1 Nephi 18 – 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 17 – Past Feeling and Past Knowing

While the Church’s Book of Mormon institute manual gives attention to the evidences of the geographical locations of the family’s 8yr journey through the Arabian Desert in the 580s BC and Nephi’s faith compared to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (2003: 37-39), Laman and Lemuel seem to demand attention in my mind. In fact, I have to ask, how sensitive were they to the Spirit? Through the distrust of their father’s prophetic commands, and the narrator’ use of the descriptive phrase past feeling, they become prime examples of the obstructive results of not gaining one’s own testimony of Christ and His living prophets.

His Words

If my 2 brothers were asked by Heavenly Father to build a ship, or an airplane other than a balsa model, I would probably laugh at first, and then trust them because I know we’ve all grown in our testimonies of the Christ and the Restored Gospel. I would have recognized the Spirit of their declaration to me and known those words, while spoken by them to me, were not their own. Laman and Lemuel recurringly doubt their father because they only see his words as…his words, not the Lord’s, as Nephi asserts them to be.

Nephi’s brothers struggle heavily, without their own personal witness, when Nephi tells them God has commanded him to build a ship. I imagine they thought “it’s not enough to ask us to leave Jerusalem and wander around this desert for years, but now we are to leave Bountiful once we finally settle down on the coast. Without any trade or skill in seafaring, you are to build a boat, and we are gonna get in it without any clear destination?” It’s fair, in a sense, it’s like us believing our father were he to say, let’s go into the desert east of Yucaipa, and not go anywhere in particular, not know how much food we are to bring with us…but trust the Lord commanded us to do so. This would be distressing unless you felt Spirit of the Lord confirm that truth to your own spirit by the Holy Ghost (which occurred in response to Nephi’s personal prayer before leaving Jerusalem and before receiving the boat revelation). And you concurrently plan to sustain yourself and your family in a deserty wilderness.

Past feeling, not past knowing

And so here again is the difference, Nephi tells us, between him and his brothers: they think only Lehi (17:22), a fallible and frail mortal man, has told them to undertake this foolishly imagined (17:20) journey. That his words are the words of the Lord does not seem to occur to them. It now strikes me profoundly that they couch his revelation in terms of ‘his words’ and not the ‘Lord’s words’. Although I find it hard to believe they never felt His Spirit or never thought this. They esteem Lehi the man to be only that, just a man. Nephi’s words agree with that for he states they had heard the Lord’s voice before now as a small voice, as a whisper and as thunder (17:45); and yet they were past feeling. Notice he doesn’t fault them for being past knowing, so to speak, to use the narrator’s phrasing style. Although that knowledge does condemn them from time to time, and they are ashamed they do not act on that knowledge.

In fact, it is clear they share a cultural understanding of the scriptural tradition for Nephi indicates their knowledge when he analogizes the Egyptian bondage and exodus in relation to their own flight from Jerusalem (17:23-34). But is seems this is as far as it goes: a cultural, traditional understanding. They fail to see how their own experience fits into the larger Israelite or cosmogonic narrative that replays when you covenant with and follow God: he calls them out from among the rest of society, sets them apart (sanctifies, consecrates), to stand as a living witness of the true and living God. Their myopic assessment of the ‘righteous, statute keeping’ Israelites in Jerusalem they so heavily laud and praise, defines to Nephi what it means to ‘feel in or for the past’ or to be in the state of privileging only past experiences. This caused me to wonder how often my own current testimony relies upon the profound, yet past, experiences of my mission, or while at SVU in Buena Vista, VA. Rather, what role do those experiences play in my current daily practice of the Gospel? They obviously comprise the necessary evidence to be confident in current and future communication from the Lord by His Spirit.

The Question

So, it seems a better question needs to be asked, one that distinguishes the certainly positive feeling that comes when remembering the joy of memories of faithful living in the past from seeking a point in the past that diverges drastically from current thinking. Do Laman and Lemuel even contain this type of joyful memory? From Nephi’s account, it seems they do not. It causes me to think of Lot and his wife – directly disobeying a prophetic command to not turn toward or look back from the corrupt world that she was leaving. We all know the salty result. Recall that the act of remembering plays a significant role in the Book of Mormon: that Israel should remember God and His ancient covenants, that we should remember Jesus Christ as we partake of the sacrament or are baptized, etc. Even the following chiasmus stresses that the Lord will be a light to us if we keep his commandments.

A And I will also be your light in the wilderness;

B and I will prepare the way before you,

C if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments;

C wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments

B ye shall be led towards the promised land;

A and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. (Parry, 2007)

Nephi has now claimed God has prophetically asked him to build a boat to traverse an ocean. It seems this is why Nephi is ridiculed by his 2 older brothers. Without Nephi’s faithful accounting of the events, we can’t help but be constrained to acknowledge our own incredulity as equal to that of Laman’s and Lemuel’s – but by necessity also acknowledge Nephi’s deep faith. For he invokes the hardhearted and disobedient Israelites in the wilderness, who ignored Moses’s commands, as he compares his brothers’ own faithlessness to that of the Israelites’. Do we see to whom Nephi compares himself? No wonder Laman and Lemuel further criticize him. They think the dad is nuts, and that Nephi’s drunken the kool aide, thinking he has received prophetic communication like unto the venerable Moses.

And here’s a final fascinating reflective point to this whole chapter: do we esteem President Thomas S. Monson’s words to be prophetic, on par with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.? I know Pres. Monson is a prophet like unto these six, and that if we follow His counsel to Experiment on the Word, we too will know that we are led by God, that obeying the commandments is the very way by which He has prepared us to receive the ‘promised land’, or the promised peace of worthiness, forgiveness, and salvation that come from the Spirit’s presence. Let’s not condemn ourselves and our knowledge of God’s goodness by being past feeling, but rather let us live in the Spirit. Do not look at all in society and the world as things we “miss out on” because we serve in callings or do not have the desire to act disobediently in concert with the world’s standards. I invite you to simply live according to the modern light that God has given us, and we will be present feeling and knowing, having a bright testimony that Christ lives and guides his restored Church. I wouldn’t believe it to be true if I had not experienced myself what I have by reading and praying to God about the Book of Mormon.

SK

Works Cited

England, E. (1990). A second witness for the logos: the book of mormon and contemporary literary criticism. Lundquist, J.M. & Ricks, S.D. (eds.), By Study and Also By Faith, vol. 2, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Parry, D.W. (2007). Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted. Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

Rapaport, H. (2011). The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Curriculum (2003). Book of Mormon Student Manual. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Smith, J.F. (1978). Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith: Compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

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.

History written by the…losers?

Happy New Year! I’ll forget the fact that I should be at 2 Nephi by now…but the New Year is as good a time as any to jump back on the band wagon and trek on through the Book of Mormon. So, I offer a hearty  ‘welcome back’ to all the stalwart followers and everyone who chances to read these posts. Here goes
It’s often believed that history is written by the victors, the ones who actually live through battles and warfare: national anthems and creeds, etc. True enough. But, if we review Chapter 13, we see it consists of Nephi’s account of the vision of his future people (overrun as a degenerate civilization) as it relates to the apparently more mighty Gentiles that would be brought to America. While Nephites regularly overpower Lamanites time and again, both lose in the end and yet here we are, studying their words. This ‘goes against the (worldly and historical) grain’. In summation, Nephi sees all kinds of Gentiles performing God’s work in various ways and to varying degrees of spiritual awareness:
1) fleeing spiritual oppression from some entity known to him as the worldly ‘church of the devil’, in distinct opposition to the Church of the Lamb (vv. 4-9),
2) others are moved by the Spirit to navigate the Atlantic to this new land of promise, one man in particular (vv. 12-14) among ‘multitudes’ or waves of Europeans or anyone not of Israel,
3) Gentiles fighting the oppressive ones and defeating them ‘by the power of God’ (v. 19).
If chapter 12 concentrates on Israel in the New World, then chapter 13 deals with the ‘Old World’ or Gentiles, arriving in the new one and their impact on Nephi’s 15th-18th century descendants. Many might think Nephi’s vision of the Colonial and American Revolutionary Eras to be straightforward or easily interpreted. I suppose some of it is, but intriguingly, some isn’t.
Gentiles, Gentiles, Gentiles
The Gentiles were divided: the ‘mother’ Gentiles fought naval and land battles against a group of other Gentiles who had escaped some form of captivity. Are we talking about the 16th and 17th century puritans and their descendants escaping religious intolerance and oppression in England? Or, as it is commonly interpreted, might Nephi refer to the 18th century New England colonists who increasingly chafed at the political restrictions and  economic taxations imposed upon them without their will, consent, or representation in the very political body that demanded such taxation from them, from across the Atlantic Ocean?
It seems each of these interpretations is commonly accepted as appropriate understandings of what Nephi means by ‘captive Gentiles’. He then states that these same Gentiles were delivered by the power of God from all other nations (the French and Spanish being heavily involved in the colonization of America; even the Dutch who heavily settled Manhattan broke from their motherland in many respects, electing to create a way of life that no form of religious worship be given preferential treatment above another). So, Nephi narrates to us this vision in which he interprets for us that his seed and his brothers’ seed (Nephites and Lamanites) are both visited by “the wrath of God”, evidence being that they are scattered by the European colonists, when this land should be theirs, and in fact was promised to be theirs (through Lehi and the Lord in the preceding 11 chapters).
Now this is so significant: that Nephi (an Israelite, taught after the manner of the Jews (1 Ne. 1:2))  acknowledges that God is with the Gentiles, so much so that they will be freed from all other nations, and yet that they are still blind.
In fact, Nephi states they are in “an awful state of blindness” because of “the plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church” (1 Ne. 13:32). Is that paradoxical that a Gentile people (whom Nephi understands is not part of the house of Israel, and therefore not part of the Abrahamic covenant) would have such divine favor and yet still be blind? I’d definitely argue ‘no’ because that’s clearly been Heavenly Father’s experience at all times in the world’s history.
I wondered how Nephi might explain his reasoning. I could only think that Heavenly Father, ever respecting of individual agency, works with the best, faithful, yet “imperfect people” (Elder Holland) from out of every nation of the globe, to whatever degree they’re willing to trust Him, to ask Him questions, listen to and seek His revelatory guidance and actually trust that He communicates through His Spirit to them (Alma 12:10-11; D&C 84: 85). They were guided to the Americas (like Nephi, interestingly, Nephi the Puritan pilgrim of sorts) out of their pious desires to worship God as inspired by their understanding of the ancient Bible, mostly.
The Bible and other books
Then Nephi mentions these Gentiles carried a book, a book whose identity the guiding angel needed to inform him of. And when the angel does, what he chooses to say indicates to us what is perhaps most significant about the book: “it is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord” (1 Nephi 13:23). This is significant because the one, single recorded question the Apostles ask of the resurrected Lord in the Holy Land, of who knows how many questions, is: when will Israel be restored? (Acts 1:6). We get none of the other 40 days worth of conversation with the Resurrected Lord, and the Lord’s indirect yet clear response is that it is not important for them to know that. They have other pressing matters…and all of them but John the Revelator would suffer horrible yet saintly deaths in the end.
Moving on, Nephi states that the Bible emanates from the mouth of a Jew in ‘purity’ and goes to the Gentiles and then a great and abominable church strikes out much of the plain language, ‘obscuring’ many ‘precious’ parts of the Gospel of the Lamb (vv. 24-42). In opposition, this abominable church is also called the ‘mother of harlots later on’.  This means not only the source of the prostitution of one’s body, but by analogous implication or scriptural inference oneself either mentally, spiritually, or physically to gain a temporary payment, pleasure, or gain of some kind or another, at a seemingly inconsequential cost. Trading in the soul for the world. One thinks of Esau, King David’s fall, Israel when it splits into two kingdoms, the repeatedly prosperous Nephites, and of course Judas.
Perhaps this is why Nephi alludes to ‘harlots’ who sell their purity, chastity, virtue, in exchange for money, and not for the purpose of marriage, covenant, and family – and eternity. Culturally and ethnographically, I can’t pretend to know exactly what Nephi meant by this phrase and to whom it refers.
But, what is most striking about both records (Bible/Book of Mormon) is that they are written by losers in wars and persecution: a splintered and scattered Israel, persecuted Hebrew Christians of the 1st century AD, a solitary Moroni. These are not victors by any means, making the talk of covenants and periods of honest righteousness contained within them all the more potent tools for correcting erring thoughts and habitual actions found out of step with the Lord’s plan of salvation for His meek disciples in the 21st century.
The more the Gentiles, or any of us, truly apply the principles of prosperity and humility and reliance on the Savior, the less blind we will be and the greater use Heavenly Father will have for us. Hence why, despite having prophets and apostles on the earth again, this announcement of 80 ancient Mediterranean manuscripts that are to be made available will convince (not persuade mind you) many that the Bible and Book of Mormon are both true (1 Nephi 13:39-42).
And I know that they are true by the power of the Holy Ghost – he’s the persuader. 15 million others can attest to that reality and truth: that this is the season and time that the Lord has put to Israel’s restoration – the Apostles’ longstanding question has been answered, and powerfully.
Happy Studies!

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!