“Covenants and Compassion”

This week’s Book of Mormon chapters for Come Follow Me (the war chapters) are some of the least liked for many readers and among my most beloved.

Nearly 10 years ago I had an epiphany related to them and last week I had another –both regarding Helaman’s Stripling Warriors.

This is very long and far too detailed, so if time is short skip to Epiphany 2 and then decide if you want to come back and wade through the backstory and Epiphany 1.

Backstory: In preceding chapters a group of seasoned fierce men fought many bloody battles because they believed the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers etc — that being that their rights had been trampled and stolen by their self-righteous ‘cousins’.  (Think Hatfields and McCoys on steroids for decade after deadly decade) 

Then some of the peaceful, righteous (and courageous) cousins taught the ferocious cousins gospel truths and some were “converted unto the Lord” and “never did fall away’. (Alma 23:6)  In fact they were so changed they took an oath, a sacred promise, that they would NEVER take up arms to shed blood again.  They were so committed to their oath that in a subsequent battle rather than fight, they prostrated themselves on the ground and called upon God.  1005 of them died before the slaughter ceased, but because of their commitment to keep their oath an even greater number than that of their brethren were also converted.

These converted cousins were called the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  Their righteous cousins (Nephites) invited the ANLs to come live among them and gave them not only land, but protection.  In return the ANLs lent support to Nephite armies in ways other than taking up arms.

Later the unconverted cousins (Lamanites) came to battle again against the Nephites and the ANLs knew because of their oath they and their Nephite protectors were at the mercy of the Lamanite aggressors.  Still, the ANLs were prepared to die rather than break their oath.  Until:

“…it came to pass that when they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites bore for them, they were moved with compassion and were desirous to take up arms in the defense of their country.  But behold, as they were about to take their weapons of war, they were overpowered by the persuasions of Helaman and his brethren, for they were about to break the oath which they had made.  And Helaman feared lest by so doing they should lose their souls;” (Alma 53:13-14)

Lose their lives and the lives of their families and protectors or lose their souls.  What to do?

The ANLs had many sons who had not taken an oath not to fight.  These sons stepped forward and “they entered into a covenant to fight for the liberty of the Nephites, yea, to protect the land unto the laying down of their lives; yea even they covenanted that they never would give up their LIBERTY, but they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from BONDAGE.” (Alma 53:17)

These sons were young, but not ordinary. They were extraordinary sons raised in extraordinary households.

“And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever things they were entrusted.  Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.” Alma 53:20-21

Good, great, strong sons – beloved and integral parts of their families.  However they were anything but battle-ready.  Their fathers had fought many years in many battles and survived, and now these same dads were going to send their prized, young (likely very early teen-aged) boys out to do hand-to-hand combat against adult men to protect their land and their freedoms, and their wives and themselves???

What kind of father does that?  Isn’t that weak?  Isn’t that cowardly and selfish?

These are the questions I asked myself nearly a decade ago. 

Then as a mother of 4 sons I put myself in the place of the mothers. 

What kind of mother even allows, yet alone endorses that?  Wouldn’t I want to send my ‘experienced’ husband to fight the fight instead? I’d prefer to send neither, but heaven forbid if I had to send someone, wouldn’t he be the better option?  Even if it meant he didn’t return, wouldn’t I feel better knowing he’d offered himself later in life than offering up my pre-teen or teenage son to defend the family at risk of losing his own yet-to-be-fulfilled mortal life?

I wrestled with the dilemma.

That’s when I had the epiphany.

Epiphany #1: 

I realized these dads and moms and sons were not pacifists.  They were not pro-bloodshed. They were pro-freedom.  They were pro-family.  They were pro-God.  And most of all they were pro-covenant-keeping.

These wives and mothers were so pro-helping their husbands keep their covenants they were willing to sacrifice their own sons to do it. 

Again:

These wives and mothers were so pro-helping their husbands keep their covenants they were willing to sacrifice their own sons to do it. 

And then I asked myself what I was doing or willing to do to help MY husband keep his covenants?

The role the mothers played in this whole scenario was crucial.  The husbands were about to break their covenants.  The sons were willing to fight.  Who do you think wielded the pivotal, determining influence??

The women.

The wives.

The moms. 

Later in the story that is explicitly stated.  The faith and confidence and instruction of the mothers preserved the inexperienced sons.

“Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught BY THEIR MOTHERS, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying we do not doubt OUR MOTHERS KNEW IT.” (Alma 56:47-48)

How did these sons fare in battle?  “They fought as with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war.” (Alma 56:56)

With “the strength of God”, “miraculous strength” and “mighty power” so much so that their battle-experienced enemies surrendered. 

Epiphany #2

We know the converted fathers had taken an oath never again to take up arms.  In the past they’d kept that promise even at the expense of the lives of over 1000 of them. 

But what tempted them to nearly break the oath this time? 

Their concern for others.  Their empathy.  Their compassion.

“But it came to pass that when they saw the danger, and the many afflictions and tribulations which the Nephites BORE FOR THEM, THEY WERE MOVED WITH COMPASSION and were desirous to take up arms in the defense of their country.”  (Alma 53:13)

“Moved with compassion”.  That’s a great thing, right?  Compassion isn’t just a virtue, it’s a genuine, bona fide, Christ-like characteristic. So why did Helaman the prophet warn them NOT to act on their compassion, but instead to keep their covenants?

Because covenant-keeping is even more Christ-like than compassion.

Wait, what??  You mean sometimes compassion can be misplaced and be counter-productive to righteous desires and goals?  Yes.  That’s the epiphany.

Stated simply: “We cannot make a problem better by abandoning our covenants.” – Larry Barkdull (Rescuing Wayward Children pg 119)

No matter what the problem.

Keeping our covenants has greater power to rescue and save us and others than compassion does.  Christ had unbounded compassion for others, and he demonstrated that by never failing to keep his promises to God. Not even once.  Not for any reason under any circumstances. His covenant-keeping, not his niceness, not his empathy, is what empowered him to overcome all temptation and perform his redeeming, exalting sacrifice for others.  That’s what made the Atonement not only possible, but efficacious.

“The greatest compliment that can be earned here in this life is to be known as a covenant keeper.”– Russell M. Nelson

Not only is it the highest compliment, it’s the way we too can wield the greatest influence.

I bring this to your attention and mine because currently I see a great deal of conflict among many members of the Church.  So many of us have family or friends or loved ones or neighbors or acquaintances battling something within themselves or the Church.  They find themselves at odds with some teachings or an individual or a doctrine or a policy. 

And too many of those not at odds with any teachings (in their desire to be supportive) choose supporting the family member or the friend or the progressive ideology over supporting the policy, the doctrine, the leadership, the Church – the Savior Himself.  Oh they’ll tell themselves otherwise, but that’s a seductive and slippery slope of perceived separation.

We live in a world that preaches you are not truly compassionate or socially just if you cling to your religion.  But President Ezra T. Benson taught:

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.  Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands of our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” 

“We make no apology for raising our voices to a world that is ripening in sin.  The adversary is subtle.  He is cunning.  He knows that he cannot induce good men and women to do major evils immediately, so he moves slyly, whispering half-truths until he has his intended captives following him.”  Spencer W. Kimball

The world teaches: “Be true to yourself, and be true to others.”  Jesus teaches: “Be true to me.” 

Always.  Even when it’s hard, and even when it seems small and inconsequential.

As the Savior and the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s demonstrated, we must never let mourning with those who mourn move us away from our covenants, or morph into or be interpreted as condoning anything that is contrary to God’s will.  Sometimes our righteous motives, (love, kindness, fairness, equality, justice, empathy) though pure in intent, can be misplaced and actually detrimental. Often they’re exploited and manipulated by others for evil intent. 

(*I have much to say about that but that’s another topic for another day)

“Christ-like love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it.  So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and ANY HINT of advocacy for it in others.  Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).” – Elder Jeffery R. Holland 

“In the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as ‘loyal opposition’.  One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.  – Elder Melvin J. Ballard (Beware of False Prophets & False Teachers 1999)

Those statements may seem harsh and uncompromising.  But truth often is.

“As leaders of the church, we are commanded to teach truth. In doing so, sometimes we are accused of being uncaring as we teach the Father’s requirements for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom.  But wouldn’t it be far more uncaring for us not to tell the truth – not to teach what God has revealed?  IT is precisely because we do care deeply about all of God’s children that we proclaim His truth.  We may not always tell people what they want to hear.  Prophets are rarely popular.  But we will always teach the truth!” – Russell M. Nelson

“Pure Christian love, the love of Christ, does not presuppose approval of all conduct.  Surely the ordinary experiences of parenthood teach that one can be consumed with love for another and yet be unable to approve unworthy conduct.”  —  Elder Boyd K. Packer

“The love of God does not supersede his laws and commandments, and the effect of God’s law does not diminish the purpose and effect of his love.”  —  Elder Dallin H. Oaks

The first commandment to “love God” is the first and the second commandment to “love our neighbor” must always be kept in that order.

(Regarding the two treat commandments) “It is important to note the order and emphasis given by the Savior, as it is critical.  We cannot supplant the first commandment—the great commandment—with the second, as is often the rationale for the solely humanistic view promoted in the secular world.  And we cannot disregard the first commandment while purporting to live the second.  We must live both, but we must never allow our love for others to work against our love for God, and our desire to keep His commandments.”  —  Elder Terrance M. Vinson

“When our priorities are out of order we lose spiritual power.” —  Gene R. Cook

We need to increase, not diminish our personal spiritual power if we hope to draw on the powers of heaven to help us and those we care most about obtain joy.  It is by keeping our covenants, not bending them or abandoning them that we can wield the greatest influence for good.

My daughter-in-law observed: “Lehi did not leave the tree of life, he stayed and invited his family to join him.  We don’t bring people to the covenant path by leaving it ourselves.”

Too often: “The reasoning of men overrides the revelations of God, and the proud let go of the iron rod.”  — Elder Ezra T. Benson – Beware of Pride

Many will wander and stray, sometimes far away. We are to love and encourage not punish or shun any who do. No matter where they or we are, we and the Savior always, always extend a welcoming and inviting hand.

However His invitation has always been and remains:

“Come. Follow me.”

Not:

“I’ll go where YOU want me to go.”

It’s His path. 

He leads. 

We follow.

If we try to get ahead of Him or His leaders we are out of place and out of step.

“I pondered how the preciousness of the restoration makes it unwise to tamper with its truths, to attempt to dilute its doctrines, or to misuse its authority.  I reflected further how I, for one, would not want to belong to a church which I could remake in my image.  Rather it is the Lord’s image I should come to have in my countenance.  The doctrines are His, not mine…. Our spiritual task, brothers and sisters, is to make God’s work our own.  Not the other way around.” – Neal A Maxwell

“I have no hesitancy brothers and sisters, in stating that unless checked, permissiveness, by the end of its journey, will cause humanity to stare in mute disbelief at its awful consequences.”  —  Neal A. Maxwell

I assert that is not only true for humanity, but also within our intimate and inner circles.

But That’s. So. Hard.

I know it is.  It’s likely the hardest thing we will ever do.

“Everything to do with becoming more like the Savior is difficult.” – Russell M. Nelson

Sometimes the kindest, most compassionate thing we can and must say to a person who least wants to hear it (and will punish us for speaking it) is ‘No’.

There’s nothing easy about ‘No’, especially when saying ‘Yes’ is erroneously equated with love.

A friend of mine put it this way:

“This is not exactly sophisticated propaganda.  Any teenager can do it. 

Parent: “No, you may not go to that party.”

Teenager: “You HATE me!”

Some parents of weak will fall for this.” 

More often than any of us want to believe it, God’s response (and ours) is and has to be: “I love you no matter what.  Nothing can or will ever change that.  And because I love you so much I cannot condone your self-destructive desires and behaviors.” 

“Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”  —  C.S. Lewis

Our burden and our blessing is to help others find not just pleasure, but eternal happiness.  Joy. And that is found only by knowing and living God’s commandments.

“A true friend is not one that always encourages you to do what you want to do, but one who helps you do what you know you ought to do.” – Elder Richard G. Scott

“Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best;  God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best and man will not take it.”  —  George MacDonald

So in summary, keeping our covenants brings with it real and raw challenges.  It always has.  It did for the parents of the Stripling Warriors.  These striplings went into physical battle un-tried and un-tested.  But they were not unprotected.  Their protection was the faith and the teachings and the examples and the covenantal fidelity of their parents.  And the results were truly miraculous.  Every single one of them returned.  Every one of them sustained injuries — 200 of them so much so that they fainted from loss of blood.  The battle was real and intense.  But not a SINGLE ONE of them was lost.  “Now their preservation was astonishing to our whole army…And we do justly ascribe it to the miraculous power of God, because of their exceeding faith in that which they had been taught to believe—that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power.”  (Alma 57:26)

We and our families are in no less serious and intense battles.  And as parents who’ve made covenants the stakes and the sacrifices are just as high.  Our best battle plan, our highest hope for success is to keep our covenants at all costs.

“In the eyes of a child wrong becomes right when they see adults doing wrong in plain sight.”

“Keep the covenants your children know you have made.” – Elder Henry B. Eyring

Anything less puts us trying to defeat the enemy by ourselves. Instead:

“Hearken ye,…thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

The enemies we and our families and friends battle are much more likely to be spiritual and mental and emotional than physical.  That’s ok.  Those battles are God’s too.  He alone can do what we cannot when we put our faith and trust in Him.

Remember: “The Savior loves to restore what you cannot restore; He loves to heal wounds you cannot heal; He loves to fix what has been irreparably broken; He compensates for any unfairness inflicted on you; and He loves to permanently mend even shattered hearts.” – Elder Dale G. Renlund

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