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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Overcoming Adversity: Amulek

This is a note I wrote in March 2011, when I was preparing for my mission. At the invitation of my bishop, I started going through the Book of Mormon looking for scriptures that I could turn to when life got tough on the mission. It's been a long time since I looked back at it, but now I thought I'd share it here.

Amulek is one of my favorite people from the Book of Mormon, specifically the Book of Alma. He endures really awful trials and comes out stronger than he was before. He was only able to do that because of his faith in God and his love for the Savior and for others. His example is an inspiration to me.

We first meet Amulek in Alma 8:19-32. We learn that he is a Nephite, who has enough faith to trust the angel who told him to invite Alma home for dinner. He lets Alma, a prophet of God, stay long enough to rest and recover from a very difficult journey. In verse 22, we read that Alma “blessed Amulek and his house,” which implies that Amulek had a family, but there are no further details about his wife or about how many children they might have had. (Later, in Alma 10:11, Amulek says that his household includes women and children.) At any rate, Alma stays for “many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people” (Alma 8:27). In that time, I imagine that Amulek had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the gospel and to gain a firm testimony, because in verse 29, we read that the Lord commanded Alma to take Amulek along as his companion when he left to teach the people of Ammonihah. This was not an easy task they were undertaking. Alma had already been kicked out of the city once. Nonetheless, both of these men went forth and “were filled with the Holy Ghost” (Alma 8:30).

I would compare this first part of the story to the missionary training center. Before missionaries set off into the world, they spend a time in the MTC learning how to be good missionaries and preparing to teach. When they leave, they are prepared to do what they have to do and they are filled with the Holy Ghost. Amulek's experience is a little different from that of most new missionaries. He got to visit personally with the prophet of God in that time, and before that, he got a visit from an angel. But this period of time was, for him, a time of preparation, when he could build his own spiritual strength before setting off to teach what was a very wicked and hard-hearted people. His faith and obedience are inspiring, and when Amulek starts teaching, we see how strong his testimony and his knowledge of the gospel have grown. [Note: I had no idea how hard the MTC was going to be for me when I wrote this paragraph. It was one of the most difficult parts of my life up to that point, for various reasons. It wasn't totally awful. I learned a lot and grew greatly. But my MTC was more like what Amulek goes through later in the story. Still, I was prepared for my mission, and I know that God prepares all of us for the trials we have to face. The time before I entered the MTC was like this time was for Amulek.]

In Alma 10, Amulek tells us that he is a “man of no small reputation” but that he has never before taken the time to listen to the Spirit and to humble himself before God. Basically, he tells of his conversion story, of the way that the angel appeared to him and sent him to meet Alma. He bears his testimony that Alma is a holy man and that what Alma has taught is true, becoming a second witness for those who hear him (see Alma 10:5-11).

Amulek's first test comes from the lawyers of the city Ammonihah, who want to trick him into contradicting himself. He overcomes this test fairly easily, though I imagine he was at least a little nervous about all these people whose sole purpose at that point was to bring him down. Still, he was able to rely on the Lord. Through the Holy Spirit, Amulek was able to perceive their thoughts, as we read in verse 17 of Alma 10. Thus, instead of falling for the trap, he calls the lawyers to repentance. That of course made them more angry, and the people accused him of reviling against their law, or of making fun of it. Amulek's response to that is this: “I have spoken in favor of your law, to your condemnation” (Alma 10:26).

Next, a lawyer named Zeezrom tries to bribe Amulek and fails. Interestingly enough, Zeezrom starts out trying to trick Amulek and ends up asking sincere questions in an attempt to learn more (see Alma 11 for this story). In Alma 12, Alma starts teaching again, following up on what Amulek has said. Then in chapter 14 comes the greatest challenge that Amulek has yet had to face. The majority of the people are angry with these two faithful missionaries and want to destroy them. Instead of killing them, though, they tie them up and take them before the judges. They hold a trial in which many people testify against them. One of their few defenders is Zeezrom, who has realized his own error and is astonished at the wickedness of the others. They cast him out, along with “all those who believed in the words which had been spoken by Alma and Amulek” (Alma 14:7). In verse 8 we learn that only the men who had believed were cast out. The women and children they were forced to leave behind were gathered together and cast into a fire and burned to death. And Alma and Amulek, still bound, were forced to watch.

In Alma 8:31, we read something about the power the Lord gives His servants when they are acting in His name. “And they had power given unto them, insomuch that they could not be confined in dungeons; neither was it possible that any man could slay them; nevertheless they did not exercise their power until they were bound in bands and cast into prison. Now, this was done that the Lord might show forth his power in them.” I'm sure Alma taught Amulek at least a little about the power that they had access to, because when Amulek sees what is happening to the innocent women and children who believed on their words, he turns to Alma in agony, saying “How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames” (Alma 14:10). He had faith. He knew that God could save His children from this horrible death.

However, sometimes bad things happen to good people who don't deserve them. God loves His children, but there are times when He allows those kinds of things to happen in order to bring about His purposes. In this case, Alma explained to Amulek that God was allowing the people of Ammonihah to do “this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them” (Alma 14:11).

Even for Alma, this must have been hard to accept. He was a prophet of God and had a great love for God's children. Watching this amount of suffering must have been soul-wrenching. I cannot even imagine how much pain Amulek must have suffered, however. He was from Ammonihah. He knew the people. Perhaps the women and children who were burned even included his own wife and children, perhaps his sister or his cousin... After all, once they finally left Ammonihah, Amulek went with Alma to his house, seemingly because he had no one else to stay with (see Alma 15:18). And we never read about Amulek's children later on in the Book of Mormon. He says to Alma, “perhaps they will burn us also” (14:11). When suffering that much pain, it is hard to find the desire to go on living. It is hard to find meaning in life. Still, in verse 12, Alma tells him that their work is not yet finished and they will live.

Somehow, Amulek accepts this trial and endures it well. He must have drawn on his faith in God a great deal. He must have had to pray and fast and study the scriptures. He must have relied on what Alma had taught him about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In order to move on with his life, Amulek needed a testimony of Christ's atonement. He had to know that Christ paid for all the sin and suffering that he had both witnessed and experienced. He must have gained a testimony of the atonement when he went through the repentance process, but now he was forced to rely on the Atonement for more than just his own sins. He had to develop charity to be able to forgive the people that had done such an awful thing and forced him to watch. I can't imagine how much pain he experienced and had to overcome. What I do know is that Christ does understand Amulek's suffering because in his atonement, Christ felt and paid for everything. Everything. Every pain, every weakness, every sin. He paid for the sins of those who burned the innocent people, and for the pain of every individual who suffered that awful death, and the pain Alma and Amulek felt when they watched it, and the pain of the husbands and fathers who learned about it later.

Amulek was able to move on with his life. He returned with Alma to his home in Zarahemla, and later went on to serve other missions. He did not lose his testimony. In fact, after seeing what he saw, he became stronger, because he relied on the Lord. Like Amulek, there are times when we have to rely on the atonement and on our faith in Jesus Christ if we want to move on with our lives and keep our sanity. We just can't do it alone. I know that Amulek, in order to endure well, must have turned to the things he knew about God's plan for His children. Amulek knew that God loved His children, including those who went through trials. He knew that God was there to support him in his trials and help him become stronger. He had a testimony.

We can also gain a testimony like that. We do that by reading stories like this and learning from them. Amulek didn't have an easy time of it. His trials didn't go away just because he had faith. Neither will ours. Sometimes life is not fair, and the actions of other people, intentionally or not, will cause us pain at some point. When that happens, we have to rely on our faith in Christ. We must remember that Christ loved all of God's children. He atoned for each of us individually. So even though we experience unfairness and deep suffering, He has already paid for it. It doesn't change the actual events, but our faith and reliance on Christ can change our reaction to those events. We can learn to love and forgive as Christ did, as Amulek did by relying on Christ. Every one of us has that opportunity. We must remember how much Christ loves us, and how much we have needed His love and His capacity for forgiveness. Through the power of His atonement, Christ will bless us with the ability to love and forgive as well, if we let Him. Just as Amulek did, we can endure our trials well, then move on with our lives by relying on the strength that Christ lends us. As we do so, we will become stronger.