What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
The mission given to Abinadi was not an easy one. This prophet was commanded to preach repentance to a hard-hearted people whose hostility was clearly evident in their reactions and response. Unwilling to tolerate his contrary counsel, some of his audience bound him and took him to the King to be judged and dealt with.
Abinadi was specifically sent to warn people that their wickedness would lead to bondage if not corrected through repentance. Standing humbly yet defiantly before King Noah and his court of priests, Abinadi rebuked them and pointed out the principles and divine laws that they were violating. He preached truth to wickedness, and was soon thereafter burned at the stake for failing to kiss up to Caesar.
One thing has often stood out to me in this story. The record of Abinadi’s actions makes no mention of his seeing any success. It is reasonable to conclude that although Abinadi surely felt that he had fulfilled the divine duty to which he was appointed, he may have not encountered any converts to his message. If he was sent to persuade others to repent, then he died thinking he was a failure.
While he saw Alma try and appeal to King Noah that he be let free, Abinadi likely did not contemplate the consequence his testimony would have on this impressionable youngster. Alma recorded Abinadi’s words and carried on his message in secret, organizing a church and preaching to all who would listen. Hundreds of individuals joined him, following him to Zarahemla where Alma became high priest over the church and directed the spiritual affairs of countless individuals.
I often refer to this as “The Abinadi Effect.” While it’s common to measure our efforts based on their ROI (Return on Investment), we cannot be so short sighted as to not consider the consequence our efforts may have on impressionable individuals we do not know. Especially in our era, with technological advances enabling people to record their insights to be read, viewed, or listened to at a later time by anonymous people anywhere in the world, our efforts and insights can impact one person or one million people—without our even knowing it.
And importantly, just as in Abinadi’s case, one person may be all that’s necessary. That one person may have the resources, network, passion, or foreordination to see the message through in much more efficient and effective ways.
As a missionary in Honduras, I quickly learned that people often require multiple encounters with the gospel before it finally “clicks” and they feel compelled to investigate and seek answers to their questions. Perhaps an investigator first heard about the Church from a commercial, and they remember a Mormon neighbor growing up, and they see a friend post a “Mormon Message” on Facebook. Maybe they rejected the missionaries when they were contacted a few years ago, but life changes and personal circumstances shifted over time such that when new missionaries happened to knock on their door this time, they were receptive and curious.
Keeping this trend in mind, it’s important to realize that our efforts may not result in the consequence we feel they should; knocking on a person’s door rarely leads directly to the baptismal font. In most cases, that contact may simply be one more encounter that the individual has with Christ’s restored gospel, which in later years may make them that much more curious to finally explore the topic.
I often witness this same trend in my political involvement. I have often observed many people getting frustrated because a state legislator didn’t respond favorably to an email, or because a bill they spoke out in support of failed to pass an important vote. There are many obstacles in the cause of liberty, and it’s quite easy to become discouraged—even more so if you myopically think that a brief interaction will result in anything significant.
To help counteract this burnout, I often suggest keeping The Abinadi Effect in mind. We simply cannot calculate the impact our voice is having—whether on its intended target, or other bystanders. Perhaps I won’t persuade the legislators I’m speaking to in a committee meeting, but maybe somebody in the audience or listening online is intrigued by my arguments, learns more about the perspective I shared, and comes to embrace liberty. Better yet, perhaps that person will, like Alma in the example, go on to a position of influence and do much more for liberty than I am able to achieve.
Like Abinadi, we are counseled to “open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” We may not witness the success of our efforts. We may not even have success. The point is that we do not know, and therefore should not limit our efforts based on our apparent failures or perceived inabilities.
Simply speaking out may change the world.