The Book of Mormon Made Harder, The Book of Mormon Purpose according to Nephi

In 1 Nephi 6, Nephi pauses from the story briefly to describe the purpose for writing this book. Verse 3:

And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.

For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

1 Nephi 1:20 says:

20 … But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

In both verses, Nephi describes why he’s writing this book. In one, he points us to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of these old testament prophets who will save us. In the second, he wants to show us the “tender mercies” bestowed on those God chooses because of their faith.

I’m not sure what to make of this connection. All I have are some random thoughts:

God chooses us because of our faith. If we put our trust in God, we are chosen. We choose God, He then chooses us. There is no interview, no qualifying exam. We are worthy because He loves us. That’s it.

I think being delivered or being saved can have two connotations. In this life, he may deliver us from our enemies. We will be protected and watched over and cared for. This is a central theme of the Book of Mormon. So much of it is about material salvation, being blessed with prosperity because of righteousness – this is more communal than individual. When the society in general falls into wickedness, the righteous few suffer  along with the rest. I think people forget this point. War, poverty, sickness affects us communally. In so many ways, we are in this together. Bunkers in the backyard will not save us.

And of course, there is a spiritual salvation, being able to find peace in a troubled world here and now, but also an endearing hope for something better in the next life. The purpose of the book is to show us how to get both this peace and this hope. There’s something communally applicable here as well. We find peace in our relationships, with our family, our friends, with our neighbors, our colleagues, and congregational family. Bringing God into our relationships can help us find peace.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon, then, in summary, is to bring us to God and in that we can find salvation and deliverance, perhaps spiritually and materially. But I think this is meant for us collectively because we find this peace and this salvation together.

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The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Unto

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is an uniquely remarkable church. At its foundation is the Book of Mormon, this sacred book miraculously translated by Joseph Smith serves as the foundation of the church’s founding. The book justifies Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet of God and has convinced countless of people to follow him by joining the church he founded. Without the book there is no church. As a result of this, Mormon skeptics have tried to explain this book away as something invented by Joseph Smith, chalking it up to his brilliance. Believers have tried to find evidence of its authenticity not only as a religious book, but as a historical one as well.

I say this because I find Faulconer’s question on 1 Nephi 5:21 so interesting:

21 And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.

His question is concerned with the word “unto”, in “that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children”. Why “unto” and not “for”?

Webster says “unto” is another word for “to”. In a casual reading of this verse, in my head, I actually want to read “for” not “to”. Meaning the scriptures are here for us, to serve us, to help us, to give us direction. But this one word changes the meaning in an interesting way. Rather than for us, they are written to us. The commandments and the scriptures are written to save us, to warn us, to make us uncomfortable. Rather than be our servants that “for” implies, perhaps they are acting more as our masters, forcing themselves into our lives not waiting for us to bring them in.

Just some random thoughts, here.

But all of these questions are meaningful only if we think every single word in this book counts, that nothing is throw away. The only way one can believe this is if you believe in this book. I do.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Remembering

In 1 Nephi chapter three, Nephi and his brothers made two attempts to get the plates from its owner, Laban. First they simply ask for it, then they try to buy it. Both times they are rebuffed. Nephi’s older brothers are inclined to give up after attempt one, after attempt two where their gold and silver was stolen, they are angry and beat Nephi with a stick. I think seeing their riches stolen from them represents perhaps a point of no return. They are now destined to leave Jerusalem forever and they are angry and resort to violence. An angel intervenes.

In the beginning of chapter four, Nephi points to the example of Moses who was able to do amazing, miraculous things with the help of God and surely God can help them as well.

And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us befaithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why notmightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.

In these verses Faulconer says that this idea of using stories of the past to teach lessons to the present is a common technique. Why is remembering what the Lord has done for those in the past so important in helping us face the challenges in front of us today?

I have two thoughts here. The scripture stories of the past, stories of Moses, Abraham, or Peter seem to have happened in a different world and at times I have trouble relating. Also, we as Mormons have I think mistakenly almost deified our past prophets, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and others. I wonder if it is even possible to follow their examples of courage, leadership and faith once we have done so. I think this is a mistake. It’s important to humanize both them and those in the scriptures, and then to dig in to what makes them just as human, just as weak as us. Because then it becomes possible for us, in our weakness and humanness to imagine the possibility of overcoming our own challenges and obstacles in the same way they were able to face and overcome theirs.

My second point is that really digging into the doings of God in my past, in the lives of my parents, and my grandparents, and my ancestors connects me with both my past and with ancestors in important ways. It gives their lives meaning. In real ways, it makes their stories poignant, powerful and important, that the sacrifices they made were done for a reason, to help and bless me. We should take advantage of every opportunity to stand on their shoulders and to project our lives beyond them with the help of their stories and with the help of God. That inter-generational connection can be powerful. We can learn from them just as much as we want our children to learn from us.

#book-of-mormon, #religion

The Book of Mormon Made Harder, Nephi’s Courage

The opening story of the Book of Mormon describes Lehi’s family in Jerusalem. Upon the Lord’s command, Lehi makes an abrupt exit from Jerusalem with his family. They travel for three days into the desert when Lehi is prompted to send his sons back into Jerusalem to collect the Brass Plates containing their sacred scriptures in order to preserve their religion as they wandered into a new land.

When Lehi asks his sons to take the trek back into the desert, his oldest two sons rebel. Nephi on the other hand quotes what has become one of the most famous Mormon verses in all of scripture:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

Faulconer wonders how and why this teaching differs from another less famous one in D&C 124:49 here:

 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.”

The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of scripture written primarily by Joseph Smith describing the revelations he received while trying to build the church. Those early Mormons suffered a great deal of persecutions, afflictions and setbacks as they tried not only to establish a new religion but to build up Zion. The experiences of Lehi echo in many ways the experiences of Joseph Smith. It must have been difficult for those early Saints to suffer setback after setback. It must have been a relief to get these words, that despite their failures, their attempts were accepted by God.

At the surface and without context, these scriptures seem to contradict. Perhaps, though, like most things, they require context and shouldn’t be considered to be universally applicable.

For me, I feel at times inspired to do certain things. Whether that inspiration is from God or from another source is not always easy to tell. So, that’s problem number one. I believe I have a commandment from God to me specifically to do something difficult. And if in my effort to try, I might fail because maybe, it turns out, I misunderstood what God wanted me to do? That’s one possible problem.

The second for me, is the idea that God will only accept my failure if I really tried to succeed with “all of my might”. I almost never feel this way. I nearly always feel like there was at least a little more I could have done, especially when I come up short on a goal I’ve set for myself.

This reminds me a bit of my school experience. A person is given a deadline, you either accomplish your goal by the deadline or you don’t. Either way, you’re given a grade and you move on. Sometimes my offering to the teacher has been acceptable and sometimes it hasn’t been. There are times when this applies to the real world as well. The real world wants results, the effort it takes to get there is irrelevant. But there are countless examples of those who have tried to accomplish something difficult, only to set up a path for others to succeed.

History provides countless examples of this. Visiting Martin’s Cove last summer, it was an interesting time to get more exposure to the Willie and Martin handcart tragedy during the church’s emigrant period into Salt Lake City. It was a catastrophic tragedy, a disaster. One could call it a failure. At the visitor’s center, the guide reminded me that though it may have been a failure, the lessons learned and the faith exhibited were lessons that added to the legacy of the early church, and through their efforts of sacrifice and courage, helping in that failure, to make the church what it has become today.

But this can all be tough stuff. We are all so imperfect, half blind, trying our best, but mostly failing day after day. I think through whatever successes and through the my many failures all I can do is hope my efforts are acceptable because, in fact, they are. God’s grace is already in place before I even tried. And His grace is sufficient.

The Book of Mormon Made Harder Post 1

I’ve read the Book of Mormon many times, starting my study in vigor when I went on a two year mission. I read it before my mission and I was given Mormonism by my parents. It’s my religion, a big part of my identity, and it’s my primary guide in my life. I love my religion, I love it’s sacred scripture.

Recently, I discovered this book, The Book of Mormon Made Harder“, written by a Mormon theologian and philosopher. The book has no answers, only questions. I’m going to write my answers to selected questions as I make my through this remarkable book.

My first post follows:

1 Nephi 2: 16: “And it came to pass that I Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless large in stature and also having great desires to know the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.”

This is in the opening sequence where Lehi chooses to leave his riches to take his family to wander in the desert. The older brothers, I think understandably, complained. I would have too. Lehi does crazy stuff in the opening chapters, counter-intuitive stuff.

In this verse, Nephi says his heart was softened, implying it started out hardened, maybe in exactly the same way as his brothers. Maybe he experienced the same impulsive reaction at his father’s decision to leave their home and comforts.

But instead of giving in, he sought personal inspiration from God . He just didn’t ask for it, he cried for it. I think it must have been frought, he must have experienced pain. In the next verse, he discusses this with his brother Sam who also believes. I’m guessing if Nephi is anything like me (unlikely), this was a long, stressful, painful discussion. I’m sure they talked before Nephi prayed. I’m sure they talked after he prayed. At the end of it, they both believed his father was making an inspired decision.

There are times when I am in the lead where I am Lehi. I’ve had people rebel against me, disagree with my decisions. It’s hard to stand my ground. I’m grateful for the Nephi’s in my life who pray over it and sustain and support me. Or maybe more likely, those people who really try to see my motives, who try to understand where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to do.

But I’m more grateful for those people who have considered it, thought about it, prayed over it, and come to the conclusion that I’m on a bad path. In that realization, they come to me gently to offer another suggestion or to ask me to consider another approach. That didn’t happen here, but it could have been another possibility.

And of course, I’ve also been a Nephi, where I’ve been asked to follow someone down a path that seems wrong. What’s my role in that case? I think there are many things to learn in this short verse and in the broader context I’ve taken it that has many applications – in my home, in my job, etc.

Doubt Your Doubts

In a recent general conference session, President Uchtdorf when addressing those who have struggled with doubt or a lack of faith gave this counsel:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.8 We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’ve often seen doubt vilified, for example, the “doubting” Thomas of the New Testament, who refused to believe that Jesus had indeed risen again until he could see for himself. Here is Jesus’ response:

John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Not that Thomas wasn’t blessed for having this remarkable experience, but the implication is clear. Those who can believe without having to see are even more blessed.

Another example is with Peter who in the midst of a storm walked on water toward Jesus, but as he did so, he feared and began to sink. As Jesus lifted him up, he gently rebuked:

31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Faith is the first principle of the gospel and doubt, it seems here, is the opposite of faith. But what does it mean to have faith? What does it mean to doubt?

I think doubt is a natural part of the experience here on earth. I believe if we don’t experience doubt we’re not really trying enough in our lives. The question isn’t whether or not we will doubt, it’s what we will do with our doubts and our questions.

Gina Colvin hosts a really great podcast and she came up with this great idea called “Got a Sermon” where various people record and submit their own sermons for her to publish on her podcast. Recently, Jay Griffith gave this really touching sermon on revelation. Toward the end of it he says this:

I’ve always loved to question, to learn and to explore, to try new things. This has only increased with age. This year has been particularly rich in learning and relationships. I’ve been invigorated by digging even deeper into the history of our church as we’ve been counseled to do. Not being afraid to doubt, but doubting my doubts first.

I like that last line, not being afraid to doubt, but doubting those doubts first. But I want to parse that phrase a bit because it just seems important. What does it mean to not be afraid to doubt especially when it seems doubt is something we should strive not to do.

I’m wondering how many of us avoid the difficult parts of our lives because we’re afraid we’re not up to it. And sometimes we’re not and it’s better to just leave it alone until we’re ready. I think as members of a church, we shield ourselves from critics and skeptics because we’re afraid for our faith. Or perhaps worse, we’re afraid to dig into new knowledge because we’re afraid it may lay waste to the foundation of our most cherished beliefs. Perhaps as a Mormon, we’re afraid to dig into the messiness of church history or we just can’t stomach reading someone questioning the Book of Mormon’s historicity. But perhaps we shouldn’t be afraid for our faith, but rather use our faith as a light to make our way through new ideas.

Going back to the counsel of President Uchtdorf, the most important faith is faith in Jesus Christ. There are so many ways one can experience and feel the love of God and feel the sanctification that is possible through the atonement of Christ. One may not even equate these experiences directly with Christ, but as a Christian who feels God is in all things and that the atonement is big enough and wide enough to encompass the whole earth, let’s just say for the sake of discussion, that faith in Christ is the same as having faith in goodness and beauty and truth and in our own connection to all of that.

And so, these experiences of goodness, these feelings that we all can experience, that we are loved, that we belong, that as children of God, we can do the hard things we feel called to do, this enables our faith in our selves, in God, in others, in institutions. But as we push into new areas, as we stumble, as we encounter complexity, difficulty, contradiction, paradox, our faith falters. As we run into the consequences of our own mistakes or the mistakes of others. As we feel the abuse of an institution run by flawed individuals, we may shrink and let these experiences destroy our faith. We may encounter feelings of sadness, anxiety, self-doubt, darkness. But perhaps, going back to Jay Griffith’s quote, we shouldn’t be afraid of our doubts, but we should always doubt our doubts. Perhaps this means that the faith we do have should act as the foundation as we work our way into the darkness to gather more light, more understanding.

In a very real sense, we’re all just children, stumbling through life. There’s much, much more that we don’t know than what we do know. But it’s our duty, while we are still breathing, to learn a little bit more, to grow a little more more. And I think doubt is a natural consequence of this.