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!

Immediately Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice

This chapter is drenched in direct doctrinal discourse…

Nephi narrates (and is teaching the reader, explicitly pointing out an important principle of revelation) some important comments into the final verses of last chapter, namely that God doesn’t change the way he communicates to mankind (he answers sincere individuals with honest desires to hear and follow answers) and that the individual who seeks after God diligently will know the perplexing, mysterious things about God, which are beautifully simple doctrines (which Nephi later tells us he loves – 2 Nephi 25:4).

By the Spirit’s inspiration, climbing away into a high mountain nearby, in Ch. 11 (first in the series of Nephi’s sweeping visions of future history that covers the length of five chapters – 11-15), Nephi recounts his grand vision of prophesied events central to mankind’s redemption (i.e. – the Messiah’s mortal ministry and miracles, his persecution and afflictions, culminating in his crucifixion and Resurrection) which he chooses to include perhaps as evidence of receiving answers he’d prayed for, so that he could witness not only to what his father saw but to the reality that any individual can be given answers to prayers by the power of the Holy Ghost.

This chapter reemphasizes the utter importance of preserving sacred history and covenants, as they hinge upon and relate to the coming of the Messiah, David Seely (2004), professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, states: “the most important thing to be remembered in the pages of the Book of Mormon is the coming and mission of the Messiah. For those who lived before his time, Lehi and Nephi provided visions of the future. Nephi identified prophecies about his death and resurrection from the brass plates (1 Nephi 22:20–21; cf. Deuteronomy 18:15–18) and added to them his own prophecies (1 Nephi 11; 2 Nephi 31)”.

Added to this event, or what begins it, is the Spirit of the Lord that asks him “what desirest thou?” (vv. 2, 10). And what does Nephi answer with? His first answer is to see what his father saw and second to know what the figures in his father’s dream mean, or to know their interpretation (vv. 3, 11). But if you notice, the Spirit of the Lord asks him if he not only desires, but believes what his father said he had seen and heard in his visions (vv. 4, 5). Nephi says, yes I do believe, and then I can perhaps picture him responding in awe at what he is seeing and questioningly adds “thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father” (v. 5). How do you interpret that phrase, thou knowest?

Is he simply acknowledging the omniscience of the Spirit that has “carried [him] away” to experience this sacred event? Or might this be more of a formal practice, common to receiving visions of this kind from a guiding Spirit, verifying that yes inquiring Nephi not only desires but believes? It must be for Nephi’s benefit (but exactly why…?) to ask such a question when Nephi, and surely the Spirit of the Lord, knows Nephi has believed him, for he’d followed commands to leave Jerusalem, the numerous attempts to obtain the plates, and to continue heeding Lehi’s prophetic commands and counsel into the wilderness away from modern civilization. In a way, they experienced these together, the Spirit calls and Nephi hears and heeds.

So, maybe Nephi lacks doubt enough to say abruptly, can you really doubt I believe my father? After all my family and I have been through? I’ve considered all of these and feel fairly confident that he says this for a whole other reason: simply because he’d heard the voice of the Lord on numerous occasions, and was quite accustomed to its firm whisperings, voice, and thoughts – and he knew the Spirit wouldn’t forget that they’d worked together in accomplishing the Lord’s previous commands.

Nephi’s proximity to the Spirit of the Lord and Holy Ghost was becoming more ‘natural’ to him, and the Spirit gave him a lot in this vision (which comprises chapters 11-14) as a result, I mean a lot. Any imagined intimations of incredulity on Nephi’s part, that I might’ve entertained, in response to such an initially needless question, immediately dissolve once I realize how matter-of-fact-ly he responds. It’s as if he says to an old familiar friend, “come on, quit the formalities, we know each other”. Kind of. Nephi’s loyalty reminds me of an analogous sheep who hears his Shepherd’s voice because he knows him, he’s heard “the name by which [he] is called” (Alma 5:38) and unlike his brothers Laman and Lemuel, hearkened and “according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart” (Alma 5:12). Theoretically, Nephi might’ve become hardhearted had he chosen not to pray and thus remain ignorant like his brothers.

Also, intriguingly, Nephi is learning firsthand here what he later writes about as the last words of his second book, a record surely influenced by his cumulative knowledge, his spiritual GPA (Gospel Practice Average – nice acronym?) that with unwavering boldness and utter certainty he could state that “the Holy Ghost will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32: 5). Elsewhere, the Lord stated of the Spirit: “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). So, it’s a tad ironic that the Spirit of the Lord is literally pointing to images in his dream and saying “Behold!” or “Look!” several times in this chapter and the succeeding portions in the following chapters, telling Nephi what all these things mean and how to act in his own life. That is certainly not always the case and I understand there are differences between the two terms used to describe the inspirational Spirit. More likely the promptings and voices contained in the previous chapters indicate the Spirit’s subtle communications as more common to every individual though only the faith of the individual precludes or permits the amount of knowledge revealed at any given time.

In summarily viewing the major events in the mortal Messiah’s life 600 years prior to their occurrence, the Four Gospels are validated and verified as true records transcribed by revelation and the same Spirit of the Lord. But just as importantly for those of us seeking to refine our sense of the Spirit’s promptings to us, Nephi was given this knowledge within the cultural context, or better yet, within the domestic or familial context surrounding him, with references to the “great and spacious building” and the “rod of iron” and “tree of life” which his father had seen. In what places and times have we heard and felt the Spirit’s promptings? For Nephi, now add a mountain top to the long list of places where Nephi received inspiration and revelation from the Spirit of the Lord (which includes in Jerusalem, the desert, on the streets looking for Laban, amidst contentious brothers, etc.) and we get a picture of the man who will go wherever the Lord wants him to go.

Lastly, Nephi is a shining example of a righteous man who had spiritual knowledge “grant[ed] unto [him] according to [his] desire” (Alma 29:4). We know everyone on earth receives according to their desires. That’s a useful answer when responding to the famous question: why does God let bad things happen to good people? In this world we live according to our desires, the Book of Mormon containing numerous instances of positive consequences (and many more tending toward the negative, after all the book begins with a city’s destruction and ends with two civilizations’ collapses) of believing in and acting on righteous, sincere desires and spiritual promptings that come our way. So, as Elder Holland spoke so movingly about last April, “Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe”.

Good Studies!

 

 

References

Holland, J. (2013): http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

Seely (2004): http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1081&index=13&keyword=1%20Nephi%2011.

The Desiring Apprentice – to See, Hear, and Know

Preface (that’s ominous!) – I try to keep these to 800 words, but the content is too rich not to discuss in detail!

Nephi records on the small plates that Lehi prophesies that a ‘Messiah’ and ‘Redeemer of the world’ would emerge by the hand of God from among the Jews…600 years to be precise. Sometimes I really enjoy word-play and verse 4 of chapter 10 provides a playground for doing so. It wasn’t translated as emerge, although by my interpreting the act of the “Lord God raising up a prophet from among the Jews” as ‘emerging’, it becomes less clear how it could be interpreted.

One possible meaning refers to the parenting process: that is that the Redeemer of the world, as the Christ child, is raised as a parent raises children, teaching them, protecting them, feeding them as they grow and gain intelligence, knowledge and experience. That view certainly corroborates with the idea that “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” and, when 12yrs old, he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” and not exemplified least because of the intentional occasions the Savior took to be “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors,  both hearing them and asking them questions”, being, as he directly and comfortingly put it to his worried mother, Mary, “about my father’s business” (Luke 2:40-52). He is, it seems evident, in Heavenly Father’s tutelage, or at least is heavily being actively influenced and directed by God. Moses’s prophecy that the LORD “will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren” (Deut. 18; 15, 18), is similar Old Testament phrasing in which the verb ‘raise’ is used twice to describe the future event. Without having thought about it, this single verse validates the Book of Mormon’s Old Testament-times historicity.

Not to be forgotten, within the Book of Mormon as a whole, raise is used at least 21 times in the Book of Mormon. Here are its categorical references: Messiah x2, a mountain x1, ‘seed’ or families x2, to judgment x2, Moses x3, righteous/mighty nation or branch of Israel x4, from the dead x6, and lastly to eternal life x1. Arise and rise, in various tenses and contexts, also occur frequently and are used in similar categories. Just in terms of the word ‘raise’, we find it refers to many distinct people (Moses, Messiah, families) and broader concepts (nations, from death, to eternal life, to judgment). It seems to be a verb that is synonymous with establish, to sustain, to cause to grow and to do so successfully.

However the next possible interpretation is supported by the phrase “and after they had slain the Messiah, who should come, and after he had been slain, he should rise from the dead” (v. 11). So, if we’re investigating any immediate verses that might indicate what Nephi means by ‘raising’ or ‘rising’, this is perhaps a next best guess.

The next three possible interpretations lie in the references to his baptism by immersion at the hands of John the Baptist (vv. 9,10) at the moment he’s being raised out of the water of the River Jordan and his being raised up on the Cross, or raised from the Dead, or resurrected. Is there any sure way to know if any of these are meant to be the ‘one’ true interpretation? In this chapter Nephi states Christ “should rise from the dead” (v. 11). That is a singular moment, with a short and rather immediate time-frame. He’s risen up on the cross, as Moses’s staff typified and foreshadowed. However, if we look at these references, it seems probable that Nephi means to say that Heavenly Father would establish, over the process of time, as in a person’s lifetime, a prophet, or the Messiah among the Jews.

Some of you reading this might’ve thought from the beginning that such a search is meaningless, or choose to say with certainty that that verse means only one thing (it means only ____). You might say it’s indisputable enough to not warrant this simple analysis. Perhaps, but I’d like to give the Spirit plenty of reasons to dictate truth to me if I’ve done the work to earn it. We talk of magnifying callings, why not magnify the scriptures, or our studying efforts? Whatever the interpretation, it’s evident that this is done by the will of the Father, the emphasis being that He organized this raising, the Son increasingly learning this eternal truth, and that this effort is the central means in his “work and his glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

I admire Nephi’s trust, his faith in following the desires he has to pray to Heavenly Father and know for himself “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (10:17) if these visions his father has are true. Nephi includes this while abridging the larger record, for future generations. And Mormon chose Nephi’s words after having seen our day. So, when was the last time we prayed to know the truth contained in The Book of Mormon, or from our leaders’ General Conference addresses? or to know that the Hastening the Work of Salvation broadcast and revelations are true and from Heavenly Father? I’m not perfect at doing so because I also have had a growing gift of faith to believe and already recognize them as true  because I feel the Spirit as they speak, the words Apostles and the Prophet speak from the conference center pulpit.

But, I’m thinking out loud, perhaps that this logic is tinged with a slight sense of some intermittent complacency and smacks of becoming “past feeling” in its own right (in other words, giving to the tendency to rely more heavily on past experiences instead of appropriately seeking further light and knowledge when current questions arise – Laman and Lemuel syndrome)? That view doesn’t devalue the righteous act of remembering (which the Book of Mormon advocates) past revelations of eternal truths to one’s spirit, or espouse disregarding past revelatory moments as inconsequential or irrelevant enough to be of no use in determing how to approach Heavenly Father in sincere prayer or act when tempted, as if to rely too much on having at all moments to be told what to do and think. Because I know from experience and scripture that Heavenly Father honors agency. No, I think that view (of feeling the Spirit during talks and addresses) ultimately advocates diligent supplication with diligent obedience, diligent prayer with diligent service, scripture study, repentance, etc. Why? Because recognizing the truth (ability to heed the Holy Ghost) in those moments is a product those diligent actions create. And I can do much better at that because I know the moments I haven’t felt the Spirit are quite numerous too.

Prophets and Apostles, like Lehi, help us as a Church collectively, when inspired by the Spirit, and as separate individuals, in our very personal efforts to follow the Master, to emulate Him and keep His commandments. Since the Lord is The Master, then aren’t we by logical extension, the apprentices? This form of one-on-one training  isn’t perhaps so prevalent in modern times – trainings can be done online or in school and college classes, even vocational education is often conducted in classes with multiple students involved. Learning has become democratic, with its benefits. And yet we’ve all personally covenanted with Him, and have and hold the scriptures in our hands and own our personal copy of the Standard Works, and we learn collectively in Sunday School, it is ultimately our own responsibility to absorb the book’s messages and pay attention to the Spirit’s witness of its verity.

Furthermore, as Nephi’s words demonstrate, the Holy Ghost (whom the Lord called the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, John 15:26/16:13-14) will ultimately guide each of us to “see, hear, and know of these things” for ourselves if “we but diligently seek him” (v. 17), as Nephi’s example demonstrates here. It seems clear that if we are to benefit from Heavenly Father’s work and plan for our happiness here and in eternity, that we better continually desire sincerely to know the Lord in scripture and seek His Spirit more often and regularly than we now do.

As members of the Lord’s Church and kingdom, we’ve been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, “given to all those who diligently seek him” (1 Ne. 10:17) to be refined and cultivated as we pay attention to its influence. I write this, hoping that we all cultivate this gift with more diligence this week and become more disciplined to acting on the Spirit’s gentle nudges, in our emulation of the Master – a state of devotion always in need of tending to and purposefully seeking to grow – that each of us might “see, hear, and know” for ourselves that He lives and guides His Church today.

Good Studies!

Nephi…as Narrator

Who doesn’t like an ‘Aha!’ or ‘Eureka’ moment, when the veil of ignorance is pulled back and true reality sets in. It’s really a liberating feeling. What do I mean? I’ll introduce the topic by posing a question with a multiple choice answer list of choices: When did Nephi write 1 and 2 Nephi?

Was it:

A. All during his journey, travelogue/diary style, aka as it happens

B. On the borders of the Red Sea where his family camped for eight years

C. On the long sea voyage to the Promised Land (what else do you do if you’re not on a Carnival or Disney cruise and navigating ocean tempests?)

D. Once they’d landed and established themselves in the New World

E. In solemn retrospect and divine command, after having lived and reigned as a King to his people in the Promised Land (New world in America)

The answer is: most likely E! Which means roughly thrity to forty years after having left Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5: 28-34).

I’d been reading and studying the Book of Mormon under a certain implicit assumption, some of my interpretations had begged the question. In other words I had asked you and me to assume together that Nephi had written his books (the large and small plates) during his journeyings, as a diligent recorder would. What was I thinking? He barely had time to do anything but hunt and literally protect his family from not only his brothers but from the elements of nature surrounding them from the moment they departed Jerusalem and sailed across vast oceans.

So 1 Nephi 6 and 9 are his insertion from a later date, a narrative device to indicate his intentions in skimming over the genealogical and historical records that were in his father’s record. Chapter 9, and a couple like it, 19:1-5 and 2 Nephi 5:30, further differentiate the ‘other’, large plates from the smaller, ‘these’ plates. The large historical plates seem to contain an ongoing account of some kind perhaps, or otherwise official record. But as to the date?

So, Nephi’s two books are argued to have been “written after the death of Lehi, after the separation of Nephi from his brothers Laman and Lemuel, after the small Nephite party knew of the life-threatening animosity of the Lamanites against them, after Nephi knew that he would eventually accept the role of king, and after the temple of Nephi had been constructed” (Welch) because he states “these plates are for the more part of the ministry; and the other plates are for the  more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people” (1 Nephi 9:4). Welch means to wonder ‘how likely is it at this point in time in the Arabian wilderness that Nephi expected there to be kings and wars and a people named after him?’ The Lord did tell him he’d rule over his brethren (2:22) for sure, but it seems hard to imagine he talks of kings and rulers and his people while they’re still a band of two families and Zoram roaming around the desert. The contention between his brothers is bitter and brutal, without a doubt, but not war-like enough to suggest these larger cultural terms and phrases (wars, people, kings) from the pen of Nephi, when those categories didn’t even exist until thirty to forty years into their journey (5:28, 34). He’s first called a king in 2 Nephi 6:2.

Welch continues: “These overt disclosures invite us to ask how the timing of Nephi’s writing influenced the final form of the first parts of the Book of Mormon. How happy biblical scholars would be to know the time and place when the book of Exodus or the Gospel of Matthew took their final forms, for then they could probe the nature of those texts more certainly. In the case of Nephi’s writings, because we know when, where, and why he wrote what he did, we can confidently turn our attention to pursue intriguing interpretive questions and to extract meaning from the lessons he left behind”. Those interpretations are certainly in the domain of our personal reading and diligent study we each must bring to the practice of likening them unto ourselves.

As an experiment, a little over five years ago, I thought I’d liken the simpler pattern of small sacred scriptures and keep a larger separate history of my life in another journal. Wanting to imitate it literally, I got a smallish journal and even wrote “The Small Plates” on the title page. I’ve got 118 pages of spiritual experiences, amounting to my tender mercies the Lord sent my way. It may not be what the Lord had in mind for Nephi, but something great has happened in my life. It starts while I was single of about a year following my mission and up to 24 Oct. of this year. And I’m telling you now, I have had 10 x more spiritual experiences than what I’ve recorded. I’ve recorded what have mostly been the more powerful promptings and impressions with some subtle ones thrown in that I took the time to record.

As I review those entries, I can humorously see not only my ignorance of but, more seriously, also my growing understanding about the Spirit’s manner of influence in my life, how the Spirit speaks to me. Nephi’s records are laced with this principle but his last two chapters especially are also focused on the Holy Ghost and how to judge the truth that is in his words. Moroni does the same thing in chapter 10:3-5 of his book. Mormon finishes his record (Mormon 7) by trying to persuade readers to realize the Book of Mormon was written to buoy up the Bible because it too would be attacked in the latter days for its historicity and validity as a genuine document testifying of the literal Christ.

Most of us may not be commanded to record sacred events for other generations in the future to read, but is it any wonder that the modern prophets and apostles have stressed record-keeping, from Joseph Smith to Thomas S. Monson? Their potential to transmit faith is immense. What findings and implications have each of us discovered once realizing the overall arc of the Book of Mormon’s narrative form (according to three major narrators – Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni, who review their life’s events in relation to the Lord’s interventions?).

References

Welch, J.W. (1999). Why Nephi Wrote the Small Plates: Serving Practical Needs. FARMS Update in Insights (April), 2.