man's relationship to the Holy Spirit and to the evil spirit. I'd like to consider a few of those here.
I. Alma 12:22 By [Adam's fall] all mankind became a lost and fallen people.
Because of the Fall, we are deeply fallen and reduced in power and spirit from our premortal life. For the most part, we are blind and deaf people in the midst of forces and conditions we do not perceive. Spiritual influences from the great cosmic ocean wash upon the shores of our souls seeking access to our spirits, but we are like babes, who, lying in their cradles, are immersed in stimuli that they cannot distinguish or make sense of. But in time, motivated by various hungers, infants learn the meaning of these physical sights and sounds and sensations. So we, maturing spiritually, learn to perceive that which lies just beyond our physical senses.
We learn that we live in a world in which we have access to two dimensions: that physical dimension, which our puny five senses perceive, and that spiritual dimension, which flourishes beyond our physical senses and is perceived only by an internal spiritual faculty, a sense that we only barely understand. In the physical dimension, we can describe something of the vibration of the tympanic membrane in human hearing, but we do not know the physiology of the Spirit. We came to earth to develop this spiritual faculty in order to access knowledge of the unseen.
Earth life is designed to create hungers that motivate us to develop the tools by which the unseen world of spiritual realities and joys are retrieved. The deprivations of the Fall were deliberate and meant to be deeply felt to create the felt need for redemption. One's distress would create the desire to escape the Fall and reach out for the Savior.
Alma teaches about this hunger of the fallen person in Alma 37, drawing an analogy between Lehi's journey through the wilderness and man's spiritual hunger. When Lehi's family were diligent and exercised faith, heed, and diligence, their spiritual compass worked for them, and they not only had direction, but they also had many other miracles wrought by the power of God, even day by day. Nevertheless, because the means of accessing spiritual powers seemed small, they got lazy and forgot to exercise these seemingly small means. Alma wrote, "Then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions (Alma 37:41—42). The hunger and thirst are symbolic of the spiritual and emotional hungers and thirst that the Fall has created. There are many ways that people try to satisfy these hungers of fallenness but only one way that these hungers are truly satisfied.
II. The Holy Ghost is the key to the satisfaction of these hungers in the fallen man.
In every department of knowledge, the seeker for truth must choose his tools with reference to the field to be explored. Just as the astronomer must use a telescope or the physicist, the electron microscope, so the Holy Spirit is the communicating agent for the unseen world. An individual must be properly prepared and tuned if he is to receive and to comprehend spiritual truth.1 Elder John Widstoe wrote:
When a person does fit and qualify himself, spiritual messages, waiting to be revealed, come to him. Then, and only then, is spiritual knowledge quickened into living comprehension leading to activity. When there is such correspondence between an individual and the spiritual world, the real joy of life appears. Otherwise, something is missing from our daily desire. We live incompletely. . . .
Is it difficult to . . . qualify oneself spiritually? Nothing is easier or more enjoyable. When there is harmony between the instrument and the pounding message [of the Spirit], there is joy in the heart. The world's confusion roots in discord, lack of harmony. To be out of focus or to live in the midst of static is to be in semi-darkness and chaos. . . .
All who yield . . . obedience to God's law undergo a real transformation, by the Holy Ghost, which enables them more and more, to receive and understand spiritual messages. Unless that transformation is accomplished, a person is opaque to spiritual truth, and the "things of God" are beyond his understanding.
Great is the effect of such spiritual communication. . . . It transforms life. It makes the weak strong, the strong mightier. . . . The individual becomes filled with light as the incandescent lamp when the electric current passes through it. . . . All will be aided in their life pursuits if they have contact with the inexhaustible intelligence of the spiritual realm. The wealth of eternity will be theirs. They who do not seek to make themselves receivers of spiritual messages, but thrash about for such truth as their unaided powers may reveal, do not learn the meaning and destiny of life, and fail to win the vision of the glory of the universe in which we live.2
As a person's fallen condition becomes apparent to him through the influence of the Holy Spirit, a person can get stuck in a kind of spiritual twilight between spiritual darkness and that full light available in Christ. For many Latter-day Saints, this spiritual twilight can be an unnecessarily prolonged experience. This twilight zone is a transition state between having recognized one's fallenness but not yet reaching to the solution. It is an attempt to accommodate the world with the gospel. This is a state of hunger and bondage—not total darkness, but hunger for something indefinable. We can recognize it in ourselves when our souls cry out, "Is this all there is to the gospel? Can't I feel a richer inner experience?" We can get stuck in this twilight because we are doing some things right, we are going through some motions, we are feeling occasional Spirit, we seem to be on the path; but still, there's that nagging hunger in the heart that doesn't know what it wants. People try lots of things to assuage the hunger. Alma preaches against the pursuit of the vain things of the world (see Alma 4:8): riches, power, gain, mocking one's brother, costly apparel (see Alma 4:6; 5:53), elevating oneself above others—perhaps all in the attempt to fill the hunger inside, but counterproductive where happiness and being born again are concerned.
Thus we sometimes find ourselves half in and half out of the will of God. That half-and-half state is precisely the problem and the source of our hunger. The hunger comes from the need for the most powerful nutrient a fallen human can receive: the Spirit of the Lord, the indwelling presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the healing word of God, godliness itself. The Fall creates the hunger. Perhaps the most characteristic state of fallen man is the hunger and the feeling of darkness or spiritual twilight. Many people experience only the hunger for their entire lives.
Acknowledging this hunger of aspiring disciples—who get stuck in the spiritual twilight—the Lord said, "Blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 12:6, italics added), with that power that conveys the inner presence, love, and nourishing will of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alma teaches that the seed of the Spirit must be nourished with diligence and patience and obedience; it is most precious, sweet, white, pure, "and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst" (Alma 32:42). This fruit can so fill the soul with the joy in Christ that Alma promises: "And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will" (Alma 33:23; italics added).
The purposes of this life pertain to the development of spiritual faculties. Contrary to Korihor's contention that one cannot know what one does not see (Alma 30:15), one can come into possession of a reality that far exceeds in power and splendor the world that is perceived by the physical senses and the finite mind. Alma himself testified:
Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me (Alma 5:45—46).
The greatest mystery to the fallen and natural man (Mosiah 3:19) is that he is spiritually dead. What does 'spiritually dead' mean? It means that a person is asleep to spiritual realities, unable to perceive the cosmic forces in which he or she is immersed. We struggle in spiritual bondage that we don't begin to know the nature of and from which we cannot extricate ourselves; we are in bondage to our spiritual ignorance, because forces of evil play upon us and we are helpless against them.
Alma relates the sleep of spiritual death to bondage (Alma 5:5), speaking to the Nephites of their fathers:
Behold, [God] changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them. . . .
And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved (Alma 5:7, 9).
II Mystery: This spiritual sleep in man's descent is by divine design. Alma himself went through a period of dark descent; he was described as a very wicked man. The apostle Paul, a character similar to Alma in his personal history, sheds some light on the idea of the descent. In Romans, he writes to the Gentiles that they had better not gloat over their becoming the elect and the Jews being cast off, because God is orchestrating the whole business for His purposes and one day will draw the Jews back into the fold of the elect. Paul writes: "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32).
The Jerusalem Bible translation reads more faithfully to the Greek: "God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind." What does this mean that God imprisoned Alma and Paul and you and me in disobedience? Brigham Young said: "I . . . praise God in the highest for his great wisdom and condescension in suffering the children of men to fall into the very sin into which they had fallen, for he did it that they, like Jesus, might descend below all things and then press forward and rise above all."3
Some observations about this descent of man:
1. God knew we would arrive in a fallen world with no memory, no knowledge, and no power to make our way successfully alone, and that at first we would not perceive our true fallen condition. The Gods designed that upon arrival in mortality, as babies and children, we would begin to make choices before we had much knowledge or judgment or ability to choose right over wrong consistently and would inevitably make mistakes and sin, even though we had the light of Christ to some degree. As we grew in a fallen environment, we would form wrong opinions and make false assumptions, by which we would then govern our lives, and would unwittingly be programmed by many precepts of men. We would make many choices before we had grasped the significance of even the Light that we had. Many would reach an advanced age before they really saw the Light. Some would never see it in this life.
The period of descent was surely seen by the righteous premortal spirits as a great sacrifice. The most righteous did not want to sin. They knew the truth about sin. A veil was necessary so that they would make the descent, as Alma did, into spiritual darkness. And yet the experiences of making mistakes, of being subject to sin, were essential in coming to know evil. It would seem that we had to do evil to know evil—for a limited time.4 It seems that we also had to experience evil done to us. Descent into disobedience and evil is part of the divine design that man might understand redemption from his own desperate and felt need for it. Apparently we must experience redemption as part of receiving the increasing power to redeem. Last hour we spoke of the premortal organization of the holy order, those who would, in assisting the Savior in the great cause of the redemption of mankind, become of the order of Christ himself. The Lord Jesus Christ, as Alma taught, had to suffer the whole spectrum of possible suffering in order to be able to succor his people in their suffering (Alma 7:11—13). If he did, then so must we.
2. A peripheral idea: As part of the covenant people's descent, occasional withdrawal of the Spirit from an individual is part of the tutorial of earth life. An ebb and flow of the Spirit sometimes seems to have little to do with our current spiritual strivings or worthiness. That means we aspiring disciples may have to expect days, or even longer periods of time, when we feel the emptiness left by the Spirit's withdrawal. We do not feel that vital quickening of the Spirit. These become periods of hanging on. We just have to endure hanging-on days. This ebb and flow is important to know about lest we become too discouraged in our discipleship during these periods of withdrawal of the Spirit. Elder Neal Maxwell wrote: "If everything in one's immediate context were constantly clear, God's plan would not work. Hard choices as well as passing through periodic mists of darkness are needed in order to maintain life's basic reality—that we are to overcome by faith."5
Brigham Young was apparently asked, "Why are [we] left alone and often sad?" His response was that man has to learn to "act as an independent being . . . to see what he will do . . . to practice him . . . to be righteous in the dark—to be the friend of God."6 . . . On another occasion, President Young called for us to be faithful even if circumstances are 'darker than 10,000 midnights'" (Journal of Discourses (17 February 1856), 3:207).7
Obviously, God can withdraw grace from a group or an individual and he can give grace. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). He does this to accomplish his divine purposes; we know he does nothing save it be for the benefit of the world (2 Nephi 26:24). But something we can probably never calculate, unless it is given to us by revelation, is how much grace is being given or being withheld from a person, even ourselves. All we can do is the best we can do, lending support and tolerance and compassion to one another. Unless one has inspiration, one cannot tell what the Lord is up to in another person's life. We just have to look at each person compassionately, knowing that the Lord isn't done with him or her yet, nor is He done with us yet.
These are the kinds of bondages we suffer in this fallen world. Probably most references in the Book of Mormon to bondage, of whatever kind, are figures of this great bondage of the Fall, of the descent of man, from which none could be delivered except by the power in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Part of man's earthly tutorial seems to be that he be brought to see his true condition, develop a deep desire to be delivered from it—seeing sin as the greatest enemy to his happiness—feel keenly his own inability to deliver himself after repeated tries, and finally in abject humility come to taste the grace of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:20—21). That is, the divine design made sin possible so that grace could abound to man to deliver man from sin. But in Paul's words, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1—2). Once the Lord comes for us in the midst of our descent, we are accountable for the knowledge that he imparts. We must ascend. As Joseph Smith taught, "When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned."8
Would it be true to say that it was so important for us to experience personally the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ and the process of redemption that the earth experience was constructed in part that we might have something from which he could deliver us? Yes, and in the process we might become as merciful as Christ himself.
Our mortal existence is a school of experience.9
We know the design of our Father in Heaven in creating the earth and in peopling it, and bringing forth the myriads of organizations which dwell upon it. We know that all this is for his glory—to swell the eternities that are before him with intelligent beings who are capable of enjoying the height of glory. But, before we can come in possession of this, we need large experience, and its acquisition is a slow process. Our lives here are for the purpose of acquiring this, and the longer we live the greater it should be.10
How patient we must be with the slow process, yet how diligent.
III Mystery: The Holy Spirit is the key to happiness. Withdrawal of Spirit produces pain.
Alma expressed the power of happiness in the Spirit of the Lord that he experienced at his rebirth:
But 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.
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 (Alma 36:23—24; italics added)
Contrast that joy in the Spirit with its withdrawal, as described in Doctrine and Covenants 19:20:
Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.
It appears that enlightened beings exist on a sliding scale of Spirit and that the direction a person is sliding with respect to the Spirit determines the degree of his or her happiness. Alma taught:
He that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until is it given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
. . . If our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. (Alma 12:10—11, 13)
It is clear that the knowledge to get the Spirit is the most valuable knowledge that can be offered to a person, or that he can implement to affect his total well-being.
Thus man is moving either toward exaltation or toward captivity and eventual destruction by the devil. The absence of Holy Spirit is the key to misery; possession of Holy Spirit is the key to joy in this telestial world and to a fulness of joy hereafter. There is no other principle of joy—yet how many ways do we try to circumvent the Spirit to find joy, only to find emptiness? "Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light" (D&C 93:31).
The prime characteristics of these two spiritual principles—of the good Spirit and the evil spirit—are that the evil powers wish to subject the spirits of men to themselves in order to have power over them and to drag them down to misery and destruction. The Gods, on the other hand, seek to empower the spirits of men to become like them and to possess a fulness of everlasting happiness. These two underlying principles of existence shape the channels in which life will flow either to its elaboration and enhancement or to its diminishing. Brigham Young said: "Righteousness tends to an eternal duration of organized intelligence, while sin bringeth to pass their dissolution."11
IV Mystery: Satan is the Enemy—and a subtle one. Satan takes away light and truth by seducing a person into disobedience (see D&C 93:39). He is very subtle, because he does not want to be detected as separate from the person he is seducing. If a person could detect Satan, he or she would have greater power to withstand the evil spirit. It seems that we are never alone. There are spiritual influences playing around us continually; therefore, Alma warns those who would enter into the holy order after the Son of God:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest. (Alma 13:28—29)
It is interesting that Alma mentions humility, patience, and love as the spiritual tools of resistance to Satan.
How important it is for us to know that the spirits who followed Satan in the great rebellion in Heaven got here before even Adam and Eve and are still here. What are they doing? They are influencing you and me. They dwell in the hearts of the children of men (see Mosiah 3:6). We are their victims until we learn to discern what is of God from what is not of God. There are only two options and only two voices, as Alma teaches:
Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; . . . and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, . . . ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold. (Alma 5:38—39)
That is, if we are not deliberately and consciously cultivating the Holy Ghost as our constant shepherd, we may know for a surety that we are unwittingly taking signals from the adversary and reaping the wages of service to him.
G. Q. Cannon gave instruction on reasons to be spiritually vigilant:
We are apt to forget the principles of truth and righteousness, and to give way to influences that are not of God. We are placed in this existence for the express purpose of learning to overcome all these things. One of the great objects . . . which God has in view in sending us here upon the earth, is to give us experience in the influences of the earth that we may contend with them successfully and overcome them, that when we pass beyond the vail we may be in a position to comprehend them to a greater extent than we could had we not come here and felt the influences to which human nature is subject. . . . We . . . do not sufficiently realize the importance of keeping guard upon ourselves, and upon our feelings, and of resisting the influences that surround us. . . .
There are spirits in the atmosphere that are filled with [evil] disposition, and who seek to influence those with whom they are brought in contact, impressing those who are in the tabernacle of flesh to indulge in the same sin.
There are influences in the atmosphere that are invisible to us that, while we are here upon the earth, we ought to resist with all our might, mind, and strength—influences which, if we would be led by them, would lead us to destruction—influences that are opposed to the Spirit of God. . . . If our eyes were open to see the spirit world around us, we should feel differently on this subject than we do; we would not be so unguarded and careless, and so indifferent whether we had the spirit and power of God with us or not; but we would be continually watchful and prayerful to our heavenly Father for His Holy Spirit and His holy angels to be around about us to strengthen us to overcome every evil influence. . . .
The adversary has numerous agencies at his command, and he seeks to control and lead to destruction the inhabitants of the earth who will be subject to them. If we could see with our spiritual senses as we now see with our natural senses, we should be greatly shocked at the sight of the influences that prompt us to disobey the counsels of God or the Spirit of the Lord in our hearts. But we cannot see them, for they are spiritually discerned; and he who discerns the most [evil spirits], is the most fully impressed by the Spirit of God; he who does not discern, has not profited by the instructions given to him, and yields to those evil influences in an unguarded moment, and is taken captive in his blindness. He who is imbued with the Spirit of God is sensibly aware when the evil power approaches; but he does not welcome it to his bosom; he resists it with all the might and strength God has given unto him, and he obtains power over it, and it no more troubles him; if it does, its influence is more weakened than previously.12
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that God gave us bodies to help us protect ourselves against the forces of evil and to triumph over evil and that having learned to discern and resist evil is essential to salvation. He said: "The Principle of Salvation is given to us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Salvation is nothing more or less than to triumph over all our enemies & put them under our feet & when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world & a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come then we are saved."13
"If you wish to go where God is you must be like god or possess the principles which God possesses for if we are not drawing towards God in principle we are going from him & drawing towards the devil. . . . A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge for if he does not get knowledge he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world as evil spirits will have more knowledge & consequently more power than many men who are on the earth."14
"In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because he has greater Knowledge, and hence he knows how to subject all other beings to him."15
With respect to the tools of love against the adversary, Brigham Young sharpens our sensitivity as to what actually constitutes evil. He said:
There are thousands of plans which the enemy of all righteousness employs to decoy the hearts of the people away from righteousness. . . .
Some say "Brother Brigham, you slide along and the devil lets you alone." If I have battles with him, I can overcome him single handed quicker than to call in my neighbours to help me. If I am tempted to speak an evil word, I will keep my lips locked together. Says one, "I do not know about that, that would be smothering up bad feelings, I am wonderfully tried about my neighbour, he has done wrong, he has abused me and I feel dreadful bad about it. Had I not better let it out than to keep it rankling within me?" No. I will keep bad feelings under and actually smother them to death, then they are gone. But as sure as I let them out they will live and afflict me. If I smother them in myself, if I actually choke them to death, destroy the life, the power, and vigor thereof, they will pass off and leave me clear of fault, and pure, . . . and no man or woman on earth knows that I have ever been tempted to indulge in wicked feelings. . . .
If you feel evil, keep it to yourselves until you overcome that evil principle. This is what I call resisting the devil, and he flees from me. . . .16
While we have the privilege of speaking to each other, let us speak words of comfort and consolation. When you are influenced by the Spirit of holiness and purity, let your light shine; but if you are tried and tempted and buffeted by Satan, keep your thoughts to yourselves—keep your mouths closed; for speaking produces fruit, either of a good or evil character.
If persons think they have greater sorrow and affliction than any others, when they reveal that sorrow and affliction, it produces fruit. You frequently hear brethren and sisters say that they feel so tried and tempted, and have so many cares, and are so buffeted, that they must give vent to their feelings; and they yield to the temptation, and deal out their unpleasant sensations to their families and neighbours. Make up your minds thoroughly, once for all, that if we have trials, the Lord has suffered them to be brought upon us, and he will give us grace to bear them; and that they do not concern our families, friends, and neighbours, we can bear them off alone. But if we have light or intelligence—that which will do good, we will impart it. . . . Let that be the determination of every individual, for spirit begets spirit—likeness, likeness; feelings beget their likeness. . . . If, then, we give vent to all our bad feelings and disagreeable sensations, how quickly we beget the same in others, and load each other down with our troubles, and become sunk in darkness and despair! . . .
In all your social communications . . . let all the dark, discontented, murmuring, unhappy, miserable feelings—all the evil fruit of the mind, fall from the tree in silence and unnoticed; and so let it perish, without taking it up to present to your neighbours. But when you have joy and happiness, light and intelligence, truth and virtue, offer that fruit abundantly to your neighbours, and it will do them good, and so strengthen the hands of your fellow-beings.17
President Young's advice might seem to fly in the face of current theories about man's emotional well-being, but it may be that voices of the adversary have taken advantage of our spiritual ignorance and have slowly programmed us to think and feel in certain ways that create our emptiness and hunger. We need to know that by ourselves we cannot entirely undo that programming, but the power of Christ can. Deep in the dungeon of our earthly descent, we can turn our minds to Christ, as Alma did:
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.
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.
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.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:17—21)
By contrast, read Alma 36:26—27:
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.
And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.
That which we exercise mentally and spiritually grows, develops, and strengthens. That which receives attention in our minds has great power. That which we neglect will soon lose power and be extinguished inside and will ultimately cease to bother.
I have described various aspects of the fallen condition of man and his descent to earth after the pattern of Alma the Younger. Knowing about the divine design behind man's descent helps me to exercise faith in the Lord's great power to cleanse and redeem me and at the same time, helps me to be merciful to those around me who are in the same dilemma I am in.
In the midst of our earthly descents, we can ask for and receive the sublime, divine, enabling power of Christ to change our hearts and to make it possible for us feast on his love, which is joy. Our earnest pleadings and mighty prayers—with sincere hearts, real intent, and faith in Christ—will unlock the gates of heaven to us (see Moroni 10:4—5; 32—33). Alma teaches the principle in Alma 33:11, 16:
Thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments [i.e., effects of the Fall] away from me, because of thy Son.
For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.
Glory to God in the highest for these principles of light and truth, which I can testify to you that I know—independent of any other person, by my own experience—are true.
1. See John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, arr. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 85.
2. Ibid., 87—8.
3. Journal of Discourses (11 July 1869),13:145.
4. In the Savior's case, he experienced the consequences of evil and sin without committing sin.
5. Neal A. Maxwell, Lord, Increase Our Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994), 110—11.
6. Neal A. Maxwell, That They May Believe, 194—5.
7. Ibid., 194—5.
8. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 322.
9. Journal of Discourses (25 May 1862), 9:292.
10. Journal of Discourses (16 September 1871), 14:229.
11. Journal of Discourses (6 October 1863), 10:251.
12. George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses (13 November 1864), 11:29—30.
13. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), 200; from Wilford Woodruff Journal (14 May 1843).
14. Ibid., 113—4; from Wilford Woodruff Journal (10 April 1842).
15. Ibid., 183; from William Clayton Report (8 April 1843).
16. Journal of Discourses (27 January 1856), 3:194—5.
17. Journal of Discourses (6 October 1859), 7:268—9; emphasis added.