I’ve got a pet peeve about gospel discussions where we sagely shake our heads at how ridiculous the people in these scripture stories are. We look at the pride cycle, at Laman and Lemuel seeing an angel and immediately rebelling, at the Israelites complaining about all that manna they get to eat. We imagine that we, enlightened Latter-day Saints who are capable of fasting once a month when we remember it and sacrificing a Saturday for a temple trip now and then, would do better in those situations.
I don’t mean to call modern Saints weak, or even, for many of us, particularly untested. I mean to suggest that the scriptures are meant for us to self-insert as the forgetful ones. It’s not normal to remember. This selective amnesia we read about is the default – as we find when we remember those commandments that are hard for us, that we haven’t taken from burdens to habits to blessings yet. Imagine the Saints of the future reading about you, and the commandments you haven’t kept, and gently chuckling as they think about poor so-and-so, who forgot.
The Ancient Israel we read about in Deuteronomy this week isn’t some tribe of losers God is leading along to show off his power to save even the bumblers – if it were, he’d be the butt of the joke. This Israel is God’s A-team, a nation of righteous supermen pruned by divine eugenics from the most righteous man to walk the Earth, and they still are so forgetful they need God to make special reminder headbands for them. The Exodus was a series of events based on shocking fear of God into the children of Israel so hard their great-grandkids would still be punch-drunk. There were many in that Host more righteous than you.
But they were men, not gods, and they lost their privileges, and they lost their faith, and they lost their promised land. As you could yours, and your grandchildren could leave the church and their children could grow up not knowing what a Mormon is. Hell is before us all.
The story of Alma the Younger is not about how powerful angels are in developing one’s testimony. It’s about how amazing Alma was for keeping his, even after an angel visited him, and the struggle he made even for that. And that struggle is available to you.
You can remember. You can carve this law in your heart. Hell does not have to prevail. Just don’t imagine you can get away from Babylon at a walking pace.