Alma 12:5-6, LeGrand Baker, the power of an embrace
5 Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee. Now I would that ye should remember that what I say unto thee I say unto all.
6 And behold I say unto you all that this was a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.
I was only seven years old when my Grandpa Baker died, and I have only one short memory of him. There is some other recollection of the circumstances surrounding the incident, but they are memories of the context of the event, and not really of my Grandpa himself. The year was 1945 He and Grandma lived on their ranch in Boulder, Utah, far from any good doctors. Grandpa was very ill, and had come to stay with us while he saw a doctor here. The doctor put him in the hospital, and he died there. The circumstances surrounding my memory of him are these: He was sitting on a chair in our living room, and he motioned for me to come to him. When I did, he lifted me up and sat me on his lap. I remember those things, but they do not really count as memory of him. The single thing I remember about him is how I felt when I sat on his lap. He wrapped his arms around me and held me up tight against his chest—and I was encompassed in his love. I felt his love for me, and I knew that I was truly, truly loved. That hug—and the warm feeling that went all the way through my young body as I sat there enwrapped in his arms— is my only memory of the reality of my Grandpa. The memory does not fade. Whenever I think of him, or see his picture, I re-experience the overwhelming warmth of that embrace.
That seems so right to me. If I could have chosen to retain only one memory of my Grandpa, the one I would have chosen would have been the beauty of his embrace. Similarly, if I could choose to leave only one memory to my family and to my friends, that memory would be a hug.
An honest, heartfelt hug is much more than just a symbol of love. It is the way we take other people into ourselves—the way we may offer ourselves to them—an invitation to make each a part of the other’s being. The greatest of all human powers may be found in a tender, meaningful embrace. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, frequently celebrate the magnitude of a similar, but eternal, embrace.
One of the most beautiful testimony of the Saviour recorded anywhere in the scriptures is this reflection spoken by Lehi: “But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” (2 Nephi 1:15)
The Lord promised a similar blessing to Oliver Cowdery,
20 Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.
21 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (D&C 6:20-21)
The people we hug become a part of us. That is most true of the Saviour, just as Lehi said, for it projects its loving kindness into the eternities. It is an encounter with pure love, and it is above all things, the most powerful, most liberating, and most precious.
I called attention to my Grandpa’s hug and to the scriptural testimonies of the Saviour’s embrace in order to show the sharp contrast between an embrace of love and the chains of hell that Alma described to Zeezrom. Alma did not speak of loving, tender, outstretched, beckoning arms, but rather of “a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people, that he might bring you into subjection unto him, that he might encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity.”
The prospects of the confining, restricting, damning encirclement with which Alma forewarned Zeezrom are as real a possibility as is an embrace of love. That was Alma’s message to his antagonists.
In the remainder of chapter 12, Alma drives home that contrast by describing the eternal implications of our keeping— or our not keeping— the covenants we make with God. He says that if we keep our covenants, then the expanse of eternity will open to our view and present us with limitless possibilities. But, on the other hand, if we choose not to keep our covenants, then that view of eternity will implode upon us, and its power will turn from a freedom to act according to our own wills, to the impotency of our having surrendered our wills to the devil, and letting him use the power of our personalities to accomplish his purposes.
What Alma will tell us, in this and the following chapter, is that we cannot avoid an eternal embrace, but we can choose whom we will embrace, and whose power we will assimilate into ourselves when we do.