Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20

The relationship between community redemption and individual redemption is dramatically suggested in the account of the conversion of Alma the Younger, who like Paul had persecuted the church. Notice the oblique allusions to Exodus: An angel appears "as it were in a cloud," his voice causing the earth to tremble (Mosiah 27:11; italics added). He commands Alma to "go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers . . . and remember how great things [the Lord] has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them" (Mosiah 27:16). Struck dumb, Alma lies in a trance for "three days and . . . three nights," then sees a marvelous "light," arises (note the imagery of baptism and resurrection), and says, "Behold I am born of the Spirit" (Alma 36:16, 20; Mosiah 27:24). He speaks of "wandering through much tribulation" while in the trance and says that his soul has been "redeemed from the . . . bonds of iniquity" (Mosiah 27:28-29; italics added). Alma then sets about physically repeating the wandering of his trance, "traveling round about through the land . . . preaching the word of God in much tribulation, . . . exhorting [the people] with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God" (Mosiah 27:32-33; italics added). He refers in the course of his teaching to previous communal deliverances, to the Lamb of God, to the law as a "type of [Christ's] coming," to the Liahona as a "type" of the words of Christ which guide us to a "far better promised land," and to the brazen serpent: "Behold [Christ] was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness that whosoever would look upon it might live" (Alma 7:14; 25:15; 37:45; 33:19). And toward the end of his life, Alma summarizes the whole direction-individual and communal-of the Old Testament portion of the book:

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. . . . For he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time. Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; and I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity (Alma 36:27-29).

(Neal A. Lambert, ed., Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1981], 254.)

Douglas E. Brinley and Daniel K. Judd on the impact of Alma the Elder's teaching:

Recall the experience of Alma the Younger, who for three long days was "racked with torment . . . [and] harrowed up by the memory of [his] many sins." During this time of suffering, Alma's mind turned to the words of his father: "I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy . . . concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ." (Alma 36:17.) Upon crying out to the Lord, he stated, "I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more" (verse 19). Like Enos, his father was instrumental in his spiritual growth. The Savior removed Alma's pain and stain of sin, but the words of the elder Alma led his son to the blessings of Gethsemane. The spiritual example and instruction by many Book of Mormon fathers illuminated the strait and narrow path for many of their sons who became powerful servants of the Lord and thus models for us (see Hel. 5:5-6).

(Douglas E. Brinley and Daniel K. Judd, Eternal Families, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996.)

Spencer J. Condie on Alma and forgetting one's sins:

Through His atoning sacrifice, the miracle of forgiveness, the Lord himself has explained in a latter-day revelation: "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more" (D&C 58:42).

It is indeed a great miracle that He who created this earth under the direction of His Father, He who knows all, has promised us that He will forget our sins when we but repent.

Remembering and forgetting constitute a lifelong balancing act. With the passage of time, each of us must deal in good humor with our forgetful acts of failing to remember where we left the car keys, or where we parked the car, or where we left our reading glasses, or where we left the book we were reading. In extreme cases, such as those involving persons afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, the failure to remember relationships with loved ones can become a source of great sorrow in the closing years of life.

But there are others who experience a much more exquisite kind of pain than that caused by senility and chronic forgetfulness. These are they who are unable to forget, and who are also unable to forgive. Some have experienced abuse or neglect in their formative years, leaving their lives scarred and perpetually troubled. Other individuals have been victims of cruel financial scams in which they were intentionally bilked of their life's savings. Still others have been offended or hurt in countless other ways and cannot find it in their hearts to forget or to forgive another.

Still perhaps an even greater burden to bear than past offenses from others are our own offenses toward God. Some people, even after having experienced a kindly, loving, supportive disciplinary council and after having reentered the refreshing waters of rebaptism, cannot forget their past sins, nor can they forgive themselves. But if the Lord is to forget their sins, then they must also forget their own sins.

Few there are who have undergone as mighty a change of heart as did the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus had attended the stoning of Stephen (see Acts 7:58) and had "made havock of the church" (Acts 8:3). Nevertheless, after his conversion, Paul told the Philippians: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philip. 3:13-14, emphasis added).

The conversion experience of Alma the Younger is also very instructive for each of us. Alma recounted to his son Helaman that he was "racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins" (Alma 36:17). But upon remembering his father's teachings of the atonement of Christ, and after having prayed for mercy, Alma experienced something else: "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 36:19-20.) Remembering the Atonement had helped him to forget his sins, or more accurately said, to be no more troubled by the memory of his sins.

Several years ago one of my students who was a convert to the Church began to relate some of his experiences prior to his baptism. In the course of one of our conversations he began to relate an especially unsavory experience which, I thought, seemed to give him a certain amount of delayed satisfaction in the retelling. I interrupted his account and reminded him that now he had made sacred covenants at baptism, he was to forget his past sins and not to continue retelling them or rethinking them in such a way as to almost experience them again. If he wanted the Lord to forgive and forget his sins, then he must forget his own sins, or, at the very least, remember them with a "peace of conscience" (Mosiah 4:3).

(Spencer J. Condie, In Perfect Balance [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 221.)

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