Friday, July 11, 2008

Oh, That I Were an Angel!

I have never really understood Alma 29. In it, Alma expresses the desire to be an angel and to cry repentance with a voice to shake the earth. Then, he says that he sins by wishing that. I always thought that sounded rather falsely humble. After all, is it not a great work of God to wish to cry repentance?

Now I think I begin to understand an inkling of why that was a sin. I have come to a point where I see people I love and others I care about making choices that cause them pain. It brings me a very real sorrow to see them lying to themselves and cheating themselves out of happiness, not to mention all those around them. I have felt the desire to shake them and say "Can't you see what you are doing?!" But Alma's statement that he sinned by wishing the same thing was no false humility. It was true.

Part of the price we pay for our agency is the agency of others. When it is legal to smoke, we are accepting the damage that nicotine does second-handedly to our lungs. When we choose to marry, have children or make friends we are also accepting that they have their own agency which can then hurt us by their actions. When we overcome our own natural inclinations in order to preach the gospel, we must accept that there are those who will refuse it, despite our sacrifices. When we decide to be disciples of Christ, we take upon ourselves His name and, by so doing, take upon ourselves some degree of His sorrows and travails. I wonder if the pain He felt came more from watching those He loves make choices that cause only grief. I have learned how that can be a very real pain, even if the actions of another don't affect me in any more material way. I have felt no agony more exquisite than watching someone exercise their agency in a way that causes unforeseen pain, knowing I should do nothing to restrict them from doing so.

It is a sin, perhaps one of the gravest sins, to desire to take away another's agency. All of the worst sins including murder and chastity infringements center around that desire (or at least that disregard for another's agency). Allowing others their agency in no way invalidates laws required to govern our behavior in society, but it does mean that the execution of those laws must be done with true understanding. They must not be upheld through a desire to control, only a desire to protect. It may seem like a very thin line, but I think it means a world of difference in the realms of the soul.

It is vital to remember that we have each been given an allotment from God. That allotment may include great deeds, but it more importantly and more commonly includes the small ones. It does not matter whether you serve as priesthood wielder, prophet, Nobel Peace Prize winner, sister or mother, so long as you serve as a child of God, with all the powers and divinity which come with your status. Alma was not an angel, nor was he called to be the hand by which the miraculous work of converting the Lamanites was brought about. But in his less glorious and romantic way, he was able to bring about the salvation of just as many souls. And, humbly, he was able to rejoice in the great deeds of his brethren. It may not be the tale to excite the blood of small sword-brandishing boys, but it is beautiful and glorious.


  1. I have enjoyed that passage as well. Here's another way to think of things. Alma's conversion was powerful and life changing. He was converted by an angel who's voice shook the earth. He was convinced and he was converted.

    Alma 29 comes after the sons of Mosiah story is related, but Alma had just met up with the sons of Mosiah after the problems at Ammonihah. I suppose he felt some discouragement that the success with those wicked ones was nto as effective as his own conversion and he wanted something more effective.

    There may even be a little more depth to this problem. Perhaps he has always felt that his own mode of conversion was the best and he was not content with simple conversion until it was his way of conversion. That may be too much for what Alma was, but I can see a similar pattern of thoughts in my own mind. "I manage to get out and home teach every month, what's wrong with you?" The gospel works this way for me, why doesn't it work that way for you?

  2. Whoops, sorry about needing a second comment. I just want to be clear that this is just another line of thoughts on a similar question to how you started your post. I intend to post something similar on the website if you have never been there, it's an interesting blog. Mainly a resource for gospel doctrine and relief society/priesthood lessons, but a few things on the side.

  3. This is something I think about often- the balance between being content with what the Lord has allotted unto us (me) and striving to improve upon what I have been given. If Alma with his righteous desires has need to repent for being discontent, I am probably in big trouble.

    Regarding agency, I also think about whether I allow my children to exercise their agency sufficiently that they are exposed to consequences of good and not-so-good choices. I believe I have generally erred in being overly protective. Like you said, there is a fine line between controlling and protecting. In my opinion, even though one's desire may be to protect, the end result can be controlling and limiting of others' agency....

  4. I am in agreement with your explanation about where the sin comes into play here, and I think you hit on two very importance points. First, it is a sin to take away the agency of others, and second, it is a sin to desire more than the mission that the Lord has allotted to us in life.
    1. Agency involves both decisions and consequences, and sometimes we as parents or as a society must impose the consequences. It doesn’t mean we are removing agency, for all people (including children) should be allowed to choose how they will act when faced with decisions. But we also need to recognize the level of awareness in a person’s choice, and I think that this is where the line should be drawn. For example, a young child running into the street doesn’t realize the consequence of the action, and so it is for us to protect and to teach the child. Teaching is key, and the Lord follows this same principle by sending prophets to warn the people when their actions are leading them to destruction. It isn’t until after they choose not to heed his warnings that the consequences come (though there are some natural events that are just part of life and aren’t so much the consequences of our actions).
    2. Now, if we don’t know what our mission is in life, it is no sin to seek it out. However, when we do know what the Lord expects of us, then true peace comes as we align ourselves with the course that will allow us to fulfill our life mission. This applies both to the overall mission and to various tasks that are a part of that mission. The Alchemist is a good book that provides some additional perspective on this idea.
    The other thing I want to say is that I am impressed that Alma was so open with his thoughts and feelings. He recognized what he was feeling, and then he realized his error and improved himself. It is not easy to admit our errors (especially when they are just thoughts and feelings), but doing so is vital to improving (and knowing what specific help we need to ask from the Lord).

  5. I just realized that it would be good to let you know that I am just another member of the church who happened onto your blog while doing a search for "Oh, that I were an angel". I liked what you had to say, so I just left a few comments. I hope you didn't mind. Best wishes as you continue to learn and share your knowledge . . . and you never know who may stumble upon it. :)


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