Conversion might look quite different from the outside from what it feels like on the inside. The Book of Mormon blesses us with an extraordinary opportunity to study both an inside and outside view of the same conversion.
In Mosiah 27, Alma, the inspired churchman, relates the story of his son’s conversion. In Alma 36, Alma the younger tells his own very personal and powerful experience. It is worth noting that the son tells his conversion experience late in life — long after the reported events. It would appear that he had spent decades carefully crafting the message into perfect theology and perfect poetry. (Those who have studied Alma 36 may know that it is considered an extraordinary model of Hebrew chiasmus.)
Below I have divided the parallel accounts into five sections: Background; Confrontation; Spiritual Renewal; New Creature; and, A Lifetime of Service. I will note just a few of the interesting differences in the accounts.
A Brief Comparison of the Two Accounts
In the father’s account, he mentions the Church eight times. As the leader of the Church, he was very mindful of his son’s effect on the Church. The son only mentions the Church twice.
In the background, the father gives an unsparing description of his son and his impact: unbeliever, very wicked, idolatrous, speaking flattery, great hinderment, stealing away hearts, causing much dissension, giving a chance for enemy, destroy the Church (twice!), and lead astray.
In the son’s background to the account, there is a very different theme. He talks about God as the deliverer of the fathers, the people and himself. The son was very mindful of God’s role as deliverer. He rejoiced and testified of it.
When the angel confronts Alma, notice the interesting differences. In the father’s account, the angel asked “why persecutest thou the church of God.” The son’s account is more personal: “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.” What an intriguing difference! The son felt very keenly the threat to his own spiritual future.
In the accounts of the face-off with the angel, the father emphasizes the power of God. The son describes movingly his own experience: fear, amazement, racked with eternal torment, soul was harrowed up, racked with my sins, pains of hell, inexpressible horror, the desire to become extinct, and the pains of a damned soul.
Meanwhile the father rejoiced. He knew that God was doing a transforming work with his son. He gathered the priests and the people apparently for two purposes: to exercise spiritual energy in behalf of his son and so they could witness the process of transformation: “that they eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.”
After the visit of the angel, the father describes the things that his son said. They were powerful! (Study them in Mosiah 27: 23-31.) But the son’s account describes what he felt: joy, light, and strength.
The contrast between the two concluding sections is also instructive. The father reports his son teaching, traveling and publishing in order to repair the injuries to the Church. The son again emphasizes the role of God as deliverer and recommends that all of us remember both our captivity and our deliverance.
A sweet blessing
These two accounts provide a sweet blessing to all of us who have been delivered, hope to be delivered, or hope to help someone else be delivered. As if the two accounts were not enough, the Book of Mormon blesses with another meta-account. As the converted son goes about the land teaching the people, he gives a great address providing counsel on how to be changed (See especially Alma 5).
I honestly believe that each of us could spend an entire lifetime studying the accounts of Alma’s change and his wise counsel as one who had been changed–and we would all be better for the study.
I am thankful for the blessed accounts of heavenly transformation contained in that beloved book, The Book of Mormon. God must want all of us to understand conversion and to be converted–to be illuminated, spiritually born of God, have a mighty change of heart, receive His image in our countenances, sing the song of redeeming love, and become partakers of the fruit of the tree of life (See Alma 5.).
May it be so.