In 1 Nephi 15, Nephi returns from his visions to his family only to find his brothers disputing over the meaning of what their father had taught them. When Nephi heard his father’s words, he was confused. With that confusion, he decided to go find out for himself, through deep reflection, prayer and study. He was rewarded with an expansive vision not only coming to an understanding of his father’s visions, but pushing out beyond that and learning so much more. His brothers, rather, simply struggled and argued and floundered. Nephi returned to this and attempted to help them. 1 Nephi 16:1-3 describes their reaction:
1 And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
2 And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
3 And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth, and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.
James Faulconer asks a very interesting question about this passage in “The Book of Mormon Made Harder”:
What does the fact that the wicked are cut to their center by the truth tell us about wickedness and truth?
First of all, consider Adam Miller in “Letters to a Young Mormon” in the chapter on sin:
As the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him. Preferring your stories to his life is sin.
Being righteous then is about being open. It’s about opening one’s mind and one’s heart to whatever is out there of goodness and truth. It’s perhaps allowing truth to lead you where-ever it may be, no matter how hard.
Maybe wickedness is about telling ourselves a story about ourselves, our kids, our life, whatever it is, and clinging to that story. It’s about holding onto an ideology or an opinion rather than being open to other possibilities. When eventually hearing the truth cut through whatever we’re clinging onto instead, it could feel like we’re being cut through to the very center.
I had this experience on my mission to a very small degree. I wanted to be respected. I wanted people to recognize me as a hard, valiant worker doing whatever it takes. I was the “district leader” in this remote town, I had a difficult companion who didn’t want to be there followed by a brand new missionary with a strong personality. I was trying my best. Being a missionary in the deep south is difficult. I think missions are more for the missionaries than for the people we were trying to help. I was in over my head for the most part. Not really up to speed on the cultural history and the poverty and the racism I had been thrust into. I went there with very little training or knowledge or experience. The people we were trying to help were dealing with enormous struggles.
For example, there was one couple, we worked with, prayed with, prayed for, taught. They listened to us, they liked our message. They read the Book of Mormon and liked it. They were desperately poor, unmarried a baby. The man had trouble holding down a job, there may have been drug issues, I don’t remember. We got them married but we couldn’t get them to convert. I really wanted them to get baptized and work toward temple covenants. It was unrealistic. That was one example among many.
Anyway, I was eventually transferred out. The person who replaced me complained to the zone leader about what I left behind, poor record keeping (I’m not very organized). He felt like we had spent too much time with with a neighbor couple in our complex who be-friended us. None of it was bad. The missionary was perhaps being unfair, and I was too sensitive, but it bothered me more than it should have when his complaints got back to me. I wanted to be liked and respected and looked up to. In this case I wasn’t. Well, maybe I was, he just saw a some flaws.
I wasn’t wicked, but I think the goal here is to be open with ourselves and open to the world. Being righteous, being good is about being awake and aware, it’s about being mindful and present, it’s about being close to truth. The wicked taketh the truth to be hard because it cutteth them to the very center.
The righteous, by contrast, “hearken to the truth and give heed to it”. This doesn’t mean they are perfect or even better in their actions than someone who is wicked necessarily. They are simply more open, more willing to be taught. More wiling to abandon their false stories about themselves, more open to truth. And in that they allow themselves to grow and expand and change.