Act of Faith-Ammon and the Struggle at Sebus

If you have grown up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there are a few select stories from the Book of Mormon that you will know. You just will. The story of Ammon and his literally disarming conflict at the waters of Sebus is one of them. This story’s adventure is so dramatic, it is easy to overlook the lesson on faith that Mormon, the main editor for the Book of Mormon, is highlighting with this story.

The Nephite missionary Ammon went with his brothers to preach to their enemies, the Lamanites. Ammon’s first assignment from the Lamanite King Lamoni was to watch the sheep with some other servants. Unbeknownst to Ammon, this task was going to be anything but an idyllic shepherding scene from a romance painting. As they are out shepherding, another group of Lamanites scatter the sheep. Ammon is quickly made aware that losing sheep was an offense punishable by death. The difference in the reaction of the servants and Ammon is so contrasting that it is almost comical.

“Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already. Now they wept because of the fear of being slain…” (Alma 17:28-29).

I have never been in a situation where I could be put to death for something I have done, so I can only imagine reacting similarly. Fear is a powerful force and it is contagious, but for some reason Ammon is not only immune to their traumatic terror, he seems to be emboldened by it. His reaction is unexpected, to say the least.

“Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words” (Alma 17:29).

Ammon goes on to rally the other servants to gather the sheep again. When the raiders return, Ammon unhesitatingly contends with them and miraculously overcomes them in a armed conflict resulting in an armful of severed arms and some casualties from a sling. This act initiates a series of events culminating in the miraculous conversion of thousands of Lamanites. Somewhere in between the action adventure and the forcefulness of the protagonist’s larger-than-life character, Mormon is trying to teach us something.

Likely concerned that the reader could get the wrong message and simply believe that Ammon innately was just a brave person or did not feel fear, Mormon includes the reaction of King Lamoni to this dramatic event. After the king hears how Ammon took on a dozen armed combatants single handedly, he concludes that Ammon is more than human. Lest readers also come to a similar conclusion, Mormon supplies Ammon’s own words to refute this, “I am a man” (Alma 18:17, 34); just a man. Mormon later offers an explanation from Ammon, “I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26:12).

Faith is supposed to be the focus here, not Ammon. It is important to ask on what Ammon was basing his faith? If faith is a “hope for things which are not seen”, we should ask what were the promises Ammon was hoping would come true? Mormon inserted these promises within the narrative, so that this story could teach us about an active, revelation-based faith.

Promise one:

After Ammon and his brothers informed their father Mosiah regarding their intention to go to preach to the Lamanites, Mosiah inquired of the Lord and received this revelation:

“And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:7).

When Ammon went to confront the raiding party of Lamanites, he did so, believing that he would be delivered by the Lord. This promise is not specific enough; however, to guarantee that he would not be harmed though. This scenario could have played out very differently for Ammon. Instead, Ammon could have been brutally beaten up, almost killed, and left for dead. The servants then, might have delivered the severely injured Ammon to the king with an account of his bravery and dedication to the king’s service. The king, impressed by Ammon’s commitment and moved with pity by his plight, might have been humbled to the point of curiosity. This could have become Ammon’s opportunity to preach the word to a prepared king. Either of these scenarios might have worked as an act of faith and could have led to the miraculous conversion of the Lamanites.

Mormon, our action-adventure tour guide, does not inform the reader, what Ammon knew. Instead, Mormon reminds the reader of this first promise through a comment on what the marauders did not know (see Alma 17:35). Of course, simply the promise that he would be “deliver[ed]…out of the hands of the Lamanites” does not explain Ammon’s extreme reaction to the scattering of the flock, when “his heart was swollen within him with joy”. This response is also beyond mere enthusiastic optimism, this is the response of someone whose hopes are about to be realized. This kind of intense satisfaction might be expected from someone who has just won a gold medal in the Olympics or a lottery jackpot.

Mormon inserts more information into the narration in the form of another promise as a way to assist the reader understand Ammon’s motivation.

Promise two:

Upon entering the land of the Lamanites, the missionary party prayed and received this revelation:

“Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 17:11)

Due to this revelation, Ammon was looking for adversity to strike. He knew that right behind the trial would be an opportunity to accomplish his heart’s desire, salvation for his brethren the Lamanites. This was a cause he was willing to give his life for, a cause he had faith would succeed. He had promises from God. He had faith based on revelation. Mormon cleverly contrasts Ammon’s faith with the other two groups of Lamanites: the raiding party who did not know about the promises, were not afraid, but should have been; and the servants who also did not know about the promises, were afraid, but did not need to be.

If we are not constantly seeking revelation, a trial may catch us unprepared as well, and we will either fear unnecessarily or act too confidently. Like Ammon, our faith is a key for unlocking miracles, but our trials generally provide the torque necessary to turn the key. Because Ammon acted on faith, the atonement enabled him to act beyond his natural powers. This additional power is defined as “grace” in the Bible Dictionary, and it is a tender mercy accessible because of Christ’s atonement. Faith precedes the miracle, but is also a miracle itself, because both are driven by atoning power. Christ is the object of our faith and its source.

Mormon uses the story of Ammon and others to define what an active faith could be. Ammon proactively sought revelation, received promises from God, very specific promises without specific details, and he acted on them. Active faith begins with seeking first the will of God. We approach him in prayer continually to ask him to reveal his will to us. We seek out personal revelation in daily scripture study. As he reveals his will to us, and we act upon his words. His revealed will to us becomes “the substance of things hoped for” by our faith (Hebrews 11:1). His revealed direction in our lives is the promises we will have faith in; it is the context to an active faith.

Ammon’s active faith led to this act of faith, and his trust in revelation revealed a miracle. The Book of Mormon encourages us again and again to do the same.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 39 other followers

Advertisements

Admiration, Emulation, and Memorialization


My prized April 1997 issue of the Ensign, the official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, limply lays in my appreciative hands, time-tattered and weathered by touch. In hindsight it seems providential that by opening this magazine almost a couple decades ago, I would be opening up a new path in my life leading to a greater appreciation for and a more intense interest in the atonement of Jesus Christ. The soaring sensation of having my unvoiced questions about life, suffering, and the Savior answered by a stranger was a startling discovery that is made new again every time I pick up this old copy.
 It was the article “Enduring Well” in that 1997 Ensign that fundamentally altered my perception of the gospel and the tenor of my developing discipleship to Christ. The author, Neal A. Maxwell, has always been a stranger in the sense that I never met him, but his influence upon me, starting with this masterfully written article, has had the impact of a close friend.

Elder Maxwell, Elder is a title for a general leader in the LDS church, made me responsible for my own trials:

“Rather than simply passing through trials, we must allow trials to pass through us in ways that sanctify us.” -Elder Maxwell, “Enduring Well”

I can expect trials, prepare for them, and understand the purposes for them:

“So often in life a deserved blessing is quickly followed by a needed stretching. Spiritual exhilaration may be quickly followed by a vexation or temptation. Were it otherwise, extended spiritual reveries or immunities from adversity might induce in us a regrettable forgetfulness of others in deep need.”-Elder Maxwell, “Enduring Well”

I gained greater appreciation for Christ’s suffering through the perceptive and wisdom-concentrated phrase the “awful arithmetic of the Atonement”(Elder Maxwell, “Enduring Well”). On multiple occasions, the implications of this phrase have yanked the reins on my otherwise galloping thoughts and forced me to ponder in reverence the infinite suffering of the savior.

Since 1997 I have been a voracious consumer of Elder Maxwell’s writings, particularly his official sermons from the Church. Soon my admiration of his literary aptitude turned to emulation as I started a journey to find my own style with his as my training wheels. Eventually, my emulation of his language became my memorialization of his world of words that went dark upon his death in 2004.

I don’t see myself as the successor of his literary legacy; his legacy is his own. I also don’t feel like my attempts to write like Maxwell necessarily make the statement that I write as good as Maxwell; I don’t. I am just giving credit to a stranger that helped me find my voice and use it in the praise of Christ. The tag I use to highlight the posts that have benefited from Maxwell’s inspiration is “writing like Maxwell”.

This is the first part in a series of essays written to remember Elder Maxwell through narrating my journey to write like him. The posts in this series will have the tag “write like Maxwell”.

For more information about Elder Maxwell, see the biography:

Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Books, 2002).

A very comprehensive list of Elder Maxwell’s writings can be found here, at the website Radio Beloved.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 39 other followers

The posts on nathanwritesstuff.com are neither official publications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints nor approved statements by the Maxwell family. I esteem both groups, but represent neither party in an official capacity.

The Power to Get Back Up Again

We live in a fallen world and so we encounter failure. We try to “take up the cross, and follow [Christ] (Mark 10:21), but fall again and again. Sometimes we get tired. We may feel it is too hard. We may begin to think that our failures are not mistakes, but we are, that we fail because we are failures. This is exactly what Satan would like us to think. When we recognize that we have failed in some aspect of the gospel or we have sinned, we may come in contact with two different types of sorrow: the “sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10) also described by Mormon as the “sorrowing of the damned” (Mormon 2:13), or “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The sorrow of the world comes from Satan, it is designed to crush us under its weight. This weight is unproductive and deliberately debilitating, because “[Satan] seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). He wants us to feel like him, like we are damned, and there is no way out. The sorrow of the world is paralyzing, but Christ has “overcome the world” (John 16:33), including its sorrow, so that he could give us a different way.

Christ’s way allows us to feel hope even in the midst of our sorrows. Unlike the sorrow of the world, the weight of “Godly sorrow” is meant to be lifted, so we can become stronger and better. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and links us to the power of an “infinite atonement” (Alma 34:12), which is the power to get back up when we fall, no matter how far or often. Part of the significance of having an “infinite atonement” is to teach us about infinite forgiveness, infinite healing, and God’s infinite love, which “faileth not” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The painful process of the atonement is itself an example of the power we can have over sorrow and sin.

The account of Christ’s agonizing atonement in the garden of Gethsemane progresses through a simple sequence of actions. The narrative in the book of Matthew reads, “and he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, italics added for emphasis). The scholar Kent Brown* has taught that the three main verbs “went”, “fell”, and “prayed” as narrated in all the synoptic gospels use the imperfect tense in the Greek original. This tense is used to describe either an action that was customary, something someone used to do, or an action that was iterative, something done repeatedly. The intended meaning here is that Jesus repeatedly went forward, fell down, and cried out for the pain to stop. This cycle was repeated over and over again as he suffered for our sins and sorrows.

The critical verb that is absent, but implied in this sequence of suffering is that he got up. Jesus fell down repeatedly, but he also got up again and again, and so can we. We will fall and fail, often and hard, but we don’t have to stay down, we can get up. We can always rise from the ashes of our mistakes through Christ’s enabling atonement.

References

*From the documentary, “The Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God”, produced by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, accessed on May 17, 2016 http://messiahjesuschrist.org/episodes/atonement. The script, also available on line, has the following commentary from Professor Kent Brown:

“So Jesus arrives with the eleven. Judas has already separated himself. They come inside the garden, somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. He leaves eight near the gate, near the entryway, and takes three with Him farther into the garden. These are Peter, James, and John, those who have been with Him from the earliest days after He began to call the Twelve.

There are two basic things to notice about this. The first is the intensity of the suffering which now descends upon Him. And he, He says to the three that He is sorrowful even unto death. The weight of our sins, our mistakes, falling on a sinless man, in such enormity, brings Him to the point at which He wishes that He could push this away. He leaves them there, He goes farther into the garden and prays. And this is the second part. Each one of the synoptic gospels repeats his actions in the imperfect tense in Greek, which is the tense of customary action: he used to do this, she used to do that. And it also has to do with iterative action, repeated action. So that we read that Jesus went forward and fell and prayed, went forward and fell and prayed, went forward and fell and prayed.

This series of repeated actions that the verbs convey to readers indicates the intensity of the suffering He’s going through. He doesn’t just pray once. He must have straightened Himself up and trying to relieve Himself in some way, went forward and prayed again. This is a scene which is compelling to me, and tells me just in the way that it’s written, that Jesus suffers deeply, unfathomably at this moment, for you and for me.”

(http://messiahjesuschrist.org/messiah-the-narrative/messiah-script-episode-5/messiah-script-episode-5-part-2)

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 39 other followers