Alma 18:16-21, 32 — LeGrand Baker — communication by the thoughts of the heart
To the ancients, the heart was the cosmic center of the individual (they had no idea what the brain was for). The heart was the academic and emotional center of the person. One thought with the heart. How they came to that conclusion is easy to understand. When we get a really good idea we don’t feel it in our head, but we feel a kind of excitement in our chest— in our heart. The heart was credited with evert thought and every emotion: one loved, hated, contrived, learned, rejoiced, and sorrowed in the heart. It was understood that was also true with God. The psalmist explained, “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations (Psalms 33:11).”
God can communicate with people through the thoughts of their hearts because he knows what we are thinking.
The prophets understood that and it was comforting. The psalmist was secure in the knowledge that because God knows his heart God can judge him in righteousness. In humility, the psalmist asks,
1 O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways…..
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:1-24).
Job also understood that principle. As he approaches the veil, he acknowledges God’s power to judge.
1 Then Job answered the Lord, and said,
2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
4 Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee (Job 42:1-5).
The Lord explained to Oliver Cowdery “that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart (D&C 6:16).” Jesus never lost that power. John tells us that the Saviour simply knew what people were thinking. He wrote,
24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.(John 2:24-25)
Sometimes the Saviour responded to what people were thinking rather than to what they said. Luke 5:16-22, 9:46-48, 24:36-39 are examples.
Paul explained this by saying that God “… is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:12b-13) That principle was emphasized in an 1830 revelation given through the Prophet Joseph where God quoted the statement by Paul. (D&C 33:1)
Therefore, when a prophet or other righteous person can perceive the thoughts of others, that perception is through the gift of the Spirit. God gives some people that temporary ability as it is necessary for them to fulfill their own eternal covenants. He gives others that ability on a more on-going basis so that they can be a righteous judge. The story told in Helaman 9:39-41is a rather dramatic example.
The Spirit of Discernment is a powerful tool by which the Lord gives his servants understanding beyond their natural abilities— the wisdom to govern and conduct the affairs of his kingdom as he would have it done. The Spirit of Discernment is manifest in several ways. Perhaps the simplest is the ability to perceive the light or the darkness in another person’s countenance. But it is often much more explicit than that. I suspect there is hardly a bishop or stake president in the church who has not had multiple experiences in knowing the intent of another person’s attitudes and desires, or even though he may not know the precise words as the other person thought them. But it can be more than that. For those who have the right, the Spirit can give them power to conduct conversations it the privacy of their hearts without physically hearing the words spoken.
It is in the quietude of our hearts that we speak to God, and it is through our hearts that he speaks to us, as in this remarkable story of Alma and his friends in the wilderness.
11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries [vocal prayers to God]; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.
12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage…….
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage. (Mosiah 24:11-13, 16)
Thus the Lord spoke to each separately, and they understood and acted in unison. Similar experiences— receiving instructions through the Spirit and acting accordingly— are not at all uncommon in the Church, but we rarely talk about them. The unison with which missionaries sometimes act and teach is an “ordinary” example. Knowing how to respond to unspoken questions is part of a missionary’s calling, as the Lord promised earlier missionaries,
5 Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men;
6 For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.
7 But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. (D&C 100:5-7)
We recently watched a conversation between the Alma and Zeezrom where they conversed without words (Alma 12:1-8). Now, in Alma 18, we see another such conversation between Ammon and king Lamoni. We are told only the spoken words the king’s servants might have heard. What we are not told is the very private conversation that only the king and the prophet spoke to each other in the silence of their hearts.
16 And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?
17 I say unto you, what is it, that thy marvelings are so great? Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do
18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?
19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.
20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things; and also tell me by what power ye slew and smote off the arms of my brethren that scattered my flocks—
21 And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee…..
32 And Ammon said: Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart; for by his hand were they all created from the beginning. (Alma 18:16-21, 32)