“All Things Denote There Is a God”
I jokingly call this lesson “Apostates week”. The key exchanges this lesson are Alma vs. Korihor and then Alma and his companions vs. the Zoramites. We are going to push a bit in approach with this lesson, use these scriptures to challenge us a touch. Kind of like how so many enjoy likening ourselves to Nephi, but what can we learn by likening ourselves to Laman and Lemuel?
Key points in this lesson include:
- What compelling evidence is there for the existence of God? Is there anything that might be problematic about God debates?
- Sure it is easy to write off Korihor and Mormon wants us to, but what are the elements of his worldview?
- What are the Zoramites’ shortcomings? Is there anything we can learn from them, perhaps even see elements familiar in our own Church culture?
- What *is* the most productive way to interact with those who disbelieve?
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Look forward to an engaging discussion with Jessica, Meredith, Sterling and Chris.
After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Many thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for pulling an all nighter to get the post-production work done so fast!
I was in Gospel Principles a few months ago (ditching Gospel Doctrine) when Alma 30:44 read to prove that God exists. It suddenly hit me that this argument for God’s existence is rather lousy. I was even more disappointed that this was the best scripture they could come up with in the manual to show that God exists. I pointed this out to the class and possibly created a disruption.
Jared Anderson says:
Believe me, we will address this.
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
Chapter 30 has really been irking me in recent years since beginning to re-examine my own faith.
A number of points jump out at me with regards to Korihor and his worldview:
Verses 7, 11 & 12
The point is driven home that freedom of religion and speech exist during Nephite society at this time. I’m at a lost to suggest why these laws are emphasised heavily in the opening verses because they would appear to make Korihor’s arrest in verse 20 illegal. When Korihor is taken before various chief judges and eventually Alma, we are still given no indication that he has committed any crime, leaving the judges clearly in the wrong. As it stands, this chapter clearly endorses the censorship of Korihor’s teachings on the grounds that he is an antichrist and that his words appear rather persuasive to the people.
Korihor endorses an empirical worldview, though his point is made rather bluntly. Are there contradictory scriptural criteria for when sign-seeking is acceptable? The empirical stance taken by Doubting Thomas clearly goes rewarded.
Verses 14 & 16
Korihor’s attack on foolish traditions of fathers comes across as rather dismissive. However, the argument stands that believing something because your parents do is, in and of itself, a poor reason to believe.
I can’t help but draw analogy between the “derangement of your minds” and the cognitive biases that interfere with our ability to objectively assess the world around us.
Alma appears to assert that his teachings are not deceptive because they cause joy in the people’s hearts. This is a poor argument.
Alma states that he knows there is a God and that Christ shall come. He then reverses the burden of proof for his claim by asking Korihor for evidence that God does not exist. Korihor’s response in verse 48 appears to reflect the negative/weak/soft atheistic position. He does not assert that there is no God. Rather, he claims no belief in God. It is fallacious to put any burden of proof on to this position.
Alma asserts that Korihor is deceived by the devil. This is an unhelpful way of discrediting your opponents’ arguments.
Alma trots out the teleological argument for the existence of a Designer. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in light of the science of the last few hundred years, but it’s hard to assess from a Nephite perspective. At any rate, Korihor doesn’t attempt to refute the argument, but instead repeats his request for a sign.
Korihor’s violent end is presented as the consequence of being a child of the devil. This is an unhelpful assessment because an untimely demise can clearly also reach you if you are a hero rather than a villain (Abinadi, Teancum, Mormon).
There’s a lot more that could be said, but in short I find this passage very unhelpful as a dialogue between a believer and an unbeliever. Some of Korihor’s arguments are quite robust. Alma fails to properly address Korihor’s position and Korihor isn’t shown to respond to this. That the debate concludes with God intervening to strike Korihor dumb makes it even further removed from any theist-atheist exchange one can actually expect to engage in.
Jared Anderson says:
Great critical engagement Bruce. Do you mind if we include some of your comments during the podcast discussion itself?
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
Thanks for picking up on my musings. I enjoyed the commentary and discussion on the podcast. Keep up the good work.
Bruce Bogtrotter says:
A further note – it is interesting to contrast Alma vs. Korihor with Jacob vs. Sherem.
Sherem takes the strong atheistic position – he asserts that there definitely is no God. This position does carry a burden of proof.
This debate is also conveniently settled by divine intervention.
Michael McAlpine says:
First, let me apologise for the length of this post. I hope that it is in before you do the taping for the podcast.
I am in New Zealand and it would be great if the podcast was done one more week in advance so that the lesson would fall one week before our lessons here.
My comments come under the general caption of what’s missing. When I say what’s missing I mean how humanity is united with Christ as explained in Romans 5-8. What we seem to be missing is a discussion on how the incarnation, life of Christ, his suffering, humiliation on the cross, resurrection and ascension fulfils a plan of salvation. What we are presented with in the last few weeks of readings is reference to topics such as atonement, but the reader has to supply the meaning of the terms to fill out the content.
For example, Alma 22.13-14 hits the fall, plan of redemption provided through Christ, atonement, repentance. None of these ideas are developed for us to understand what the sons of Mosiah were actually teaching. We as the reader must read our own appreciation of the concepts into the text. To my mind this is the weakness of the BOM text. It doesn’t develop a theology of any depth so that it actually becomes a true compliment to what we have in the Bible. Instead we must rely on the Bible to understand these concepts more fully.
In this week’s lesson, we have 30.26 Christ is slain for the sins of the world, the question is not addressed as to why the Christ must be slain, or how his death alone deals with our sins. The comments on the atonement are not developed to include the resurrection and ascension which, T F Torrance for example sees as inseparable.
30.37-41 deals with natural theology, but not as developed an argument as made by Paul in Romans 1. Both of which do not truly convince us that it is obvious God exists either because of what we see around us or our inner moral compass. I think I saw you plan on dealing with this in your lesson.
30.33 deals with the frustrating issue of coinage for which there is no supporting archaeology.
31.5 where the preaching of the word is more powerful in correcting people than the threat of death by the sword. Notice the use of the word “just”. Taking the content of the BOM as a whole, I would characterise the meaning as people conforming their lives in a way to avoid the divine retributive justice of a wrathful God. Without developing the argument too far and lengthening my post, I suggest that the BOM salvation message fits neatly into that first phase of the Justification by Faith model where we as rational individuals come to realise that there is a God through natural theology and as rational individuals move to the next phase and accept the Christ. We maintain our meritocratic salvation based on continued obedience, relying on Christ for the times when we are not perfectly obedient. This is Romans 1-3, the argument Paul has set up and then explodes in 5-8. The BOM never lets us get this far because it is so lacking in content about the concepts it does present, we can never fully appreciate them.
31.36-37 parallel in Matthew 10.5-10, but it is interesting that the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of hands, something that was completely out of time and does not fit neatly with Christ’s own words about the sending of the Holy Spirit.
I will leave the historical time period over which synagogues arose in the old world and the period of use of gold and silver in the new world as falling out side of the typical lesson discussion.
I am pushing very hard to get lessons out faster so that I am comfortably about two weeks ahead of all ward schedules. For example, this lesson should come out by Friday, and then two more lessons will come out next week. That should put us ahead of everyone.
Michael McAlpine says:
Thank-you Jared for your comment. That will be great and I acknowledge this must be a very busy time for you as you get rolling. Thanks for your efforts.
Trouble downloading thru iTunes. Error keeps coming up.
Jared Anderson says:
Sorry, will be fixed shortly. I am learning how to upload the episodes myself… will get it right within the hour.
Matthew Russell says:
“How do ye know of their surety? Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not asee; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be . . .”
This is Alma 30:15. I removed the words “a Christ” at the end of this verse, because this question from Korihor is not only valid but REQUIRED (in my opinion) for developing faith in anything. Can true, deep faith spring from an absence of doubt?
In the past two years, my faith has been deconstructed down to simple mantra: I am alive, and I will do good. I have slowly begun to build upon this foundation again with the Mormon doctrine that I’ve been teaching, but from different perspectives, like those who contribute to Mormon Stories. I like the teachings of Christ, but I have no idea, no clue what will happen in the future, and I’m not so sure that this matters to me. I can see the pull that this reasoning has from Korihor’s perspective, because I’ve been there, or am still in that neighborhood. That being said, I am hoping desperately to gain something of the faith I had back.
Nik Rasheta says:
Seems like this encounter with Korihor had a deep impact on Alma and left him questioning some of Korihors points… Later on when he went to preach to the Zoramites the same question was presented to him and a much better response was given. Alma had grown up and his faith was a bit more mature. See Alma 32:26-27 and imagine that being his response to Korihor and it feels a bit better. I think we just got a glimpse of Alma’s personal Faith journey and the events of chapter 31 helped him mature into the events seen in chapter 32.
in response to myself says:
There seems a general disappointment with the quality if the textual discourse in chapeter 30. That being said, I think the discussion at the end of podcast was very enlightening in regards to what should have been said and what we should do and say in response to a challenge to our faith. Striking Korihor dumb feels very Old Testament, or at least divorced from the actions of Jesus in the New Testament.
Allie harris says:
All very kind and Christian discussion about Korihor and Alma’s lack of tolerance so to speak, but has anyone considered that he knew where Korihor was coming from? Let’s remember that Alma was also at one time an apostate seeking to destroy the Church. Also as a priesthood leader and prophet, is it not possible that through revelation Alma knew that Korihor was evil enough, if given the chance, that he would return to his liing and deceptive ways? Hopefully, most of us will not encounter an apostate of this calibre, and we should forbear with love and respect in most cases, but perhaps, Korihor is not one of them.
Matthew Russell says:
Sure, and that is what is generally taught in Sunday School and CES, and shouldn’t be overlooked. But, on the level of applying this scripture to our lives, I think most will not encounter so great an Anti-Christ as you’ve described. We do, however see some who fall away because a doubt creeps, like an itch you can’t scratch. But I I see your point.
Megan Fowler says:
I have not seen anyone else address Allie’s perspective of Alma having “been there and done that” or that he might have had some revelation concerning Korihor. I pondered whether Alma, as a prophet, had the spirit of discernment regarding Korihor, his intentional deception, etc.
Alma could have used better communication skills. I think it was important that Korihor be exposed for what he was, whether or not Alma was sufficiently articulate or that his arguments were ineffective convincing anyone of Christ.
It is unfortunate that Korihor died tragically. What about Laban getting his head severed? Both were impeding others testimony of Christ. One attempted to deprive Lehi’s family (future nations) of scriptures and language, the other by preaching false doctrines and denying Christ.
I am really enjoying these podcasts as I am currently serving in primary and I often feel like I don’t get spiritually fed at church. Thank you for all your hard work!
Nik Rasheta says:
Originally posted by KC Kern on MO 2.0 in April. This is about Alma’s personal faith Crisis and Faith Journey and it covers great insight on Alma 30 and 31…
Alma’s Faith Crisis and Faith Transition
After his reformation from his wayward youth, Alma is a testimony-bearing TBM, who has fasted and prayed to know the truth (Alma 5:46), and who forsakes his civic duties to preach the good word. (Alma 4:19)
He endures some trials in Ammonihah, but the sophistry of the lawyers and judges there is easily rebutted by Alma’s deft scriptural expositions. Despite his best efforts, however, most of his converts get murdered (Alma 14:8), and the entire city he ministered unto gets destroyed (Alma 16:1-2, 25:1-3). We sense a reflective melancholy in Alma 29, afeter Alma learns of the spectacular success of his friends’ ministries among the Lamanites during the same time. Alma implies some general dissatisfaction, getting down on himself by saying that he “ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted.” (Alma 29:3)
When Alma meets Korihor (Alma 30), he is presented—for the first time—with rational arguments that he is by-and-large unprepared to deal with. Korihor’s central allegation is: “Ye do not know that there shall be a Christ.” (v26)
Alma skirts the issue by providing an apologetic response to Korihor’s incidental charge that Alma gluts himself off the people (v32-34), asserts that belief makes people happy (v35), bears a seemingly scripted testimony (v39), and claims that “all things denote there is a God.” (v44) But Korihor’s original question— “How do ye know of their surety?”(v15) —remains unanswered. His rational logic—and the accompanying cog-dis—lingers palpably the air: “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ.” (ibid)
This isn’t just a jab at theology; it is a personal challenge to Alma’s own epistemology. And Alma—conveniently spared by Korihor’s unexpected recantation—had no credible, satisfactory response to the tough questions.
Alma comes out of the exchange as the “winner,” thanks only to the deus-ex-machina of the miraculous sign from heaven that Korihor received. But from a rhetorical perspective, Alma gets his @$$ handed to him—and he knows it.
If we observe Alma’s words and behavior from that time forth, it becomes apparent that he may have been introspectively wondering if his belief system was indeed not “the effect of a frenzied mind.” (v16)
When Alma rounds up the missionary dream-team to go meet some disaffected ex-members, (Alma 31) we find him in what could very well be a state of depression. He expresses sorrow for the “iniquity among his people” (v2) and we soon learn that their iniquity over which he is so troubled involves the fact that they say that “that there shall be no Christ” (v29) : the very same issue he failed to rebut in the debate with Korihor.
When Alma actually begins teaching the people (Alma 32), he presents what is arguably the most empirical, rational approach to spiritual learning in all of scripture. This is not the brazen Alma who fearlessly confounded the church of Zarahemla (ch 5), or the unabashed Alma who ministered boldly to Ammonihah (chps 8-15). This is a far more thoughtful, rational, and nuanced Alma, who now concedes that “ye cannot know of [words’] surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge,” (v26) and who teaches that rather than seeking to know that something is “true”, it is far more reasonable to seek to know that something is “good.” (v31) Most remarkably, Alma does not overtly mention Jesus Christ by name a single time, uses more generalized, symbolic, and universal language (i.e. “the word”) and couches all of his messianic references in the words of past prophets who do not refer to Jesus by name (Alma 33). One might make the case that he was simply tempering his message to his audience, but when Amulek takes the stage (Alma 34) Amulek goes out of his way to clarify that Alma’s careful word choices were actually references to Christ (v2). Amulek then takes a stab at answering the Zoramites’ (and Alma’s?) “great question…whether there shall be no Christ.” (v5) Through all this, Alma may have been in the midst of reevaluating his assumptions about the gospel’s fundamental truth claims—and choosing his words accordingly.
Some time later, Alma speaks to his son Helaman, and begins with a narrative of his personal conversion (Alma 36). The massive amount of forethought and painstaking consideration that went into this chapter is evident in its chiastic structure (which, while it does not prove and ancient origin, almost certainly is indicative of massive attention to detail, and intentionality on the part of the author). After what was doubtless much reflection, introspection, and the maturation of a belief system, this is what Alma comes up with:
Alma literally (literarily?) frames his spiritual experience in the context of broader religious history and heritage (v2). Next he again admits that spiritual knowledge is not fully compatible with the “temporal…carnal mind”(v4) and is not the product of reason or rhetoric, but of being personally “born of God” (v5). He tells the story of his wayward youth with the sons of Mosiah, the dramatic visit from an angel, the feelings of his lost soul. (v6-16) The apex of his account relates directly to the central question of his faith crisis: “I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” (v17-18) He describes the subsequent redemption that he felt by saying that “there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy,” language awfully reminiscent of the product of the empirical process he had described in Alma 32:42.
In this account, Alma went back to an event of his youth—became as a little child, as it were—and recalled taking the leap of faith to reach out the Savior he had but heard of. The original account of Alma’s conversion (Mosiah 27) fails to include this central plea to Jesus. He does say he was “redeemed” (v29) but the Christology of his experience is implicit, at best. It isn’t until Alma’s extensive self-reflection that he realizes that “word” he himself had experimented on had indeed born fruit: it had born him—he was born of God. The “word” is Christ, and he had been spiritally begotten of him. (Mosiah 5:7)
Alma was a markedly different than the person he had been. “Is not this real?” his own words inquired, “whatsoever is light is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good.” (Alma 32:25) “If I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.” (38:6) was his final appeal to his changed heart to secure himself back into his spiritual knowledge.
Grounded in his faith in Christ, it may seem that Alma is back to his old self: the rest of his words to his sons (Alma 37-42) are replete with didactic confidence. But there’s still a difference. His charge to Helaman is focused on the here and now: transferring records, and leadership counsel. (ch 37) To Shiblon he admonishes wisdom and moderation, and warns against overbearing zealousness. (ch38) And to Corianton, his most submissive audience, while he does expound doctrine extensively, his rhetorical approach is laced with logical arguments (42:16-22), he emphasizes compassion and understanding (41:14), and even admits that some of his teachings are merely his “opinion” (40:20)
This is not the same Alma as the Alma from his early ministry. He is more mature, more empathic, more nuanced, more humble, more willing to engage rationality. Yet, by reframing his faith to lie centrally on Christ, he is secure in his belief system, confident in his experience of having been born of God, and eager to share his access to God with others. Through the course of his life, Alma built—and rebuilt—his house upon the rock, “which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)
Today like many sundays, I sat in gospel doctrine disappointed that we again missed the mark on really deeply looking at the text. Suddenly the teacher says, we are like Korihor, what? Why are you applying the scripture as the “evil ” side. We always here the stories as the “good people and faithful people in the story applied to us right..;)
He said we are AntiChrists, when we don’t feel the Grace of Christ we focus only on the works… we fill ourselves with guilt instead of hope. We feel guilty about all that we can’t do or don’t do instead of the hope and love of Christ. He went so far as to say that in the church we focus on works too much that we forget to think about grace.
Great nugget in an otherwise normal lesson.
I am new to the podcasts and have been listening for a couple of months. I always appreciate the different viewpoints and challenges you give through the careful reading. Thank you for your work and dedication. In the podcast, you equate the conversation Alma and Korihor have with the conversation many of us may have with a friend or relative who is questioning the church. I 100% agree with what you said about how we need to treat others who may be questioning the gospel. This true principle does not apply in this case and to say it does misses the entire point. Alma is the prophet, the judge in Israel for these people and therefore is responsible for teaching and leading them. Korihor is not just a person who is having a private conversation about his questions with another church member. He is an Anti-Christ who is systematically trying to destroy the church. That is a whole different ball-game. Let us not forget that Alma is God’s Mouthpiece and if God didn’t want him to make Korihor mute, it wouldn’t have happened. Whether you agree with his approach or not, Alma was doing God’s will in silencing Korihor. If he wasn’t doing God’s will the miracle wouldn’t have taken place.