Turning our God into an Idol

July 6-12

If you prefer to listen over reading an article, keep an eye on A Balanced Saint of Mind on YouTube. I post video versions of my blog posts on my channel. The video versions are often posted a little later than the written blog posts.

There’s only two chapters this week. In Chapter 30, we see the introduction of Korihor – an anti-Christ. In Chapter 31, we see the familiar story of the Rameumpton where people got up to say one prayer a week. I want to hone in on Chapter 31 and see what principles we can find there.

Alma 31:1 Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people.

Now this verse caught my attention because of the phrase “bow down to idols.” The original reason it stuck out to me was because of confusion. Normally when I picture “bowing down to idols,” I don’t see people climbing a high tower to raise their hands up to God. But look a little closer at the phrasing.

Zoram was “leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols.” They may have been climbing a tower, but their hearts were bowing. Now, the Zoramites weren’t just some random group of people. In verse 8, we learn that they are dissenters from the Nephites. They once had the truth and light, but they left it. I think this is really important because the Zoramites still kept some of the truth and light.

In other parts of the world during the pre-Christ era, we see people worshipping literal idols made by their own hands. The Zoramites were climbing a tower and worshipping a God; they just had different beliefs about His characteristics.

Alma was sick in the heart because the Zoramites were worshipping idols. Now the chapter talks about how they had set their hearts up on riches which can be a form of idolatry, but the part that really stuck out to me was that the Zoramites were worshipping the same God as the Nephites but because they changed some of His characteristics, they had found themselves with an idol. 

Now there are many churches out there in our day who worship the same God that we do (albeit with different characteristics). BUT. These weren’t Lamanites who were worshipping a version of God; these were dissenting Nephites. These had been members of the church.

What does this mean for us?

It means that we, as members of the kingdom of God, can inadvertently find ourselves worshipping an idol when we change or overemphasize specific characteristics of God. 

Now what did the Zoramites change about God and how does it relate to things that we change? 

Alma 31:15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.

Why is it imperative that we believe that God has a body? I can think of two reasons. First, because it helps us understand why we have bodies and what we should be doing with our bodies. One of the main purposes of the Plan of Salvation was to come here to get a body. Imagine if that purpose were suddenly gone. Why would we need to stay in our bodies? Why would we need to be grateful for them and treat them with the respect that any gift from God deserves? Why would chastity matter? Why would affection matter?

The second thing is because it makes it that much clearer who we worship and love. We have a Father in Heaven who looks like us and loves us. How much easier is it to worship a perfect, loving Father than a mysterious spirit? We know Who we are returning home to.

Separated from their brethren and Christ

Alma 31:16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.

Lot’s to dissect here. I spot two things where the Zoramites went wrong. First they believe that they are separate and elect from their brethren. We do this to each other ALL THE TIME. Let me give you a personal example.

Back when I was a missionary, I grew frustrated with some of my mission leaders who weren’t following the rules. My frustration grew as they found ample success in their areas while the rest of us under their leadership were struggling. I spoke to some of the other missionaries who were experiencing the same emotions I had felt. Some of them wanted to give up. The next morning, I took my self-proclaimed righteous anger to the Lord in my studies. As I read about the strippling warriors and their exact obedience, I felt even more justified in my condemnation until the Spirit whispered to me that if these leaders had been born in that day and time, they would have stepped up and been some of the stripling warriors. I paused long enough for the Spirit to help me realize that these elders had been born in different circumstances than I had and the sacrifices they had made to get to that point far exceeded my own sacrifices. I may have been more obedient when you look at the mission rules, but I was only giving 80% while these other missionaries were giving 100% of all they had to give. Who do you think the Lord was more impressed with? It was a humbling and sacred experience. 

We ignorantly separate ourselves from each other and try to place ourselves above our brothers and sisters. I understand that there are appropriate times to set boundaries and step away from a bad influence, but that is actually immensely different than assuming you’re better than another person. 

Second problem with verse 16, they didn’t believe in Christ. A grand majority of us who are active in the church have a testimony of Christ, but how many of us live without Him on a day to day basis? How many of us choose to walk alone or don’t take the time to look up and see that we’re not alone? The Zoramites used to believe in Christ but chose to walk without Him. Many of us believe in Christ but still choose to walk without Him. What does that look like?

It looks like going about our day not realizing that we have been receiving promptings because they’re being stifled by distractions. It looks like living in quiet sorrow. It looks like walking around in immense guilt, not realizing that Christ has already paid for our sins. It looks like trying to find our lost car keys on our own instead of saying a quick prayer for help. It looks like trying to swallow your temper towards your kids or spouse all by yourself instead of praying for charity. There are a million ways that we choose to walk without Christ. 

Prayers

Alma 31:20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.

Now we all have been guilty of saying generic, repetitive prayers, but why is that a problem? Praying for the same thing more than once is not evil so what is the problem? The real problem lies when we take on the same spirit as the Zoramites in our prayers. We don’t need eloquence or grand words or length; the spirit of our prayers has to be sincere.

Conclusion

Now these are just the ways that Zoramites changed the characteristics of God and found themselves worshipping an idol. There are plenty of ways that we, as members of His church, change Him and find ourselves worshipping an idol. We may overemphasize His mercy and leave justice off to the side or vice versa. Joseph Smith taught…

“There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. The great majority of mankind do not comprehend anything, either that which is past, or that which is to come, as it respects their relationship to God…Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, He begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to Him, He is ready to come to us.”

My hope is that we are all on a path coming to know our Heavenly Father as He truly is and not as we imagine Him to be. As we come to know Him, we can grow to be like Him, and we can be happy like Him.

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