|Me Blustering on my Trumpet|
I have graduated from Ammon this week and been reading in Alma 29. I read it a year ago and wrote out some thoughts before, but this time I felt like I was rediscovering it, so went through and changed some of my notes from before. It starts out in verse 1:
"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with a voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be sorrow upon all the face of the earth."
Like I talked about in my last post about Ammon, I have been troubled by this gospel sharing stuff in my life, so The Book of Mormon is on a roll here. What is my role in other people's lives, and how am I supposed to help them in the gospel? Are not members of the Church supposed to "wear out our lives" preaching repentance? Are we not our brother's keeper? What are we supposed to do, how far are we supposed to go in our efforts? Is there a limit to how far to push? When do we live and let live? What is the formula?
So Alma's story is terribly unfair. He went around like a rotten twerp trying to mess up the church his Father worked so hard to establish. And then what happened? He got the elite angel treatment to get him back on the straight and narrow. And then he was High Priest and prophet. Yes, it was a "harrowing" experience he had to go through first, and of course he had to repent and try and undo the damage he had done. But he had the miracle, the angel, the divine intervention that saved his soul.
In that poignant verse, I feel and can relate to his frustration. "O that I were an angel!" an angel like the multitude of angels that have saved me in my life. So often I see where I have ended up, based on divine interventions and miraculous displays from my own angels: parents and leaders and teachers and friends I didn't deserve, and I shrink at the injustice of it. I see others who keep on sinning and approaching misery and I think "Why not intervene for them? And if you won't send an angel, then for heaven's sake let me go be that angel to smarten these people up! They would have to repent with my thundering voice. It worked for me!"
"Nevertheless I do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted me."
SIN? Sin sin sin sin sin! Well, there's another one. But why on earth would it be a sin to wish to cry repentance! Well it's not, except for how you do it. What are my motives for sharing the gospel? When I am honest with myself, I have to admit that often for me, pride is a major motivator, and I hate that. Sometimes I do things because I want to feel like I am good enough somehow. Sometimes I want my own glory.
So my methods sound a bit like Satan's plan. My own glory, plus incorporating Satan's idea of coercion and force as a means to an end. Geez Louise. But on the other hand, just imagine if Satan's sophistry, urging, and manipulative argument were used for good! We'd have Zion well established in no time.
Remember Gandalf? "Don't tempt me Frodo! Understand that I would use this Ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." (Haha, LOTR references are da best.) Like Gandalf once considered, as Frodo held out Sauron's ring of power, what if I could use a voice of thunder and coercion to do good! What a happy, righteous world I could make with Satan's tools!
"I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea I know that he allotteth unto men, yea he decreeth unto them the decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction."
God's ways are different. Alma acknowledges this frustrating and marvelous truth: God gives us what we want. "He granteth unto men according to their desires" whether unto life or death. No righteous man, not even the prophet Alma, can meddle with that.
How is that for models of parenting: "You want it? You want to eat that stick of butter that will make you throw up later? Are you sure? OK, here you go kids!"
Well not really like that, I guess. It does say for "him that knoweth good and evil," he lets us have it. For example, I don't ask Lucia whether she would like a diaper change or not.
But here on earth, each of us have, in a sense grown up enough in heaven and we have all moved out of Mom and Dad's house and we are making our own choices and following our own desires. If I am a grown man and choose to play video games all day instead of get a job, for example, Dad can try and persuade me to be responsible and grow up, send messengers, awesome CEOs to the house with intriguing job opportunities to tempt me out of unemployment, but he can't force me. I am my own man, now. Yes, God gave me my body, this earth, my stuff, but in a remarkable manifestation of love and respect, he gives me the chance to choose what to do with it. Use it, abuse it, waste it, or invest in it for eternal reward, it's up to me. He respects my right to choose in this exciting new world of agency and choices.
So why did Alma get an angel? I guess we are told actually: because of the prayers of his righteous parents and other church members. Prayer matters. Quite often it is all we can do. He hears our pleadings for our wayward friends, siblings, children, parents. So going back to Alma and my question. What do I do for someone who is making a wrong choice? Well, there's prayer. Is that all? Well, if I have stewardship over someone either as a parent, a family member, or friend, I guess I can try to teach them, share with them my experience and testimony. How? Well, certainly not with the thundering trumpeting voice of an angel, maybe because the voice of an angel coming through me, a struggling sinner, would sound like a self-righteous, hypocritical whine. Less like a trumpet and more like a squeaky bagpipe full of hot air.
So going back to my original question: how does someone as imperfect as me teach the gospel? What is the solution? How far do I go? What is the formula?
The formula is love. It has only ever been love. Perfect love is the only intervention. Only Christ has that ability because only he loves perfectly, but he gives us some of his love when we ask for it. Then He gives us opportunities to serve and develop that charity by reaching out to each other. Not with our own motives or agendas. But with His love and in his way. It happens, not as often as it should, but when it does, it is a miracle. Like when a home teacher who, with love unfeigned, serves a family and invites them back. Or a mother who never stops praying every night, for years, that one day her child will return to the gospel path. Or when someone forgives a terrible betrayal of trust. Or a friend who continues to love and support and be there for someone, in spite of their wrong choices.
Act and teach and persuade with as much love as you feel, and if you need more, pray for more of it, and Christ will give it to you. If you are not doing it out of love, stop doing what you are doing and pray for some. Pray with "all energy of soul, that you might be filled with that love." It is that part for me that takes great effort, "all energy of soul" and incredible selflessness and patience to obtain, which I usually don't have on hand. Sometimes it's too hard and I end up blustering at people to get their act together, sometimes just in my head. That's not helpful. I know it's not. It is love, only love, that can permanently change people's hearts, and when we have it, we can be guided to know what to do by the gentle, still small voice of the Holy Ghost.
In conclusion: in my desire to do good, it is perfect love that makes miracles. And unfortunately for me, it is there that I have my work cut out for me.