Your Friday Firestorm #12

And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire. And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.

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. 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.

(Alma 14: 8-11)



  1. Indeed, the overriding priority in this life is NOT the protection of the innocent. It is, rather, following God’s commands.

  2. Something I’ve always supposed into this story was the fact that Amulek’s wife and children were probably in that fire. It really adds a density to the story.

  3. Ach, Dan, you such a nudnik. Nice boy, but a nudnik. If it is not the Lord’s will to protect the innocent, then what am I doing in Gen. 18:23-33? Talking for my health? And, the Lord, He is just kvelling? These kids today, they don’t read their Torah.

  4. I don’t understand why God withheld protection from the innocent in order to make his condemnation of the guilty just. If God looks to our hearts and judges based on our hearts, why would he need to allow the guilty to torture and kill to justify his future judgment of the guilty? I understand why Alma would try desperately to find reasons for God’s actions or lack thereof, but this reasoning does not strike me as particularly persuasive.

  5. john scherer says:

    I always have believed that if you sin in your heart it does not matter if you are able to actually carry out the sin itself. This scripture challenges that belief because the spirit mandates that Alma let the people suffer. Hadn’t the persecutors already sinned in their hearts? What in the actual commission of the sin made things worse for them? Is it possible that Alma was wrong?

  6. I think that actually sinning is worse than just desiring to in your heart. For example we will never have a Disciplinary council because you imagined adultery in your heart. There’s something about the actual act that seals it into your consciousness, and becomes a part of who you are. This is something that I thought interesting about Crime and Punishment.

  7. Matt W. is correct in that Amulek’s wife and children are probably being cast into the flames, cf. Alma 10:11. We know from Alma 10:11 that he had a wife and children. We learn later than he ends up abandoning Ammonihah altogether because he is rejected by his father and extended family and friends (cf. Alma 15:16, contrast the family list here in v, 10 with that in Alma 15:16 and note the lack of reference to wife and children there), but there is no mention of his wife and children rejecting him. It seems unlikely Amulek would abandon his wife and children in Ammonihah if they were alive. Thus, we can safely conclude his wife and children were among the martyrs. Also, in Alma 15:18 we are informed Alma took Amulek to his own home to “administer to him in his tribulations”. Losing his wife and family in such a hideous way would be certainly be a tribulation.

    This casts Amulek’s motives as being, at least to some degree, selfish. His suggestion to Alma that they perform some great miracle by God’s authority to protect them is not an inspired one, as Alma indicates. If they were successful in doing so, it would have been unprecedented in the Scriptural canon (the only thing coming close to it would be Daniel et al. being cast in the fiery furnace, and their sparing was not at the behest of another).

    The events of Alma 14:8-11 are in fulfillment of Alma’s prediction documented in Alma 10:17-23, and the utter destruction of the people of Ammonihah is fulfilled in Alma 16:1-11.

    Aside from that is the martyr issue. Sometimes the Lord warns, and thereby spares, people (e.g., 1 Ne. 5:8, 2 Ne. 5:5, Omni 1:12, Mosiah 19:9, Ether 9:3), and sometimes He doesnt. In this particular case with Alma and Amulek, it appears that those martyred are a very recently repented minority of the population (cf. Alma 14:1-2) exclusively limited to the women and children (cf. Alma 14:7, Alma 15:1). The group appears to be relatively small and only very recently repentant, giving the Lord relatively little time to warn these people in the inspired fashion He usually does in getting others in the BofM out of harm’s way. People have their agency, even evil people, and it is rare the Lord directly intervenes in overt ways and means to deter them from their evil. The ultimate accounting is at Judgement, and prior to that the Lord tends to allow people to exercise their agency, just as He allowed Cain to murder Abel, but still held him accountable for it.

  8. Gary (4) and John (5), why do you think it was God’s will that the innocent suffer?

  9. Steve Evans says:

    This scripture is dicey. Theo-dicey, even.

  10. Nick Literski says:

    So, E.D., are we to understand that if your wife and children were being tortured and killed, it would be “selfish” of you to desire the help of your deity in saving them? Isn’t it just possible that your love for them might unselfishly cause you to want their suffering to be prevented?

    It’s not as if the text suggests Amulek wanted only his relatives rescued.

  11. People do evil stuff all the time, why doesnt God stop them? This is passage in Alma is a particularly egregious example, but people murder each other en mass all the time, how is it God’s fault? God has to step in and stop everything bad all the time? If not, He doesnt exist? Blech. We have to take responsibility for our actions, we do stupid, selfish things and it is our fault for doing them, not God’s fault for failing to stop us from doing it. If we were more plugged into His will, then He would do things to assist us and spare us, but more often than not we arent plugged into His will. We are doing our own stupid, selfish nonsense, and so we suffer the consequences, which may or may not humble us. If it humbles us, then maybe we will get in line with Him and listen when He tells us something.

  12. Gary (#4) wrote:

    If God looks to our hearts and judges based on our hearts, why would he need to allow the guilty to torture and kill to justify his future judgment of the guilty?

    john scherer (#5) wrote:

    I always have believed that if you sin in your heart it does not matter if you are able to actually carry out the sin itself.

    If God could judge us solely on the intent of our heart, then why would he even send us to earth? Just to get a body? Do you think our final judgement is predetermined based on the inherent intent of our hearts?

    It seems that God lets the tares grow alongside the wheat. He does not pull up the tares until they have grown and proven that they are tares, just to make sure that he doesn’t pull up a stalk of wheat by mistake.

  13. Nick, whenever anyone wants to use the Priesthood to do anything uninspired it is selfish, cf. D&C 121.

  14. Regardless of anything I said in #10 . . .

    I don’t think God caused hurricane Katrina, the 9/11 attacks, the Civil War, or anything else. It seems that God put us here to learn the difference between good and bad, and there are plenty of natural occurrances that teach us all about the good and the bad. It seems that to a large extent God just lets it happen.

    The atonement saves us from our sin, temptation, and suffering. But it seems like this is a spiritual thing focused on the hereafter–many, many people do not find temporal salvation in this life.

  15. Hey, Father Abraham (#3): Don’t you think the Lord already knew how many righteous people were in Sodom?

  16. This scripture is nonsensical. There, I said it. In fact, I may glue the pages of Alma 14 together.

  17. john scherer says:

    Doh! I just wrote a long winded response and lost it, so here is the reader’s digest verison.

    CE(12) If I hated someone so much that it consumed my life and the only thing that prevented me from murdering him was a lack of opportunity; Am I better than a murderer? I’m probably worse than most because murder is usually a moment of passion, my hate is all consuming. You’re question about why earth life is necessary doesn’t make sense to me. We are all innocent upon our arrival and our choices determine the feelings of our hearts.

    ED(8)- Alma gives two reasons, the first being that the innocent will be brought unto the Lord. the second is that their blood may testify against their persecutors. I’m fine with the first reason, the Lord can and should call us home when he sees fit. The second, however, gives me trouble for the previously mentioned reasons. Especially considering that one of the main instigators, Zeezrom, was later converted. However, I am not the Lord and don’t know the hearts of people tday or yesterday as he did and I’m happy to let this confusion slide.

    Steve (9)- Admit it, this whole post was about you using the word Theo-Dicey. You just couldn’t help yourself.

  18. I sometimes feel that we make to much of suffering in mortality, and that there are more important eternal things going on. This life is very temporary.

  19. I also assume that while he is talking, Alma is crying.

    What makes this situation troubling is that this occurs just before Alma and Amulek are rescued from prison via divine intervention.

  20. Further to #11, the whole point of life is free will. God cannot force all the bad things to stop happening or it would frustrate the purpose of growth in this life. There is more to life than death. If God intervened every time an atrocity was about to occur, what would like be like then?

  21. MCQ, my boy, whether the Lord already knew or not is not what this is all about, it is whether I knew or not and had the chutzpah to do the right thing after all. The Lord expects us to fight for the righteous and defend them, when would the Lord ever say not to do that? Never! He taught me that sometimes it is easier to get the righteous out of the way so he can deal with the wicked on His own terms. But, that does not mean I get to deal with the wicked on my terms, no, not at all. The Lord is a righteous judge, I am not, so the Lord tells me to do good, so I do it. So should all of you, my children. Especially you, Steve, you mensch, I give you such a smack, causing trouble like this. Does your mother know? I don’t think she does, or she would give you such a pinch.

    Ronan, why waste the glue? Admit it, you don’t even read this Book of Mormon thing anyway, do you? No, I did not think so. You get a pinch from your mother too, tell her I said so.

  22. “If God intervened every time an atrocity was about to occur, what would like be like then?”

    Righteous people would spend all their time building boats!


  23. Father Abraham,


    Your imploring with God to spare the righteous of Sodom and Alma’s example where the Lord did NOT spare the righteous of Ammonihah shows that the overriding priority is following God, NOT protecting the innocent. God sees the bigger picture, and it was His will that the innocent of Ammonihah lose their lives at the hands of wicked men that justice be doled out to these wicked men, while it was His will (and the imploring of you, Father Abraham) that the city be spared, at least for a while. But note that the city did end up being destroyed anyways. In the case of Sodom, the Lord got the innocent out.

  24. Steve Evans says:

    John (#17), I admit nothing.

  25. Luke 4, when Jesus was in Nazareth, may speak well to many peoples’ response to it. I quote:

    23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in aCapernaum, bdo also here in thy country.
    24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is aaccepted in his own country.
    25 But I tell you of a truth, many awidows were in Israel in the days of bElias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
    26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
    27 And many alepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was bcleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
    28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,…

    Much of the anger against this prophet seems to come from the fact that he did not do in his hometown the miracles and provide the blessings he had provided in Capernum–and he calls them on it. The reference to Elias and Naaman in turn suggests that these miracles are done only for a spiritual purpose, though they may bless individuals. But in Nazareth, the miracles would only have been seen as nice things done for frends and relatives, rather than as suggesting the emergence of the messiah himself.

    I think the same principle holds here: while the miracle would improve the lives of some, it would not necessarily bring any to the Gospel, and therefore, is in some sense un-necessary.

  26. The ‘prophet’ in question is of course Christ, sorry for the incomplete reference.

  27. Dan,

    The scripture says to me that you should protect the innocent unless the spirit constrains you to do otherwise.

  28. This passage has always troubled me in my reading of the BoM. I have tried to visualize that scene, and have tried to justify it on many levels, and always came away still troubled.

    I’ve thought about Amulek’s wife and children as likely victims. It has occurred to me that also because of the wickedness of the people of Ammonihah, that the numbers perhaps were few. It still troubles me. It also troubles me that when Alma and Amulek arrive at Sidom in chapter 15, the husbands of these women and father’s of these children are hanging around the equivalent of the local Starbucks, doing nothing. And they were the believers who had been cast out and stoned for their belief.

    To me, the only answer I can give is that indeed, the Lord received the righteous unto himself, and that the perpetrators were basically evil, and exercising their agency.

    This gets to my road sign analogy of faith. If the Lord gave blessings every time we were obedient, and if we were punished in some way for every disobedient act, pretty soon, it would not require any faith to follow the Lord, and Satan’s plan would triumph. It’s the very lack of consistent “road signs” that make faith viable. To me, the straight and narrow path is indeed straight, narrow, very steep, and clogged with fallen trees, rocks, and lined with many easy, well lighted off ramps.

    I think that Alma and Amulek both wept, and Zeezrom probably spent many sleepless nights following his conversion, recalling this scene. I can only assume, based on my own experiences, that the Lord was weeping with them as well for the wickedness of his children. And I am still troubled.

  29. Kyle,

    I would agree with that, but also add that the scripture also tells me that we must not compromise our standards and principles with “protecting the innocent” as the justification.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    KyleM, when is the Spirit going to tell us not to protect the innocent? The very notion is shocking and appalling to common morality. Now, if Alma was constrained by the Spirit not to invoke divine wrath to protect the innocent, that is a different matter. For some reason known only to God, the invocation of miraculous or priesthood authority was forbidden. But as an issue of personal morality, Alma was nevertheless duty-bound to protect the innocent with all the powers at his personal disposal.

  31. Maybe Alma simply got this one wrong.

    Yeah, I like that.

  32. Aaron Brown says:

    I’ve never known what to make of this passage. Don’t like it one bit.

    If I were Alma, and the Spirit had tried to constrain me from acting, I probably would have written it off as a false spirit, and intervened as best I could.

    Maybe that proves I have little faith. Oh well.


  33. Dan, Dan, Dan, no, no, no. You think the Lord is going to send in the Marines to airlift these people out of the fiery pit? You want Capt Kirk to beam them up? What then? And how is the Lord going to protect these people? The same way he protected all of the others of His people, flee to the wilderness. But, it is a little bit late when they are already in the burning pit. Amulek had it all wrong. Since when is the Lord having people to stretch out their hands and extinguish flames like Frozone? He isn’t. That isn’t his way of doing things. Show me where in the Scriptures someone is stretching out their hands and doing that? They aren’t, and that is why Alma said “No.” Dan, you are misunderstanding the whole thing entirely. The Lord protected Lot and his family by getting them out of there. The people of Ammonihah didn’t get the heck out of there, they stayed there. And the wicked men killed them, which is not the Lord’s will, that is why He punished them. Alma was right that their murder would stand as a testimony against the wicked men, but the Lord did not set them up as martyrs any more than the Lord made the men kill them. Dan, and the rest of you who think that sometimes we do not have to protect the innocent, go read your Torah, would you? Moses had it right when he said that the Lord would never tolerate the cry of injustice and His people would always look out for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed and enslaved. What do you people study? The bubkes of men or the writings of Moses?

  34. Aaron, # 32

    Alma & Amulek were under guard or restraint at this point in time, so the only possible action would have been to use the “power of God that is in us”, which, if constrained, would have produced nothing,I suspect. Alma was pretty close to the spirit. If you recall, he had already abandoned missionary work in Ammonihah as futile, and was given explicit instructions by the spirit to return and find Amulek, who would help him.

    This is a hard story. The only good that comes out of it is that Zeezrom is converted, and some of the men apparently escaped to Sidom. It still breaks my heart.

  35. And Aaron,

    I don’t believe you have little faith. Under those circumstances, all of us would do just about anything we could to stop it, including being willing to die in the attempt. Amulek, I believe, recognizes this when in the next verse he says “Perhaps they will burn us too.”

    I think the constraint may have gone beyond just the priesthood power, to an understanding that they were not to try and intervene physically, even though they were bound.

  36. Nick Literski says:

    And how is the Lord going to protect these people?

    A good, heavy rainstorm might have proven useful.

    Since when is the Lord having people to stretch out their hands and extinguish flames like Frozone? He isn’t. That isn’t his way of doing things. Show me where in the Scriptures someone is stretching out their hands and doing that?

    How about Moses stretching forth his hands, helping the Israelites to prevail in battle? How about Moses stretching forth his hands, dividing the Red Sea?

  37. It’s amazing how proto-semitic language speaking Father Abraham is so well versed in Yiddish! Whatever happened to the ????!

  38. Kevin,

    I think that’s right on the money. If Alma and Amulek had within themselves the ability to save them (an army, machine guns, whatever), they would have been obliged to protect the innocent. But since it was the two of them against the mob, the only “weapon” in their disposal was the priesthood, which they were constrained not to use. Point is, these things happen in life all day long, every day. God doesn’t promise to intervene each time, but He does promise that he’ll help us be comforted and strengthened through it.

  39. Nick,

    The scriptural record, as well as our own history, shows that the Lord sometimes intervenes, and sometimes not. It’s a difficult doctrine, and I can’t begin to fathom all the reasoning behind it, though I try. Goes back to my Road Signs of Faith analogy. If there are no challenges, then there is no faith required, and this mortality no longer is valid as a test for us. 2 NE chapter 2 talks about this in great detail.

    I only have enough faith to keep going in what I perceive to be the right direction, most of the time. Ad if it’s uphill and difficult, as long as it’s straight and narrow, I keep trying to go on.

  40. Nick Literski says:

    The scriptural record, as well as our own history, shows that the Lord sometimes intervenes, and sometimes not. It’s a difficult doctrine, and I can’t begin to fathom all the reasoning behind it, though I try.

    We don’t disagree at all, kevinf. My post wasn’t disputing the scriptural record, nor attempting to berate deity. It was strictly intended to respond to two claims by “Father Abraham,” which suggested (a) that the only way deity protects a people is to tell them to flee the locale, and (b) that it was not the practice of deity to respond to prophets “stretching forth their hand” by enacting miraculous rescues.

  41. Steve, could the spirit constrain Alma and Amulek from interceding in any way so that they wouldn’t die unnecessarily? Would Zeezrom have been converted? Maybe, I don’t know. Did these men touch the lives of many more people in the future by remaining alive? Is self preservation sinful if you won’t be able to change the innocent’s fate anyway? I don’t think intercession is morally black and white. There are great debates about sovereign intercession. Personal intercession isn’t any less grey.

  42. Father Abraham,

    The people of Ammonihah didn’t get the heck out of there, they stayed there. And the wicked men killed them, which is not the Lord’s will, that is why He punished them.

    If I recall correctly, the Lord did not warn the innocent of Ammonihah to flee. I’m going back to review the chapters and for the life of me, I cannot see anywhere where the Lord warned the innocent to flee. Furthermore, I also do not see anywhere where the Lord, after warning them to flee, withdrew his support, as punishment, so that they, the innocent would die in the flames for not listening to the supposed counsel from the Lord to flee Ammonihah.

  43. My own personal assumption as to why the Spirit constrained Alma from using the priesthood to save the innocent is that it would not have done anything to convert the souls of those who were about to commit a horrible mass murder. The innocent were already “saved” unto the Lord.

    This is just my own assumption though.

  44. This has always been and will continue to be one of my favorite scriptural passages. It is summed up in two words–eternal perspective. Alma and, to a lesser extent, Amulek had perfect faith in God and understood that God, in His knowledge of all things, will make all things right through what I call divine compensation. “I do not know the meaning of all things; nevertheless I know that He loveth his children.” I have used this scripture in many talks to illustrate faith, courage, submission to the will of god, justice, mercy, etc.

    I would gladly send Ronan several glue sticks (he is going to need a lot) because there are several pages in his scriptures that need stuck together—the flood narrative; the priests of Baal; in fact most of the Old Testament and a lot of the New—there are just too many to count. There are lots of scriptures, incidents, doctrines, etc. that will supply fodder for many, many Friday Firestorms. Scriptures can be thrown out with glee for a great many Fridays to come all to be torn apart and judged by all of us with our great human intellects. So glue away, glue away. Soon your quad will become a solid block. It would make a great doorstop.

  45. For those who are Saying Alma should have done something:

    Vs 4 notes:
    But it came to pass that they did not; but they took them and bound them with strong cords, and took them before the chief judge of the land.

    When they were taken to the “place of martyrdom” all they could do was call on God for a miracle, as they were bound and incapacitated by their captors.

    Bassically, all this scriptue amounts to is that Alma and Amulek saw something horrible and evil, They asked God for a miracle, as that was all they could do, and God said no.

    This isn’t pretty, but it happens everyday in the world we live in. While you may not find Alma’s theodicy very compelling, it atleast is an articulated scriptural solution for the problem of evil. As far as I know, it may be the only theodicy directly recorded in cannonized scripture…

    (I’d love to be proven wrong on this one)

  46. timshel,

    You just called me to repentance. Awesome!

    I’m won’t be glueing the Song of Solomon, sorry. And double sorry, guv: for as long as scripture is communicated to us though humans, I reserve the right to use my human intellect to judge it.

  47. I think Alma was trying to find a reason himself for why God decided to stay his hand. His answers seem to be that even if the death is undeniably horrible, it is merely a passage to a better existence. Also, considering many scriptures and quotes from prophets seem to indicate that we will be judging ourselves, I think that people are more seared in their conscience by the acts that they do than the acts that they think about. In that sense, the people who commited this act will feel it seared on their souls when they look at their life.

    As for God’s reason not to intervene, only He knows. We can guess, but since He knows a lot more than we do, we won’t know for sure all of the whys.

  48. Nick, are we talking about Moses here? No. I see no Moses here. I see no armies of Israel to prevail and no Red Sea to part. And when is the last time you read something Moses wrote, you schlemiel? And why are you thinking the “place of martyrdom” is outside, for it to be rained on? Don’t be a schlub, Nick, the poor women and children and being burned alive in the fire and what are they supposed to do? Really? You want a tidal wave to come and put out the fire? And that drowns thousands more? We are in the Book of Mormon here Nick, here we are talking about fleeing, not parting the Red Sea. You say the Lord does not have to perform miracles to rescue the people, then what non-miracle would you suppose, besides a heavy rainstorm, which would only delay the inevitable with these wicked murderers? I tell your mother, she gives you a pinch too. A hard one.

    NJensen, you keep up with the times. I have not spoken proto-Hebrew for a long, long time, and if I did, there is no keyboard for that. Show an old man some respect.

    Dan, you are making things up, for why do you do such foolish things? Dan, my child, what is this you would suppose the Lord should do to make you happy? You want Nick’s rainstorm to put out the flames? And then what? The murderers bash in their heads. You expect the Lord to do things the way you like? Sorry, He does not do that. Amulek wanted to do something, what is he going to do? You tell me what would have happened if Amulek would have stretched out his hand. Please, show me where in the Book of Mormon that you are now reading says what would have happened if he has just done that.

  49. Kevin Barney says:

    Alma’s rationale reminds me of the reasoning of those Mormons who accept the classical dogma of omniscience. In traditional Mormon thought, we are sent to this earth as a test, to be tried. But the whole notion of a test is inconsistent with classical omniscience, for under that view God knew from all eternity every single little thing we do throughout our lives. So this whole life is nothing but a big sham; why not just go ahead and judge us and be done with it already?

    And the answer comes…: so that we would know that God’s judgment was just.

    (I don’t buy any of this; I’m a libertarian free will guy myself.)

  50. Steve Evans says:

    Matt W., I’m not saying Alma should have done something, but rather that he was morally obligated to do all he could. I’m aware that he was bound, stripped, etc., so as a physical matter his capacity to save the innocent was limited.

    Kyle, you’re mistaken that personal intercession is somehow as grey as international politics. And in any event, the general principle of protecting the innocent is a universally held value. It’s undeniable.

    Timshel, thanks for being the first to lob a bombshell of condescension into the mix.

  51. CE: I did not think the assertion that God judges us based on our hearts was controversial. Do you disagree? I don’t understand why you seem to suggest that this is inconsistent with our need to come to earth as part of the plan of salvation.

    Does anybody think that the guilty would be any less guilty or that God would be less justified in condemning them if he had rescued the innocent the way he has done for others?

  52. It’s certainly possible that Alma was wrong, but taking into account the entire narrative and what we know about Alma from the rest of the BoM, I think he was probably a good judge of what the spirit was telling him to do and not do.

    It always has troubled me that the Lord apparently chose to not save these people, and yet intervenes later to get A&A out of prison. But you could say the same thing about Abinadi: Why does he have to face the flames and not Alma, or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for that matter. Heck, they weren’t even prophets.

    There are various possibilities for the inconsistencies (and these are just a very few of the many examples we could name) but none are very satisfying, from a mortal perspective. The bottom line is that we just don’t know why God does what he does. We should certainly understand from this that there are no guarantees that he will step in and save anyone from suffering and death every time, no matter their relative righteousness.

    How do we square this with the passages regarding faith and obedience? Aren’t we told that the Lord is bound when we do what he says? And Faith that is strong enough can overcome anything? (think Brother of Jared and Enoch). Did Alma and Amulek lack the faith or obedience necessary for this particular action?

  53. Timshel, # 44

    Sorry, this is NOT a favorite scripture. Yes, it does teach some important lessons. It deals with difficult subjects. But it is not a favorite scripture of mine. If you believe the BoM is indeed an accurate scriptural account of the facts, which many here believe, then we are talking about the death of innocent women and children at the hands of evil men. REALLY evil men. And I can’t just flippantly use it to dress up my talks in church. I believe it’s a true account, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that it was a horrible event.

    What we are trying to do here is to learn something from this by discussing ideas back and forth. If I don’t agree with Ronan, nonetheless, I’m not sending him gluesticks. Nor do I think he has any intention of using his scriptures as a doorstop.

    It might appear to the casual observer that you might be one of the few here that aren’t struggling with this account at some level.

  54. Timshel,

    Forgive me if I came off as a bit strident. I’m not really criticizing you, just reacting to the perceived tone of your comment. It came across as “I have the correct answer, take it or leave it, case closed”.

    Please let me know if I have characterized this incorrectly.

  55. Eric Nielson (#18) said:

    I sometimes feel that we make to much of suffering in mortality, and that there are more important eternal things going on. This life is very temporary.

    I can’t sit by while this statement goes unchallenged. I do understand the perspective of those who look forward to a better future world, and how it can ease current suffering by putting it in an eternal context. But I think it is completely unacceptable to use this to minimize the importance of current human suffering. It seems to me that this goes to the core of at least one major part of Christ’s message.

    While clearly it is not in the mindset of the original poster, it is also, in my opinion, potentially a very dangerous attitude, which can be used to rationalize acts of terrorism and other forms of oppression (e.g. the Inquisition and similar religiously based persecutions).

    And returning to the primary topic of this post, if God wants to condemn me for trying to do something to alleviate the suffering of his children, then so be it.

  56. he was morally obligated to do all he could

    True enough, and I would say he did do all he could. I think it is a possible enough interpretation that the answer was “no”. After all, the spirit can’t constrain you to not perform a miracle if you aren’t seeking actively of yourself to do the miracle…

    You could argue that the language of the book of mormon is not evident and clear to this point, but I’d only respond “So what else is new…”

  57. Kevin,

    Just because God has seen you do something before you’ve done it doesn’t mean he has circumvented your free will. He sees things as one eternal “now”, not in a time-space continuum like we do. I picture it as God viewing the earth’s history like one big panoramic stage. He’s seen it all from start to end, but all the players have still made their own choices, and have chances to change those choices in the course of their lives. I think it’s just an odd paradigm that we can’t currently grasp with our limited perspective.

  58. kevinf,

    I dont have a problem with this passage either.

    Real innocent people die at the hands of real EVIL people every day. That is the nature of a fallen world: people have agency and commonly use it to their own detriment, and the detriment of others. We cannot seriously expect God to make exceptions at our convenience. He will do so as is expedient for Him, and in most cases, sadly enough, we are not making ourselves useful to Him or worthy of Him, so He hasnt got much to work with. The exceptions are few and far between and typically come at pivotal times, not just whenever. Want divine providence? Make yourself useful and do His works so He has some reason to spare you in the event you need it.

    The only surety we all have is we ALL will be held fully accountable for our individual actions at the Judgement Bar. Everything here in mortality is messy, so there will not be any pat answers to terrible situations (e.g., Jewish Holocaust, Darfur, Rowanda, Balkans, Soviet Pogroms, etc.). I can accept that, and wait for the Resurrection, when the mess will be cleaned up.

  59. Kevin,

    I don’t buy the omniscience/omnipotent thing either, (or omnipresent, for that matter). We certainly have our free will. I think there is some validity for saying that God probably does know how we are going to react in certain environments, but this omniscient neo-orthodoxy runs counter to everything that I believe or hold dear.

    I also can see something to learning to understand that God’s judgment is just, but again, anything that seems to curtail our agency doesn’t ring true. For heaven’s sake, we fought a just war over that one. I believe we really are here, through our agency, to learn and become better than the natural men and women we are born as.

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    Matt G., I don’t want to get dragged into this tangential subject, which has been done to death on the ‘Nacle. There’s never any resolution; some people see it one way, and others a different way. If positing divine atemporality resolves it for you, great; it doesn’t do it for me.

  61. I am ok with saying we don’t know what God is up to. I just don’t want to have to force myself to believe that Alma’s argument makes sense, when I don’t think it does.

  62. Nick Literski says:

    And when is the last time you read something Moses wrote, you schlemiel?

    Well, technically speaking, when is the last time “Father Abraham” read something Moses wrote, since Moses wasn’t even a twinkle in his father’s eye yet, when “Father Abraham” died? ;-)

    You want Nick’s rainstorm to put out the flames? And then what?

    Then the naughty residents of Ammonihah, being a primitive and superstitious people, attribute the rainstorm to one deity or another’s disapproval of their actions, and run away screaming.

    So glue away, glue away. Soon your quad will become a solid block. It would make a great doorstop.

    That would make it far safer in the hands of some religionists I’ve come across. ;-)

  63. ED,

    Perhaps (as is often the case) I didn’t make myself clear. I am not faulting the Lord for his inaction, or more correctly, for restraining Alma & Amulek. The fact that it did happen does not mean that God willed it to happen. The bad guys were exercising their agency, and as often is the case, the Lord did not intervene. We see this with the handcart companies, with the MMM, Hauns Mill, and countless other examples.

    You are correct in saying that we all need to do all that we can do to help eliminate suffering in this world, but it is a fallen world, and we will never be able to do enough.

    You said:

    Want divine providence? Make yourself useful and do His works so He has some reason to spare you in the event you need it.

    That would almost imply that these innocent women and children had not done enough to merit recognition by the Lord. I certainly don’t believe that, and I don’t think you do either.

    My fault, I suspect, was in dismissing Timshel’s use of this account “flippantly” in his talks to teach some principle. Wrong word to use. I can never read this account without feeling some of the pain that Alma and Amulek felt that day as well. As such, I hope that I will respect that, like I hope I respect the sacrifice of Joseph Smith, my own ancestors, and ultimately, the Savior himself.

    To that end, I really believe that the final message out of this account is seen through the actions of Zeezrom as a tireless and committed missionary companion of Alma and Amulek later in his life. He was trying to make the atonement work for himself, even as Amulek must have needed the atonement to allow himself to heal over this horrible event.

    I am trying to do all I can, and failing often, but I keep trying.

  64. john scherer (#17) and Gary (#51):

    I haven’t seen The Minority Report (the flick starring Tom Cruise). But from what I hear, the basic plot is that futuristic police arrest people before they ever commit a crime, based on the premonitions of some psychics.

    Think how bad it would be if God were to judge you for all the bad stuff you he thinks you would have done if you had the chance. You might not think that was fair.

    Of course, D&C 137 (especially vs 7-8) suggest that God will judge us for all the good stuff he thinks we would have done if we had the chance. So maybe I’m wrong.

    My only point is that it doesn’t seem fair to me that God would punish you for something you want to do if you never actually does it. There’s lost of stuff that I want to do, but I abstain because I don’t think it would be right. I don’t necessarily accept the “classical omniscience” model (referred to in Kevin Barney’s post #49). But even if God knows what I am going to do, I still think it’s only fair to wait until I did it before punishing me.

    But let me restate my opinion that God neither causes all the terrible crap that happens in this world, nor do I see compelling evidence that he regularly takes miraculous measures to stop any of it.

  65. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand;

    Which I suspect really means: Dude! We’re tied up here! All we can do is pray about this. If God won’t save them what am I supposed to do about it?

  66. BTW — I thought your “Theo-dicey” pun was pretty amusing Steve.

  67. I recognize that my statement (#44) came across as condescending and flippant. I do not wish to come across as not feeling or respecting the suffering that is brought upon the innocent by evil men. I am sorry that it came across that way. I will be more careful in the future.
    I do try to feel the pain of that horrible incident and do not flippantly use it in any reference to it. I try to show the reverence that all those who suffered deserve.
    I fear that I was very clumsy in my comments concerning Ronan. I do have a concern that many times we either ignore a concept in the scriptures or intellecualize it away, or worse, try to excise something that does not fit into our personal beliefs or comfort zone. It is a very serious thing to “glue together” pages of scripure. That is what I was trying to get across. It did not come out the way I meant it to.

  68. Geoff #65

    Maybe we should look into possible transcription errors. maybe the Nephite words for ” The Spirit Constraineth me” was only one letter of for “These #$^%ing Ropes constraineth me!”

  69. er “one letter off of” rather than “one letter of for”

  70. Ditto to everything kevinf has said. This event disturbs me and pains me, but it doesn’t shake my testimony of anything – since it’s a disturbing part of mortality everywhere and in every time. “Why do bad (in this case horrible) things happen to good people?” is one of the oldest questions in theological discourse.

    What more can I say? Nothing, really.

  71. Timshel,

    We all have a gift for hyperbole here. I think I reacted more to the glue stick thing than the rest of what you were saying. That being said, we sometimes also revert to low humor, puns, and outright scandalous mocking from time to time. We save our real wrath for those who really aren’t trying to learn anything, or have anything to share but ridicule. Jetboy comes to mind.

    Keep reading and posting.

    Matt W,

    What, you suspect that there were editors involved, deleting or changing the wording of the original writing? I’ll let you in on a favorite folk doctrine, third hand from a friend who was related to a Patriarch through marriage, who said (the Patriarch, that is) “it’s interesting how Mormon’s wife edited so much of the records that ended up in the final plates, and we don’t even know her name”. Or words to that effect. I’ve edited for impact.

  72. timshel,
    If the concept we are to learn is “sometimes God does nothing to protect the innocent from evil,” then I’m with you. If the concept is that we should be happy about it, because, after all, this will bring damnation on the evil, then I can’t get behind it, scriptural or not. Is all.

  73. Ronan, no one should be happy about any soul receiving damnation. That is a medieval concept if I ever heard one. On this we do agree.

  74. This passage does little to satisfy the question why innocents suffer–for me.

    Alma’s explanation is wholly unsatisfactory. It is ridiculous that an infinitely loving God would allow some of his children to brutally masacre other children so that He might similarly punish the brutal children. That the innocents were burned alive because of their faith in that God is too much. No, Alma does not help me sleep at night.

    Maybe Alma’s explanation is meant to be ridiculous. Maybe the passage teaches that there really isn’t satisfactory explanations for some of the evil that happens in this world. In my mind, some evil is so horrific that God’s abstention can only be explained by faith–notwitstanding this evil, God must have his own reasons for inaction. It isn’t given me to know why, but “the Spirit Constraineth me.”

  75. Actually Matt, I am suggesting that “The Spirit constraineth me” can be interpreted to mean “I’ve been asking and God is not saying yes”. It’s not like Alma had any more power in himself than anyone else after all.

    The theodicy questions is why God says no when we ask him to stop pain and suffering. I am not convinced Alma’s answer is God’s opinion on the subject — I suspect that it represents Alma’s opinion.

  76. Geoff J,

    If the normative moral action is to interceed, shouldn’t the proper reaction be to interceed unless contrained to do otherwise?

  77. CE: I don’t think that God will punish me for the bad stuff I do. I think he will punish me for being the kind of guy that does bad stuff. If I was dragging away two small children to burn them in a fire, but was stopped shortly before throwing them into the fire by their father, I think I am still just as guilty and just as evil as if I had succeeded.

  78. I’m thinking that Alma didn’t want to go against the Prime Directive and intervene directly.

    Wait I guess I’m in the wrong story, sorry.
    I didn’t mean to sound flippant either, I just couldn’t resist.

  79. KyleM,

    Yup. Thus the theologians and philosophers struggle with the famous “problem of evil”. In its strongest form it is this: God can always intercede and we don’t know why he doesn’t (and why he is not evil for his willful non-intervention).

    But in this case, Alma apparently couldn’t do anything to help these people even though he surely wanted to.

  80. Having said I said all I can say that needs to be said – knowing I generally say more than what I need to say to say what I mean to say, I agree completely with Geoff’s first paragraph in #75. I don’t think the only meaning is, “I know I can help, and I want to help, but the Spirit told me in no uncertain terms that God wants these innocents to die because he wants to drop a piano on them and grind them eternally.” I know there have been many times I have wanted to do something but just felt like it I couldn’t do it – when I literally have felt “constrained”. Usually, I have had no idea why – and often it has been in situations where I thought I could stop something from happening to someone if I only could be inspired to know what to do or say.

    What lessons can I take from this event, as disturbing as it is to me? There are plenty, if I am willing to take the general situation and liken it unto myself. The one that hits me the hardest is a searing lesson about my pride in thinking I can save others from their pain and suffering and misery – that sometimes I simply will not be able to stop someone even from burning in flames not of their own making – especially if they are my own children.

  81. “drop a piano on the bad guys and grind them eternally” Sheesh.

  82. Ray,

    One should always look and make sure it is the bad guys before dropping a piano on them.

    Re: Theodicy

    I have to admit that I needed to refresh my philosophical vocabulary on this, even though I have heard it many times. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

    The goal of theodicy is not to determine the truth, but to convince skeptics by any means possible that a reasonably doubted proposition is true.

    You gotta love it.

  83. Questions (#55):

    I believe you make a good point, but also that you are stretching things a bit. I am simply saying that in trying to rationalize this experience it makes sense to try and see an eternal perspective. That’s all.

    I don’t know that it has to minimize the importance of human suffering in the least to try and see an eternal perspective. In fact suffering may be an important part of the experience needed to enjoy imortality and eternal life. This does not mean that we should seek suffering nor rationalize acts of terrorism and the like.

    As has been mentioned by others, the only thing that A&A could have done is use the priesthood to stop this. If one were to try this, and it was against the will of God, I would suspect that it wouldn’t work anyway.

    I remember giving a blessing to my grandfather when I returned from my mission. He was in the latter stages of enduring liver cancer. I would have loved to have healed him. The spirit let me know that it wasn’t to be. Not an easy blessing to give.

    Bottom line is we must seek the will of God when we seek to use his power. And when God says know try to see an eternal perspective. I don’t think this is dangerous.

    But you do well to point out my statement was quite incomplete, and I am not sure I am doing much better now.

  84. That’s ‘no’

  85. Eric, “know” to “no” – or “no (I am not doing much better now)”? *grin*

  86. Gary (#77):

    You have trumped me with the excellent arguement that what we “do” is only secondary to what we “become.” Elder Oaks gave a good talk on this a few years ago. I agree that we are not here to amass a huge list of acts that will bring us salvation–we are here to become the type of people who can live with God.

    Nonetheless, I still don’t see God in a “Minority Report”-style role, stepping in to stop people as soon as their bad intentions are clear. At the risk of repeating myself again, it seems to me that God frequently just lets bad stuff happen. It’s not like I think those poor folks in Alma 14 had to die to serve God’s purposes as suggested in the text. They probably died because life is hard and people do bad things.

  87. CE,

    Amen, brother. Couldn’t have said it better.

  88. Or sister, as the case may be…sorry.

  89. Eric (#83),

    I appreciate your clarifying your position, and I was pretty sure that’s how you really felt.

    But, as you acknowledge, the statement in your original post was incomplete, and left the wrong impression. That’s what I wanted to correct, as there definitely are those whose ‘eternal perspective’ enables them to do some pretty horrific things in the here and now.

  90. California Condor says:

    Here is the real firestorm.

  91. Phil the feeble says:

    What confuses me the most about this scripture is comparing it to that of the Stripling Warriors: Alma 56:47 “…they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” A statement that is then verified by the account which follows.

    I am unable to reconcile the two views.

  92. Phil, the account that follows was used by them, their leaders and the historian who included it in his abridgment, as an example of the truth of what their mothers taught them, but I seriously doubt, given their mothers’ perspective on violence while they were raising those sons, that their mothers meant “you will be delivered from death by opposing soldiers.” It is much more likely that their mothers taught them that God would deliver them from the devil – from spiritual death.

    That interpretation is perfectly consistent with the account being discussed herein.

  93. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, where are you getting your view that their mothers were discussing deliverance from spiritual death and the devil? Your interpretation is not supported by the text.

  94. Is this scripture an adequate counter to the 99 sheep parable?

  95. Eric Russell says:

    This verse is classic. A Zone Leader, not wanting to look foolish or weak in front of his junior companion, invents some off the wall doctrine to explain why they can’t accomplish something.

  96. Sure it is, Steve – at least as obviously as the passage you used for this firestorm tells us that Amulek’s wife and children “probably” were among those who were killed. That conclusion is not fully “supported by the text”, so we can’t be completely sure – but it seems like the most likely scenario given the entire Ammonihah narrative.

    I always stress parsing what actually was said to understand what we can assert as definitive, then considering the entire context to see if there are possible implications from whatever simply is a given. In Alma 56:47-48, all we are told is that the mothers “taught” them that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” From what, we are not told. We only assume it was from physical death in war because of the situation that caused them to relate it to Helaman. Given that, it is legitimate to look at the rest of the context and realize that there might be other legitimate meanings for “God would deliver them.”

    They had been “taught” – which might be a one time occurrence as they were leaving home. However, it seems like these young men had been “taught” dedication and obedience and exactness all their lives. Individuals might change in an instant, but it is unlikely that 2,000 young men would suddenly become uber-righteous overnight. It is much more likely that they had been “taught” that God would deliver them from anything that might threaten their spiritual, eternal well-being than that their mothers simply pulled them aside on the way out the door and promised them they wouldn’t be killed in the war.

    Remember, those mothers had seen many of their friends (and perhaps some fathers and sons and husbands) slaughtered by other Lamanites – killed in the act of calling upon God even though they did not “doubt God”. They knew full well that God didn’t always deliver His people from death, but they were convinced that He could deliver them from their natural and fallen and sinful and lost state. (Alma 24:27 – “thus we see that the Lord worketh in many aways to the salvation of his people.”)

    Alma 53: 20-21 make it obvious that these young men had been taught all their lives the reward for perfect faithfulness and obedience and dedication – the same reward their own “pioneers” had received, even those who had been killed for their faith and dedication and lack of doubt. I think it’s fairly safe to guess, as a parent myself, that their mothers reiterated what they had been taught all their lives as they were heading off to war – that if they did not doubt and obeyed every command with exactness that God would deliver them, no matter the physical outcome.

    Am I saying that this is the correct view of this statement? No. It might simply have been, “Stay valiant and none of you will be killed.” All I’m saying is that when you parse the text, there is more than one possible meaning for that phrase (“God would deliver them.”) – just as there is more than one possible meaning for “all the earth” in the flood narrative. I admit readily that what their mothers told them might align perfectly with the “standard” interpretation that Mormon’s retelling seems to imply, but I submit that my interpretation is just as likely – and more consistent with the overall story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and how they probably would have viewed God’s deliverance. It also is likely that Mormon knew more than he told in a severely edited abridgment, so he focused on the aspect that would give the strongest object lesson to those who would read it in our day. I just can’t reconcile such an absolute (“God delvers the uber-righteous from death, so if your son dies in war it’s because he wasn’t righteous enough.”) with everything else we have recorded in our scriptures and our spiritual heritage, so I choose to see if there is a legitimate alternative. I think there is.

    As I implied, if you think that approach is incorrect, we probably need to revisit the entire flood debate – since that same argument was the foundation of the “localized flood” view.

  97. joshua madson says:

    Im just curious why so many assume that the “normative moral action” is to intercede and do anything in our power to stop outrages such as this. Are there any places we draw a line and say I can interfere in such and such way but other ways are over the line?

    Obviously God doesn’t always intervene. Im sure there are a variety of reasons for this. I also tend to believe that there are certain things we dont do regardless of the injustice. Why didn’t Christ become a zealot? Why did he die on a cross rather than do what is “moral” and end the persecutions of the Romans and powers of his day?

    I would however agree that Alma’s answer is troublesome and I just dont buy it.

  98. Whenever I find something in the scriptures that goes against my own personal feelings I don’t automatically assume that the scriptures are wrong. We shouldn’t assume that Alma’s answer is the final word on why bad things happen to good things but there may be something in what he says that could teach us something that we don’t understand. Rejecting it out of hand will keep us from learning whatever this may be.

  99. happen to good people I mean.

  100. Steve, whether or not you are my friend, and i believe you are, the following two things are truths: You are brilliant; I am grateful to you for exploring this topic.

    Regardless of the reason for the evil perpetrated on the innocent, for the soul to have a heart to love God and be one made in his image, it must also be one that doubles over in pain at the thought of the torture of children and creatures of God.

    The question is “Who or what is holding God’s hand back?” The answer is elusive, but I believe that we must search. To stop searching is to complacently tolerate this evil and evolve (yes, I said the “E” word) by default into creatures with souls not worthy of His deliverance.

  101. “for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory”(exaltation)

    The greatest blessing any human being can obtain is exaltation, and Alma knew that these innocents were just mortal seconds away from it. Would you be willing to suffer even excruciating mortal agony but for “a small moment” if the result was eternity in the presence of God? And even if you were not all that willing, would you regret that you had to endure it once the brilliance of heaven settled over you?

    As a mother I cannot imagine the agony of losing one of my children, let alone being forced to WATCH them die at the hands of evil. But my goal as a Latter Day Saint mother is not merely to raise them to adulthood, it is ultimately to raise them to immortality and exaltation. I firmly believe that the Lord takes us when our “test” is finished, when our purpose has been fulfilled and that because of the veil, we tend to object to his timing for selfish/mortal/fallen reasons.

    These two men witnessed a horrific tragedy (and probably personal loss of loved ones) and remained steadfast in their faith. They stood by their testimonies knowing that they could be next on the fire. They were then imprisoned, beaten, starved, stripped and subjected to ridicule in such ways that their experience was very similar to what the Savior’s would be.And when they “burst” their own prison doors…all who were within were destroyed.

    Can any among us endure even mild persecution without reacting against mankind or God, let alone the horrors of this chapter? Alma and Amulek did. Can any among us endure what they did without doubting our faith, our God, or our own actions? Alma and Amulek didn’t. In my opinion (which I by no means think is superior) the purpose of this story being included in the record is not to focus on what Alma and Amulek “should/could or should not/could not have done”, but rather to serve as an example, as well as a witness, of what discipleship is, and what it sometimes costs.

  102. P.S.

    Excuse the afterthought, but I’d like to share something that came up in my primary class last week. (10 year old bodies…100 year old minds)One of our shared/inside jokes is the phrase they (used to) use in the closing prayer- “let no harm or accident befall us” (or fall ON us…my personal favorite). After discussing the atonement, and how if the sacrament is taken worthily it literally renews us, one of my soon-to-be-deacons reflected that “maybe having harm or accident kill us on our way home from Church would really be a blessing, because we would be free from sin so wouldn’t we inherit the celestial kingdom?”

    Death is a natural part of life that takes away all we have some day. Exaltation is eternal life that only comes to those who have what it takes.

  103. Steve Evans says:

    Sorry, Ray, but I think your interpretation is off the mark and ignores the context completely.

  104. Steve Evans says:

    sammiejd, thanks!

  105. Off the mark – perhaps. I admit that possibility.

    Ignores the context completely? I said I could accept the war context as the reason it was related in the first place *and* that their mothers might have sent them off to war with a reiteration of what they had been taught growing up. Misinterprets the context – perhaps. Ignores the context – We disagree completely there.

    That’s fine, since we are likening the scriptures to our own different selves. I really am not concerned about who is right, as long as each of us is better for what we individually get from it.

  106. Does that mean I believe in inspired error? Never mind; we don’t need to revisit that concept.

  107. One last point, Steve.

    This was Helaman who was reporting about these young men. He was as close to them as any Nephite – ever. Yet, apparently, he did not know the specifics about what their mothers had taught them until they told him about it. He had been there when the parents had decided to fight; he was the one who had talked them out of it by invoking their sacred promise; he had been chosen as their sons’ military leader because they trusted him as a religious leader. He was intimately involved in the decision of their sons to fight in place of their parents.

    Perhaps “taught” simply can mean “told” – but I tend to believe that Helaman would have been there for the great send off when all the mothers collectively told all the sons that they would not die in battle – that he would have known about it and not have to be told after the fact.

    Having said all that, I do not discount the idea that the Lord promised the parents that He would preserve their sons in battle like He had preserved the sons of Mosiah on their missions – that is was couched in terms of “You’ve sacrificed enough lives to follow me. I won’t require that you sacrifice your children.” Even if that really is all it was, that’s enough for me, since it makes it an incredibly powerful story of the rewards of deep and difficult sacrifice and dedication.

    End of threadjack. Back to the original passage.

%d bloggers like this: