Yesterday in Sunday School we covered Helaman chapters 1-5, which recount a generational changing of the guard, leadership-wise. The last few chapters of Alma cover a protracted and bloody war between the Nephites and the Lamanites, but by the end things have calmed down for the most part; life has returned to normal, with Moroni retiring from generalship, Pahoran I returning to serve as chief judge, and Helaman I reassuming leadership of the church. The Nephites enjoy a relatively peaceful few years from the end of year 31 until year 39 of the reign of the judges. The leaders of Moroni’s generation pass away—Helaman I in year 35, Moroni in 36, Shiblon (brother of Helaman I, who assumes Church leadership after Helaman) in 39, and Pahoran I presumably in 39 as well. Shiblon has conferred Church record-keeping and leadership upon Helaman II.
And then sh*t starts getting real again.
In year 40 “a serious difficulty” arises (Helaman 1:1). Pahoran I has died, and his sons Pahoran II, Pacumeni, and Paanchi run against each other for the judgment-seat. Pahoran II wins. The vote is cast; decision made. Pacumeni is fine with this.
But Paanchi isn’t happy, so his supporters send Kishkumen to kill Pahoran II. Bam. Done. Pacumeni takes over. His reign is short, however: At this point yet another Lamanite army marches into the relatively undefended center of the land, circumventing Moronihah’s armies in the outlying areas, and the leader “smite[s] him against the wall, insomuch that he died” (Hel. 1:21). Moronihah soon gains the upper hand, though, and drives the Lamanite army out after “an exceedingly bloody battle” (Hel. 1:30).
This leaves the judgment-seat open yet again in year 42. I wonder if it’s perhaps somewhat less appealing than it has been, as Pahoran II’s and Pacumeni’s experiences have had a negative impact on the average life expectancy of the chief judge, but I don’t know. In any case, Helaman II, until now the leader of the Church, is “appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people” (Hel. 2:2).
Did Helaman II want this? This is what I was wondering during Sunday School yesterday. I haven’t the faintest idea. What I do think is that Helaman had to be one of the most stressed-out people in the history of the world. Within the past seven years his father and one uncle have died, his other uncle has gone out to sea, and Moroni and Pahoran I have also died; he can’t turn to any of them for guidance. Pahoran II and Pacumeni, who I imagine were friends and perhaps counselors of his, have been brutally murdered. Helaman is giving up his role as leader of the Church—which he may have been loath to relinquish—to assume one hell of a stressful job, he has no one to advise him, and he’s seen what happens to people who take on this position. And, sure enough, soon after he assumes leadership, along comes Kishkumen again, ready to resume his role as assassin extraordinaire. It’s only Helaman’s servant, who has presumably risked his life to spy on Kishkumen and his cohorts, who saves him.
So when Helaman II says to his sons in Helaman 5:12 “[I]t is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall”—he knows what he’s talking about. In his lifetime he’s seen two short but bloody wars and one long one that doubtless shaped his growing-up years—his father commanded the famous stripling warriors. He’s also been eyewitness to plenty of political intrigue. Before all the later contention over the judgment seat, Helaman’s murdered friend Pahoran II’s father had tried to contend alone against a faction of king-men and was “driven . . . out before them” (Alma 61:5) before Moroni, who was engaged in a desperate war against Lamanite armies, could come to his aid. Helaman isn’t just speaking empty platitudes based on a few shallow experiences. He has seen the devil’s “shafts in the whirlwind,” his “hail,” his “mighty storm.” He’s had to rely on Christ in order to function on the most basic levels.
So what does this mean for me? It’s a powerful testimony that if someone like Helaman can rely on Christ to manage a life full of state-level difficulty and intrigue, protected from “the gulf of misery and endless wo” that appears not only in the next life but sometimes in this one (I’ve battled depression since age 10 and know something of this), then maybe I can too. The cacophony of images, noise, crowds, heat, and smells that is downtown Boston on a summer Saturday doesn’t have to be overwhelming—or if it is, Christ is willing and even glad to hold me as I navigate it. Christ is also willing and glad to help me overcome other fears—including the ones, immobilizing at times, that others will find my thoughts sophomoric and ridiculous, or that the as-yet-undefined life I’ll take up after I return from abroad will be a failure somehow. This is somewhat frightening to write; the idea that a Savior, or really anyone else, actually wants to be involved in my daily life still feels presumptuous, and part of me awaits a what-were-you-thinking smackdown. Perhaps, though, as I try to build on this rock, that part of me will wait in vain, and eventually stop waiting at all.
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