Monday, September 19, 2011

42 Questions To Virtue

Sister Mary N. Cook of the general Young Women’s presidency visited our ward two Sundays ago. She happened to be in our area for training and stopped in our ward before returning to Salt Lake, and she
gave quite a lovely talk on Virtue in our sacrament meeting.

She highlighted what’s in the new Young Women’s value in the YW Personal Progress program, and she mentioned an activity that seemed pretty cool. The third activity recommends:

“Read Alma chapter 5. Make a list of the questions Alma asks. Answer the questions for yourself….”

This is a really cool exercise. I love Alma 5; it’s one of my favorite chapters of the Book of Mormon to teach.

As Sister Cook talked about this exercise, she mentioned 42 questions. I’d never looked at the chapter in this way, so I went and counted them. All 42 of them.

Two interesting things about the exercise:

1. The value project is about temple worthiness
2. None of the 42 questions is specifically about sexual purity

Young Women are invited to list the questions and answer them, and then to make a list (based on the questions) of ways in which they need to be worthy to go to the temple.

There are some interesting questions. I won’t list all of them here (count them yourself!), but here are some that stand out to me in terms of thinking about temple worthiness and virture:

Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? (v. 6)

There’s a series of questions on the history, and it reminds me of Moroni’s preamble to his promise, that as we ponder the Book of Mormon, we should also ponder “how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things” (Moroni 10:3). These questions also remind me of the “testimony” questions at the outset of the temple recommend interview.

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? (v. 10)

There are some doctrinal questions about salvation and atonement that are deep and moving. How much easier for young women (and any of us) to strive for virtue when we understand the doctrine.

Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (v. 14)

This core question of the change of heart is at the center of a lot of teaching around this chapter. And it’s a critical question for a young person: if you haven’t experienced the change, how can you do it? And if you have, how can you retain it? (Of course King Benjamin spent some time on retaining a remission of our sins, and Alma will teach a similar lesson.)

Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? (v. 15)

Verse 15 starts a series of performance related questions – are we exercising faith, keeping commandments and covenants? Some of these questions will be more near to a young woman’s experience than others. I imagine most young women will not feel warm and fuzzy about questions like: “How will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness?” (v. 22) But intermingled with those hard questions is a great deal of discussion of pure and white garments, signifying one who has lived worthily and taken advantage of the blessings of the atonement.

I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances? (v. 19)

Ok, two for the price of one here. The pure heart and clean hands is what worthiness is all about, and it’s what virtue is all about. And how to get there is implied in the second question. When we so live that we reflect the Lord in our lives, we are approaching virtue.

Behold, are ye stripped of pride? (v. 28) …of envy? (v. 29)

President Benson’s landmark address comes to my mind, but likely not to the minds of young women who were not even glimmers in their parents’ eyes when he gave that talk. But what parent wouldn’t be thrilled to have a daughter free of pride and envy?

Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? (v. 45)

More great lessons on how to learn truth from the spirit. Alma’s inference is If I can do it, so can you. You can do what I did: fast and pray for many days.

And there’s more! (Not that I want to sound like a Sham-wow info-mercial…) Alma teaches the atonement. He teaches us to give up costly apparel, to care for the poor, not to punk our enemies (it’s in there – extra points for anyone who can identify the verse).

42 questions to virtue. Very cool.

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