This is one of the last stories of Alma. And this story begins when Alma is old and his children have grown into men and women. And they have their own children. And that’s what this story is about. It’s not about cities, or wars, or the Lamanites or the Nephites. It’s about a family. And about three sons: two good, and one who was also good. And about an old father who is still trying to be a good father.
Once it was easy. Alma called it his Golden Years, when he would tell his children what to do and they would do it. He would tell them to clean their rooms or sweep the floor and they would do it. He would say, “We are going to the park, get your shoes on.” And they would run and grab their sandals, strap them to their feet, and line up at the door laughing and ready to play with the other children. He would tell them to believe in God and they would do it. He taught them about Jesus and then said, “Do you believe?” And they said, “Yes father, we believe.”
But things were not that simple any more. His sons were big and had their own ideas. They had their own lives to live. But he still wanted to teach them about God. He knew he could not force them to listen. And he knew he could never teach them everything he knew about God, because what he knew could not be put into words. It was like trying to fly a kite without wind.
God was the wind. And Alma wanted his children to feel the wind. To know God was with them. And so he invited his three sons to go with him on a mission. He said, “My sons, I am becoming old. My bones are tired, and my body is tired. But there is still work to do. Will you come with me? Will you trust God and trust Jesus and teach other people to trust them too?”
And Heleman, his oldest son, said yes. And Alma blessed Heleman with strength and courage to be a good leader.
And Shiblon, his second son, said yes. And Alma blessed Shiblon with strength and courage to believe that he was a good man, and that God knew his name.
But Corianton, his third son, said no. And Alma nodded. Because Alma knew why Corianton said no.
You see, Corianton had made a mistake. We all make mistakes. Some are big and some are small. And so the problem was not that Corianton had made a mistake. The problem was what happened next. Instead of telling God what had happened, instead of giving his sorrow and shame to Jesus to help him carry it, Corianton kept his mistake hidden deep in his heart. It lived there like a big hungry rat, eating and eating and eating away at his soul until Corianton began to wonder if he had any soul left.
And Corianton wondered if when he died there would be no spirit to rise up out of the ground to greet God, and maybe his body would be trapped on earth forever. He would be stuck on the ground while the rest of his family lived together in heaven. And Corianton began to resent his family, and God, and himself.
“God,” he said. “This is not fair. If you were as good and kind as my father says, you would not leave anyone down here. People are doing as best they can. And if they are messing up, why not punish them for a day or two days or a year or a hundred years. Why punish them forever. That cannot be just, let alone merciful.” These questions burned and ate at Corianton’s heart and head and he developed a large headache and had to sit down.
And Alma sat next to Corianton and said nothing for a while. He put his arm on his back and Alma could feel that Corianton was crying. “My boy,” he said, “you have done wrong. Like I have done wrong. We have both done terrible things. But you already know that don’t you? I am glad you know it because that means God has put His law into your heart. And that’s why you are scared. But the law was not meant to make you scared. The law is God’s law and it is good and just and God is merciful. The law is to help you be good so that you are happy. That is all. You do not need to fear the law any more than you need to fear God.”
And Corianton stood in front of his father, and his hands shook, and his chin shook. And Alma held Corianton in his old tired arms and said “My boy, you can be good. Be a good man. Be a good man. I know you are a good man. And I want to help you any way I can. Please tell me how I can help.”
And Corianton asked his father, “What if I am not good? Would you go to heaven without me?”
And now it was Alma’s turn to cry. He looked into his child’s eyes. He could see him as a baby, newly born. His mother holding him, her face white in exhaustion. Now he is a boy, running through the grass, trying to keep up with his two older brothers, hopping over logs, falling behind a little, and crying because he thought he was too slow. This was the child he had comforted then with a hug and kiss. But this time, it was not so simple. What could he say?
He thought for a while and then offered a prayer before answering. Then he said, “Yes, and no.” Alma held out his hand and Corianton sat back down. Alma began to teach Corianton about God. “First, let me explain why I said no. I said no because if you think I have given up on you, that is not true. I am old, but I am not through. I am weak, but God is not weak. And if I have not given up, God is only getting started. God will not leave your soul behind. Because of Jesus He will bring you and me and your brothers and your sisters all up to be with Him again. Every one of you, you hear me? Everyone.”
Corinton looked down because he was embarrassed by his father’s tears. But Alma continued. “And now let me explain why I said yes. I said yes because it is that way already. Look what this burden is doing to you. Heaven is not just something that happens to you after you die. It starts here. You were born with a foot already in the door. But you have taken your foot out. And the door shut. And so I am standing here, holding the door open for you. Asking you to come. So come with me. God is already waiting. You are the only person keeping yourself out.”
“And that is hell. Because all hell is, is living without God in the world. Because God is in the world. And if you do not feel Him, come with me. We will go and serve our people together. We will pray and we will teach and you will see how good and merciful God can be. You will find Him. Like I found Him. So forget about these questions. Forget about your salvation. Forget about sins. Forget about yourself. You’re going to be okay. Just come with me. Please. Come with me.”
But Corinanton shook his head and said, “I can’t. I don’t believe what you believe. I have never seen an angel like you. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not.”
And Alma bowed his head. And for a moment it looked like he was going to give up. But then he turned, and looked into his son’s eyes, “There are so many things I don’t know,” he said. “I am just trying to tell you the things I do know. And what I know is this, The law is in your heart. And God is in the world. Let’s go and find Him together. Please.”
And then a miracle happened. God came, like a small wind blowing over their shoulders. And Corianton felt the wind, and his soul was like a kite rising up. And he could see his brothers coming, they were going to go on a mission with their father. He was scared that he would hold them back. But somehow, in his heart, the fear was subsiding. The law was transforming. It was a door. And not the prison door he had feared, but a grand white entryway. And there was his father, with his foot propping the door open, ushering him through.
And, for the first time in a long time, he nodded and said, “I will go with you.” And they went.
All artwork by Lauren Blair.
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