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.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely thought. Nephi's not my favorite, largely because he seems so arrogant to me, but you're right about his humility in revealing it to us.