Alma 39-42 True Doctrine Changes Behavior
In these four chapters Alma rebukes, counsels, and testifies to his son Corianton, but mostly he teaches him doctrine. Most of what is recorded in these chapters is pure doctrine—relating to the plan of salvation—thus confirming what Elder Boyd K. Packer famously said: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.… That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 17). Alma understood this. He said to Corianton, “Do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin” (41:9), thus showing that bad doctrine can lead to bad behavior. And it can also happen the other way around; sin leading to doctrinal confusion and doctrinal denial, as illustrated in Alma 40:1; 41:1; 42:1, 30.
Alma 39-42 Parental Love
Rather than angrily scold or punish Corianton for his poor choices, Alma taught him true doctrine and showed Corianton his confidence in him and his mercy toward him. And, as further evidence that Alma was dealing with his son in a way that was inspired by love and by the Holy Ghost, note the following:
- “I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good” (39:7).
- “I command you to take it upon you to counsel with your elder brothers in your undertakings; for behold, thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers” (39:10).
- “And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good” (39:12).
- “Turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength … acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done” (39:13).
- “And now I will ease your mind somewhat on this subject …” (39:17).
- “Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning …” (40:1).
- “I perceive that thy mind has been worried also concerning this thing. But behold, I will explain it unto thee …” (41:1).
- “And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind …” (42:1).
- “And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (42:29).
- “Let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (42:30).
- “And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance” (42:31; happily, Alma 49:30 confirms that Corianton repented and was among those declaring the word of God).
May all parents take Alma’s example of correcting and counseling their children in calm, firm, clear, inspired, loving ways.
Alma 39:2-5, 14 Pride Leads to Other Sins
Alma clearly identified Corianton’s wrongs and what he needed to do to repent. It started with pride: “Thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom” (verse 2). Then this followed: “Thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go … after the harlot Isabel” (verse 3). Corianton’s boasting appears to have opened a way for other sins. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “[Pride] breeds hatred or hostility and places us in opposition to God and our fellowmen…. It is a gateway sin that leads to a host of other human weaknesses. In fact, it could be said that every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride” (October 2010 general conference).
Alma 39:11 “When They Saw Your Behavior”
Alma informed Corianton that his misbehavior caused the Zoramites to reject Alma’s teachings. May we never be guilty of placing a stumbling block in the path of potential converts!
Alma 39:15-19 “Is Not a Soul at This Time as Precious Unto God?”
These verses help us understand that one meaning of the Atonement being “infinite” (Alma 34:10, 12, 14) is that the Atonement of Christ was “retroactive,” or effective in the lives of God’s children even before it had been fulfilled by our Savior in the meridian of time (see also Jarom 1:11; Mosiah 3:13; 16:6; Alma 34:31).
Alma 40-42 The Plan
As Alma teaches his son Corianton, he is mostly focusing on two opposites: The righteous and the wicked. (Much of what we learn about varying degrees of behavior and degrees of post-mortal judgment comes from latter-day revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 76, 138, and other sections of the D&C.)
Note that in chapters 40-42 Alma uses spirit and soul interchangeably, as well as resurrection and restoration. Also, he uses five different terms to denote the Lord’s plan for us (see 41:2; 42:5, 8, 11, 31). Study these chapters and summarize what they teach about each of the plan:
- The effects of the Fall (42:2-10, 14).
- Some of the other components of the plan (42:11-13, 15-26).
- The “pre-judgment” that comes upon all, immediately after death (40:11; see also 2 Nephi 9:38; Alma 11:44; Helaman 14:17; Mormon 9:13-14).
- The places/conditions in the world of spirits/souls, before they are resurrected (40:6, 9, 12-14).
- The descriptions of the resurrection/restoration (40:2, 5, 16, 18, 20, 23; 41:2).
- The final judgment (40:21, 25-26; 41:3-7, 10-15; 42:27-28).
Perhaps a brief summary of God’s glorious plan could go as follows:
- Our Heavenly Father wants all His children to be happy now and forever (42:26).
- Our sins make us subject to justice, which would cut us off forever from God’s presence (42:14).
- Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ provided an atonement, to appease the demands of justice and allow the repentant to return to God’s presence, in a state of eternal happiness (42:13, 15-16, 22-24, 27).
Often, when we “diagram” the plan of salvation—usually with circles, labels, and arrows—we leave out the most important part: The Atonement! Let us never overlook Our Savior and His redeeming sacrifice, which powers everything that matters in time and eternity.
Alma 41:10-11 “Contrary to the Nature of Happiness”
Any time we choose to do something contrary to what we know to be right, we are placing our will against God’s will, and in a sense we reject the Lord’s teachings and the influence of our conscience and His Spirit. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “While [people] may take some temporary pleasure in sin, the end result is unhappiness…. Sin creates disharmony with God and is depressing to the spirit” (Ensign, November 1974, pp. 65-66).