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Who Is Most Blessed?
The story of the Zoramites who cast the poor out of their synagogues brings up a knotty question. Who on this earth is most blessed? Are the wealthy, able to satisfy their needs and their whims, lacking for nothing and certain they are self-sufficient, really better off than the poor who are drawn out by a yearning need to find God?
The well-dressed Zoramites with their perfectly lovely self-images, who proclaim their superiority from the heights of the Rameumptom, look down at the poor and call them “filth.” Their clothes are so bad, they cannot be admitted to Church but must be cast off like so much litter. And yet, of the two groups, it is not the self-anointed Zoramite pious who come to find God and the true gospel. They are too blinded by their lovely images to see the true light. No, it is the humble who take time to hear the prophets and heed the word.
The story is repeated in the world today. It is not those whose lives are a deck chair on a sunny cruise line who respond first to the gospel, but rather those who have felt their need who actively seek God. The poverty may be of goods or of spirit, of health or emotional well-being, but it is recognizing the need that produces the search. If there is no thirst, there is no appreciation for water. The full cannot taste the sweetness of bread.
It is, then, to the cast-off that one of the most stunning sermons in the Book of Mormon is delivered. Alma acknowledges to them, “Because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?” (Alma 32:14). God would have us be humbled not because our circumstances have whipped us to our knees, but because of the beauty and power of the word. It is a higher motivation to seek him because we love him and are moved by his grace than that we are desperate. Thankfully, God responds to us whether we come to him from either place.
Alma reminds us that faith is not a blind belief nor wishful thinking. No, instead, “If ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Notice, that which you have faith in actually exists; it is just not seen. You do not have the eyes to see it. The rods and cones in your mortal eyes do not register spiritual things. How do you know God exists if you cannot see him? The natural man relies primarily on his senses to verify if something exists, but the spiritual man learns better. His faith is based on evidence. It is not sight, but the evidence given him from the Spirit which is more powerful than sight. Many of us have not seen China, but we have faith it exists. Why? We have seen maps with China outlined; we have read books about Chinese art and history; we seeChina mentioned in the news as eyewitnesses tell their experiences in China. We would be foolhardy to disbelieve in China because we had not seen it.
The same is true with our faith in spiritual things–our faith that God and his Son Jesus Christ live and love us. We have powerful evidences of this reality given to us from the Spirit. Alma teaches us how those evidences mount in our lives through a process he compares to the growth of a seed. If you want evidence to support your faith, Alma says that it is available. You can accumulate that evidence through your mortal experience.
Planting the Seed
Alma asks us to exercise merely a particle of faith by planting the word in our hearts as if it were a seed. What is the word? In one sense, of course, it is the gospel, its teachings and scriptures. Live the gospel, he said, and begin to see if the fruit of it does not swell “within your breasts” (Alma 32:28). In a larger sense, however, the word refers to Jesus Christ. John tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). Amulek tells us that the word is in the Son of God (Alma 34:5). That the word is the Son of God is further emphasized in the idea that if it is nourished with great care, it grows up to be what? Not just any old bush or tree, but the tree of life, whose fruit “is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white” (Alma 32:42).
When Nephi saw the vision of the tree of life and asked about its meaning, he was shown the birth of the Savior. Ah, then he understood. The tree of life was the love of God and that was manifest in his Son: “God loved us so he sent his Son.” The life-giving tree of life is the Son of God.
In Alma 32, the great prophet is telling us that we plant Christ in our hearts and let that reality swell us. What we are planting is the atonement with all its power to guide and heal us, transforming us from natural men into heirs of the kingdom. What a personal way to describe our relationship to God. He is not something distant, but someone whose Spirit is textured into our very being, gradually making all things whole as we yield to Him. We plant our Savior and his gospel in our very being, in our hearts. When the tree of life has grown, we eat the precious fruit with great gusto for its sweetness is beyond compare. We don’t just pick the fruit and leave it in a barrel somewhere. The image of eating the fruit could not be more personal. Something you eat becomes part of your very being.
At first we may have only a small understanding or faith in the word. Alma says-be bold and experiment. Try it. If it begins to grow, you have evidence of its truth. As the process continues, so does your understanding and faith. Your faith in this unseen but true reality grows as your evidence grows. “It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28).
When you live by the word and nourish its presence in your life, you are given a wonderful evidence of its truth. It is not just that you come to understand in your head that the unseen spiritual realities are true, you receive a marvelous swelling in your whole soul.
Of course, this would be the case. A witness of the great goodness that is God and his plan would come in wafts of sweetness and soul expansion. The evidence fits the reality of which it testifies.
Following this process, what began as a small seed nourished by a tiny faith grows into a mighty tree that finally becomes a perfect knowledge. This process, described so beautifully by Alma, is the way of life and light. When we begin this journey, we must understand that the word planted in our hearts demands “great care” (Alma 32: 37). In the same verse the idea is repeated, we must nourish it with “much care.” That means that sometimes the scorching heat of the sun will come, threatening the seed. If the word has been planted in us with only a frail root system, the sun can wither it away. Again, if the ground is barren, the seed will not grow. Neither condition is a reflection on the seed. The seed has enormous promise, more than eye can see nor ear can hear, nor has entered into the mind of man.
Pray in All Places
It is fitting that right on the heels of describing the seed’s need for nourishment, that Alma and then Amulek discuss prayer and worship. What is nourishment for our spiritual lives?
Alma quotes Zenos who said, “Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness…Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry in my field…And again, O God, when I did turn to my house thou didst hear me in my prayer. And when I did turn unto my closet O Lord, and prayed unto thee, thou didst hear me…Yea, O God, thou hast been merciful unto me, and heard my cries in the midst of thy congregations. Yea, and thou hast also heard me when I have been cast out and have been despised by mine enemies” (33:4-10).
The seed is nourished by this whole hearted devotion-a prayer and worship that filters like the sunlight into every aspect of our lives. To breathe or think is to pray. Our hearts are directed toward him. The reward, as Zenos indicates above, is to experience God’s mercy and love and the growth of the word in our souls.
We are talking about spirituality as a way of living that transforms both ourselves and the entire mortal experience. One who is nourishing the seed through this constant attention moves to a very different place than one who has not bothered to plant the seed at all, or treats it haphazardly. And the fruit is eternal for “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34:34).