1 Nephi 18 – Not after the manner of Men

Have you ever built something ‘not after the manner of men’?30485879516a834af0b16aba5fd8fe23

I ask because Nephi affirms the divinity of his naval vessel to the reader. He explains that because he prayed a lot to the Lord, the Lord showed him great things. I think the same correlation would exist, even causation in fact inasmuch as we read the scriptures and study them intently. Recall that Nephi states that the Spirit shows men what we should do and the scriptures tell us what we should do.

As was powerfully demonstrated by the response to his prayer that the Lord confirm his father’s exilic revelations at the onset of the Book of Mormon (to leave Jerusalem before its eventual sacking by a foreign force), the answer to Nephi’s prayers tend to be quite visceral and virtual. That is to say, take stock of his dreams thus far:

  • The sack of Jerusalem and of Christ and of Twelve Apostles
  • A symbolic vision of the Tree of Life and Rod of Iron
  • The Birth, Life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ
  • A vision of John the Revelator and of the Bible’s compilation and dissemination among the Gentiles
  • The scattering of Israel, the Apostasy, some of the Reformation, and establishment of America
  • Particular wars of the American Revolution, but also between his descendants as well as those of his brothers’ and their devolution from the Gospel of Christ
  • The coming forth of his record in the form of the Book of Mormon and the emergence of other witnesses from the remaining ten Tribes of Israel that would validate both scriptural witnesses of Christ (Bible, Book of Mormon)

I don’t have many dreams of that nature (I mean jeesh those are intense), or any at all, but the last point is critical to understanding Mormons as tried and tested Christians. Many Christians don’t afford Mormons the time of day to be considered Christian because of the existence of the Book of Mormon. Well, that myopic affirmation does very little good to both parties and to bystanders – that criticism only divides everyone. Why? Well, Mormons believe other ancient scripture will come out that will independently corroborate with what Mormons consider revealed doctrine or Book of Mormon or Bible teachings (Christ visits other sheep, God spoke to not only the Jews and therefore loves everyone). Consider the Abrahamic papyri that Joseph Smith translated or the Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1948 and the 50s that detail the life of Qumran Society Christians who anticipated a Messiah such as Christ by performing baptisms 100 years before Christ or John the Baptist were born. Nephi asserts the doctrine of baptism and he lived 600 years before Christ.

Despite this, however, from Nephi’s perspective, consider that while he appears to criticize the Bible, he simply records and claims what is irrefutably affirmed by secular scholars and religious theologians alike today: that the Bible is no perfect book with any single unifying narrator (except God I suppose) and was compiled under dozens of scholars at the behest of a Roman Emperor (and into English from the Latin Vulgate and Greek Septuagint). Yet he still exerts faith.

On the other hand, many modern religious individuals faced with no seminary training pale at this reality and lose faith. Well that’s no good. Hence the Book of Mormon – it states that it is written to secure the Bible’s place as Logos, as the revelation it has been argued to be for centuries by pontiffs, bishops, and adherents alike. Traditional Christians would do well to consider just what role the Book of Mormon plays in doing so. Without denigrating the divinely inspired reformationists (Tyndale, Wyecliffe, Luther, etc.), Mormons believe God saw fit to finally and fully restore his Son’s everlasting Gospel and Church to the earth – to make it living and breathing again with heavenly apostolic authority, new scripture, and a clear vision of life’s purposes.

The Book of Mormon was translated by one person – a 24yr old prophet of God named Joseph Smith in New York State. The Bible was first compiled by feuding ecclesiastical leaders in the 300s AD under Constantine, compiled for the people of his Empire (the OT was written to the Hebrews, the NT written by Hebrews turned Christian to the fledgling Church in the Mediterranean) I affirm this single translating effort is the Restoration warning shot across the world’s bow, that God lives and communicates through a Noah, Abraham, Moses and Isaiah again, and through apostles like Paul who wrote letters to various Christian locations in his world. The Book of Mormon restores simple Gospel principles that Paul taught, or that Isaiah taught – but most importantly that Christ taught. It is my opinion that the Bible survived not only due to faithful people down through centuries or through power hungry potentates clinging tenaciously to a claim of ‘divine authority’, but because Christ blessed the Apostle’s words to go throughout the world and to ultimately bless those who would hear them. What’s been lost is the ability to communicate meaningfully and directly to God or the ability to confirm a religious leader’s claims as Christ affirmed in John 7:17. Laman and Lemuel didn’t need such an historical apostasy to occur, theirs was already in the making: and like the Israelites it was all of their own doing.

In essence, amidst these remarkable revelations, the Lord shows an ignorant seaman called Nephi how to build a ship. Laman and Lemuel probably snickered at that claim by saying Nephi attempted to make himself feel better for not being an expert boatman (whatever apparent faults or incongruous layout of the ship might be God’s idea, scapegoating God or passing the buck – but they soon learn because they definitely make it to the promised land!). What’s more is that their iniquity or disobedience and all around lame attitude causes them to all nearly perish at sea.

I can’t claim visions on the magnitude of Nephi, but I can claim the Spirit’s subtle suggestion that I go help a certain member or I see a certain person in my mind’s eye performing some chore or duty around the house, and I see how I can help. And sure enough, that person needed that help at that time. That’s been shown to me for sure.

I’m also calling on all Christians to seriously consider this unifying message, that Christ lives and guides His church again on the earth – you don’t have to only symbolically believe that the church of Christ is the vast body of believers the world over (from which Mormons are uniquely omitted L), but that Christ is seeking to unify his believers under His authority again with Apostles (Ephesians 2:19-20; 4:11-14) who leave, like Peter and James and John, their careers to fill the call to be special witnesses of Christ and His Resurrection. There has been no such Church since Christ’s day – until now.

May this be shown to you by the Spirit as you pray to know that since 1830 God has been building His Church, His way, and not ‘after the manner of men’.

SK

1 Nephi 16 – Epic Falls and Small Obedience

A) “No references?” I asked, disbelieving anyone would ever think to omit those essentials.

“No, I have none,” he responded, dropping the harsh h down his throat as most native Arabic speakers do (as if you’re going to clear your throat).

“You didn’t fill out the rest of it”, I said flipping through it quickly for job experience.

“No, it would be a lie to”.

He had diffidently, yet hopefully, handed me his application to work as an Arabic tutor or intake personnel for the Center at which I work. He carried the irony that tall, soft-spoken men do: gentle presence when we expect raw, Wreck-it-Ralph clumsiness. He’s in his late 20’s and family is all back in Egypt, friends too. I learned he arrived in America last August and has since moved through 5 locations with no job; I see now, he lives in nagging, exhausting fear.

For I read his application – the most reputable portion being his name and current address. After he handed it to me and returned to his desk, I saw he was hunkered over, his big yet lanky legs folded awkwardly beneath the desk. It somehow contained his massive hulk. He was seated behind a computer in the row behind me. We were now in class together because I was now observing one of my ESL courses to complete my MA practicum in Applied Linguistics. With heavy mental and emotional obstacles, his story is similar to many refugees and emigrants to the US, even many US citizens. My thoughts drifted to him as I wondered how he faces a loneliness I haven’t faced. Who knows what financial sacrifice his family made to relocate him from an unstable Egypt and war-torn region, from the choices of thousands of fellow Egyptians?

B) Two weeks earlier, as I sat with my colleague at work, she said, “I’m so mad at God. If a God really did exist, how could he allow so much evil to occur? You don’t have to answer that, but…”. Implying she’s not really asking right now, and I understood, we had monthly and weekly statistics to gather, so I didn’t feel obligated to fully answer her then and I didn’t.

But I did first agree with her concerning the sad, sorry state of the world. As I write now, I think of the evils of ISIS (ISOL or dash), Boko Haram in Nigeria, war in the middle east, human trafficking, innumerable instances of domestic abuse, regional poverty the world over and even in the US, minimal access to health care, racial tensions exacerbated in recent months in the US, job loss, and western political, social, and cultural forces appearing to upend much of the positive aspects of what’s pejoratively or denigratingly considered “traditional” in family and gender roles.

Asking if God exists, sincerely, is different than acknowledging his existence, or at least the idea of his existence, by blaming Him. It’s hard for many to learn, as had Laman and Lemuel, that God’s omnipotence does not extend into our wills (unless you believe everything’s already been done in the mind of God). Not uselessly have philosophers (St. Augustine, Boethius, and so many others) been kept busy a while considering the role agency plays in a world created by an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent deity or otherwise numinous force.

Heeding the divine injunction of a loving Savior to keep the 2 great commandments, godly forces are present in the service that others rend to you, and as you render to others. As Nephi recounts to us, his rather obstinate yet sometimes repentant brothers made choices that resulted in not only immediate effects (rebellion against Lehi and serious quarreling with Nephi), but generational results (entirety of a millennium of conflict, bitterness and revenge). While I believe that “all men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression“, we do live through the effects of others’ so-called, personal Falls – everyday negative choices. Not only our own limited capacities and foolish choices, but the millions of others’ around us. But sometimes people ignore this complex reality, choosing not to confront it, instead creating a simple scapegoat absolving us of any responsibility (aka God) to correct, amend or otherwise improve our situation. Ultimately declining to improve their own lives in truly living God’s commandments.

My righteous grandfather died due to a car accident during a foggy morning in the late 80’s, my other grandfather passed in 2007 due to lung cancer – he never smoked, my aunt recently passed last year because a driver ran a red light and she was on her motorcycle passing through the intersection. Watch this man’s commandment-blessed story of loving and forgiving the drunken driver who recklessly killed his wife and kids. And Laman and Lemuel had it rough – leaving plush comforts of a Jerusalem home and living for years in a forsaken, nomad-ridden desert: but so did Nephi, Sam, and Lehi. I mean, Nephi’s steel bow broke – the weapon or tool that could deal death at a distance, and find food, was gone. At Ishmael’s death (1 Nephi 16:35), his daughters murmured against Lehi and wanted to return, like Laman and Lemuel, to Jerusalem. They doubted the Lord’s goodness and revelations to Nephi and Lehi, and suspected grandiose, even kingly, vengeful desires from younger Nephi (v.38). After all, at this time the eldest receives the inheritance and birthright like the quintessential Biblical lineage, and birthright reckoning disputations of, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And that’s the problem: being unable to think and live outside the social distance box they’d forged for themselves, they thought “we are older, deserve power, status and position”. To them, Nephi was never an equal, a brother – he was either more, or less, than them. I wrote last post of a spiritual equation or faith-filled formula, and I encourage you to view this brief message from a true, duly ordained, modern Apostle of the Living Christ. He analogizes the commandments as an equation for happiness – which I testify, affirm, and validate that they are to anyone willing to try them. Christ declared them to be much the same (John 7:17, 14:15, 21, 15:10) and everything He did and commanded us to do, He did so that we might know Heavenly Father (John 17:3).

The Egyptian ESL student, my colleague, and I have each made choices within the world we’ve inherited and reap the consequences. But, living the commandments of God keeps me free from the world’s stain and my own daily, epic Falls – because living the commandments places me in a state to do good, be moral (virtue is its own reward), and receive the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. I’m not perfect, but I try. A young man (19) I know is getting baptized on the 11th of April because He knows the Savior’s commandments are true. And I know that His commandments are true, the consequential evidence is staggering, and besides, the Savior commanded that we do them. The disturbing NYTimes headlines sufficiently (if skewed as headlines) declare man’s views of himself. The ancient and modern commandments are graceful gifts and actions that man can’t devise and are small and simple (1 Nephi 16:29) things that, when done daily, result in the natural joy of the saints.

Find someone to serve and with whom to share such wonderful news! Thanks for reading…leave your comments below 🙂

SK

1 Nephi 15 – Thickheaded and Hardhearted

“”There is a Biblical and Talmudic admonition never to speak of God as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But rather as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – thus to underline that each patriarch and matriarch came directly to God. Each found him in the same way and at the same sacrificial cost.”  ~Truman G. Madsen (Clark, 2005)

Obstacles to Creating Knowledge

In similar Abrahamic fashion, the incontrovertible results of Moroni’s invitation to all readers to disprove his claim to individual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost validates the reality that each person not only can know that his words are true, that Jesus is the Christ, but that God is a sentient being that responds to prayer. You need not rely on a bishop, apostle, preacher, imam, or rabbi – you can know for yourself. He claims one can also know “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). Before we get to that, however, recognize that Laman and Lemuel incessantly box their ears at “this hard doctrine” (Maxwell, 2000) and never pay the sacrificial cost of placing one’s will on the metaphorical altar in daily prayer and obedience to ancient and modern commandments and covenants. The continual surrender and alignment of one’s own will, in comparison to relinquishing money or possessions is, arguably, the only kind of true sacrifice one can make, without which you are left to your own rational and empirical devices.

After his visions, Nephi asks his brothers if they’d asked God themselves about the massive and sweeping prophecies he’d seen for himself and subsequently relayed to them (contained in the preceding 4 chapters). To which they reply “We have not: for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9). They’ve thrown their hands up at praying long ago and don’t consider their unwillingness to communicate in prayer, or that they have hard hearts and at least feel for the idyllic past and the comforts of home and society in Jerusalem. An essential factor is absent: a sincere desire to know for themselves. Recall that Spirit is truth, and “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). I want to really unpack that statement, because it’s loaded. But, simply put, anything that contributes to knowledge of the past, present and future is truth (and too much of one is harmful).

They thought and hoped only for the past, like the future Pharisees and Sadducees who did not believe God revealed truth through prophets in their day. And then, boom, the Son of God appears, teaching “as one that had authority” (Mark 1:22). Just like scientific inquiry, how do we get at that truth: questions and tests. The Pharisees failed to ask the right questions of Christ, seeing his revelations as only the political challenges to their sociopolitical status and power that they without doubt were grasping to tenaciously. As one LDS author recently put it, “What makes the LDS Church so different? Questions have been restored to the earth.” (Christensen, 2013). Just as scientific inquiry uncovers or discovers natural or quantum laws, so too do LDS questions reveal eternal laws. So let’s start with the first question(s): Does God exist and is the Book of Mormon true scripture of Christ?

Getting that knowledge of God according to Moroni’s conditions (Moroni 10:3-7) 1)

Recall what God has done for you and humanity (be the opposite of Laman and Lemuel and consider all the goodness in your life as a mass of hard evidence – Moroni 10:6) 2) Literally ask God, in the name of Christ, if the Book of Mormon “is not true” 3) Ask sincerely, or with “real intent” to value the answer 4) Having faith in Christ 5) Don’t deny the power of God – so doubt your doubts If that burning or peaceful feeling occurs, don’t deny it  though you may want to for the implications are just as real – that God lives and communicates in ways we just can’t explain as of yet. Science exists because we can’t explain observable phenomena, and want to, and when you read and pray to God just as he describes, the phenomena is bound to happen. But, what if it doesn’t work (ie. I don’t feel the Spirit)? You probably haven’t satisfied any of the above conditions…It’s mind bending, I know, moreso than the general or special theories of relativity even.

Where the Scientific Method Fails

For instance, “If the hypothesis-testing process fails to eliminate most of the personal and cultural biases of the community of investigators, false hypotheses can survive the testing process and then be accepted as correct descriptions of the way the world works” (Baumgardner, 2008). Does Moroni’s test eliminate biases, or subjectivity, and achieve objectivity? Yes. In other words, you’re not going to make the answer appear out of thin air just because you simply want it to (delusional). Maybe I can explain.

For example, while I served my 2 year LDS mission in Canada ‘(05-’07) I wanted to know what level of truth and truths was in each Church or religion. So, as we attended Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, and Pentecostal services with our investigator-friends and subsequently I felt the Spirit. Usually once a preacher or minister or priest expressed deep devotion and sincere confession of faith in testifying that they knew Christ lived and died for their sins because they had felt the Spirit testify to them too. The truth was they believed in Christ and the Spirit bore witness to my spirit that it was so, whether on the pulpit or the street. Someone once said that we in the Church have no  corner on spirituality. Eternal principles found in Hindi and Buddhist practices and worship reveal to me the Spirit works strongly in individuals not of my faith.

While I had always understood that concept, I had no stark, direct or experiential proof or evidence of that until then. I was overjoyed, shocked and thankful that Heavenly Father had validated not only truth but the process itself, the faith-based method of revelation. So then, since we are question askers and truth seekers wherever it is to be found, my mind and heart had received light and truth (intelligence) through some obedience on my part and immense grace of the Spirit on the other (D&C 93:36-39). But as I took in the rock band on stage or observed the more incoherent and convulsive speaking in tongues in the pew behind me, the Spirit left…and so did we.

Certain practices are not conducive to the Spirit, so I learned, and hence the objectivity. My mental awareness perked up involuntarily when the Spirit left those circumstances. However, I believe I felt the Spirit present during a Passover dinner at a friend’s house  while waiting for Elijah to be present at the meal and at synagogue as parts of the Torah were read. I felt the Spirit in a Mosque In Canada while observing the immense submission and prostration characteristic to Muslims during one of the 5 calls to prayer as they removed their shoes before entering the Mosque proper, as we do when worshipping in LDS temples. While I haven’t been to a separate house of worship in a year or so, I can validate I’ve felt the Spirit during conversations with coworkers and neighbors, and while listening to some bits of the news on NPR or am590, or in scientific journals, or on mountain hikes because I can differentiate and synthesize logic and faith. In essence, we don’t discard anything that is true, unless it’s superceded by further light and knowledge; and its corollary is also true from experience: we aren’t obligated to believe what’s not true.

So, have some faith and try these steps out! Even seek to disprove them like all good science experiments do by seeking to feel the Spirit in all sorts of environments (in different churches, physical locations, times of day, your emotional states etc.). Note when it works and when it doesn’t. This faith formula is in the Bible (James 1:5, Galatians 5:22 and more) but crystal clear in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10 and Alma 32, entire book of 1 Nephi and Enos). Start obeying what Latter-day Saints believe are modern commandments and you’ll find they increase that feeling from the prayer (or that you perhaps feel as you read this…). Be like Nephi and Abraham – satisfy or reproduce the conditions, let the answers (data results) flow. This method is what everyone wants to believe but can’t let themselves – Mormon or not, let yourself test it a little more this week.

-SK

References

Baumgardner, J. (2008). Exploring the limitations of the scientific method. Acts & Facts. 37 (3): 4

Christensen, C. (2013). The power of everyday missionaries. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.

Maxwell, N. (Oct, 2000). Insights from my life. Ensign.

1 Nephi 14…Moroni’s Challenge, the Scientific Method, and Knowledge

Good evening, I hope everyone’s enjoying the holiday season!

Christmas has ended (at least the commercial aspect of it, unless you’re returning gifts I suppose) and the New Year has come and gone. With it comes the ubiquitous hope of well-intended ‘resolutions’ that, let’s admit, too often end in fizzled fashion like soda gone flat. Or so predictably like Cubs fans saying – “maybe next year”. Maybe New Year’s hasn’t held much weight for me because, here’s the thing, I renew my most significant Christian moral, ethical, and worldview resolutions every Sunday in Sacrament. So, 52x a year. While I, or any Latter-day Saint, officially renew my commitments to my baptismal (1993), priesthood (1997) and temple (2004) covenants each Sunday, this sacred practice by no means precludes a/any New Year’s resolutions being made, like working out daily to P90x…yikes 😦

So heck, I’ll start, as for this blog, I’ll renew my goal of posting once a week, however with a limit of 800 words per post. Neither you or I with our busy lives has the time to read or write anything longer – so here’s a jump start on the New Year! Good luck with your own resolutions 🙂

The Question

Are science and religion wholly incompatible bodies of knowledge, views and experience?

I would say no, they are complementary. And the tools of reason and logic in science do not necessarily, or by definition, preclude the divinely communicated truths of the Church as any individual comes to know through experimentation of one’s own. LDS Apostle Elder Henry B. Eyring’s father, Henry Eyring, was a renowned and well-respected scientist in physical chemistry who offered what I think is one of the best responses ever to this question. When Henry Eyring wanted to attend the University of Arizona in 1919, his father Ed (Elder Eyring’s grandpa) told him while bailing hay: “…in this Church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true. You go over to the [U of A] and learn everything you can, and whatever is true is part of the gospel” (Eyring, 22). Apparently, this experience has been distilled into the simple phrase “The Church doesn’t require you to believe anything that isn’t true” (23).

Theories, hypotheses, models and constructs are all pieces to methodologies that form various modes of inquiry: such as the scientific method as employed through empiricists like Berkeley, Locke, and Hume who interpret reality according to proof and physical evidence; or the rationalism of thought experiments from the likes of Descartes, Leibniz, or Spinoza who argued that knowledge is gained independent of sensory experience, like thought experiments. If  you’ve gone to high school, like me, you’ve employed the steps of the scientific method (but you might have forgotten some of them) in physics, biology or chemistry classes: ask a question, do back ground research, create a prediction or hypothesis, test it or prove it by experimenting and creating a body of data, analyzing that, then concluding and listing any implications to whatever field you were studying in.

Found at the end of the Book of Mormon, a similarly rational and somewhat scientific spiritual mode of divine inquiry referred to by current missionaries and members alike as Moroni’s Challenge, is arguably a faith-based scientific method unto itself. The wording of the few verses appears to some to be a rather audacious attempt to resolve the question of how does God answer mankind’s earnest, even desperate pleadings for comforting evidence that God can and does listen to each person who prays and that there is a way to know. As true as it is bold, there are logical steps or conditions, like a beaker or petri dish in science, that allow the independent answer to form, to be realized. Really those steps secure the awareness of the Spirit of God to your own spirit (which is logical when you accept the premise that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter” because “all spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure” (D&C 131:7)). So, setting the conditions over a bunsen burner in 10th grade chemistry class to validate the temperature at which, let’s say, Magnesium combusts is not so different because spirit is matter too. That implies it can be quantified – but I don’t have much to comment on that just yet.

So, how to recognize the Spirit? Just consult James, John or Paul (see James 1:5, John 7:17, Galatians 5:22-23, then  Alma 32:28). Alma refers to this mode or method of inquiry as an experiment – and just as knowledge is constructed by rigorous scientific experiment and anecdotal experience, so too is the term ‘knowledge’ in the LDS worldview based upon testable or reproducible experience with the Holy Spirit of God.

Moreover, this faith-based method is at the same time both critical of and adherent to whatever level of current knowledge of God the enquirer possesses, or in this case, whatever concept of God one possesses (D&C 130: 18-20). To do so, one merely has to be a truth seeker, wherever that truth exists, as Ed Eyring stated to his son Henry. I know a Heavenly Father exists because of this method, the Book of Mormon is true, the KJV Bible is true, Christ lives, I can be forgiven of sin and disobedient screwups. Prophets walk and serve today. You can find out too.

I’m at 800 words (including the New Year’s intro) – so next week I’ll try to review the main steps and conditions necessary to feeling what we believe and know to be the Spirit of God. So, like the growing body of knowledge in every scientific discipline, like my field of applied linguistics over the past 30-40 years through tests and predictions, build your personal experimental knowledge of God and Jesus Christ by taking Moroni’s Challenge (Moroni 10:3-5) like I did when I was 16.

Because the “glory of god is intelligence…or light and truth” (D&C 93:36) this perhaps explains Nephi’s vision in ch. 14 that the scattered and covenant latter-day saints of the church of the lamb were “armed with righteousness and the power of God in great glory” (v.14). Or otherwise read as – The power of God in great intelligence, or in great light and truth. Irrefutable, testable results. Each saint has experiential, independently verified evidence and knowledge of the Spirit that brings a feeling and humble power that nothing else on earth can. It’s as simple to verify as gravity when observing the constant rate of acceleration by dropping a pin and a golf ball (thanks Newton!). The Spirit is pretty constant to me as often as I obey…so take the challenge, discover it for yourself.

Good searching!

-SK

Eyring, Henry J. (2008). Mormon Scientist: The Life of Henry Eyring. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

All Is Vanity

In chapter 12 Nephi observes the downfall of “multitudes of people”  and cities (v. 1-4) in war and slaughter over hundreds of years prior to Christ’s American advent; he then witnesses the violent upheavals of nature in America, concurrent to the Savior’s death in Jerusalem, that decimate cities and lay waste to the structures and even increasingly corrupt and degenerative societal structures that fomented within these ‘modern’ or ‘avant-garde’ locations, fulfilled in 3 Nephi 8-10. Hundreds of years of society and technology wiped away in hours. Suddenly, to the Nephites, all had become vain (Ecclesiastes 1:2), at least to those left alive.

Nephi says as much when he states that “the large and spacious building…is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men” (12:18). We all know to be vain means to be excessively proud of one’s achievements, attributing success to only oneself and equating one’s identity with past successes, and is ultimately foolish because you value image over substance, ultimately satisfying only finite desires that come and go and that do not reciprocate the time and effort put into achieving that coveted status or position of prominence. As any political headlines establish (perhaps Eliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, thousands of others), reputation can be obliterated in an instant. Even worse, others make a living off such obscene lifestyles (Miley Cyrus…? and fill in the blank____). But that’s on the large scale.

Everyday interactions with intimates and strangers involve us saving face (or promoting face) to some degree in favor of who we truly want to portray, at the expense of acting in all genuine, honest, intent at understanding and taking in who we’re talking to, sitting next to, ordering lunch from, etc. I’m not saying dispense with politeness or generous acts of unexpected kindness, but as hard as it is, we can better learn to recognize what attributes and practices the great and spacious building contains, permits, and accepts, instead of choosing to increasingly render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. As citizens of the Kingdom of God on earth first before the nation we live in, our code of conduct is to mirror the Prince of Peace’s eternal first and second commandments and not to be confined to the ebb and flow of secular solutions and salutations. Such fleeting and egotistically inflationary traits are unable to produce a single man for all seasons, as was Thomas More, whose staunch Catholicism emboldened him to not condone King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in 1538 to marry Anne Boleyn. A decision and faithful position that cost him his life.

This happily brings me to briefly mention the Christmas season (in which we celebrate the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice of his life and its unmatched eternal reason for so doing), which while able to instill the Spirit of love and charity characteristic of Christ and his genuine disciples, seems at times to degenerate into gift-giving of man-made ‘treasures’ – the one we all recognize as the latest version of the tablet or iphone, causing us to keep up with the Joneses. Not bad, inherently, such loving acts can ring hollow when compared to the enduring peace offered by Christ through His Gospel and companionship of the Holy Ghost. Honestly, I enjoy giving gifts that do help live life with more enjoyment as anyone else – books, movies, clothing, games, specially engraved jewelry, tickets to sporting and cultural events, chocolate chip brownies, etc. But isn’t it powerful to consider that even the prophetic word engraved on brass scripture or on clay plates and tablets isn’t enough for salvation, though it guides us there, but is to be written “with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) and commandments written “upon the table of thine heart” (Prov. 3:3). Sounds like Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni know what they’re talking about when each of their books ends with a focus on praying to Heavenly Father for spiritual confirmation that their words were written by the Spirit.

Furthermore, back to the topic of vanity, the Lord told Samuel that he chose Jesse’s youngest son David, an unimposing, rough and untutored sheepherder, after Jesse had sent seven of his eldest sons before Samuel to be chosen as Israel’s king. And in the process of finding the new king, the LORD revealed to Samuel (or reminded him because he too was chosen at a young age) that He does not judge a man as man does, by physical prowess and stamina or by intelligence and wisdom, because he “looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Hence, the young and socially unencumbered boy became king, much as young Samuel was chosen by the Lord to be the standing prophet in Israel (1 Sam. 3). David used his royal position to commit murder in cold blood over an already grievous sin which he’d already justified because he wanted to satisfy it.

Vanity is an outgrowth of pride – believing we’re doing the ‘right’ thing because we say so and have reasons that sound good to us. The angel tells Nephi that such pride causes one to fall into the river of filthy water (v. 16) leading one to a hellish state of existence unable to partake even of the world’s pride upon the high ledge above, let alone the most desirable fruit of the tree of life on the other side. What occurs prior to that sad state? Wandering off and getting lost in the dark mists which are the devil’s temptations that both blind eyes (how man looks at people naturally) and harden hearts (how the Lord observes people). Both manners of observing and judging mortal reality and eternal truth are damaged, corrupted (thankfully, not to the unrepentant). Nephi states that his descendants’ pride and Satan’s temptations make them vulnerable and weakened to the point that the Lamanites overpower them (v. 19).

These half-century bouts of war and contention sandwich the Savior’s glorious mortal Ministry and the bestowal of the Holy Ghost to both the Twelve Apostles and the twelve disciples in America, who function similarly as witnesses to His resurrection and divinity. It is to the glorious fruits of their faithful and divinely inspired efforts that we look in hope to the next chapter, showing us what merciful truths emanate from the Savior of the world and his faithful disciples, showing not all is vanity, but some is holy.

 

Happy Studies!

The Return to Jerusalem IV – Sequel Fatigue Anyone? Not Nephi

Chapter 7 involves Lehi’s further revelation from the Lord to return once again ( a fourth time) to Jerusalem in order to persuade another family to journey into the wilderness with them. This was done so that “his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise” (1 Nephi 7:1). I imagine Laman and Lemuel selfishly complaining, “Dad, can you please get any and all further revelations for things we need back in Jerusalem, because we risk being caught each time we go anywhere near that city. You know, complete all of them in one trip!” Understanding the Lord’s way is not their chosen forté.

Ishmael’s family is approached as the candidates for journeying with them, and Nephi reports quick success, for they “did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael…insomuch that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with [them] down into the wilderness to the tent of our father” (vv. 4-5). What did they tell him? I suppose, which is all we can do here, that granted the visionary and prophetic effect the spiritual contents of the brass plates had on Lehi and Nephi, it had something to do with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the destruction of Jerusalem (Joseph Smith declared elsewhere that Ishmael was of Ephraimite lineage, so the Book of Mormon was written by both tribes as Lehi’s sons married Ishmael’s daughters, hence fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy mentioned last week in ch. 37 (Ludlow, 199)). Despite the spiritual persuasion, the majority of the caravan (led by Laman and Lemuel) soon speaks out against Nephi, Sam, Ishmael and his wife and three of his daughters, and the idea of the trip in general (vv.6-7). Nephi can’t believe that his brothers are not only not believing, but now souring the attitude and intentions of the whole group with wanting to return to Jerusalem.

He asks them how it’s at all possible that they don’t listen to the word of the Lord as revealed through Lehi and the Spirit; and that he, their younger brother, should have to be an example (vv. 8-9) to them in obeying the Lord’s commands (traditionally, the eldest inherits the father’s possessions, or the birthright, as illustrated by Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim and Manessah inheriting birthrights because the eldest abdicates the birthright by disobedience). Actually, that seems to be why Nephi is chosen of the Lord in place of his brothers, he prayed and humbled himself to know for himself that the Lord had spoken to his father.  He then asks three questions centered on the word forgotten, neither of these instances cited in the Topical Guide or the Index. How could they forget they’d seen an angel, forget the Lord spared their lives from Laban and also gotten the records, and forget the “the Lord is able to do all things according to  his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercize faith in him?” (vv.10-12). Then he says, so, let’s be faithful!

He continues by saying, look guys, the Spirit isn’t inspiring the people of Jerusalem anymore, they’ve thrown Jeremiah in prison, killed other prophets, and tried to kill our own father. They’ve got hard hearts and blind minds, and I guess so do you if you really value their lifestyle more than the inspired one we will live out here. There’s a promised land waiting for us, and you want to live in a city incurring God’s judgment and becoming easy prey to foreign empires? Go back if you want to , but remember you’ll die right along with them. Being enraged, his brothers tied him up and left him for the beasts. They didn’t have the guts to kill him themselves.

Here again, Nephi remembers the Lord, unlike his myopic brothers who forget (is it the curse of the namesake, manasseh flaring up here?) continually: “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (v.17). Nephi believes not in himself, but utterly in the Lord. Power accompanies him because he believes in the Lord, something true, beyond the finiteness of their human minds and mortality of their bodies which would die in a couple days if not sustained by food of course. As a human being, he’s limited in being able to sustain himself and effect change in the environment around him. But the Lord, the creator of Heaven and earth, and his body and mind by extension of the human procreative powers and having been created in God’s image, convinced him he should utterly trust the Lord to help him obey His own commandments. Nephi doesn’t reiterate that famous statement of his (1 Nephi 3:7) here, that he learned by spiritual experience to believe the Lord provides a way to obey, but it would fit perfectly.

Angry that he broke free and called them out for rebelling against the Lord’s commands, they rush at him once more but are denied the chance of harming him because Ishmael’s wife, daughter, and one son successfully defused the tension, softening Laman and Lemuel’s hearts (v. 19-20). This to the point of sorrowing and bowing down before him not in the attitude of submission, says one scholar, but “as an act of apology…for the wrong they had done” (Nibley). Even though they are older brothers to Nephi, it seems hard to believe that prostrating oneself before someone is anything less than submission. On the other hand, they deferred to three of Ishmael’s  family members as they plead for the stop to the contention, and not to Nephi, so maybe Nibley correctly interprets this event. They asked Nephi to forgive them, and he did not only “frankly forgive them all that they had done” but “[he] did exhort them that they would pray  unto the Lord their God for forgiveness” (vv.20-21). Pray they did and then go to their father’s tent they also did.

Deferring to Ishmael’s daughter highlights a common cultural occurrence, apparently: “this is a thing that no Arab under any circumstance can resist. If a mother or daughter from another tribe pleads, you are under obligation – even if it is your worst enemy” (Nibley). Recall a few centuries earlier when Abigail, the wife of the man (Nabal) who rebuffed David’s plea for food, water, and sheep to support his small military band, interceded by pleading that David and his armed men forgive Nabal’s denial of assistance to them (1 Samuel 25). David, on the warpath, accepted her offer, as much as did Laman and Lemuel (although the circumstances and offended parties differ markedly).

So, we see Nephi, heeding the Spirit and the Lord before he heeds anyone else. And Ishmael’s family sees this, not only Nephi’s family, and steps in to help out.

That is strength…and faith; faith enough to live confidently as God commands and to know of the ‘mysteries’ of God, as he stated in chapter 1:1, that bring joy to Lehi and himself. They prayed, with plenty of ignorance and faith, to know what to do in their troubled times. And here, we have Nephi praying unto the Lord for help with his stubborn and prideful, not to mention dangerous, elder brothers. In the midst of their repentance and appropriate sacrificial offerings offered on safe return to Lehi’s tent, another ‘mystery’ unfolded to Lehi’s view.

 

PS – As an aside to the first seven chapters of 1 Nephi, which opened with Lehi’s vision of a heavenly council, “the Hebrew term for the council and the Hebrew word for “mystery” are the same—unmistakably indicating that, in the ancient concept, the divine mysteries were the confidential matters of the heavenly council, disclosed only to a few” (Peterson).  Lehi, Nephi, and perhaps Jeremiah, were some of the few granted access to such heavenly revelations at the time, their faith not excluded form the revelatory process. It also reminds me of Abraham’s righteous desires (Abraham 1:2-5) despite his wicked father.

 

References

Ludlow, D. (1979). A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Nibley, H. Teachings of the Book of Mormon. Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute.

Peterson, D. 1 Nephi 1-7. Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute.

To Not Forget – Nephi’s part in the Abrahamic Covenant

Nephi explicitly states here that (without a command from the Lord, so of his own free will) he now occupies (what become) the small, sacred plates with his efforts to “persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (6:4). The first five chapters of this first book do not contain this exact purpose or theme. Then, why the God of those three men? Why not of other prophets? Simply put, it’s due to the temporal and eternal significance of the covenants those men made with God and he with them because Abraham “obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 25:5).

We begin with Nephi’s shift in focus and attention which is staggering once considered in full, for out of his own desire (and I would argue inspired by his father’s vision), he intends not just yet to write for “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” (5:18) which is the destiny of the Bible (1 Ne. 5:18 – ‘these plates of brass’ through Jeremiah) as Lehi saw it, but specifically for his direct descendants. Nephi decides his writings will no longer be about his own family’s troubles fleeing Jerusalem and the singular ‘tender mercies’ the Lord had given him, important as they are.

Remember, he and his brothers risked their lives in order to preserve their patriarchal genealogy, which pedigree-listing as practiced in the Bible (it opens the New Testament in Matt. 5:1-6) is significant in fulfilling biblical prophecy in determining Christ’s royal descent from the root of Jesse (father of King David) or the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10) to be the rightful ruler of Israel. Yet, Nephi says, that’s all on my dad’s plates. The spiritual covenants are what matter here. There’s something greater at work, “even a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14), as it’s come to be called.  Well did Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles state: “Some try to get by with knowing only the headlines of the gospel, not really talking much of Christ or rejoicing in Christ, and esteeming lightly His books of scripture which contain and explain His covenants.”

We should pay very close attention here, I think.

When was the last time we’d felt inspired by the Spirit while reading the Old Testament, like Lehi and Nephi did as recorded in the last chapter? Have we ever had this reaction while reading it? Chances are yes, but maybe not. If not, I would venture a guess that it’s because we get understandably bogged down in and distracted by the numerous genealogies and the history of people and events several millennia and hundreds of miles removed from us, the very stuff Nephi attempts to make sense of for us. Allusions to the historical context of empires and nations long dead contain zero relevance for us today, there is no immediacy to its content (except spiritually speaking, and that’s the key). It is a record of God dealing with ancient Israel, in their sociohistorical context which is rather obscure to all but ancient Middle-east scholars.

Yet since Lehi’s family originates in Jerusalem and descends from Joseph of Egypt, with their immediate understanding we might be able to crack the allusive and elusive pattern of prophetic metaphors in Isaiah and others that remain at best cryptic to all but the most inspired scholars and Latter-day Saints. Bible and Antiquities scholar Mark Alan Wright noted that “Each prophet was a product of his own culture, and the manner in which the divine was manifested to the prophets was largely defined by the semiotics [systems of communication] of their culture…As with spoken language, symbolic and gestural languages are culturally specific and can be fully understood only by those entrenched within that particular culture” (Wright). So, let’s get entrenched.

To reach that understanding, we follow Nephi as he suddenly feels this strict need to command his posterity “that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men” (6:6)  As I too hastily asked and insufficiently answered last week, what do the brass plates contain that would cause Lehi to prophesy so, and for Nephi to reevaluate and refocus his writing efforts toward Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

Without doubt it’s the particular prophecies of Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of Mankind (Gen. 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Deut. 18:15; Job 19:25; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; 11:1, 53:5; Jere. 23:5) but particularly the promises the Lord makes with Abraham (and that continues to his righteous descendants) that in Abraham and his posterity “shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), and in particular Lehi and Nephi as descendants of Joseph. Now, through Judah the Savior of the world is born. That should be enough for everyone, but it’s not, whether out of disbelief in his presence (ie., Pharisees and Sadducees, modern scholarship doubting the historicity of the Bible, etc.) or the ignorance of peoples and nations who have born and died without knowledge of the Gospel and/or Christ.

From the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, we read of prophesied judgments for Israel’s rejection of the covenants that it had made with God, among other subjects. They (the blessings) had continued from Abraham through Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21; 25:5; 26:3-5) and Jacob (Gen. 25:30-34; 28:14), then to Joseph when his elder brother Reuben lost the blessings due to transgression (1 Chronicles 5:1-2) and continued to Moses (and we know how that went for them in the wilderness 40 years with severe transgressions like golden calf worship, etc.) who blessed Israel’s tribes before his death, particularly Joseph, saying “let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph…His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns (wild ox): with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh” (Deut. 33:16-17).  Here is perhaps where Lehi’s ear,s or eyes, perked up after having already learned that he was a descendant of Joseph and Manasseh (1 Nephi 5:14; Alma 10:3).

I can imagine Lehi reading this and hurriedly searching for clarification. Pushing people together? Going to all ends of the earth? Remember, Lehi doesn’t know the land of promise the Lord has in store for him isn’t in the Arabian wilderness but across oceans, even years in the future, let alone what exactly his tribal lineage’s blessings and potential mean under the umbrella of the Abrahamic covenant.

Lehi read of the promised blessings given, through the Priesthood and the Spirit, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which consists of four simply stated parts: land (Cainan), Priesthood and Gospel blessings, numerous posterity, Salvation and Eternal Life; and then those and other particular blessings to Jacob’s sons Ephraim and Ephraim’s elder brother, Manasseh (from whom Lehi is descended). Jacob blesses them saying “let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen. 48:16) and blesses Manasseh to “become a great people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (v. 19). Lehi and Nephi ask, as they read, in what way will this be fulfilled? How will we push together the ends of the earth as Moses prophesied?

Ezekiel states the Lord said “take thee one stick, and write upon it, for Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, for Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions. And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand” (Ezek. 37:15-17). When Israel is confused by this, tell them put the two sticks (Hebrew for wooden writing tablets) together and with them “I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side…and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezekiel 37: 18-22).

This is ‘confusing’ to Israel and other people for two reasons: 1) once each tribe inherited its promised lands “Ephraim was notorious for its jealousy of any success gained by any other tribe” and “it was Ephraim’s jeaolusy of Judah that in great measure brought about the separation of the two kingdoms” in 975BC, roughly 400 years prior to Lehi’s time. Their prideful wedge effected much of the dissolution of the kingdom of Israel. But, the Lord would use, in mercy, the written works of the faithful remnants of these two tribes (Judah and then Joseph through Ephraim’s ‘pushing together’) to restore the covenants and effecting “much restoration unto the house of Israel” (2 Ne. 3:24); and 2) that it contains metaphor and imagery characteristic of ancient Israeli culture to explain the redeeming power and nature of the Abrahamic covenant of the Priesthood and Gospel ordinances (Abraham 2: 9-11).

It’s important to note that Manasseh’s name means forgetting (Bible Dictionary, p. 728), for immediately Nephi’s desire to write and record (as well as Lehi’s) for remembrance purposes becomes doubly significant when we review Laman and Lemuel’s ignorance of the covenants and disbelief in prophecies and visions, all Lehi’s sons descending from Manasseh by virtue of their father’s lineage. They forget to the point of disbelief. So in the midst of obtaining the brass plates from Laban, whether Lehi and Nephi were able to secure copies of Ezekiel’s prophecy or not (he prophesied in 598BC around the time of their flight from Jerusalem) is unknown and uncertain, but a prophecy similar to Ezekiel’s above (two sticks) is told by Lehi to his sons before he dies (2 Ne. 3:12), except it’s directed to Lehi’s tribe, Manasseh, not Joseph through Ephraim. It essentially says the Book of Mormon is written by Manasseh, but will be in the hands of Ephraim when it is later joined to Judah’s record, the Bible (which lays out the case for, or witnesses or testifies of, Christ as the Davidic Messiah to the Jews). If that Hebrew meaning of Manasseh contains any significance, it is in irony for although many of Manasseh’s line remembers, like Nephi and thousands of righteous Nephites and Lamanites over 1000 years, and millions of that lineage today, but they ultimately forget the Lord’s covenants and are obliterated.

Abraham_Descendants

 

Arguing in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon for its inclusion of Christian doctrines centuries prior to the normally accepted and traditional time-frame of John the Baptist’s preachings and the Messiah’s advent, Kent P. Jackson states the book is “the history of one family of Israelites which proved itself worthy to be blessed with great light and knowledge concerning Christ. . . . Even a superficial comparison of the content of the Book of Mormon with that of the Bible enables one to see that the level of understanding concerning sacred things was greater among Lehi’s descendants than among the people from which they came. With the separation of Lehi and his family from their native society came a revelation—perhaps more accurately a restoration—of gospel principles that were unknown to the mainstream of their countrymen.”

That restored knowledge is not only of Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world, but of the ancient promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and the gathering work to be done by Ephraim and Manasseh; hence why Nephi states “it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph” (6:2). This post barely scratches the surface of the Abrahamic covenant and its essential relation to our Latter-day temple worship. Understanding Joseph’s blessings by his patriarchal progenitors is the key to unlocking much of the Bible’s narrative thread of covenant-making that begins in Genesis and permeates the Bible, tracking Israel’s triumphs and epic failures as they remain faithful to or stray from their sacred covenants.

The covenants have been restored, The Book of Mormon indicating this, and are there for any willing person to receive them, live by them and know for themselves that the Lord is gathering Israel again, that His doctrines and principles of revelation have not changed. He remembers us, and Israel, and perhaps we should choose to remember Him…to not forget but believe and know.

 

References

Kent P. Jackson (1988). “The Beginnings of Christianity in the Book of Mormon,” in The Keystone Scripture, Paul R. Cheesman (ed.) , Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, (p. 92).

Millet, Robert (2009). Worthy of Another Look: Classics from the Past: The Book of Mormon, Historicity, & Faith. Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 18 (2),
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, (pp.70-76).

Wright, M. (2011). “According to Their Language, unto Their Understanding”: The Cultural Context of Hierophanies and Theophanies in Latter-day Saint Canon.
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, vol. 3, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, (pp. 51–65).