Alma 11

Featuring the continuation of Amulek’s part of the sermon, his tangling with Zeezrom, and his teachings on the resurrection and final judgment.

A considerable part of the first half of the chapter is given over to a discussion of the payment of judges of lawyers, and the respective measures of gold and silver. Some observations:

  1. I notice that the chapter header now reads “the Nephite monetary system is set forth”. It used to state “Nephite coinage set forth”. I’m guessing this was changed in the 2013 edition, although the Doubleday edition also changed this. This is a good thing. As mentioned before, the chapter headings are just aids are are not scripture, and in this particular case critics had used this to attack the Book of Mormon as claiming the use of coins in the Americas in this time period, which is unlikely. The actual text, however, doesn’t mention coins. The proper comparison for the senines and senums and so on that we find here is with shekels and talents, which while used as measures of wealth and trade were weights.
  2. The Nephite system seems pretty unusual. 2 senines = 1 seon, 2 seons = 1 shum, and a limnah “was the value of them all”, which it seems some readers interpret as meaning 1 limnah = 1 senine + 1 seon + 1 shum, or 7 senines (and the same true for the silver senum, amnor, ezrom and onti). The values below a senum seem more logical: 1/2, then 1/4 then 1/8 (does the fact they’re specified relative to a senum of silver, and not a senine, mean they were silver too?). Then there’s the antion “of gold” (again, this specificity in contrast suggests the shiblon, shiblum and leah were silver) is the odd man out being equal to 3 shiblons, or in other words 1 1/2 senines or senums. Not important, but fun to think about.
  3. This passage can seem like an unnecessary digression, but I think we should always resist dismissing passages on that basis. There’s a reason it was included, possibly more than one, and we should be alert to looking for them. For instance, it makes clear that, an antion being the “top” of the monetay scale, that Zeezrom’s attempted bribe of Amulek wasn’t a trifling amount. Being sandwiched between specifying how the judges were paid for their time, and that the motives of the judges and lawyers in stirring the people up against Alma and Amulek were financial, the concentration on such matters serves to almost emphasise their concern with money, which forms an important contrast with Amulek’s rejection of Zeezrom’s bribe, making clear that it was not part of his – nor should it be any of the righteous’ – motivations: “knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?” (v. 23).
  4. One possible feature that may be worth noting is the connection between some of the names here, and names we’ve just come across or about to come across. Thus we find an ezrom and an antion mention on the list of measures. And we were just introduced at the end of last chapter (and he has a starring role in this) to one Zeezrom, and in Alma 12 we will be introduced to one of the chief rulers of Ammonihah, one Antionah. This may not be coincidence: there may be a deliberate playing with names to make their connection with money clear.</li

Verses 28-29 and 38-40 are of interest:

Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?

And he answered, No.

(Alma 11:28-29)

Now Zeezrom saith again unto him: Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?

And Amulek said unto him: Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them are; he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last;

And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else.

(Alma 11:38-40)

These passages might be confusing to some; I’ll refer once again to the discussion on Mosiah 15. The reference to Christ here as the Eternal Father seems to be both in the creative sense mentioned in the 1916 doctrinal exposition by the First Presidency (“the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth”) and in the sense I discussed relative to Mosiah 15 of referring to his divinity (notice the mentions of his eternal nature in verse 39, and of course his entering the world to redeem us in verse 40).

It’s the reference to “one God”, and the denial that there is more than one God, that may particularly cause some confusion. But this isn’t the only place in the Book of Mormon that makes statements like this. Thus 2 Nephi 31:21 speaks of “the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” and likewise Mormon 7:7 speaks of the saved singing praises “unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God”.

As said before, the Book of Mormon isn’t too concerned with giving a complete description of the relationship of the members of the Godhead, rather prioritising teaching both the divinity of Christ and his unity with the Father. And it’s that latter concept that I think is vital to understanding how the members of the Godhead can be correctly thought of as one God. The relationship of the Father and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost for that matter, is not that of a polytheist pantheon where they are independent – or even competing – powers. Rather they are in complete harmony, and work in complete unity. It is true that they are distinct beings, and distinct persons, but they are one God, for there is only one truly divine force at work. There are no divine forces independent of this (and certainly not any idolatrous deities, which is what Amulek may have been particularly aiming his denial at).

Alma 11 is often quoted, of course, for its emphatic teaching of the physical resurrection:

The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.

Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.

(Alma 11:43-44)

The physical resurrection is a basic doctrine of Christianity as a whole, but one that I suspect many have moved away from, conceiving of the afterlife in less physical terms (although figures like N. T. Wright have sought to reemphasise it). The Book of Mormon’s emphatic teachings on the subject are thus timely. Once again we find the teaching of the resurrection closely tied to the teaching of the final judgment, as it is on multiple occasions (indeed, Hebrews 6 in its summary of the “foundation” of the gospel likewise ties the two together, speaking “of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment”, Hebrews 6:2). I also find it interesting that the resurrection is tied once again to the phenomenon of memory: in 2 Nephi 9:14 Jacob speaks of the wicked at the resurection having a “perfect knowledge of all our guilt” and the righteous “a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment”. Here Amulek teaches likewise that it is upon the resurrection and the judgment that we shall have “a bright recollection of all our guilt”. I believe these statements are worth bearing in mind when we consider what we might remember and know (including of pre-mortal memories) post-death as spirits, compared to what we will post-resurrection.

Mosiah 15

I suspect Mosiah 15 – particularly the first few verses – may cause some confusion. In fact I’m reminded of a Sunday School class (over a decade ago now) where a teacher asked the class what the Book of Mormon taught us. Someone claimed something along the lines of it restoring a complete and true knowledge of the Godhead and someone there happened to point out that it actually doesn’t.

In fact quite a few scholars – somehow expecting it to have a “complete” doctrine along those lines – have gotten quite confused at the Book of Mormon’s approach to this, with Mosiah 15 being one of the passages that sparks confusion. This has led to suggestions that the Book of Mormon teaches Modalism (the belief that God is one person who manifests himself in three modes), or Trinitarianism, or Arianism, or whatever. This contradictory list indicates the problem is with their assumption that the Book of Mormon is even trying to teach a “complete” doctrine of the Godhead. Rather it’s keen to emphasise certain key points: that Christ is one with and in perfect harmony with Heavenly Father (indeed so much so that – along with the Holy Ghost – they are sometimes described as one God, as in 2 Nephi 31:21); and that Christ is divine and may justly be termed God (indeed teaching such is given as one of the book’s key aims). It’s also clear (from episodes in which they converse, as in 2 Nephi 31, or indeed their ability to bear witness of each other) that Jesus is also a distinct person from Heavenly Father. But beyond this, the Book of Mormon isn’t trying to convey a complete theology any more than the New Testament is.

I think it’s important to remember this, when people are trying to tie everything up into one grand unified theory but some of the details don’t quite match up. In some cases, different scriptural passages are addressing different topics, and so the same terms might not always mean the same thing. Some of the same confusion  – as I’ve mentioned before – exists around the “name” Jehovah (which is in any case a Anglicization of the Hebrew word at stake – YHWH – with the vowels from a completely different word). In the modern Church, we use “Jehovah” to refer to Christ, including in his pre-incarnate state, and “Elohim” specifically to refer to the Father. This is fine as a modern practice to help clarity. But this isn’t the case in the scriptures: there are clear examples where YHWH refers to Heavenly Father (such as in Christ’s own reading of Psalm 110:1 in Matthew 22:44 and Luke 20:42, in which YHWH addresses the Messiah), or where such a distinction just plainly doesn’t make sense (as in Deuteronomy 6:4, where if you insisted both were proper names, you’d end up with the reading that “Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah”), and indeed places in Restoration scripture where the title “Lord” – often substituted in for YHWH – is specifically referring to Heavenly Father and not to Christ (Abraham 3:27).  Trying to pretend this isn’t the case (as I’ve seen some do, to supposedly “reduce confusion”) seems mistaken; that approach would seem to warn people away from actually reading the scriptures lest it confuse them! But this need not worry us if we remember that these are not simply names but titles and descriptions, and we don’t need to try and slot it all in to the picture (and the way we describe it) that we have now.

In fact some details about the Godhead were conveyed quite a bit later than some people might imagine. D&C 130:22, for instance, comes from instructions in 1843, 13 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. Some details are clarified in the First Presidency’s doctrinal exposition on “The Father and the Son” in 1916. Which suggests some of these details, though true, may not be quite as important as we think them to be, especially compared to those things the Lord chose to reveal earlier.

With that caveat in mind, onto the first eight verses of Mosiah 15:

And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

(v. 1)

This one shouldn’t be such a struggle for people – since it’s clearly visible elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, but Abinadi here by God means the pre-mortal Christ, who is fully divine, and (as the title page states) “the ETERNAL GOD”. But sometimes I’ve seen people use God as a proper name, as in the question I read today asking “are Jesus and God the same person?” To which the correct answer is “who do you mean by God?” If Heavenly Father is meant, then the answer is no. But here the answer is yes!

And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son

(v. 2)

And here’s where we introduce some confusion. Christ here is called both the Son (and specifically “the Son of God”) and the Father. How is this so?

The aforementioned doctrinal exposition of 1916 goes into some detail in explaining three ways in which Christ may be called Father: as the creator (namely the Word by which Heavenly Father created the worlds, as in Moses 1:32-33); as the Father of those who abide in the covenant (see, for instance, Mosiah 5:7); and divine investiture of authority, by which Christ can speak as Heavenly Father (and indeed angels sometimes speak as them). However – as we shall see! – none of those reasons applies to this passage. We have discovered another sense in which Christ is “the Father”!

It’s also worth noting that there’s more than one sense in which Christ is “the Son of God too. This should be evident when we consider that at least one of those senses is one we share with him.

The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son

And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.

(vv. 3-4)

This is the reason Christ is given the title “Father” here: “because he was conceived by the power of God”. And the reason he is called “the Son” here is “because of the flesh” (matching verse 2: “because he dwelleth in the flesh”). What is meant by this distinction – between his conception by divine power on one hand, and his dwelling the flesh on the other.

My suggestion is that we can better understand this passage if we understand the former to refer to Christ’s divine nature, and the latter to refer to his human nature, the flesh he shares with us. Christ in mortality possessed both natures: divinity on one hand, humanity on the other.

While we may not be used to thinking in these terms, this is an important topic, because this hasn’t always been realised. The subject of Christ’s natures used to cause riots in late antiquity (the Byzantines used to find fun stuff to riot about, and while that sort of passion may seem remote to us, the doctrinal consequences shouldn’t. After all, if Christ only had one nature (as some argued), which was it? If divine, than can he have truly been tempted, or suffered, or actually died? Or did he merely appear to do so (hence the early heresy of the docetists). But if human, than he would only be a mere man, and then how could he have done the mighty works people claimed he did, or risen from the dead, or save us? Keep these points in mind for the next few verses.

As mentioned, there are points in the Book of Mormon where the entire Godhead – Heavenly Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost – are together termed one God. But verse 4 isn’t one of them: it’s referring here specifically to Christ, who with both his human and divine nature is one God, the very Eternal Father of heaven and Earth (a reference, as discussed in the aforementioned 1st Presidency statement, to his role as creator).

And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.

6 And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be led, yea, even as Isaiah said, as a sheep before the shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.

7 Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.

8 And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men

(vv. 5-8, italics and bold text my emphasis)

Thus we now turn to the verses following, and I believe now with this concept in mind – Christ’s divine and human natures – and bearing in mind the concerns people had in mind about these, we can now see more clearly what Abinadi is getting at. I have marked the quotation above accordingly, italics for those that relate to his human nature, bold for those that relate to his divine. Thus because of his human nature, Christ could experience temptation, but because of his divine nature, he never succumbed. Because of his human nature he could suffer all that we do, and did. Because of his divine nature, he could work mighty miracles. Because of his human nature, he could be slain, the will of his flesh* becoming subject to that of his divine nature even unto death. And because of his divine nature, he breaks the bands of death, not just for himself but for all; yet because of his human nature he understands our experience and can intercede for us (thus Alma points out that Christ suffered “according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities”, Alma 7:12).

If we try and read this passage as relating to the Godhead (meaning the relationship between Heavenly Father and Christ), then I think it little wonder we might find ourselves getting confused. Rather, this passage appears to address the two natures of Christ, the two qualities he needed – and had – in order to perform his atoning work and redeem us, that very work being the subject of the rest of this chapter and the next.

* It was actually only when I was writing this very line that I made the connection to Lehi and Jacob’s teachings in 2 Nephi 2:29 and 2 Nephi 10:24, where they teach that we likewise have to contend against “the will of the flesh”. Even for us, it is evidently scriptural to speak of that side of us having a somewhat separate will that we have to bring into line.

 

The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center

Since the topic has come up in correspondence, and some things I’m writing (both for a book and for this blog), I happened to come across this article in my reading, and thought it was good enough that I wanted to share it: “The Omniscience of God” by Roger Terry.

I wanted to share it, however, not just for what it addresses about God’s omniscience and relationship to time (though those are very worth reading), but also for some profound points it makes at the end, some profound points that I think often get overlooked in such debates:

Thus far we have talked about God’s omniscience primarily in the sense that He sees everything and has all information present before Him. But all the knowledge in the universe would not make our Heavenly Father a perfect or even helpful God without His other attributes, such as love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, and kindness. One attribute in particular that enables Him to use His infinite knowledge to bless His children is His wisdom. Wisdom is actually an important aspect, or product, of God’s knowledge. Wisdom, we might say, is knowing how to apply knowledge correctly. Thus, because He has perfect wisdom, God always knows which choice will create the greatest eternal good for His children. His wisdom prevents Him from ever misapplying His knowledge, as we imperfect mortals often do.

President Marion G. Romney, First Counselor in the First Presidency, wrote:

‘Since knowledge is an “acquaintance with, or clear perception of, facts”; and “wisdom is the capacity of judging soundly and dealing broadly with facts; especially in their practical” application “to life and conduct,” it follows that wisdom, although more than, is nevertheless a product of, and is dependent upon knowledge.
The Book of Mormon specifically relates God’s wisdom to his knowledge. Speaking of God’s plan for the salvation of men, Lehi says, “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). Thus, . . . God’s perfect wisdom is a product of His knowledge of all things.’

Certainly, His wisdom is a product of His knowledge, but it is also a product of His goodness, for knowledge alone does not automatically produce wisdom. Lucifer had great knowledge, but that knowledge did not lead to wisdom. Indeed, Lucifer’s unwise choices prevented him from attaining greater knowledge. It is God’s perfect knowledge combined with His perfect goodness that makes His perfect wisdom a reality. And because God has perfect wisdom to apply His perfect knowledge, He is able to perform His work and enjoy the associated glory in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

In debates about omniscience and omnipotence, it should be remembered that while these are necessary qualities for God to do all that he promised and for us to have confidence in him, they are not all that defines or characterises God. We likewise should not forget his love, justice, mercy, goodness, patience, kindness and his wisdom.

Read the whole article at The Omniscience of God | Religious Studies Center

Mosiah 2

Several passages stood out to me today.

Firstly, in verse 9:

And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.

I was struck by the force of this earnest appeal. The Gospel and the Scriptures are not something that we can simply sit back and engage with cognitively, and hope to understand. Nor is it something we can simply live without giving too much thought to it. To understand and to follow the gospel requires us to use all our faculties: spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. We can perhaps paddle in the scriptures, seeking only that which we already know or live, without rising to the challenge and deploying everything we are and possess to comprehending them and making them a part of ourselves. King Benjamin’s appeal neatly addresses that.

Secondly, in verse 21:

I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

This is a very clear statement that we can’t earn anything from God; we cannot put ourselves in credit with him. Which is a basic but most powerful truth that we may sometimes lose sight of. But what stood to me today was twofold. On one hand, the statements that he is “preserving you from day to day” and “supporting you from one moment to another” gain in significance when we think of these things in the light of what Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants has to teach us about how the power and influence of God is continually extending life and light and law to all things. Were that influence to stop or be paused for any reason, our very elements would devolve into chaos.

On the other hand, I have a renewed personal appreciation of this verse. As alluded to on some other posts, I’ve been experiencing some health challenges lately, which came as a surprise after not needing see a doctor in 14 years. Earlier this year I had a case of flu which became quite serious, and for the first time in my life, really found it difficult to breathe, something I had hitherto taken for granted. But I remembered this verse, about the Lord “lending you breath”, and felt a renewed appreciation for the times in my life I could breathe. Of course, who knows what else I take for granted, but which others struggle with, and which is ultimately a gift or loan from God. For as this chapter also states in verse 25:

Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him that created you.

Everything we have is his.

2020 edit:

Once again, I find my eyes alighting on a verse that it turns out – when I go to edit this post – I’ve already written about. Verse 25 is what really struck my attention today. To quote it for a second time:

And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

Notions of ownership, of mine, are deeply ingrained in our society and I believe in the (natural?) human psyche. I myself find that I get very territorial. And yet this verse goes so far the other way: it’s not just that the things we own, our property or clothes or possessions or whatever come from God. We cannot lay claim to owning even the very particles our body is composed of. We didn’t create them, we didn’t organise them, we did nothing by which their rightful title (which surely belongs to the one who did) passes to us. On anything lower than the most obvious scale we don’t even control them: we don’t control the very cells of our body, which work without our conscious will, let alone the chemicals, and then the elements, and then the atomic and sub-atomic particles those are composed of in turn. We cannot dictate that they work, and we cannot dictate when they stop working. All we have, including our very bodies, organs and matter, are on loan.

Which also makes me think of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27). Along with our earthly wealth and position, and along with our gifts and “talents”, our bodies and our lives too must surely count amongst that sum that is given to each of the servants. Which is interesting when we consider the one who buried his singular talent for fear of losing it, and so who ultimately lost all because he did nothing with it. We are, I am sure, intended to be wise stewards of our lives and bodies. But we are not here to simply seek to preserve or perpetuate our mortal existence at any price for as long as possible, to hoard it so as to preserve it from all possible harm. Rather, like those who were trustworthy, and used their talents, we are meant to spend our life for the most good possible, to take this gift that God has loaned us and to invest it in things of eternal value. As the Saviour taught (Matthew 16:25):

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Words of Mormon

This was the next chapter on this list, but I actually went into this chapter with one particular segment in mind, since in a recent discussion via email I was asked to outline my thoughts on God’s relationship with time, and its implications for things like his omniscience, and a part of this chapter features. I’ll briefly touch on that in a bit.

Perhaps the first thing I found interesting on this occasion however is how strongly Mormon’s voice comes over at the very beginning:

And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.

And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them.

(Words of Mormon 1-2)

If you think that sounds a bit depressing, welcome to Mormon. His is an interesting voice, because it contrasts so strongly with that of Nephi, who has been the voice most often heard in the chapters up till now. Yet it’s still different from Jacob, who also formed a contrast with Nephi. Nephi, while he does face his times of grief and disappointment (such as his reaction to a vision of the destruction of his descendants in 1 Nephi 15, or his own personal struggles in 2 Nephi 4), is fundamentally an optimistic, almost bombastic character. I’ve even joked with people, and to be honest I’m not really joking, that I don’t think I’d have liked him. That’s not a fault of Nephi, by the way, but perhaps simply a case of how different personalities respond to each other. Jacob, as I’ve written about before, seems to have faced struggles with feelings of personal inadequacy, and when he speaks, he speaks in a very different way from Nephi. Contrast their approach to the Final Judgment: Nephi speaks that he has faith ‘that I shall meet many souls spotless at [Christ’s] judgment-seat’ (2 Nephi 33:7), while Jacob – while righteous – mentally includes himself with the wicked by observing ‘we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness’ (2 Nephi 9:14, my emphasis).

Mormon takes a blunt, realistic approach:

And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;

Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen.

(Helaman 12:25-26)

Mormon is a lonely figure, fighting to preserve his people but knowing that they are doomed to lose and deserve to lose. For him, the story of the Book of Mormon is fundamentally a tragedy, hence here – the first time we really hear his voice – he opens up by stating that he has seen almost the entire annihilation of his people, and anticipates its completion soon. There is little room for optimism in his experience, much of which he actually hides from us (Mormon 2:18-19). He is not devoid of hope, although he is without hope for his people (Mormon 5:2). Rather much of his hope is very remote: that this book he is working on will do good, that some day it may help draw people to Christ, that day being fourteen centuries after he has written the work, with no one to even read it in the meantime. In some respect he had the opposite experience of Nephi. Nephi faced intense trials, but he and his people got to live ‘after the manner of happiness’ in his lifetime (2 Nephi 5:27), while part of what he felt grief over was a visionary experience about what would happen centuries later. Mormon had ‘been filled with sorrow … all my days’ (Mormon 2:19), while his hope was invested in the revelation of centuries later events.

So its particularly interesting that not only does Mormon’s voice come in at this stage, but its his voice that dominates the rest of the book and indeed the structure of the book as a whole. While he personally cannot be heard in the small plates, he chose to include them, and he now narrates the rest of the book until Mormon 7, something that often seems to be forgotten when people attribute an narrator’s statement to Alma or whoever, when it is Mormon speaking, and we really only hear the others in quotations Mormon has selected. Even Mormon 8 onwards, in which Moroni is the narrator, follows plans Mormon laid out (it is Mormon who states that the account of the Jaredites will be told, in Mosiah 28:19, even though it is Moroni who ultimately tells it). The Book of Mormon is a pessimist’s book. This is not to condemn optimism (I think President Hinckley, for instance, was a great advocate and example of the power of optimism, though he never let that become wishful thinking nor hinder him from speaking unpleasant truths), but it is interesting to think about.

Onto the other matter of time, God’s relationship to it, and omniscience. I’m not going to go into this in depth at this stage, since I plan to address it, and the crucial concept of ‘retrocausality’, in the future. I have already written about the concept of time and explicit examples of retrocausality within the Book of Mormon in The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, and quote this when talking about Enos here, for anyone looking for further discussion of this right now. Suffice to say, there is a strain of philosophical thought, one which some LDS scholars have shared, that believe that complete divine foreknowledge and human agency are incompatible. We cannot truly have the ability to choose, this thought runs, if God already knows what we’re going to pick.

If the possibility of retrocausal events (that is, where the effects precede the cause, such as Enos being forgiven through the Atonement before it happened, or Lehi explicitly quoting John the Baptist centuries before he is born) is admitted, then such philosophical difficulties disappear. Causality, however, is a very strong assumption, and amongst those assuming causality applies universally, some (I’m thinking Blake Ostler, but others have too) have proposed that God is omniscient in the sense of knowing all things that exist. They then argue that future events that are dependent upon chance or choice, that is “contingent”, do not exist yet, and so God does not know them.

While I’m sure many of the people making this argument are well-intentioned, I reject this conclusion. For one thing, what future events are not “contingent”, when we move beyond the bounds of astronomy and geology? This version of omniscience knows very little of the future, especially when we factor in how many choices are in turn dependent on the outcome of the choices before that, and before that. In its crassest form, this idea was put to me by an advocate as “God does not know what people are having for breakfast tomorrow”, and while some advocates may shy away from that description, I do think its an inevitable consequence. Now factor in that someone’s decision on what to have for breakfast may be influenced by what they decided to have the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and may in turn be influenced by parents who were influenced by a lifetime’s worth of breakfast decisions, and so on for countless generations. And this is a comparatively small decision (though perhaps with significant consequences, should someone fifteen generations back choke on a kipper)! What of the big ones? How could any long term view be remotely accurate?

This sits at odds with what we learn in this chapter. Firstly, Mormon outright states that ‘the Lord knoweth all things which are to come’ (v. 7). But beyond this explicit statement that God’s knowledge does include the future, there is the demonstration of it in this chapter, for Mormon makes this comment in reference to the inspiration he is receiving to include the small plates in with his record (as Nephi was similar inspired to begin writing it). Here it is particularly interesting, because it appears Mormon was actually inspired to break his record at this point to make this note, since he hadn’t written the rest of the record yet: note that verse 5 talks about how he ‘shall take’ the remainder of his record from the plates of Nephi (future tense) and in verse 9 states that ‘now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record’. Words of Mormon thus breaks the account at a specific point, namely the small plates being given to King Benjamin, and transitions smoothly into the establishing of peace in the land (see Words of Mormon 18 and Mosiah 1:1).

Why is this significant? Because the material prior to Mosiah was lost, part of the 116 missing pages. The small plates were the inspired solution to this issue. But with Words of Mormon, they cover precisely the right amount of material. If Joseph Smith and Martin Harris had stopped translating a week or so earlier, the transition would not be remotely as smooth. Had they been able to continue translating for another week or so, and so lost the first parts of our current book of Mosiah, then a great deal of sense would have been lost. In other words, the inspiration that prompted the writing and the inclusion of the small plates, and the writing of Words of Mormon to integrate them into the book, foresaw not only that a portion would be lost, but precisely at which point they would be lost fourteen hundred years before they were actually lost. Were 106 pages or 126 pages lost, things would read very differently.

Now factor in all the decisions that affect the precise circumstances of this episode: not only when Joseph Smith and Martin Harris began their work, and ended their work, but every single time they decided when to begin their working day and when they decided to end it. Also every decision that led to them meeting when and where they did. Every decision, in fact, that Joseph and Martin made that led up to that specific moment at that place in the manuscript at that time. And then beyond that, every decision of every single one of their ancestors that factored into where they lived, where they moved too, who they reproduced with, and so on, involving many thousands of people, over many many generations, for over a thousand years. The very mortal existences of this chain of ancestors is “contingent”, relying as it does on the decisions of people in each and every generation. God shows that he knows and takes into account all of this.

As said, I plan to address the concept of God’s relationship with time in a future post beyond what I have already done, and while there’s undoubtedly much we don’t know about in this area, and much we maybe aren’t in a position to understand, believe that we can learn enough to resolve any philosophical difficulties between God’s omniscience and our agency. However, as to the actuality of God’s foreknowledge, I believe this chapter both states and demonstrates that he truly ‘knoweth all things which are to come’.

2020 Edit:

I’m keeping this fairly brief, as the original post was a) fairly recently (within the last year) and b) quite extensive.

I’ve already commented on the character aspect. Just to add to that, while my 2020 “Come Follow Me” reading may have led me to have a greater empathy and understanding for Nephi, Mormon is still a character I feel almost instinctively in tune with. I’m not even entirely sure for all the reasons why, but I do feel he is one of the greatest men in the book (and not simply because he authored most of it), and always appreciate returning to his voice.

I was struck by his comment about why he personally liked the contents of the small plates:

And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass

(Words of Mormon 1:4)

Mormon, looking back with some centuries, was able to see many of the events that the small plates prophesied of came to pass. This wasn’t just pleasing in and of itself, but was added reassurance that the events it prophesied of that went beyond his era would also come to pass. As I read this, I reflected on those times in my life where the spirit has shown me something which would happen, or where I’ve seen prophecy fulfilled, and how remembering such experiences can build our confidence and trust in God’s promises that are yet to happen.

I also can’t finish without quoting a bit of verse 11, since it touches on one of the recurring themes in this blog:

… And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.

One of the standards by which we shall be judged in the final judgment is by the contents of the scriptural books, including the Book of Mormon, those things which are “the word of God which is written”. Now this is not our initial relationship with those books: when any of us come into contact with the books of scripture for the first time, we are left to judge and determine whether they are true and correct and from God. But when we gain a testimony or a witness that they are, then that relationship changes. Then they become a standard against which we are to measure our lives and our understanding, and we are out of sync with the contents of holy writ, then it is our understanding or conduct that we need to give urgent consideration to changing.

“The word of God which is written” is not the sum total of that which we shall be judged by, of course: God continues to reveal more, some generally – some of which is added to the written word, for his word never ends – and much personally, for we all need a living connection with God. But that portion which God has caused to be recorded and sent forth is important, and will be raised as a witness for or against us. This is a message the Book of Mormon repeats on several occasions and it is one we need today, for so many of the approaches to scripture that find favour today reverse that proper relationship. They sift through the contents of scripture, affirming that which they already believe, but discarding whatever is uncomfortable or which they do not understand. Such approaches place the reader into the position of judge and the scriptures as judged. They assume the modern scholar already has greater access to the mind of God, and knows it better than the word of God.

Yet we shall find, as the Book of Mormon teaches, that at the great and last day that our own mind will not be the measuring rod by which we shall be judged. But the scriptures shall be. There is much for us to learn, much that God has yet to reveal to us, and much for us to learn from the things that he has already revealed to us. If we approach the scriptures in humility, prepared to let our ideas and lives be challenged and even judged by his word, we may be surprised at what we can learn if we do not discard his word.

The Abrahamic Test | Religious Studies Center

I’ve come across this rather interesting and thoughtful article on Abrahamic tests by Larry E. Dahl (a retired BYU professor), which is available from the BYU Religious Studies center. Some particularly important excerpts:

Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test. Let me repeat. Everyone who achieves exaltation must successfully pass through an Abrahamic test. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in speaking to the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, said: “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.[1] That is not a particularly comforting thought, but it is one that cannot be ignored if the scriptures are taken seriously. Why must there be an Abrahamic test? And how can we all be tested like Abraham was tested? Why use Abraham as the standard? What is there about the test Abraham experienced that is universally applicable? When our test comes, will we recognize it? How can we prepare?

and:

What about us? How are we to be tested “even as Abraham”? Being asked to offer a child as a sacrifice just does not relate to our time and circumstance. But wrenching heartstrings does relate—to all times and circumstances. And there are many ways to wrench the heart in any age: being asked to choose God over other things we dearly love, even when those things are good and have been promised, and when we have worked for them, yearned for them, prayed for them, and have been obedient and patient; or being asked to persevere in righteousness and service (perhaps even Church service) in the face of terrible difficulty, uncertainty, inequities, ironies, and even contradictions; or watching helplessly as the innocent suffer from the brutal misuse of God-given agency in the hands of evil men.

 

Read the full thing at: The Abrahamic Test | Religious Studies Center

The Mercy and Justice of God

I find God’s justice and mercy fascinating, not only because he perfectly embodies such qualities, but because we as human beings apparently have such a hard time reconciling them that we are apt to build a more selective image with only one of those qualities. Thus in the 17th century, it seems many were apt to forget God’s love and mercy in favour of his wrath and hatred of sin. Today we seem apt to commit the reverse error: we emphasise God’s love and mercy, but forget his justice and righteousness. In doing so, we not only build up a false image of God, but also diminish the quality of God we do remember. His justice and mercy are linked, for his justice is connected to his love and mercy for those we have sinned against. To paraphrase something I’ve said before, to be merciful without condition to predators is to be merciless to their victims. Hence God’s mercy is conditioned upon repentance. Likewise God’s desire for us to change and repent and follow him is based in his love and his desire for our exaltation: a love that never asks us to change or repent is one that would be content to leave us stuck in mediocrity, one that would ultimately be happy to sit back and watch us be damned.

A particular quote that I feel captures both God’s justice and his mercy was expressed by Joseph Smith. However, I often find it quoted with the second half missing, in keeping with the bias of our current era. So I thought it worth quoting in full:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.

– Joseph Smith, 18 April 1842

 

The Prayer of Faith

Last Sunday, I heard someone describe prayer as “a faithless act”.

I was quite surprised by this. Now for some context, it was quite clear that this person was operating under a misunderstanding of President Nelson’s remarks during the last General Conference, about “the difference between a prayer and a priesthood blessing”, and may have been expressing themselves intemperately. President Nelson was speaking of those who did not know that difference, and so gave priesthood blessings as if they were prayers. The individual in my hearing appeared to likewise confuse the two, but to the opposite extreme, arguing that when ministering to someone we should not offer a prayer, but instead offer a blessing, by which he appeared to mean not an actual priesthood ordinance, but giving a prayer as if it were a blessing.

This is mistaken. President Nelson was seeking to dispel any confusion between blessings and prayers, but he wasn’t arguing that the latter were unnecessary or wrong to any degree. Both have a place. In a blessing, if both the one giving the blessing and the one receive it have faith, and if the one giving it is sufficiently in tune, it is an opportunity to reveal and declare the will of God. Essential, the person giving the blessing is acting as a representative of God, speaking in his name (D&C 1:20), towards the one receiving the blessing. In a prayer, however, we are representing ourselves and any for whom we are praying for towards God. In one, there is the opportunity to declare God’s will; in the other, the opportunity to petition God in accordance with it. And both prayers and priesthood blessings are invaluable aids to us here on earth, and when ministering to others both are necessary.

It is particularly this description of prayer as “a faithless act” that I wish to briefly address, however. Now prayer can be a faithless act, if it is not genuine, and done for show or pretence. Likewise, if we pray but have no intention of acting upon any guidance God gives us, that may likewise be described as being without faith.

But genuine prayer is an inherently faithful act. The very act of praying to our Father in Heaven expresses our faith (or at least our willingness to believe) that he is there. By directing our righteous needs and desires towards him, we demonstrate faith in his power to fulfil them. By expressing gratitude, we confess his hand in all things. By asking for forgiveness, we express our faith in his goodness, in the rightness of his commandments, and show faith in the atonement of his son. By asking for direction, we demonstrate faith in his wisdom, humbly acknowledging that he knows better than we do, and show faithfulness by our willingness to act upon his commands.

I’m reminded particularly of a particular quote from the Bible Dictionary. I’ve briefly posted about the BD and other aids before, noting that these are not scripture, and in the words of a man who helped produce them “are aids and helps only”. However, if any part of the Bible Dictionary is genuinely profound, I have long believed it is the entry on prayer. To quote one paragraph:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

I think this is a genuinely beautiful (and true) passage, that has a lot to teach about prayer, but what I especially want to pick out on this occasion is the line that prayer is the means by which our will is “brought into correspondence” with Father, and that “the object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure … blessings that God is already willing to grant”. It is fitting that in the Lord’s Prayer, the Saviour includes the phrase “thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”, for much of the point of prayer is to surrender to his will.

And therefore, at its root, prayer is amongst the most faithful of acts, for it is an act in which we submit ourselves to his will, and where we must have sufficient faith – trust – in him to say as the Saviour did “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 27:39). And the highest expression of faith is not believing that God is there, but – believing or even knowing that he is – to trust his judgment over ours, to be “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us]” (Mosiah 3:19), to say – as Christ did – “thy will be done”.

1 Nephi 19

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

1 Nephi 19:7

I’m not entirely sure why this verse stuck out to me today. I think there’s a lot it can be applied to. So much of our receptiveness to the gospel seems to come down to what we really want: what we “esteem to be of great worth”. And people vary so much in this respect, so that what one person values beyond price is regarded and treated as trash by another. Yet there is also an eternal hierarchy of values, so that while worldly and temporary things may be held to be most precious by some, they are still merely temporary and ephemeral. Likewise some may disregard eternal things – even God himself – that means nothing for their true eternal worth and value. It is incumbent upon us, then, to try and align our vision correct and not be distracted by other people’s valuations, so we can perceive what is truly valuable and what is not.

2020 Edit:

To some degree I find it hard to know what to write about the next few chapters, since I’ve written quite a bit about them already. The third chapter of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible is in fact based on a case study of 1 Nephi 20-22, including the latter parts of 1 Nephi 19. Yet I do believe that the scriptures are an inexhaustible well, that there is always more to learn, especially when our reading is guided by the Holy Ghost. So I can’t really let the >20,000 words I’ve already written be an excuse.

Connected with this, however, it’s worth pointing out that this is one of the places in the Book of Mormon where the divisions of old, pre-1879, chapters do not coincide with those of the current chapters. As originally published (and indeed perhaps written, since the divisions are reflected on the manuscripts), the Book of Mormon had much longer chapters (it also lacked versification completely), and then in 1879 Orson Pratt introduced new chapters and a system of versification which allows easy reference. As an unintended side-effect, however, this can break the text different and certainly breaks it more often. Which we means we sometimes read passages that are connected in a rather disconnected fashion, as if we insisted on only watching portions of conference talks rather than watching a talk as a whole. An example would be Alma 32-34, which is really one sermon taught by Alma and Amulek, but which we often read as disconnected chapters, with the risk that we can pick up a lot of what is being said, but miss the overall point and argument of the sermon.

Here, however, the opposite occurs. Most of 1 Nephi 19 in the pre-1879 chapters is part of chapter V (which covers 1 Nephi 16-19:21), and so Nephi’s account of making his first places, his discussion of what he included and how people treat the sacred, and then his prophecy of how people will do the same to the God of Israel himself, his rejection by the house of Israel, but then the ultimate restoration of Israel is included in the same chapter as the last past of their journey in the wilderness, Nephi’s sermon on the exodus, and the building and travelling upon a ship. But there’s a break between verses 21 and 22, so that verse 22 – in which Nephi explains he taught about Christ & the restoration of Israel to his brothers, and read the scriptures and particularly Isaiah to them for that purpose – is the beginning of chapter VI, which includes the quotation of Isaiah 48-49 in 1 Nephi 20-21, and then the commentary Nephi gives in 1 Nephi 22. It’s a possibly significant organisation of the text we’re liable to miss in modern editions. And that can matter, because how a text is organised – how it breaks, what it ends passages on, what begins passages – can serve to emphasise particular messages.

Aside from that matter of top-level organisation, there was one thing that caught my eye again when reading this passage, which is this in some respects rather puzzling statement by Nephi in verse 20:

For behold, I have workings in the spirit, which doth weary me even that all my joints are weak, for those who are at Jerusalem; for had not the Lord been merciful, to show unto me concerning them, even as he had prophets of old, I should have perished also.

Nephi here states that if God had not been merciful enough to show him “concerning Jerusalem”, then he would have “perished also”. And yet the reason the family left Jerusalem, and thus are in a position to dodge the incipient Babylonian conquest, is because Lehi was shown about the destruction of Jerusalem, and was commanded by God to take his family away because the people were also seeking Lehi’s life. So what does Nephi mean when he talks about what God showed him?

I suspect here that there is a connection to what Nephi recounts in 1 Nephi 2:16, following their departure from Jerusalem:

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.

Nephi here explains that – because of his desire to know of the mysteries of God (and presumably above all else about this visions of his father that have led them out into the desert) – he prayed and received a response, in which God softened his heart and he believed the words of his father, and so did not rebel like his brothers did. The implication is that had he not had this experience, he may well have rebelled like his brothers. Hence the importance of Nephi too being shown concerning the people of Jerusalem.

However, in what sense does he mean perished, since they’d already left Jerusalem? I see several possibilities. One is that Laman and Lemuel several times expressed the intent to return to Jerusalem, and on occasion (1 Nephi 7 perhaps being the best example), the only person who stood in their way and urged otherwise was Nephi. Had he been likewise minded, they might have actually returned to enjoy the delights of Nebuchadnezzar’s seige.

It’s also possible, considering the peril of their journey and the way they needed God’s help (and the fact that he often worked through Nephi), that Nephi also sees it as possible that said perishing would have happened somewhere along the way. And yet I think there’s also another potential meaning: perish can be a somewhat ambiguous term, perhaps purposefully. Another possibility might be that – like Laman and Lemuel – he would have eventually made the trip, but perished spiritually.

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, and it may well be (in fact I think it’s quite likely) that Nephi doesn’t know how or when or in what sense he would have perished, but simply knows that if he hadn’t been blessed with the personal revelation he received, that in some way he would have. And that’s all he really needed to know to appreciate the blessing he received, and the importance of the revelation he was given. But, like much of this trek, I can see how this applies to us too. It is not enough for prophets and leaders alone to receive revelation for us to be able to follow the revelations given to others. Like Nephi, in order for us to make the trek successfully – in order to not perish – we need some level of personal knowledge, some level of personal inspiration. That may well vary from person to person according to our spiritual gifts, but all of us need some contact with the divine, even if it be as simply as a softening of the heart. As Heber C. Kimball taught:

Remember these sayings, for many of you will live to see them fulfilled. The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?

1 Nephi 9

1 Nephi 9 is another piece of editorial commentary by Nephi. In my thesis I briefly look at how the Book of Mormon really consists of a number of layers, with things like sermons or Lehi’s vision embedded in a narrative, but that the narrative itself is almost punctuated by the narrators such as Nephi or Mormon (who, incidently, wrote most of the Book of Mormon; a pet peeve of mine is when people quote something from the book of Alma and fail to realise it is Mormon who is speaking).

Anyhoo, what caught my eye today was the following:

Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.
But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.

1 Nephi 9:5-6

Nephi was obviously commanded to make the small plates for a good reason, but that reason (the 116 missing pages) lay thousands of years in the future. Obviously that says a lot about God’s omniscience, but Nephi never knew that reason. Likewise the Lord often has us doing things for reasons that appear unfathomable. And that can be uncomfortable, especially when stuff happens that appears to make what we want or what we think the Lord wants further away.

I have to confess that while I’ve gained an appreciation for the hymn Lead Kindly Light in the last decade, I’m not at the stage where I can bring myself to say “I do not ask to see the distant scene—one step enough for me”. Because I often still find myself wanting to see the distant scene, wanting to know how everything fits in, wanting to know that I haven’t irreversibly messed up and that there is still hope. But I gather, both from scriptures like this and my own experience, that often God wants something different. What He wants is for us to obey Him, to keeping taking those single steps into the darkness, trusting in his power and that all His actions are “for a wise purpose in him”, even if we know it not.

2020 Edit:

There is something about the way that Nephi says “And all these things did my father see, and hear, and speak, as he dwelt in a tent, in the valley of Lemuel” in the 1st verse, that tickles at my mind so that I am sure more could be read from that, but I’m not sure what it is. It’s worthwhile noting, however, that Nephi has explicitly given us an abbreviated account:”…and also a great many more things, which cannot be written upon these plates”.

As I mentioned in writing the original post, Nephi’s narratorial interruption here is linked to the creation of the small plates (which hasn’t actually happened yet at this point of the narrative, but is what we are reading from), which of course was in anticipation of the episode of the missing 116 pages, which as I’ve written about elsewhere is one of the most defining examples of God’s omniscience and what might be termed foreknowledge of all things. As I noted originally, Nephi isn’t let into any of this, however (“which purpose I know not”, verse 5). We sometimes think of the gospel answering questions, and it does indeed answer to a degree some of the biggest questions in life, but very often the gospel will ask things of us, as the Lord asks Nephi, to do things we’re not in a position to understand yet, and may never be in this life, which reminds me of a Harold B. Lee quote:

It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give us courage through faith to go on in the face of questions to which we find no answer in our present status.

It’s also worth thinking about how – while he did not know it, and had no way of working it out – Nephi’s actions were to have pivotal influence 2,400 years later. We don’t know the future influence and role of our own actions, especially those that we have been inspired to do but which seem to be having little effect on the present.

Speaking of God’s omniscience, however, the last verse really caught my eye again, not for addressing the fact of his omniscience, but address why it is important for us to know and/or believe that he is:

But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.

(1 Nephi 9:6, my emphasis)

We we may not understand his omniscience (although I think episodes like this can be very illustrative), but it’s important to know/believe because it is tied to his capacity to perform his works and to fulfil his words, including his promises to us. If he did not know “all things from the beginning”, there’d be a chance he’d gotten things wrong, a chance that his promises wouldn’t come true. But he does, and so there isn’t. And so, to quote a revelation from the end-point of the saga of the small plates and 116 missing pages, because of God’s knowledge of all things:

The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.

(Doctrine & Covenants 3:1)