“Where Art Thou” – Inspired Questions
May 2, 2011 4 Comments
NOTE: The following is a talk given in a Ward Conference several years ago.
After partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid. They heard Heavenly Father coming to check on them and they were ashamed, so they hid. In Genesis 3:9 God asks a question, “… God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?”
It’s a funny question considering who is asking it. Isn’t God all-knowing? Wouldn’t He know exactly where Adam and Eve where hiding before they even decided to hide? So if He knew, why ask the question?
President N. Elden Tanner said,
“When God said “Where art thou?” he knew where Adam was. With his omniscience he knew what had taken place, but he was calling Adam to consider the seriousness of his actions and to report to him.” (Tanner, N. Eldon, “Where Art Thou,” Ensign Dec. 1971: 33.)
God knew exactly where they were but did Adam and Eve? The question, then, was for Adam and Eve. To help them recognize and realize where they were in relation to Heavenly Father and that they no longer were worthy to be with Him.
The theme of this conference, the Stake theme comes from Alma 5:14; “have ye spiritually been born of God?”
Alma 5 is a wonderfully written discourse asking the same question Heavenly Father asked Adam & Eve, “Where art thou?” In fact, Alma 5 has over 40 “where art thou” type questions and contains rich teachings and insights.
A little background will help. Alma has just given up the Judgment Seat, the presidency of the country, in order to teach the people and, as he puts it, “stir them up in remembrance of their duty.” (Alma 4:19) Alma 5 is Alma’s first recorded discourse after giving up the judgment seat.
In verses five and six, we find three important questions.
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, (1) have you sufficiently retained in remembrance• the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and (2) have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, (3) have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell? (Alma 5:5-6, numbers added)
President Spenser W. Kimball once said the one of the most important words in the dictionary is “remember.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Circles of Exaltation” [Brigham Young University devotional address, 28 June 1968]) Why do you suppose that Alma felt it so important that his people remember?
We often think that the “captivity” spoken of here refers to the fact that Alma Sr.’s people were ruled over by the Laminates. But we need to be careful not to miss that he is not speaking of just physical captivity but of “spiritual captivity.” He wants them to remember the real oppressor was Lucifer, that they lived in darkness and sin and they were brought to the light of the “everlasting word” (Alma 5:7) through the “mercy and long-suffering” (Alma 5:6) of Jesus Christ & He did “deliver their souls”.(Alma 5:6) Alma was trying to get his people to remember because in reality, they too were on the brink of “spiritual captivity.”
Now today, why should we remember the “spiritual captivity” of, not only of these Nephites, but also our own “spiritual captivities?” One reason is to get us to realize the threat is always real and always present. It exists. And Satan and Company want to bring us there. Whether it be through addiction, debt, sin or any other diabolical devise, the result is the same; “spiritual captivity.”
The outlook seems grim, but we are all here because of the “Good News” or what I would call the “Fun News”. There is Atonement. We can be brought out of “spiritual captivity”. Truly, Christ’s power to redeem IS far stronger than our power to goof-up or sin. (2 Nephi 9:7)
Now to verse 14 we find three more “where art thou” questions.
“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, (1) have ye spiritually been born of God? (2) Have ye received his image in your countenances? (3) Have ye experienced this mighty change• in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14, numbers added)
Question one: “have ye spiritually been born• of God?”
King Benjamin described being born of God in Mosiah 27:25-26.
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26)
We become sons and daughters of Christ when we enter the covenant of baptism. We make a deal: we promise to obey and take on His name, he promises access to the atonement. However, being “born of God” is more than being baptized, attending church weekly or saying that we are “saved”. It is more than repenting and being clean, free from sin. We must BECOME more. We must become what He wants us to become.
Let’s move to question two: “Have ye received his image in your countenances?”
What is meant by “countenances”? Andrew Skinner, a BYU Religion Professor, explains it this way:
“Countenance does not simply mean a facial expression or visual appearance. The word comes from an old French term originally denoting ‘behavior,’ ‘demeanor,’ or ‘conduct.’” (Skinner, Andrew, Studies in Scriptures, 7:301.)
So, Christ’s image must be seen in our behavior and actions. Can Christ’s image be seen in our behavior & actions when we are alone, in private with only angels looking in, while we are watching TV, surfing the Internet, reading books or listening to music?
Can Christ’s image be seen in our behavior and actions around our family and loved ones? Is our communication loving and respectful? Do we uplift or pull down?
Can Christ’s image be seen in our behavior & actions when we are around people we don’t know? When we’re in the grocery store? When we’re at work? Even when someone cuts us of on the highway?
Can Christ’s image be seen in our behavior & actions in our Church service? Do we magnify our callings with cheerfulness? Do we minister to those within our stewardships?
Again, can Christ’s image be seen in our behavior & actions?
As we DO, not only is His image seen in our behavior but also in our Being, we are becoming LIKE Christ.
A short, true story about a sister missionary illustrates this point.
There once was a sister missionary who attended a mission conference. She was a hard working, loving missionary, truly and instrument in Gods hands. Visiting the mission and at the conference were Elder Marvin J. Ashton, an apostle and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then of the Seventy, now an apostle.
After the conference ended the sister missionary was visiting with her fellow missionaries when came a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see the smiling face of Elder Ashton.
“I just wanted you to know that you glow” he told the sister missionary and then counseled her to never do anything to jeopardize that “glow”. And she hasn’t.
Because Christ was visible in her behavior and actions she, herself began to take on the image of Christ and become like Him.
In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said this:
“Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts–what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts–what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Liahona, Jan. 2001, 40; Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32.)
As the image of Christ is evident in our “countenances” or behavior, we BECOME like Christ.
Now on to Alma’s third question: “Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”
Through the process of “becoming” we will experience consistent “mighty changing”. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in last conference: “’Mighty’ changing, however, is mighty hard work,” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love” Ensign Nov. 2002.) But, as we work it out,(Philippians 2:12) we will find ourselves inching ever closer to the “mightiest” change of all; when His will is so infused within us, it becomes OUR will.
Elder Maxwell said,
“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give! (Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24.)
As we BECOME like Him, as His image shines through our behavior and actions – we finally desire to give the only thing that is truly ours, our will.
Nephi, the son of Heleman, arrived at this “mighty change” to the extent that he received all in return. (Helaman 10:4-5)
Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. (Helaman 10:4-5)
By aligning his will with the fathers, through his behavior and actions, Nephi placed his will on the altar, and by so doing received the selling power. Ultimately, Brothers and Sisters, as CS Lewis put it: ”There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”” (Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. New York, HarperCollins, 1946)
Now looking at verse fifteen,
“Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?” (Alma 5:15)
Alma asks the rhetorical question, “Can you see yourself standing in front of the Lord, declaring your worthiness to enter the kingdom?” When the Lord asks, “Are you worthy” can we answer yes? Well, Brothers and Sisters, can we? We must ask ourselves, “Where art thou?”
After we answer that question, our path should be clear.
- If we say “yes”: GREAT! We continue on the path.
- If we say “no, I am not worthy”: we need to repent and adjust our course.
- If we say “no, I am not worthy” and we have already repented or are trying our best to repent, then we don’t understand or have “faith in the redemption of him who created” us.(Alma 5:15) To paraphrase Stephen Robinson, we need to not only believe IN Christ, we must believe Him too. (Robinson, Stephen E. Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993.)
He has paid for not only our sins, but also our challenges, struggles, heartaches and sicknesses. The power of the Atonement can also empower us to have a “mighty change”. It is truly an “infinite atonement.” (2 Nephi 9:7)
It is my prayer that we all ask and consider the question “where art thou?”
- That we remember that “spiritual captivity” is real and that Satan would enslave us all.
- That being spiritually born of God or brought out of “spiritual captivity” is more than being baptized, attending church every week or saying that we are “saved”.
- That we behave so that others may see and recognize Christ’s image in our actions and being.
- That we may become who God wants us to become.
- That we all can have a “mighty change” from selfishness to selflessness. Our wills must be swallowed up in His.
All of this is possible through Jesus Christ our Savoir. He did partake of the bitter cup (3 Nephi 11:11) that we may become like Him. Let us do more. Be a little more obedient. As one of my favorite hymns says:
More holiness give me, more strivings within.
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.
More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.
More joy in His service, more purpose in prayer.
More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord.
More pride in His glory, more hope in His Word.
More tears for His sorrows, more pain at His grief.
More meekness in trial, more praise for relief.
More purity give me, more strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains, more longings for home.
More fit for the kingdom, more useful I’d be,
More blessèd and holy, more, Savior, like Thee
(“More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, 1985, no. 131)