As always, consult the official Gospel Doctrine Manual in your preparation. Below are some supplemental ideas:
Alma the Younger spoke to each of his sons, explaining his own conversion and giving counsel. Alma speaks to Helaman in chapters 36-37, to Shiblon in chapter 38, and to Corianton in chapters 39-42.
Alma 36 is a stunning example of chiasmus (an ancient poetic form of writing) which is fascinating, but we mustn’t miss the content because we’re so excited about the format! (See page 232 in the Book of Mormon Institute Manual for a more detailed explanation of chiasmus).
Alma 36 – Alma’s repentance and conversion; we get details not in Mosiah 27
3 – “supported in their trials” It does not say that God will eliminate our trials, but he will help us through them. As the old saying goes, “in life, suffering is mandatory, but misery is optional.”
5 – “God sent his holy angel” To review the story, follow footnote 5c to Mosiah 27:11-18.
9 – “if thou wilt of thyself be destroyed” The wording is a little tricky here: I think the angel is saying, “Unless you want to destroy yourself, seek no more to destroy the church of God”
12 – “racked with eternal torment” How can you go through “eternal torment” for only three days? The answer is in footnote 12a, which takes us to D&C 19. Torment which comes from God is “eternal” torment, because his name is “eternal.” In the same way, the phrase “eternal life” describes not only a length of life, but a quality of life – it is the kind of life God has. Is it possible to have immortality but not eternal life? Yes.
14 – “rack my soul with inexpressible horror” President Boyd K. Packer explained the terms “racked,” “harrowed,” and “tormented” in the April 2001 General Conference. Here’s a link to a short video excerpt:
15 – “extinct both soul and body” For some reason, the Book of Mormon often uses the word “soul” to mean “spirit.” Alma is saying more than “I wish I’d never been born,” he is saying “I wish I were extinct,” or that my spirit was destroyed (which is not possible because our spirits our eternal). Since our spirits cannot be destroyed, we might ask ourselves a pointed question – I’m going to spend eternity somewhere – where would I like that to be?
17 – “I remembered … to have heard my father prophesy” Although it may not have appeared that Alma was listening at the time, he remembered something his father has said. This is encouraging news for parents who often struggle to share the gospel with a seemingly disinterest audience.
19 – “I could remember my pains no more” This verse provides a clue on how we may know when we are forgiven (see also Mosiah 4:3). Notice, Alma does not say that he could remember his sins no more – he remembered them very well – but it didn’t cause him pain anymore.
We remember that the Lord promised in D&C 58:42, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” Some of my students have wondered if it’s even possible for God to forget our sins, or for us to know something that God does not know. In my opinion, the language “remember them no more” is poetic, meaning our sins won’t be remembered, or mentioned, at the judgment. The wording in Ezekiel 33:16 is a little clearer: “None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.”
22 – “My soul did long to be there” Contrast this phrase with verse 14, and we see that Alma went from horror to longing. This speaks of the effects of the atonement of Christ and his power to forgive us and cleanse us.
24 – “taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste” This is perhaps the greatest and noblest motive for serving a mission. Also, notice that Alma didn’t say he wanted others to “feel what he had felt,” but to “taste” what he had tasted, which continues the metaphor discussed in an earlier lesson, of good soil, good seed, good season, and good supper! (the fruit of the tree of life).
27 – “I have been supported” Alma shares a testimony not just of knowledge, but of experience. This is how he knows what he promised Helaman at the beginning of the chapter in verse 3!
Alma 37 — More words to Helaman
5 – “if they are kept” the word “kept” might mean “obeyed” in this usage. This isn’t only about taking care of the plates and making sure they don’t get lost, but about obeying what they say, as in “keep the commandments.” If the Book of Mormon is kept, or followed, it will retain its “brightness” or relevance in our lives.
8 – “they have enlarged the memory of this people” My mission president used to say, “the weakest ink is better than the strongest memory.” These scriptures “enlarge the memory” of the Nephites by keeping their history and testimony alive, just as our personal journals can “enlarge the memory” of our children and give them a sense of family history.
9 – “were it not for these things” The scriptures importance in missionary work cannot be overstated. One can only imagine what it would be like to do missionary work without scriptures!
16 – “no power of earth or hell can take them from you” We are reminded of the great lengths enemies of the prophet Joseph Smith exerted to get the plates from him. Footnote 16a takes us to JS-H 1:59:
If I would use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he, the messenger, should call for them, they should be protected. I soon found out the reason why I had received such strict charges to keep them safe, and why it was that the messenger had said that when I had done what was required at my hand, he would call for them. For no sooner was it known that I had them, than the most strenuous exertions were used to get them from me. Every stratagem that could be invented was resorted to for that purpose. (JS-H 1:59-60).
23 – “discover unto my people” Take the prefix off the word “discover,” and it helps us understand the meaning: “Dis” “cover,” would mean the same as “uncover, or as footnote 23b explains, “reveal, make known.”
32 – “hatred against sin and iniquity” President Harold B. Lee said, “Beware of the awfulness of sin. The more I see of life, the more I am convinced that we must impress you young people with the awfulness of sin rather than to content ourselves with merely teaching the way of repentance. I wish that someone could warn you of the night of hell that follows the committing of a moral sin or of a beastly act.” Teachings of Harold B. Lee (45-10, p. 88).
35-37 – “counsel with the Lord” As children of God, we have access to infinite intelligence through prayer and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. See also Proverbs 22:6, D&C 6:36
37 – “Lie down unto the Lord” and “when thou risest” Alma’s advice to pray both morning and evening reminds me of this statement from President Heber J. Grant: I have little or no fear for the . . . young man or the young woman, who honestly and conscientiously supplicate God twice a day for the guidance of His Spirit (Gospel Standards, 26).
45 – “is there not a type in this thing?” Alma uses the word “type” as we might use the word “symbol.” A “type” is “typical” of something. In other words, the ball or director is symbolic of, or like the words of Christ; but, like the Liahona, the words of Christ only guide us if we are faithful to them.
46-47 – “easiness of the way” The gospel is easy to understand, but not always easy to live. Moses’ people only had to look in order to live. While living the gospel is not easy, in my opinion, it is easier than any other way of life, since one who lives the gospel will avoid the tragic consequences of not living the gospel.
Alma 38 Alma’s counsel to his son, Shiblon
7 – “stoned for the word’s sake” We don’t know a lot about Shiblon, but the glimpse we are given shows that he was a faithful servant who suffered tribulation but remained faithful throughout.
12 – “bridle all your passions” When I was a student at BYU, Elder Neal A. Maxwell participated in a symposium on King Benjamin’s speech. One of the interesting comments Elder Maxwell made which found its way into my notes was this: “if you were to compress our missionary handbook into one verse, it might be Alma 38:12:” Read Alma 38:12, or even verses 10-12 and think of it as advice to a missionary.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen: Is self-denial wise because there is something wrong with our passions, or because there is something right with our passions? Alma taught his son: “See that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” (Alma 38:12; emphasis added.) He did not say we should suppress or eliminate our passions but rather bridle them—harness, channel, and focus them. Why? Because disciplining our passions makes possible a richer, deeper love (Ensign, February 1994, 14).
Alma 39 Counsel to Corianton
2-4 – “this is what I have against thee” We often remember Corianton as the son of Alma who broke the law of chastity. But it is very important to note the path the led to Corianton’s sin. As with most sin, it begins not in our actions but in our attitudes, thoughts and dispositions.
Not giving much heed – “Here we go again –I’ve heard all this before” (attitude)
Boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom – “I can handle it” (attitude)
Forsaking the Ministry – He wasn’t where he was were supposed to be (actions)
Going after the harlot Isabel – He was with the wrong crowd (actions)
Heed the words of parents/prophets
Stand in Holy Places (D&C 45:32 – “my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved.”)
Choose friends wisely
5 – “most abominable above all sins” Alma gives an interesting comparison of worst sins;
Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught: Think of it – unchastity is second only to murder. Perhaps there is a common element in those two things unchastity and murder. Both have to do with life, which touches upon the highest of divine powers. Murder involves the wrongful taking of life; sexual transgression may involve the wrongful giving of life, or the wrongful tampering with the sacred fountains of life-giving power. – “The Gospel and Romantic Love,” New Era, February 2002, 10.
6 – “if ye deny the Holy Ghost” Denying the Holy Ghost is more than just going against a good feeling. The prophet Joseph Smith taught:
What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. — Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six 1843–44, p.358
President Spencer W. Kimball taught: “The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness , 123).
7 – “if it were not for your good” Contrary to what the world might say, guilt can be a good thing. Guilt from our own actions, especially when it leads us to introspection, repentance and change, is a blessing.
8 – “you cannot hide your crimes from God” It is interesting that Satan told Adam and Eve to hide from God, which is simply not possible.
9 – “cross yourself in these things” meaning to reverse directions. Notice the footnote to “self-mastery”
11- “when they saw your conduct” Everyone one of us has an obligation to strive to live what we believe, since we are walking, talking visual aids of the gospel. President Spencer K. Kimball taught:
Missionary conduct is noticed. You are known and recognized. You can’t go into even a big town without being noticed. They see you in pairs and with books. They know you are ministers and they know you are Mormon missionaries and so the Church is what you show it to be. Someone may be watching you from a fourth-story window when you least expect it. And you are the Church to these people who know that you are members of it. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 579.)
14 – “You cannot carry them with you” If you’ll forgive a modern reference, on the old Andy Griffith Show, when Barney Fife complained about how much the government was taking out of his check in taxes, Sheriff Andy Taylor said, “You know what they say, you can’t take it with you…” Barney responded, “Take it with me? If they keep picking at me like this I’ll be lucky if I get to go myself!”
What can we take with us when we die? We cannot take fame, popularity or wealth. But we can take our character, our intelligence, and our relationships (see D&C 130:2, 18). Why then, do we work so hard for the things we cannot take with us, often at the expense of those we can? Og Mandino wrote:
What reward is there in gold and silks and palaces if their possession destroys the happiness you have so blindly taken for granted? The greatest falsehood in the world is that money and property can fill your life with joy. If wealth becomes part of your baggage you become poor, for then you will be no more than an ass whose back bows under the weight of gold you must carry until death unloads your cargo. (The Greatest Success in the World, 80-81).
17-19 – “these things should be known so long beforehand” Corianton seemed to wonder why they would need to know about Christ so early, or it could be that he had a problem with the idea of prophecy – that we could possibly know of things to come. In the next Gospel Doctrine Lesson, Alma answers many of Corianton’s questions in three doctrinally rich chapters.