Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Conversion of Nephi

Of all the books of scripture in the LDS canon, the Book of Mormon has the largest number of "conversion" stories. I kind of think of it like an extended version of the book of Acts from the New Testament. The breadth and scope of how various people come to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ within the Book of Mormon is breathtaking, with many "unusual" paths to discipleship represented. One of my current favorites is the conversion of Nephi.

Nephi, like his brothers, had anger issues and felt a certain amount of entitlement. At least that's how I read his character based on what's written (I admire Nephi's humility -- he's willing to talk about his weaknesses in a book that he believes will be read by lots of people in the future). For instance, in the central passage of what some people refer to as his "psalm" he says:

2 Nephi 4:27-29

27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.


Nephi's journey down the path to conversion began with this same internal struggle, shortly after Lehi was inspired to leave Jerusalem:

1 Nephi 2:16

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


I've always wondered why Nephi includes the bit at the beginning of this verse about being young yet large in stature. My pondering leads me to think that Nephi basically is saying that he didn't have to follow his father into the wilderness. He could have stayed at Jerusalem if he so chose and would have fared well enough. Or, at least, that was his thinking at the time. I feel that makes sense in context with "wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers".

I don't think Nephi's character was much different from his brothers. The thing that changed Nephi is how he dealt with his desire to rebel against his father. Nephi prayed for grace, and he received it -- "I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart [emphasis mine] that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father". I personally find quite a bit of hope in this passage, because a.) Nephi recognized he had a problem (he didn't believe his father's words), b.) he prayed for help with his problem, and c.) the Lord, through grace, changed Nephi's heart.

When I am inclined to think that I can perfect myself, Nephi's example serves as a useful corrective. Nephi could not change his own heart (echoes of Matthew 5:36 -- "Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black."), the Lord had to do that for him. This is the embodiment of humility within the context of the Atonement for me. As I am a beggar before God, His grace is one of the main things for which I beg.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hello, Internet. And, How I Think the Book of Mormon is True

Greetings, internet, my name is Andrew. How are you today?

I'm a pretty normal-ish person who happens to love studying the LDS (i.e. those books held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be scripture) scriptures. I don't pretend to have any "special" insight into anything, but I do like to write and think about scripture stuff, so here we are. My goal is to simply share what I think about what I'm reading, or what I'm thinking about, when it comes to the Scriptures and the Church today. No politics, no Mormon "culture" (I love the Gospel, but the culture is... Interesting) or any other things. Just scripture talk, from the perspective of a person who believes that the LDS canon is the word of God (or as close as we can get at this time). So, if that bores you or you don't care, then cool. Thanks for reading this far! Stay if you like, but I understand if you click off somewhere else because this isn't your thing.

And now, time for some first post goodness.

What do I mean when I say "I believe the Book of Mormon is true"

I believe that the Book of Mormon is true in that all the people who claimed to have written it actually did. So, when Mormon says he wrote something, I think he actually did. Same goes for all the other authors. Hurray for faith!

Some of the authors of the Book of Mormon, however, seemed concerned about their "imperfection". For instance:

Mormon 9:31

Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, neither them who have written before him;...

What does this mean? Reading further in that verse, we have:

...but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

The author here (Moroni, the son of Mormon after whom the book is named and its principle compiler) is probably not referring to grammar, spelling, or punctuation. For instance, Moroni writes a bit further along:

Mormon 9:34

But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof.

This brings up all sorts of fun questions about how translation, and specifically Joseph Smith's version of it, works. Anyways, Moroni references that his grammar might not be the greatest (much like mine!) a verse before:

Mormon 9:33

...and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.

Thus Moroni already knows he's working against the odds by writing in an obscure language.

Therefore I believe that when Moroni says "ye may learn to be more wise than we have been", he's not talking about Hebrew language patterns written in "...reformed Egyptian..." (see Mormon 9:32). After all, there is no way I could possibly learn anything about the syntax and structure of Moroni's actual language by reading the Book of Mormon. It's worth noting that Moroni was also aware that the book would be translated by the power of God anyways, so perhaps he was less concerned about some of these language issues.

I believe that when Moroni is referring to "imperfection" and learning to be wise, he's talking about how the people of his time (and before) thought about the Gospel and the world. To quote from the Book of Mormon's title page (which was translated by Joseph Smith and written by this same Moroni):

...and now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgement-seat of Christ.

What might these mistakes be? I want to strongly preface this -- I do not intend to try and poke "holes" in the Book of Mormon. For me, these things make the book more human, and to me testify that all the people who say they wrote in the Book of Mormon actually did. I will only share one example here that, to me, is meaningful in that regard.

I think this is a great example of where the thinking of certain authors is not consonant with how God views His children. Namely:

2 Nephi 5:21

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

Now, lest I be burned at the stake for saying that a particular verse from the Book of Mormon isn't "true" in the doctrinal sense, I quote from the semi-recent Church essay on the subject of race and the priesthood:

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

I may go a bit beyond the scope of this statement, but I personally believe that Nephi was simply parroting some sort of racism prevalent during his time when he wrote 2 Nephi 5:21 and other surrounding verses that refer to black skin color being an indication of wickedness. And, subsequently, I believe that we can be more wise than he was without denigrating all the other wonderful and awesome things he wrote about the Gospel.

We are all imperfect, and even when someone with authority says "thus sayeth the Lord" they can still be wrong. As I see it, this is in keeping with a.) people being human and having various irrational ideas about things, along with an imperfect ability to know when they're truly writing or speaking in the name of the Lord, and b.) Jacob 5, which I believe describes the Church and the world today:

Jacob 5:63-66

63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.

64 Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more, for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it be so that these last grafts shall grow, and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow.

65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.

66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

The most important thing to the Lord is preserving the trees of the vineyard (see also Moses 1:39 in the Pearl of Great Price). That means us, and by "us" I mean the whole world. By accepting the humanity of the Book of Mormon's authors, I also accept my own humanity and the need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It also requires humility on my part; both because I can't hide behind other people's faults (such as hiding my own racism behind Nephi's) and because I have to admit that I'm human just like everyone else.