Ammon and Alma: Love Beyond Empathy

In simplest terms, “love” means oneness, particularly oneness in the sharing of emotions and concerns. Empathy is a default product of love, an inherent faculty of our divine (loving) natures; to this better nature the Lord and his prophets constantly speak, for instance:

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Mosiah 18:9 [disciples of Jesus Christ] are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort

Understanding empathy as a fundamental product of love, I was recently struck by several examples in which loving prophets seem to act opposite to empathy, meeting unhappiness and fear with joy. In the first, we have missionary Ammon on his first job as a volunteer servant among the Lamanites, an easily life-threatening line of work for someone of his ethnicity. In the menial labor of tending the king’s flocks an enemy group of bandits scatters the sheep, which has rather recently resulted in the execution of the previous group of sheep herders by the disappointed king. With the sheep scattered the regular servants lapse into fear, while Ammon the missionary has an interesting response:

Alma 17:29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow- servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow- servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words.

In the face of the mortal fear the other servants experience, Ammon feels joy, it reads, because his hope sees a potential channel for reception of his gospel message. is a well-known Book of Mormon story and will be familiar to many; what caught my attention today was a similar emotion from a contemporary of Ammon, the former leading judicial officer and leader of the church, Alma. Every bit as accomplished a missionary as Ammon, Alma has spent decades hoping to stabilize social conditions in the land by sharing the gospel. Now facing a city and people on the verge of dissent from the Nephite nation, his preaching has drawn a crowd of the poor whose religious sensibilities have been insulted and confused by their rejection from the places of worship by their better-to-do brethren. Recognizing their unhappiness at having been barred from the very buildings they performed the labor to construct, Alma experiences joy that over-powers his sympathy:

Alma 32:6 And now when Alma heard [their unhappy predicament], he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.

Once again, the missionary-prophet is moved upon by a compassion that is a higher manifestation of love than the default (and still virtuous) empathy, ignited by a farther-seeing knowledge of what joy awaits those who receive the gospel into their lives. Though empathy is a default with love, it is not always universal. Can you think of other examples of love beyond empathy?

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