Alma 36-42: “By Small and Simple Things are Great Things Brought to Pass”

The chapters for study this week are a nice pattern for those of us who are parents. Alma spends these chapters counseling his three sons. They are three completely different people, with different strengths and weaknesses, and like all great parents, Alma gives them completely different advice. Studying these chapters got me thinking about how my parents counseled and guided me in my life and how I am doing it with my own children.

I couldn’t have been more lucky to have parents that loved me, trusted me, and challenged me. Both of them were the hardest working people I have ever met, far harder working than I am. They were responsible, they met every obligation they ever committed to, they kept their word, and they sacrificed their own needs and wants for the betterment of me and my siblings and so many other people. I am sure they would admit they weren’t perfect parents, none of us are, but to me I wouldn’t ask for a single thing to be different.

I specifically remember being able to talk to and confide in my parents about anything. I told them my struggles, and my successes. They were always honest with me and even though I was chastised my fair share, most of their interactions with me were out of love and a desire for me to be the best I could be. I never felt like an obstacle to their happiness, an inconvenience, or a secondary concern. I was the most important person in their lives whenever I was with them. I think that is a lesson I have tried to take to heart, and hopefully we can learn as well. It takes a little more effort and time, but when we can make our children feel like they are the most important thing to us then they will never forget that.

While there are certainly more distractions in the world now, and more options for parents and children, now that I am engaged in a similar effort with my own kids, my parent’s parenting is something I can only hope to replicate. I love them so much.

I am eternally blessed with an amazing companion in my parenting role, but I am also blessed with fun, loving, smart, energetic, and stubborn children. They are more than I deserve. However, I do notice that my attitude, and energy toward them has an immediate impact on them. I also have realized they are all different and need different things to feel loved.

In studying Alma’s counsel to his kids, the most notable thing was how different his messages were, yet that love was there with each of his sons. My parents were able to do that same thing and I am endeavoring to do it now. I think it is something we all have to think through in our parenting journeys.

Below are the key points I found in Alma’s pattern of counsel and I hope as you study that you can see things or think of ways you can connect in a different way with your own children.

  • Spend time thinking and praying about how to interact with each child.
  • Empathize with each of them and let them see your vulnerability and weaknesses and the path you took to success.
  • Tailor each message to their needs and abilities.
  • Create some responsibility and accountability for them.
  • Warn about the consequences of their weaknesses but emphasize their ability to overcome and succeed at whatever they try.
  • Express confidence, love and support.
  • Let them figure it out.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 29-30 – Alma 36-42

– Small and simple things result in the greatest and most beneficial spiritual outcomes.

– We can declare our confidence in Christ and the gospel without being overbearing to those around us.

– The arms of Jesus’s mercy are always extended to us.

History and Context:

– Olmec and Aztec mirror stones were traditionally viewed as a way to see things differently and even see the future.  They are very similar to how Ancient Israel saw the Urim and Thummim and it is likely that these kinds of seeing stones took on many different forms in different cultures.

– Temperance is a virtue that is not often focused on, but it is clear that temperance is something missing from our modern society.  Temperance is not just the moderation of indulgences, it is also the fair minded understanding of people with differing opinions. It includes the willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to have compassion for their situation. It does not mean to be lukewarm, and lacking conviction, but a willingness and spiritual maturity to realize that there are many ways to see something, and that you can be right with God and find the path to him in a great many different ways. 

– Sexual relations in ancient civilizations, particularly Mesoamerican civilization were viewed very differently than our modern world. Fidelity in marriage was valued, but prior to marriage it was common for sexual relations to happen. 

– Returning to God before the spirit world is something often overlooked by many Latter-day Saints. Many people think we are separated between paradise and spirit prison immediately after death, but according to Alma that is not the case. 

– Outer Darkness, mentioned by Alma, is not the same Outer Darkness mentioned by Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, rarely even in the Bible is the term the same as Joseph’s. 

Alma Shares His Story to Helaman
Alma has made the decision to give Helaman the responsibility of caring for the plates. Their family history and the scriptures are their most prized possessions and Helaman’s responsibility is more than just the plates. He is also responsible for recording the history moving forward and truly being the leader of the family. This is a heavy weight, and one that Alma is well acquainted with. Alma opens up to his son about his history. For many of us, we already know his history, but it is possible that his son only knew Alma for being the amazing man he was now. Helaman may not have known that Alma was a terrible person at one point, and so sharing this story would have been a truly vulnerable and meaningful moment for father and son.

Alma keys in on three ideas that I found not only comforting, but important in our own lives and our children:

  • You don’t have to be perfect or even close to perfect to be the leader.
    • Alma was wicked and had hurt many people but was able to become a leader.
  • What you do need to do is the “small and simple” things and keep going in the right direction.
  • Counsel and take counsel from the Lord and you will find your way.

Alma Has Direct Advice to Shiblon
Even though it is not in the record that Mormon compiled, I suspect that Alma shared his personal story of wickedness and conversion with each of his sons. Mormon had no reason to include it multiple times, but it seems that Alma was in need to connect with each of his children in an important way. In the case of Shiblon, Alma could sense that rigidness of Shiblon’s character and sought to encourage him to continue in his convictions, but to have compassion and patience. I find his final piece of advice is something we all need to hear:

“Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy-yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.”

Alma 38:14

Alma does not make a judgment about Shiblon’s worthiness, in fact it feels like Shiblon is pretty perfect, but even though he may be righteous, Alma reminds him that it doesn’t matter, we are all in need of God and the attitude of humility and repentance is the basis for a happy and spiritual life.

Alma Teaches One of the Best Discourses on Mercy to Corianton
In the final chapters, Alma spends time counseling his youngest son Corianton, who has embarrassed the family by going after a harlot named Isabel. However, that action isn’t even the thing that Alma is the most concerned with. He spends the next verses warning Corianton about the allure of wealth, status, pride, and the idea there are no consequences to any choice. While many of us would likely spend way more words telling our kids what they did was stupid in that situation, Alma, having prepared spiritually, can tell that at the foundation of Corianton’s actions is a lack of belief and knowledge on important gospel ideas.

He then spends the remaining three chapters teaching one of my favorite discourses. I hope you spend time studying and reading them for yourselves, but here are the key points that translate into teaching all of our children:

  • Everyone will die and everyone, good and evil, will be resurrected.
  • After death, we will all see God and our families again, but depending on whether we chose to try to follow Christ, or chose to reject Christ we will either find ourselves in a state of happiness and peace, or a state of fear and anxiety.
  • Eventually, and not all at once, everyone will be resurrected to a perfect physical state. However, when it comes to our spirits there is a different principle called restoration, which basically states that our souls and minds will be restored to a similar state as the state we chose to engage in before we died, and a key component to this is how we have treated other people. If we give mercy, peace, love, and forgiveness, then that is what we will receive. If we took advantage, ignored others, treated them poorly, and made them feel awful then we will feel those same feelings.
  • These ideas are meant to emphasize the value of our actions, purpose, and interactions while we live. They have consequences in the future.
  • Finally, Alma spends a lot of time explaining that because this situation exists, Christ came to pay the price of sin, suffer all the negative consequences of our actions, and the negative and painful feelings so that the law of restoration (Justice) can be fulfilled by him. In return, Christ gives us the gospel of faith and repentance that allows for His mercy to help us change in this life, but to completely change us after this life. The one condition: Keep trying to change by following Christ.

Key Moment or Scripture: Alma 37:6-7
6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

I have always loved this verse of scripture. It feels like it is a perfect 2020 meme you would see on Instagram or Facebook. “Small and Simple” things are the source of everything good. Simple actions are the key to all things that matter to us, whether it is spiritual progression or knowledge, developing a talent, succeeding in business, earning a college degree, cultivating a loving marriage, building a family legacy and posterity, finding peace in our trials, or overcoming addictions and weaknesses.

Like any recipe for an amazing food dish, which I love, it isn’t just the adding of the ingredients that affects the outcome, it is also the method of combining that matters. No doubt the accumulation of the little things, the daily actions, the constant reminders, the written notes, the sacrifices, the smiles of encouragement, and so many other things make a difference. However, like temperature and order of mixing in a recipe, the combination of little things in the face of pressure and trials, or in an environment of good friends and family make the small things so much more meaningful in the final product.

Unlike a recipe, our lives are as much about what we learn on the journey as they are about the outcomes. However, in the matter of outcomes, the “small and simple” things are what make the difference. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Making things too large and too important can not only distract us from the simple and small things that matter, it can also create the fear of even trying. That is what I love about the simple message of Christ’s gospel.

Admit you need help, believe in Christ, try to change, love and help others – Rinse and Repeat…

Those simple things are the recipe for becoming a spiritual giant and eventually becoming like our Savior Jesus Christ.

Final Thoughts:
The next post I will be wrapping up Alma. The final 21 chapters of Alma are all about the major conflict that has been brewing in the first part of our study. The primary characters will change, and we are introduced to Mormon’s favorite ancestor, the man Mormon names his son after, Captain Moroni. We also set the stage for the post war society that ushers in the coming of Jesus Christ.

  • Sources
    • Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
    • The Book of Mormon as History by Brant Gardner
    • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
    • The Book of Mormon Made Harder by James Faulconer