Alma 14:10-13, LeGrand Baker, Comfort: The power to transcend sorrow.

Alma 14:10-13, LeGrand Baker, Comfort: The power to transcend sorrow

Alma 14:10-13
10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
12 Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.
13 And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.

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These verses present an indelible contrast against the later picture of the Saviour blessing the little children.

My own sensitivities compel me to search about—not to discover the answer to the question “why,” for Alma gives us that answer. It is an eternal principle founded upon the eternal law of progression: If all the good guys were taken out of the reach of all the bad guys, one result would be that the bad guys could not be demonstrated to be bad, but another would be that the good could not be proven valiant.

The question I had struggled with was about “how.” It is one thing to submit the righteous to an unjust death, but it is quite another to let that death be a prolonged agony. My question presupposed that there must be an alleviation to their pain, and my desire was to discover it. It fact, that seems not at all difficult to do.

The Saviour explained,

51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.(John 8:46-55)

Many years later, he explained to the Prophet Joseph why it was so.

45 Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die, and more especially for those that have not hope of a glorious resurrection.
46 And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them;
47 And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter. (D&C 42:35-53)

Paul explained that dying without tasting the bitterness of death is a gift of the atonement. He said,

9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)

Brigham young explained the principle in very practical terms, just as one would expect Brigham to do.

Jesus says, “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” His body may be laid away to rest for a short time, but he shall not taste of death. When his spirit is released from this mortal tabernacle, the body drops back to mother earth; but the spirit departs with an assurance that the body will not always remain in the dust. The body has merely fallen asleep for a while, to be again quickened and united with the spirit to live forever. (Journal of Discourses, 8:283.)

We find the word, “comfort” in the Old Testament in Isaiah 61 where it introduces the coronation ceremony, and where that passage is paraphrased in the Beatitudes where the Saviour said, “Blessed are all they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Comfort: The power to transcend sorrow.

In Isaiah 61:2, “comfort” is an important word whose meaning is difficult for us to capture because it has changed since the King James Version was translated. In 1622, when the English word was nearer in time to its Latin origins, the first definition of “comfort” meant just exactly what the Latin said: “with strength.” or to strengthen, to empower. “Comfort” still meant that in 1787 when the American Constitution was written, and treason was defined as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” (That did not mean it was treason to give the enemy an aspirin and a warm blanket. It meant that it is treason to empower an enemy.) The most extensive analysis of the Hebrew word is by Gary Anderson, who wrote,

This verb “to comfort” (n-h-m) does not connote a simple act of emotional identification. Comfort can imply either the symbolic action of assuming the state of mourning alongside the mourner, or it can have the nuance of bringing about the cessation of mourning. In grammatical terms, the former usage reflects a processual usage of the verb, while the latter usage would be resultative. {1}

He goes on to explain:

The latter usage, to bring about the cessation of mourning, is very common in prophetic oracles of deliverance. The famous exhortation of Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort, my people,” comes to mind immediately. As Westermann noted, the term conveys “God’s intervention to help and restore.” {2}

Anderson’s definition can account for the way the English translators used the word “comfort” to mean the bestowal of authority or power—an empowerment—and it also adds substantial depth to the meaning of the 23rd Psalm and other scriptures where “comfort” might be read as “to give consolation,” they might also be read as “to give power and authority, thus enabling one to transcend sorrow.”{3} There, comfort is associated with the symbols of priesthood and kingship. It reads,

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod [a scepter, symbol of kingship]
and thy staff [a shepherd’s crook, symbol of priesthood]
they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)

So the words say, “I am empowered by the symbols of kingship and priesthood.”

The Meaning of “Comforter.”

When one realizes that to comfort is to bestow the power to transcend sorrow, then one better understands the word “Comforter” as the source of that power.

15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you…..
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:15-18,25-27)

26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27)

In a letter to his son Moroni, Mormon wrote,

25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God. (Moroni 8:25-26)

The Lord both expanded upon, and encapsulated that teaching, when he promised Edward Partridge,

2 And I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon, and you shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom;(D&C 36:2)

He reiterated it again in a revelation through the Prophet Joseph to James Covill,

6 And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)

The theme here is empowerment with peace, just as it was many generations ago when the Lord spoke to Adam:

1 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. (Moses 6:61)

Which brings us back to our beginning, where the Saviour said,

26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:26-27)

Enoch’s famous question to the Lord is very relevant here:

29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?

The Lord’s response was different from what one might expect. He did not weep for those who were sinned against, but for those who sinned. He explained,

37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? (Moses 7:28-37)

When I read this story of the burning of women and children, the only way I can wrap my mind around that incident is to combine these two ideas: The righteous shall not taste death, and the Comforter—the Empowerer—administers peace.

I would like to show you three examples of death that is triumph. The first is about Stephen.

54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60.)

Beginning with verse 55 and continuing until “he fell asleep,” Stephen was no longer in linear time or profane space. Rather, as I understand it, his spirit was in sacred time and sacred space—no doubt aware of the events that were killing his mortal body, and perhaps even of its agony—but the power of his spirit transcended those events and while his body may have responded to the pain, his soul—the real him—felt only sorrow for those who were hurting him.

The deaths of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum are another example. John Taylor, who was in the jail with Joseph and Hyrum wrote the account published in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 135.

1 To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls. (D&C 135:1)

Some historians have made a great deal out of Joseph’s final words. Because they are the beginning of the Masonic cry for help, they claim this was Joseph’s last-ditch attempt to save his own life. But that notion is contrary to his nature. Many of those involved in his death belonged to the Masons, but there is little contemporary evidence that it was a factor in the murder.

An entirely different explanation for Joseph’s last words is this: As Brigham Young died, his last words were, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph.” This sounds like a greeting to his dearest friend whom he recognized had come to meet him. Joseph similarly spoke a greeting: “O Lord, My God”—to his dearest friend who had come to meet him. Their friend, John Taylor, described their murders as “brutal,” and they certainly were. But there is no since of feeling the brutality in the last words spoken by either man.

The final example is very personal and sacred to me and to our family. It was written yesterday, at my request, by my favorite Baker cousin, Cheryl Rode. Her father is my Dad’s youngest brother. Daddy was one of those who came to usher her Dad home. Which means, Cheryl was the last person in this world to see my Dad.

The conclusion, if we need a conclusion, is this: Notwithstanding the horror of the situation, I believe that within the flames, there was peace, and that Alma sensed that peace even though the perpetrators of the deed never would.

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{1} Gary A. Anderson, A Time to Mourn, A Time to Dance, The Expression of Grief and Joy in Israelite Religion (University Park, Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991),84, fn. 74. Italics in the original.

{2} Anderson, A Time to Mourn, 84.

{3} Isaiah 40:1-2 is an example. The verses report an event at the Council where God (Elohim) speoke to the Council (the work ye is plural). If one reads “comfort” to mean empower through the coronation ceremony, the verses take on enormous power. The verses read:

1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

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