Alma 8:8-13 — LeGrand Baker — prayer in behalf of others

Alma 8:8-13 — LeGrand Baker — prayer in behalf of others

Alma 8:8-13
8   And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.
9  Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.
10  Nevertheless Alma labored 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; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.
11  Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.
12  And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.
13  Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.

This is a story that I suspect every missionary has experienced first hand. Let me tell you mine. The British Mission then had its own 16 lesson mission plan. It took about four months to complete, and the people who joined the Church in those days were so thoroughly converted that very few ever became inactive. My companion and I had tracted out a fine family. The father was an intelligent young man who loved what we taught him, and we became close friends. He was the scout master for his local church. The week he and his wife were to be baptized his minister gathered up all the boys and took them to his house. They begged him to not join the Mormon Church until after they had completed the scouting program. He agreed to wait. He told us that he felt he was making a great personal sacrifice for the sake of those boys. The next time we visited him he asked us to not come back until he contacted us, because his decision was causing tension between him and his wife. We prayed fervently that he would have the strength to do what was right. A few weeks later we saw him on a train. He greeted us with a forced smile. He told us that he had quit his scouts, and that he and his wife were now doing very well——but we should wait a while longer—— then he would invite us to come back to visit them again. His face was haggard and his words were full of hurt. The tension he did not express belied his words he spoke. I never heard from him after that.

There is an eternal principle here: Neither we nor God can force anyone to embrace and live the joy that is the gospel. With that eternal principle comes a question that echoes throughout the scriptures and often torments our personal lives. Mormon tells the story well, and in doing so, pulls the question into the very core of the issue:

10 Nevertheless Alma labored 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; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

Alma was President of the Church. He “labored much in the spirit”, and wrestled with God in “mighty prayer.” There was nothing casual about his prayers, nor about his intent. So the question is: If he were a prophet, and if he were praying according to the instructions he received from the Spirit, why didn’’t God answer his prayers and “pour out his Spirit upon the people who where in the city.” The answer is: there is no evidence that God did not do precisely what Alma prayed that he would do. The only evidence is that the people did not hear because they refused to listen.

In this life, our spirits are caged within our physical bodies and within the body’’s physical environment——and, apart from death, there is only one way that one’’s soul can reach out beyond the limits of that cage. Within its confines, each of us is entirely alone. In that aloneness, there is no criteria but one’’s Self by which one can judge right from wrong. Using that criterion, one hears what one’’s culture teaches and weighs it against one’’s own perception of one’’s own self interest. That lack of vision makes the cage an incredibly lonely, sterile place. But even though its bars appear strong and impenetrable, they are as thin as paper and can be as transparent as glass. All one has to do to expand one’’s soul far beyond the limits imposed by this physical world is to love the Lord and to love his children. The love is the seed that is planted in one’’s heart that grows to become a tree of life. But because it must flow from deep within one’’s soul, no external pressure——neither by prayer nor by angels——can force its blessings upon another human being.

Consequently, people like Alma must endure an unique kind of sorrow that springs from a different kind of loneliness. Righteous love never imposes itself upon another, yet no righteous soul can be full except within an eternal embrace. When that embrace is rejected, a part of one’’s Self goes missing and cannot be retrieved by force or imposition. I suppose that was true of God, when Enoch asked, “How is it that thou canst weep?”

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