This week in my studies of the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, I read again the story of Alma and his friends. As some of you probably know, Alma was the son of the High Priest of the church, who was also named Alma. At least four of his friends were the sons of King Mosiah who was also a prophet; their names are Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni.
Alma, the son of Alma, became very wicked and idolatrous; he had the gift of language and spoke many flattering words to the people. He was instrumental in leading many of the people into iniquity. He and his friends went about “secretly” in their attempt to destroy the church and to lead the people away from obedience to the commandments of God. (See Mosiah 27:8-10.) We can only imagine the pain and heartache this caused Alma, the father. He was doing his best to teach his son and the people to keep the commandments, but his son was fighting against him.
Alma and the sons of Mosiah were out doing their evil work when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto them.” His voice was as “thunder” and shook the earth; Alma and his friends fell to the earth in astonishment and could not understand the words of the angel. The angel spoke again and said:
“… Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutes thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: `This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people” (verses 11-13). The angel continued, “Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightiest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (See verse 14.)
This statement told the young men why the angel had come. He came in answer to the prayers of Alma – a father praying for his son and a prophet praying for his people. The angel also came in answer to the prayers of the people for relief from the gang of hoodlums that was persecuting them. In other words, the angel came to answer prayers, not to prove anything to anyone.
The angel continued, “… can you dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can you not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
“Now I say unto thee: Go … thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.” (See verses 15-16.)
The angel left, and Alma and his friends fell to the earth with “astonishment.” They knew they had seen an angel; they had heard him speak to them with a “voice of thunder” that “shook the earth." They also “knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.” (See verse 17-18.)
All the young men fell to the earth with astonishment, but most of them recovered enough to go home. Alma however “became dumb, that he could not open his mouth, yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father.” (See verse 19.)
Alma’s friends told his father what had happened – and his father rejoiced! Alma recognized that his son had experienced the power of God and called the priests together to fast and pray for his son. Alma, the younger, awoke after two days and two nights and began to teach the people. He told them, “… I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.” (See verses 20-24.)
Alma and the sons of Mosiah traveled around the country, trying to repair all the damage they had caused and to teach the people what they had learned. (See verse 32.) Alma later became the High Priest, and the sons of King Mosiah gave up their rights to the throne and went on a mission to the Lamanites that lasted for fourteen years, converting thousands of Lamanites to the truth of the gospel.
This story tells us that Alma and his friends repented of their sins and were “born again.” They changed from wickedness to righteousness. Instead of persecuting the righteous, they went about doing good and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. This story is a favorite among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It played an important role in my life when I sought the truth.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) gave us this reminder: “We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were…. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment….” (See “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, October 1989, 5.)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave more meaning for being born again. “The question of whether a person has been saved is sometimes phrased in terms of whether that person has been `born again.’ Being `born again’ is a familiar reference in the Bible and the Book of Mormon…. As we understand these scriptures, our answer to whether we have been born again is clearly `yes.’ We were born again when we entered into a covenant relationship with our Savior by being born of water and of the Spirit and by taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We can renew that rebirth each Sabbath when we partake of the sacrament.” (See “Have You Been Saved,” Ensign, May 1998, 56.)