Mosiah 7

I’m about to plow through exams and don’t really have a handle on things like metamorphic rocks, so there’s going to be a bit of pressure when it comes to these posts. They will simply have to be a few things I pick out or notice rather than the (sometimes unplanned) more extensive posts that I occasionally do.

Turning to Mosiah 7, several things I ended up thinking about today while reading:

And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.

(Mosiah 7:3)

I find it interesting (and this is an observation I’ve had before) that the individual who is called upon to lead the party is called Ammon. This will not be the first time in the Book of Mormon when someone named Ammon will take a leading part in leading a small party up to the land of Nephi, and (spoilers!) come back with thousands of people who have become converted to the gospel of Christ.

We find this sort of repeating story in the Bible too (Abraham/Isaac disguising their wife as their sister; a betrothal at a well; a messenger from God telling a barren woman she is to have a child, and other examples), which Robert Alter, in his The Art of Biblical Narrative, termed a type scene (basing the idea on typology), in which a similar narrative is repeated, although often with differences, and for those familiar with the pattern, even small differences can thus be quite revealing. I think in this context too, we’re not just dealing with a type scene but with an actual type (a type being a kind of prophecy in the form of an event or person): the first Ammon, who goes and retrieves the descendants of Zeniff’s party, is a type of the second, who goes and ends up retrieving thousands converts from the Lamanites.

Also while reading today, I was struck by the events in these verses:

And behold, they met the king of the people who were in the land of Nephi, and in the land of Shilom; and they were surrounded by the king’s guard, and were taken, and were bound, and were committed to prison.

And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.

And he said unto them: Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.

And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?

And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.

(Mosiah 7:7-11)

Now there’s several observations that could be made: apparently the situation is dangerous enough that anyone approaching the king outside the city could be considered dangerous. While Limhi’s people pay tribute to the Lamanite king, there seems to be no protection as a result of this, so the relationship seems more like banditry than one in which there are responsibilities towards the vassal. But what caught my eye was simply how fortuitous it was that Ammon and his party happened to bump into the king, and then that the King chose to question them directly. They could easily have met someone who would have compromised or sabotaged their goal. But I don’t believe this is meant to be seen as mere chance, but as the result of that sometimes unseen guiding hand by which God steers events. While sometimes God’s guidance is direct, via an instruction, sometimes he steers or allows events to unfold in such a way that it is only by looking back that we can discern his hand, his providence, at all.

Which takes me onto the last passage that really stood out to me today:

And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.

Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God,…

(Mosiah 7:18-19)

The people of Limhi had tried to free themselves many times before, but had failed repeatedly (for a number of reasons). Limhi’s statement of hope here – “yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made” – is in itself worth noting, a counsel against despair and for perseverance, that victory over whatever ails or hinders us may come. But I think the very next line (in the 1830 edition, part of the very same paragraph) also clarifies this: an effectual struggle can be made if they put their trust in God. They’ve been unable to liberate themselves by their own strength, but can with God’s strength.

I find together these things very comforting: that God acts to steer events to fulfil his purposes in ways beyond our perception, and that – despite failures on our part – if we trust in him he can bless us to overcome things in which we’ve failed in the past. I think it’s important to realise that God isn’t sitting back, doing nothing unless asked otherwise: he’s actively working to do his work, which includes our eternal salvation. Sometimes I often feel that we (or I) can hinder than, though our failings, our weakness, our sins, or just general mistakes. But while obviously our actions and the desires of our hearts play a part in what we will ultimately be blessed with, we can really only sabotage our own plans and goals, not God’s. As stated in a passage I was reminded of when reading today:

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

Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;

(Doctrine and Covenants 3:1 & 3)

We might experience many failures in this life, some of which may be our own fault. But our own plans – our own “work” – may not have much eternal value, indeed our failures in these areas may serve to help God’s eternal purposes. Furthermore, we cannot hinder or stop God’s work through our own failings or even simple incompetence, for he acts constantly, many times in ways we cannot even perceive – to ensure his purposes are fulfilled. And where we fall short in doing his will, “there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made”: if we put our trust in him, deliverance will come.

2 Nephi 25

2016 Comments:

There’s so much in these chapters and the next few, sadly too much to really fit into my thesis, so a case study around 2 Nephi 25-30 had to get chopped out (though some of my thoughts on this section can be found here).

A few verses that stuck out this time though:

And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed save it were foretold them by the prophets of the Lord.

(2 Nephi 25:9)

A general pattern is being described here: ancient Israel was punished many times for their iniquities, but they were always warned first. On one hand this can be quite reassuring, especially on an individual scale (it reminds me of Elder Packer’s comment that the Lord will always warn us if we’re about to make a major mistake). On a bigger scale, it’s perhaps less reassuring, because the nations of our time have been warned: the Book of Mormon is all about the destruction of whole civilisations.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:22)

The next couple of verses tend to get a lot of attention, but there’s a lot here too. I keep coming back to this this notion of us being judged by the scriptures. When we first come into contact with them (especially the Book of Mormon), it is we who are in the position of judge, trying to determine if they are true. When we gain a spiritual witness that they are, however, that relationship changes: now we are accountable for how we measure up to them.

I find myself wanting, on many things.

2020 edit:

While included in the reading of 2 Nephi 11 onwards for 2020’s Come Follow Me schedule, 25 really begins a separate section from 2 Nephi 25-30 (indeed, there’s a chapter break at the beginning of 25 in the pre-1879 chapters too). However, it does begin by talking about interpreting Isaiah, which is why I guess it got folded into an already packed week.

Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.

(2 Nephi 25:4)

If anyone struggles to understand Isaiah, apparently you are not alone in this as Nephi explains here that Isaiah is not plain, in comparison to his own writings. In verse 1 he likewise states that “Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand”. Apparently knowing “the manner of prophesying among the Jews” (v. 1), knowing “concerning the regions round about” (v. 6), and knowing about the “judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews” (v. 6 again) can help in interpreting Isaiah,  but above all else it is “the spirit of prophecy” that can make Isaiah “plain”.

One important reason that prophecy is needed to understand Isaiah comes down to the fact that Isaiah wasn’t writing purely for his own time. Some of what he spoke did apply to his own time, as indicated by Nephi pointing out the utility of knowing things “which hath come to pass among the Jews”, past tense. But he spoke of other time periods as well, often at the same time, with events of different time periods mingled together, or speaking in such a way that the thing he was speaking about has multiple fulfilments in many different times and places. Thus, per 2 Nephi 16//Isaiah 6, we’ve seen that Isaiah’s own contemporary audience were not given to understand him, while Nephi goes even further:

But behold, I proceed with mine own prophecy, according to my plainness; in the which I know that no man can err; nevertheless, in the days that the prophecies of Isaiah shall be fulfilled men shall know of a surety, at the times when they shall come to pass.

Wherefore, they are of worth unto the children of men, and he that supposeth that they are not, unto them will I speak particularly, and confine the words unto mine own people; for I know that they shall be of great worth unto them in the last days; for in that day shall they understand them; wherefore, for their good have I written them.

(2 Nephi 25:7-8)

Isaiah will be understood when it is fulfilled, and so will only be completely understood in the last days (which we haven’t quite reached yet).

I’ve also written before about the themes on the title page (more on this in The Book of Mormon & the Bible). Here in 2 Nephi 25, however, we can see how those three themes (revelation & prophecy, the restoration of Israel, and Jesus being the Christ & eternal God) are part of a cohesive whole:

And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.

Wherefore, he shall bring forth his words unto them, which words shall judge them at the last day, for they shall be given them for the purpose of convincing them of the true Messiah, who was rejected by them; and unto the convincing of them that they need not look forward any more for a Messiah to come, for there should not any come, save it should be a false Messiah which should deceive the people; for there is save one Messiah spoken of by the prophets, and that Messiah is he who should be rejected of the Jews.

(2 Nephi 25:17-18)

In order to restore Israel, God will bring his words to them, and those words will convince them that Jesus is the Christ. Thus all three themes relate to the “marvelous work and a wonder” that God will carry out in the last days. And the Book of Mormon will be a tool in carrying that out, something which Nephi has become very much aware of:

Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord God promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation, that the promise may be fulfilled unto Joseph, that his seed should never perish as long as the earth should stand.

Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand; and they shall go according to the will and pleasure of God; and the nations who shall possess them shall be judged of them according to the words which are written.

(2 Nephi 25:21-22)

Perhaps one reason that Nephi dwells mentally so much in the future, and not so much with his own people is because he has become painfully aware that the real significance and influence of his own writings will occur several thousand years in the future. On one hand it’s an awe-inspiring and rather scary responsibility (and thus perfectly understandable that Nephi then writes of “labor[ing] diligently to write”). On the other, one can see how it’d focus one’s perspective rather differently than is the norm.

Nephi is speaking of his writing also makes a statement about grace:

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.

(2 Nephi 25:23, my emphasis)

That last clause – “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” – has often been understood as implying that God’s grace only comes after we have done everything we possibly can in terms of living righteously, as if we must become perfect first. But I believe that has been misunderstood. Such a notion is incompatible with how the Book of Mormon speaks about grace in other passages (see, for instance, Mosiah 2 and Mosiah 4, and for that matter 2 Nephi 2). Our very capacity to act comes as a gift from God. Sure, we need to choose to accept and follow Christ, and seek to repent, but we then need grace to accomplish that very act of repentance. Moreover it is not just the scriptures that teach this; I know from my own experience that I have needed grace long before “perfection” and what’s more, God has given it. He’s never held back his grace, his blessings, or his miracles from me until I’ve done everything I possibly could.

I think our mistake here is to read “after” in the sense of “until after” as if the verse said we are not saved by grace, until after all we can do. But it doesn’t say that. What seems more in keeping with the teaching of the rest of scripture is to understand the “after” in the same way we’d understand it in the phrase “after all is said and done”: We are saved by grace, after all is said and done; we are saved by grace, after all we can do. That is, our acts alone cannot save us (as 2 Nephi 2:5 very clearly teaches), nor perfect us. After all we have done, no matter all we have done, we need grace to save us. “After” does not mean “because” (as Elder Uchtdorf points out, in a Conference address that turns out to cover much the same topic). Nor does it mean “following”. It can mean “despite”, if we seek, as Nephi urges in that very verse, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.

2 Nephi 10

So it turns out that 4 years ago I wrote an amalgamated post for 2 Nephi 10 & 11. But both are pretty substantive chapters though, worthy of their own posts. So let it be written, so let it be done.

This is the conclusion of Jacob’s sermon, although notably after everyone adjourned for the night at the end of 2 Nephi 9, so this is following day. This is a rather crucial fact because in the intervening time period Jacob has had another angelic visitation, who at the very least disclosed that the Messiah’s name shall be “Christ” (v. 3). Which is interesting, because while Christ is now thought of as a name, that’s not it’s origin: it’s the Greek term for “anointed”, as Messiah is in Hebrew. It is in effect a title, but then so are all the names of deity to one degree or another (something that may trip up modern Western readers, who may get confused when name-titles like “God”, “Lord”, “Father” and even the likes of “Jehovah” get applied in scripture at various times to both Heavenly Father and to Christ). We tend to think of names as individualised labels, but the names of deity express an attribute of Him, and since the Father and Son share in that perfect almost all such name-titles that can be applied to one can, in another context, be with perfect justice applied to another. Names have power.

This last portion of the sermon sees Jacob revisit the topic of the scattering and then the regathering of Israel, and Gentile involvement in that. Four years ago, when reading this, I also wrote the following:

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh; wherefore, as it has been shown unto me that many of our children shall perish in the flesh because of unbelief, nevertheless, God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Redeemer.

(2 Nephi 10:2)

For I will fulfil my promises which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh—

(2 Nephi 10:17)

Jacob is obviously talking here of a rather specific set of promises (namely about the restoration of Israel in “the lands of their inheritance”), but I was impressed by these verses as I read them. While many of the promises we have been given apply to the eternities, God can and sometimes does give us promises that apply to this life. It is perhaps heartening to read – with those promises in mind – that God will fulfil such promises while we “are in the flesh”, even if we must be patient for the time being.

Back to 2020: There’s a particular line in verse 3 that’s been on my mind, because – were it not for all else the Book of Mormon says (such as its denunciations of Gentile mistreatment of Jews in 2 Nephi 29 and elsewhere) – it would sound pretty antisemitic. From verse 3 (my emphasis):

Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God.

It should probably be first be pointed out that such terms being applied to those involved in crucifying Christ does not imply anything for their descendants (as much antisemitism in historical Christianity has held). Righteousness and wickedness are not genetic. Secondly, it also quite obviously does not apply to many Jewish individuals who lived at the time of Christ. Does it apply to the apostles? To the likes of Mary Magdalene? Even to the likes of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. I cannot believe that! I don’t think such terms even apply to the likes of the young rich man. I certainly don’t think that many of the early saints (many of whom were Jews), who endured much persecution for the gospel’s sake, could possibly count as “among those who are the more wicked part of the world” (and indeed the wording of clause suggests a subset).

But there’s that line about “and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God”, which I think may be misunderstood at times. Does this mean that no one else would crucify Christ? I don’t believe that’s the case. After all, the actual act was carried out by Roman centurions anyway. Would the likes of the Assyrians, Aztecs or Nazis restrain themselves at the height of their wickedness? I doubt it.

However, I think much of the significance of this statement comes from “their” God. The Roman Centurions actually performed the task, but unlike those members of the Sanhedrin and others who plotted Christ’s death, they didn’t proclaim their loyalty to the God of Israel while trying to kill him. I believe verse 4 indicates along these lines too:

For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God.

I also find this line interesting:

But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren.

(2 Nephi 10:21)

While Jacob – and the other Book of Mormon prophets – speak most prominently about prophecies concerning the New World, and sometimes about the original land of Israel, they often point to wider fulfilment. Isaiah in particular seems applicable to multiple fulfilment of prophecy. Similarly, the allegory of the Olive Tree of Zenos – quoted by Jacob in Jacob 5 – speaks of other branches of Israel elsewhere, who were also scattered but also subject to the same promises of restoration. Jacob points out the same here: many of the prophecies he and Nephi have been referring to (including Zenos in 1 Nephi 19:16 and Isaiah in 1 Nephi 21:8//Isaiah 49:8) use the phrase “isles of the sea”, plural. As Jacob points out, that indicates many such prophecies apply not just to the New World, but to other isles also. Dare I suggest some candidates?

This chapter isn’t just focused on this overall picture of the restoration of Israel, and Jacob recaps topics of individual salvation he’s spoken about in 2 Nephi 9 and which his father taught him in 2 Nephi 2. It’s worth pointing that out, and thinking about it: God works on both a grand scale, concerning whole peoples, and on an individual, personal scale. No matter is too small for him to be concerned about, and indeed the grand scale stuff is there to serve the needs of his plan as it concerns saving individuals: the ultimate aims of the war between good and evil, after all, concern the fate of each individual soul.

Thus Jacob ends his sermon with the following statements, which recall in so many ways Lehi’s teachings to Jacob in 2 Nephi 2, on agency, grace and the great choice we all face:

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

(2 Nephi 10:23-24)

Mosiah 4

There’s one running thread through this chapter that has caught my attention before, and really stood out today. It begins in verse 1 & 2:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

Following King Benamin’s remarks in Mosiah 2-3, the people respond with sorrow and humility, and ‘viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth’. In that state, however, they then cry for mercy in the name of the Lord, and in verse 3 that request is granted.

I don’t have any absolute figures for any of this – it’s simply a phenomenon I’ve observed and heard – but it seems many in our current era are inclined to affirm that they are good people, that they don’t have anything particular to repent of. There’s people who run to the opposite extreme of course (and eras in which that is more common), who may suffer from what Catholic theology (and modern psychology) has termed scrupulosity. And that can be a serious problem: I remember when it dawned on me that such feelings can be a form of “sorrow of the world” as being sorry we got caught or such like, because such feelings can still trap us and thus “worketh death”, while “godly sorrow” produces change (see 2 Corinthians 7:10).

But feeling that we’re without sin, that we’re good and don’t have anything to repent of can also be damning. First, such notions are simply not true: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, see also Alma 34:9), and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). But secondly, if we don’t have a consciousness of our sin, then how do we recognise that we even need the Saviour? How do we call upon the power of his atoning sacrifice if we don’t feel a need for it? How do we even appreciate what he has done for us if we don’t think it’s necessary? A consciousness of sin, while an unpleasant feeling, is the very thing that impels us to seek change and lead us – as it led King Benjamin’s people – to seek mercy through Christ. It strikes me that it is perhaps one of the first and most fundamental steps of our repentance.

Yet this chapter goes further in verse 5:

For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state

This is talking about the same experience of King Benjamin’s people, but it also describes sentiments I suspect it’d be most unlikely to be urged in your average Sunday school lesson: ‘a sense of your nothingness’ and ‘your worthless and fallen state’.

The idea of realising our ‘nothingness’ is not only found here in the scriptures: In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses remarks upon the conclusion of one visionary experience that ‘[n]ow, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed’ (Moses 1:10). This sensation, this realisation, is not the sum total of all we are supposed to feel in regards to ourselves and our relationship with God. But it is perhaps an element that receives little modern attention.

Back to Mosiah 4, and again King Benjamin goes further, describing what we should remember not just at a moment of conversion, but throughout our lives:

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

(Mosiah 4:11, my emphasis)

Again, this is not found only here: Alma in Alma 38:14 counsels his son Shiblon to ‘acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times’. But I suspect that at the present time such passages are often passed over quickly; they are hard passages, with hard counsel. But they clearly appear to be quite essential, with King Benjamin teaching that we should always remember God’s greatness, and in contrast our own nothingness and unworthiness if we wish to retain a remission of our sins (and we surely do).

Now I do not think that these verses are preaching a kind of self-hatred: while I do not find many scriptural passages that support the modern emphasis on self-esteem, self-hatred does not seem to be encouraged. Furthermore, we are also often counselled to seek and feel God’s love towards us. In some way, then, we are being encouraged to simultaneously realise our own nothingness and unworthiness, and thus our utter dependence upon God and his mercy, and that we do not earn any blessing from him, but at the same time feel of his love and realise that, in the words of Elder Uchtdorf, ‘compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God.’

I don’t know that I can make any great claims of knowing how to balance those realisations, but I am confident that both are necessary: we need one to avoid pride, and so that we know we need help and change and grace and who to seek it from, and we need the other to avoid despair and discouragement, and so that we know we can leave judgment in the hands of God and need not seek to punish ourselves for our own sins. With that in mind, we surely need to read such passages as the above carefully, and seek to follow them, rather than pass over them swiftly.

A couple of final, tangentially related points: this chapter goes on to detail our need to help and serve others, beginning with children (and our obligation to teach them), and then towards those seeking our assistance. I find it striking how it links our response to those who beg of us to God’s response to when we beg of him, and so how our acts of service are likewise connected to seeking to retain a remission of our sins:

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

(Mosiah 4:26)

However, allowance is also made for capacity, thus those who have sufficient, but not enough to aid the beggar are addressed (v. 24), and then the general principle is also addressed (v. 27):

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

The image this conjures up for me is one of a marathon, and I believe this is a helpful image to have in mind. If someone tries to sprint a marathon, they’ll lead at first, but then their strength will ebb and they will not finish the race. Likewise, this life is a marathon, in which our means and energy are often limited, and if we are unwise, and “sprint”, we may exhaust our strength and lack the capacity to serve at a later date. We must therefore not let our zeal outweigh our wisdom, but carefully pace ourselves where appropriate to ensure that we are in a position to serve diligently up until the finishing line.

2020 edit:

Several brief notes, as I’ve already written a fair amount on this chapter about 8 months ago.

Verse 2 stands out again, this time not for how the people viewed themselves and their consciousness of their sins, but for the simplicity of their response: they called on God for mercy, asking that they might receive forgiveness through the atoning blood of Christ. I’m reminded of Alma 34:17 (in which Amulek urges much the same), and wonder if – when we think about repentance – the simple process of asking God for mercy and forgiveness is so straightforward it sometimes gets overlooked. Along with that, it’s perhaps important to remember that forgiveness is the not the product of some process we can produce via checklist, but a gift we are asking for.

I was struck also by the emphasis on not just obtaining a remission of sins, but of retaining a remission of sins (vv. 11-12 and 26), and what is necessary for that. I was reminded of Alma 5:26 (and indeed much of that chapter):

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

We may have had powerful experiences in the past, like the people of King Benjamin experienced in verse 3. But how do we feel now? Do we continue to experience such feelings (in whatever degree)? Have our lives changed, and do we live up to the desire to do good we had in those moments?

I’ve also been thinking about the list of things that King Benjamin tells his people to believe in in verses 9 and 10:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.

There’s a number of different things we’re commanded to believe in here, presumably not only because they’re true but because whether we believe in them has an effect on our salvation:

  • God’s existence. The importance of that seems obvious
  • God created all things, both in heaven and in earth. I feel I need to ponder more to understand the salvific significance of believing this (though I believe it must be important, or it wouldn’t be on this list)..
  • Believe God has all wisdom. If we don’t believe God has all wisdom, we may be inclined to doubt his guidance, to suspect there may be something he doesn’t know, or that we know better. Believing he does is thus crucial to trusting him and his counsel. Likewise wisdom is also grounded in goodness, not just knowledge, and so to believe he has all wisdom is to believe that he has the will to help us,
  • Believe God has all power, in heaven and in earth. Interesting that like his role as creator this mentions both heaven and earth. The importance of this one appears straightforward to me: if we believe God lacks power, then we may well conclude he is unable to intervene on our behalf. But God has all power, and so has an infinite capacity to help us.
  • Believe that man does not comprehend all the things the Lord can comprehend. This appears to overlap with the point of wisdom, but I think particularly speaks to the fact that – even at best – we can only have a partial understanding of God and his plan for us. No matter how much we learn, there’s going to be things about life and the gospel that we don’t have all the answers too, or which don’t make sense to us. Thus I take believing in this as a recognition that we need to be humble, and particularly to always acknowledge and follow God’s wisdom as being superior to our own. I’m also reminded of the statement by Harold B. Lee that “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”.
  • Believe we must repent of our sins, forsake them, humble ourselves before God, and ask him sincerely for forgiveness. This seems to cover ground I mention above, including the fact that we need to believe we all have sinned, and so all need to repent, and the importance of actually humbly asking God for forgiveness. But it also emphasises that repentance is change too: we need to believe we must forsake our sins (as opposed, one presumes, to thinking we can be forgiven but continue in them). And I think the point about believing we need to ask God for forgiveness also addresses another thing we must believe: we must believe he can and is willing to forgive us, and that when he forgives us our sins are swept away.

Of course, belief alone isn’t enough, as King Benjamin promptly points out: “and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them”. But our sincere beliefs do affect our attitudes and our actions, and it seems striking to me that these beliefs all centre around the factors that cause us to trust (or not) in God, and prompt us to repent, change and seek forgiveness.

Mosiah 3

This is a very well known and oft quoted chapter, particularly the portions relating to the prophecy of  Christ’s mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice (vv. 5-10) and the famous passage that really encapsulates the core of the Gospel:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

That really covers almost everything important: the fallenness of man, guidance through the Holy Ghost, repentance and sanctification through the Atonement of Christ and how we should be as disciples and God’s children.

Perhaps one bit of that verse that catches a little less attention is that whole bit about being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him’. I think it’s easy to read the verse, and see it as being willing to submit to everything God may ask of us and in addition what he permits may happen to us. But the word inflict is rather more active than that, in that it requires us to accept and submit to what God may do to us, even if unpleasant. An interesting article I’ve already linked to in this blog which discusses the concept of an Abrahamic Test quotes this verse in that context, noting that the scriptures teach that God both chastens us (which is correction or punishment upon those that have disobedient) and tries us, in which the refiners fire falls upon the righteous. It is interesting that a crucial part of our discipleship is the degree to which we accept both of these processes.

I don’t know whether I can say I’m grateful for any of the trials I’ve experienced, and in many respects I’m quite fortunate, so I don’t know how others may feel about that either. But I’ve certainly found with some unpleasant experiences that – often given time and opportunity to reflect – I’ve been able to perceive some of the positive results of them too. I don’t know that we’re actually being asked to be glad about unpleasant things (though perhaps with sufficient perspective we can be; thinking about it there are a couple of things I think I can now say I am appreciative for). But perhaps what this is really getting at is the core measure of our trust and loyalty towards him, the capacity to say “not my will, but thine be done”, no matter what that appears to entail for us.

Linked to this verse, but really catching my attention today, was verse 16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

It’s an interesting point in general that the Atonement establishes both justice and mercy (for instance, see v. 10-11 and 2 Nephi 9:26). But what attracted my eye today was the whole phrase about ‘in Adam, or by nature, they fall’. When we talk of the fall, we often talk of Adam and Eve, but really in a sense each of us falls as we grow up. We are born innocent before God (D&C 93:38), and we are not held responsible for the sins of our forebears (Moses 6:54). But as a consequence of the fall, human nature is opposed to God, and our natures mean that as we grow ‘sin conceive[s] in [our] hearts’ (Moses 6:55) and we yield to our unrighteous instincts (‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’, 2 Nephi 2:29) and become fallen people. We each experience the fall individually; I guess in a similar manner to the way in which while Christ atoned once for sins in an infinite and eternal offering, we must experience the power of that redemption individually too.

I think it’s also important to remember this self-sabotaging nature that we all inevitably have. We can become ground down trying to perfect ourselves, or we might try to persuade ourselves that some inner tendencies can’t possibly be wrong, or why would we have them? But human nature as it is is morally flawed, and is not perfectible by our efforts alone. But there’s two crucial caveats there, which again verse 19 addresses: our current nature is not the nature God wishes for us to carry into the eternities, and we can put off that nature and become something else – a saint, that is holy – as we “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” and accept the power of Christ’s atonement into our lives. God wants us to change, and through Christ’s power we can.

2020 edit:

I’m beginning to think there’s some kind of weird joke: once again when reading there’s certain verses that leap out at me, and once again I find it’s exactly the same verses I’ve already written about. Admittedly, this seems to be particularly the case in posts like this, where the first part was written not that long ago (less than a year). Furthermore, while it’s the same verses that have stood out on this occasion, there’s somewhat different aspects.

So back to Mosiah 3:16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

What caught my attention this time was the notion that “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” – that is, the sins of little children. I would partly credit Elder James Rasband’s talk this past general conference for this, in which – citing this very verse – he stated that “[a] righteous judgment also required, he taught, that “the blood of Christ atoneth for” the sins of little children.” That phrase stood out to me because I’ve never heard it put as bluntly as that. Indeed I suspect there might be some who’d recoil from that phrase. But it’s quite clearly there in Mosiah 3:16, although perhaps we may pass over it all too easily by not enquiring as to who “their” refers to. But there is only one possible referent.

How do we square this with what Mormon writes in Moroni 8, which states that “little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Mormon 8:8)? Some points are worth considering.

Firstly, Mormon is speaking of the world in which the atonement of Christ is a given fact, while King Benjamin is speaking of what would have happened if the atonement had never taken place, and what the atonement does. Mormon concurs with the role of the atonement in this, as he continues in verse 8 to relay the Lord’s statement that “wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it have no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me”. It is through the Lord’s atonement that little children have become whole. Indeed, even the condition of innocence in infancy is through the atonement of Christ, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38, bold is my emphasis – it should also be remembered that innocent is not the same thing as good).

Secondly, we must refer back to the fall, and how pervasive and powerful it is. Without the atonement, its influence would be so powerful no human being could possibly escape it. Would that be just? No, but that’s just the point: the atonement of Christ is not just a means of mercy, but also establishes justice, as is taught by Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:26 and by Elder Rasband in his talk.

Thirdly, the principle of accountability is important to understand why the effects of the atonement vary in their application. Little children (and presumably others such as the mentally handicapped) have limited accountability. Their “sins” are not sins of their own volition, in the same way ours are, and they have limited capacity to repent: thus their sins are atoned for automatically. Those who “died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11), who did not know enough to be considered fully accountable, likewise have their sins atoned for. However, the time of such ignorance is limited:

And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

(Mosiah 3:20-21)

As for those who are accountable and have a necessary level of knowledge, and so have committed sin of our own volition, then atonement for sin is conditional, “for salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:12). Thus Mormon instructs Moroni to teach “repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:10), surely meaning in this case, those capable of choosing to sin and knowing that it is wrong.

It is perhaps not always entirely necessary to know more that what Mormon teaches in this case. And yet, perhaps it may help some to appreciate even more what Christ has done for all of us, to realise that the salvation of little children was not “free”, but was likewise brought with the blood of Christ.

The forgotten fall

As might be inferred from my statement at the beginning of this edit, the other verse which caught my attention this time around was indeed verse 19 again. In this case, it was particularly the first few clauses:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless…

Obviously there’s a pretty big “unless” there – indeed the whole heart of the gospel, the “good news”, is contained and followed by that “unless”. And yet we cannot truly appreciate that “unless”, and indeed the very choices we face on a day to day basis, unless we truly understand and keep in mind those first few clauses.

Over the last decade, I have come to the conclusion that the Fall has become somewhat of a forgotten doctrine in Christianity at large. One can see this in various discussions which hinge on claims of “God made me this way”, or in which it is assumed that what is natural must be good. Even some Latter-day Saint scholars appear to misunderstand the fall, if for different reasons: it seems some get caught up so much in understanding that the fall was a necessary part of God’s plan that they forget the negative effects of the fall (negative effects which, if anything, Latter-day scripture is even more explicit about). Likewise, in their desire to defend Adam and (especially) Eve, they appear to conflate the perspective they both enjoyed at a later date after a great revelation (Moses 5:9-11), with the far more limited perspective they would have had at the time.

The fall is the necessary counterpoint to the atonement of Christ. Without understanding the fall, we cannot understand the atonement. If we negate the importance of the fall, and its negative effects, we negate the importance of the atonement, and its positive effects. Moreover understanding the fall is crucial to understanding ourselves and the situation we face right now, in our mortal lives, and the choice that has been provided to us by Christ. Understanding the fall answers so many of the questions the modern age seems otherwise confused by.

Because of the fall, none of us is as God eventually intends us, nor is this earth. Nature I’ve already written about, if in a rather speculative tone. The facts of non-human “nature”, however, should surely establish that an awful lot of it isn’t presently good: the naturalistic fallacy (the idea what if something is “natural”, it is therefore “good”) should fall apart in the face of things like infanticide amongst lions, never mind those wasps that lay their larvae in other creatures and which eat their way out.

Likewise, amongst human beings, understanding the fall means understanding that due to the fall, we must all contend against “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:29), that “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2), and that as King Benjamin points out “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Each of us has a part of us that doesn’t want to do good. It thus should not disturb us, should there be any who appear to have inherent tendencies that lead away from obedience to God’s commandments, because we all have such inherent tendencies. Such tendencies may be in areas that aren’t obsessed about or approved by our culture: we may have tendencies towards alcoholism, or kleptomania, or greed, or road-rage, or wanting to crush our enemies and see them driven before us. But whichever direction our fallen part would propel us, we all may have such a fallen part.

Now, the great and glorious and wonderful good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to give in to that part: we all have a choice. Due to the atonement of Christ, we are free to “choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein”. It’s not necessarily an easy choice, indeed it’s a choice I think we have to make over and over again until it sticks. But as Mosiah 3:19 teaches, we can “[put] off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord”. That fallen nature need not be who we eternally are, it need not be the inherent part of ourselves, but can be shed. The body can become subject to the spirit, and become sanctified so that when we stand before God we might be entirely holy. We cannot do this alone, it is true, but we do not have to: Christ purchased this choice for us, with his own life; he atones for our sins and anything in which we err; and he can give us grace and strength and power to choose his will whatever the natural man would have us do, until the glorious day when it can be kicked off entire, “that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

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.

Alma 34

So today my personal reading got around to the third and final part of this sermon, where Amulek picks up from where Alma left off. As I was doing so, there was already one subject that loomed large in my mind, but there are several other points that emerged, so I plan to cover these in order of reading. So without futher ado…

All are fallen and are lost

The absolute necessity of the Atonement of Christ, and our need to accept it, is something the Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches. It’s something that not everyone appears to understand, however. I’ve heard a number of people, include those within the Church, conclude that they don’t need to change, because they’re “a good person”. But this is not true: all are fallen, and all are lost. This is not to say that the nature of our sins all reaches the same degree, of course. Most people aren’t Hitler, or anything of that sort. But “not Hitler” is not good enough, and while that may be easy to grasp neither is most people’s definition of a “good person”.

We might class ourselves as such as we mean well most of the time, but meaning well is very different from working righteousness, nor does meaning well erase our moments of weakness, selfishness, cruelty and malice. It is a common temptation to think that if we mostly mean well and don’t harm people most of the time, God “will justify in committing a little sin” (2 Nephi 28:8), but little could be further from the truth. All of us, by our natural attainments, fall far short of the standard of holiness by which it will even be bearable to be in the presence of God (Mormon 9:3-5), let alone to be exalted. And so we need the help of a greater power, even a divine and infinite and eternal power, not just to be forgiven of all those things we do wrong (or did not do right), but also to have our characters transformed and purified. We all need to change, and none of us can accomplish that change by ourselves. We need the Atonement of Christ.

An infinite and eternal sacrifice

And so we turn to the topic that had been on my mind. This has largely been brought up as I’ve heard people claim that the Atonement was “personal” and “for each of us”. In its most extreme variant, I’ve heard the claim that it involved praying personally for everyone by name, a claim which simultaneous makes the Atonement too small (as we shall see), and yet underestimates how long praying for everyone by name would take. Assuming a rough estimate of 25 billion people live or ever have lived on Earth, for example, one would still be at the task!

What has become clear in many of these cases is that those making these claims see the Atonement of Christ as occurring in discrete lots: that is, that Christ suffered a bit for me, then a bit for you, and so on through the whole Human family. There’s problems with such teachings, but by far the biggest is that they aren’t true.

Turning to Amulek in 34:10:

For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.

It should be noted that Christ was both an infinite and eternal sacrifice, because he wasn’t just human, he was divine. This refers to more than simply the circumstances of his birth too: it’s not simply that he was the only begotten of the Father in a genetic sense, but also because prior to birth he was divine. As the Book of Mormon puts it on the title page, “JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”. For him to give up his life was to make more than a mortal offering, but to offer the life of a God.

Continuing on with verses 11 and 12:

Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.

But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.

This is the crucial bit, because what Amulek is teaching is that the way at least some think the Atonement works doesn’t work. If the Atonement consisted of the transfer of a discrete portion of suffering, someone could atone for the sins of the another, but they can’t. And as his own reference to their own law makes clear, it would not be just: their just law will not be satisfied simply with a death, but rather with that of the guilty.  The simple transferral of a set amount of suffering, even if done 25 billion times, while unimaginable vast to human beings, is still finite, and would not work. The only solution is an infinite atonement, with an infinite sacrifice.

Why does this matter? For one thing, I think it is important to try, even if we fail, to appreciate the full magnitude of what Christ did, and what only Christ could do, for us. For another, the idea that the Atonement consists of Christ transferring to himself discrete and personalised packets of suffering may even lead people to reject the atonement. I have known of some who felt that they don’t want Christ to experience their bit of pain, either out of a misinformed belief that they didn’t want to “add” that burden to him, or some sort of belief that they can take their own punishment. But it doesn’t work like that. Christ has already atoned for the sins of the world, and did so in such a way that it is impossible to add or reduce the burden he took upon himself. And in doing so, he was doing something that none of us could possibly have done, not even for one person. And his superlative and infinite power can save any one of us, if we accept the gift he has already provided in gratitude.

Work out your salvation with fear before God

There’s many other things in this chapter which deserve attention, but there’s one final passage which stood out to me today:

And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ;

(Alma 34:37)

This is not an unique sentiment in the scriptures (compare Philippians 2:12 and Mormon 9:27), nor is it the first time I’ve discussed fear (including potential positive aspects). But I was struck by it again, perhaps because I’ve seen a fair few adverts for an event recently, in which many of the performers and speakers seem to speak as if participation in the gospel should bring one continuous joy. Well it will… eventually. But not yet.

There’s a balance in these things. On one hand we should not be in a state of insecurity, where we feel unable to trust in God’s promises, or be oppressed by feelings of perfectionism as if everything depended upon us and any failings were irretrievable mistakes. We are saved by grace, we are instructed to “look unto me in every thought: doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36), and encouraged to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, my emphasis). At the same time we must avoid complacency, a state of “carnal security” in which we think “all is well in Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21), and indeed work out our salvation before God with fear and trembling. In similar fashion, Christ does offer us peace (John 14:27), and offers us a “fulness of joy” in the world to come (D&C 93:33). But Adam and Eve, in their innocent state, knew “no joy, for they knew no misery” (2 Nephi 2:23), and the promise to those who are joint-heirs with Christ is that “if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). We’re not guaranteed unbroken happiness in this life, no matter we live our life. The path of following Christ cannot be reduced just to one dimension, either joy nor suffering. In the course of this life, we will likely experience both, at different times and different places, as indeed 2 Nephi 2 points out that we need to. And indeed, our future joys, especially that fulness of joy may well be linked to sufferings in this life, as Peter points out:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

(1 Peter 4:13)

In essence, we should always remember what Christ himself teaches:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

(John 16:33)

2020 Edit:

My original post here is fairly substantial, so I don’t want to dilute it too much. There’s simply a few verses that caught my eye while reading today.

First up is verse 2, one of those verses I think I have often passed over, but which today seemed to have fresh insight:

My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, I know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us.

Reason I mention it is that I have just discovered that there seem to be certain parts of my mind – particularly those to do with lessons learned from emotional reflection and so on – that seem to wake up later than the rest of me. So certain things can seem very fresh and raw in the morning, but then I feel better as what I had learned and processed about such things on previous days comes back to me as the day goes on. Not that I’d forgotten such things, but it seems like I’m only aware of them first thing in the morning, and it takes time for the emotional power of such lessons and reflections to have a renewed effect, and that this is a daily, cyclical thing. The human psyche seems very odd at times.

Anyway, the connection with this verse is that sometimes, we’ve actually already been taught the answer or solution to a question or problem we have, and this can apply in spiritual things too. Sometimes we already have it, but don’t realise it. The Zoramites had been taught “bountifully” about Christ before their dissension, and so already had the answers to their dilemma, but needed to be reminded of those answers by Alma and Amulek. And sometimes the same is true about us.

Verses 32-34 are simply favourites of mine, and I think important verses for reminding us that time is pressing, that we cannot afford to be complacent, that we cannot count on some future period to change our course:

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

Connected with this, in a more hopeful vein, is the end of verse 31: “if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (my emphasis).

Finally my attention was drawn by the last two verses, 40-41:

And now my beloved brethren, I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions; that ye do not revile against those who do cast you out because of your exceeding poverty, lest ye become sinners like unto them;

But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.

These people had been persecuted after all; because of their poverty they had been deemed not be part of “the elect”, and had been cast out and barred from the places of worship they had helped build. They have been wronged. And they will be wronged more in the future. And yet they are instructed not to revile against those who have done so, but to “have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions”. This strikes me as an important lesson.

“For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain”

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

(Galatians 2:21)

I find this an interesting verse to mull over. Sometimes it seems our reaction to sin and bad habits is to try and conquer them purely through our own efforts or mortal means. But this isn’t possible. What is true of addictions is really true of all our sins: we, as natural men (and women) cannot overcome them by our own efforts (indeed, in this light addictions are simply the adversary getting smarter about how he preys upon our fallen natures), no matter how hard we try.

But Christ did not die in vain. Freedom from sin, from addiction, from bad habit is possible, but only through his power. Through him, we can be cleansed from all wickedness and have the power to put off our fallen natures to which we are otherwise prone:

Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.

(Alma 7:14)

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

(Mosiah 3:19)

On Self-Hatred

I’ve wondered whether to write this. I think Western society tends to err on the side of too much self-disclosure, and personally I’m inclined to be quite happy when people tell me they can’t tell what I’m thinking. But some recent events (not involving me) have suggested maybe the topic should be discussed, and it feels like the right thing to do. Perhaps I am selfishly seeking for people to understand me better, although I am not writing this as a cry for help (things aren’t too bad at present). Or perhaps this might help some other people: I’ve had these feelings for as long as I can remember, but it is only comparatively recently that I became aware of these issues. Others may be in the same position.

I wrestle with self-hatred. I’ve alluded to this before. It waxes and wanes, and at times can be almost dormant, although it hasn’t been the last couple of years, and it is always there deep down. When dormant, it is little more than a spike in my mind, an occasional inner voice or reflex. At its worst, however, it burns like fire in my veins, so that it is almost – or rather even – physically painful. When it gets inflamed (and a variety of things have been able to do that over the years) it can be debilitating. Even something as simple as looking in the mirror can be a difficult experience, as sometimes I want to punch the person looking back at me (seeing video footage of myself, even at the best of times, has almost triggered nervous breakdowns). At the worst of times, it includes very vivid and detailed suicidal thoughts. These thoughts are not just driven by feelings of despair, though they can be very present, but often also feelings of rage and anger towards myself. I hasten to add, however, that while there have been times in the past when these feelings have come close to overwhelming me that I have not made any attempts, and never plan on doing so. But an accurate description of this phenomenon also includes those thoughts and feelings too.

As mentioned, I’ve wrestled with these feelings of self-hatred for as long as I can remember, but I wasn’t aware that that is what I was feeling for many years, even though the worst of it (including the suicidal impulse) has been a recurring experience for over two decades. I’m not sure how I never quite twigged that I hated myself earlier in life: I guess that that for some reason the outbursts of negative feeling and so on all seemed a normal reaction to who I am (and particularly any feelings of personal failure I was experiencing), even when that came out vocally as “I hate me”. Over time, however, and particularly in recent years, I have been able to gain a better understanding of what I’ve been experiencing and some of the things that fuel it. I’ve also gained a better understanding of how it in turn has affected or affects other areas of my life. Awareness really only came from working on other issues and realising something else lay behind it.

There seem to be three principle nexuses (nexii?) for the manifestation of these feelings. The first is a sense of failure. I frequently feel that I have failed God, let down people I care about, or just been a failure in general terms. Sometimes this feeling is a reaction to a specific “failure” (such as not finishing my PhD thesis yet – or the fact that I’m still a “student”), other times it is simply a more pervasive sense. I recognise that at times I have distinctly unrealistic standards here: I recall being asked once (in response to my declaration that I felt I had achieved “nothing”) who I was comparing myself to, and I half-jokingly replied that at my age Alexander the Great had conquered the known world. Yet to be honest any comparisons with others tend to be on far simpler grounds of family and job, and I really often just feel that I have accomplished nothing, without any comparisons except to what I feel I could or should have done.

The second nexus is a feeling of being inherently unlovable, about which there’s a whole bunch of insecurities that I will not go into. Perhaps simply because I don’t like me, I don’t understand why anyone else would either. I often feel difficult being in the company of other people (something I can find difficult anyway because of other factors) because I feel they are only putting up with my presence out of charity or kindness, and I don’t want to burden people with my presence (perhaps it doesn’t help that I can’t read body language, though part of me fears that’d simply underline the truth). The emotion of “feeling loved” – whether by humans or by God – does not appear to come to me easily: in fact a few years ago I wondered if I could feel that at all. At that time I discovered I could, and I’ve had a handful of such experiences in my life (a couple involving people, a couple involving God). It can be hard to hold onto memories of such fleeting experiences though. Ultimately I often simply feel that no one could or sometimes even should love me, and sometimes that feeling extends to God himself. And then part of me feels weak for even wanting that love.

A third nexus which I have come to see kicks in occasionally is anger. In the last couple of years I have become aware of a great store of inner anger (and I’m aware of some of the roots of that, which I won’t go into). Over time, I seem to have established various mental banks and earthworks to lock up this anger and prevent that erupting over people as it used to do from time to time. Yet it hasn’t gone away, and it is still there. Part of me is ashamed of that, and considers it another failure. Part of me is perhaps sensitive to things like would-be fascists in our society, because I have a far greater monster locked up inside of me, who sometimes just wants to see the entire world burn. It’s partly why I can’t help but dismiss it when some other kindly people tell me I’m a good man, because I know I’m not. For the most part, however, the reaction seems to be that the anger gets reflected back into myself. I’ve mentally observed this happening as a reflex when I have gotten angry at other people: feelings of anger (because of what is stored up, vastly disproportionate to any supposed offence) deflecting off those inward mental walls and then directing themselves at the only remaining target. At other times, it simply adds extra venom to my feelings of failure or unlovableness,

Of course, with all these feelings, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a believer in the gospel of Christ. People might wonder how that can be the case: how can I claim to believe something which teaches of a loving God, yet still experience these sorts of feelings?

On one level, it is very simple. Due to the spiritual experiences I have had, I know that God is very real, I know that Jesus is the Christ, I know He revealed Himself to His prophets. They simply are true, regardless of what I feel about things.

On the other hand, it does make certain things a struggle. There have been a few occasions in my life, as mentioned, that I have felt the love of God as a supernal experience. And I try to hold onto those experiences. Sometimes I find I can remember an event so clearly I can put myself right back into it. At other times, they can feel like pale reflections, where I’m not quite sure about the emotions involved. But while I do know there is a God, and I know he is perfect, just and merciful, and know he loves all mankind, I find it a struggle to believe he loves me. I can know of it intellectually, because of what I know about him and because of memories of the experiences I’ve had, but sometimes its hard to feel it. It’s slightly easier when I simply include myself in all mankind, but when talking about any kind of love or compassion personally it gets more difficult. But on the other hand, sometimes it feels like that doesn’t matter. One should obey God because he is right, because he is perfectly good and so whatever he wills is good. And I can trust in that, and follow that, and so on one level the issue of whether God loves me or not seems almost unimportant. I should follow him anyway, and I’ve tried to.

And in certain situations, that’s kept me alive. On a few occasions the only thing keeping me from an exceptionally unwise act has been the knowledge that suicide is wrong, and my body is not mine to dispose of, and there’s covenants involved. Were I of a clearer mind at those moments, I could doubtless also reflect that if escape is any motivation, the afterlife doesn’t really provide it. Clear thinking tends to be difficult at those times though.

Yet in other things this continues to be a struggle, and one that does not appear to be likely to disappear any time soon. I know – I absolutely know – that the feelings I experience are not ones that the gospel is trying to inculcate, and that there are doubtless many inaccuracies in my feelings and how I perceive the world. I want to overcome that. Yet I’m not always sure where those inaccuracies are, and while I’ve gained a better understanding of what I feel and where some of it comes from, it has yet to allow me to dispose of these feelings. Sometimes what some people suggest doesn’t seem any more truthful (especially when explicitly justified on “don’t ask if its true, ask whether it is helpful”). I don’t find myself convinced by modern gospels of self-esteem, which likewise don’t seem to tally with the scriptures either. The scriptures themselves, however, don’t seem to explicitly address this issue all that often, which is perhaps why I’m interested in things like Jacob’s experiences. But perhaps they’re not meant to be addressed, but endured. I’ve had these feelings before, and I know I’ll feel them again, and perhaps with Christ’s help I can persevere through them yet again. I’m not entirely sure whether this is at all relevant to my situation, but I find my mind thinking of the words of Paul (who elsewhere wrote of himself as “the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle”, 1 Corinthians 15:9):

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

(2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

I know the way I feel is mistaken, somewhere along the line, and I want to feel differently from the way I do. Yet I do believe in God (which is to say, I know he’s there and I trust him), and in Christ’s grace. If there is to be any solution to this, either in this life or merely persevering through it in this life, I know his grace is sufficient, and to be found in his strength, not any I can cobble up myself. Perhaps there is something yet more I can learn from my weakness, or perhaps there’s simply the humility of knowing that I depend on his strength to go on. I honestly don’t really know, but I know of God’s power, and I know there’s even times that’s been able to work through me, as flawed a vessel as I am. I’m not able to “glory in my infirmities” (Paul is a better man than I). But perhaps I can simply hold on.

 

2 Nephi 3

A couple of items for this chapter:

And now I speak unto you, Joseph, my last-born. Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions; yea, in the days of my greatest sorrow did thy mother bear thee.

2 Nephi 3:1

I’m impressed by Lehi’s statement that Joseph was born during “the days of my greatest sorrow”. Because when was that? At which point in the journey? Is he referring to a specific episode, or the wilderness as a whole (he doesn’t say it to Jacob). It doesn’t say, and it may even refer to an incident that isn’t recorded. Lehi clearly considered that the lowest point in his life, and we don’t from the record even know what he was referring to. As painful as it undoubtedly was for him, the record the Lord has preserved for us doesn’t define Lehi by it. At the same time, how many other people do we come into contact with who are shaped by episodes we are entirely unaware of?

Because otherwise I’m in danger of talking about nothing but affliction, I quote this verse too:

Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:12

This verse could practically be a mission statement: of this blog, of anything that I might hope to achieve with my thesis, with other stuff (those missionaries I commit to read the Old Testament). Because I love the Book of Mormon. I also love the Bible. I firmly believe that both are the greatest possible aid (save the Spirit) to understanding the other, and one can only obtain their full benefits by reading both. It will only be as we – individuals, church members, whoever – read, believe and apply both together that we will secure the blessings promised here.

Finally:

And out of weakness he shall be made strong, in that day when my work shall commence among all my people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.

2 Nephi 3:13

This is a theme found throughout scripture (I’m thinking of Ether 12:23-27 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 in particular): that God can make use of weakness, will use us despite (and sometimes even because) of our weakness, and that His grace is sufficient for us. One can often despair because of one’s failings. God’s grace, however, is sufficient for all and “is made perfect in weakness”.

2020 Edit:

Moving from teaching Jacob about Christ and the choices we face, above all between good and evil, Lehi turns in this chapter to sharing a prophecy from Joseph in Egypt (of coat fame) with his own son Joseph. This appears to concern the restoration of Israel, particularly how a branch of Joseph’s own descendants, though “broken off”, will be remembered and restored (v. 5), via means of a seer who shall bring God’s word to them, bringing together the words written by both the descendants of Joseph and those of Judah (vv. 6-12). This seer, who will work “in that day when my work shall commence among all people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel” (v. 13), will also be named Joseph, as will his father (v. 15). Thus the best fit for this seer is Joseph Smith, while the writings of Joseph’s descendants he shall write shall be the Book of Mormon itself, which shall “cry from the dust”.

It is interesting that in terms of restoring Israel, while translating and publishing the Book of Mormon is not the only activity attributed to Joseph Smith, it is depicted as being perhaps the most important. I’m interested is to why that is: does that refer to the role the Book of Mormon has already played (in terms of initiating the restoration of the gospel) and continues to play (in introducing people to that gospel), or does it also refer (as I suspect) to future events and future influence that we can scarce dream of at this time? As we’ll see in other chapters, the Book of Mormon is regarded as both as a sign that God is about to fulfil his covenant with the house of Israel, and is one of the major tools he will employ in restoring Israel, something which is certainly only begun as yet.

That this prophecy is found here, but not in the Bible as we have it is of little surprise to me: it should be recognised that the Bible and “the plates of brass” are really overlapping collections, and there is some material found in one but not the other. For instance, I think the fact that Micah is only quoted by the risen Christ suggests that that book was not on the brass plates (which might suggest other speculative possibilities), while the plates of brass did apparently contain the writings of the non-biblical prophets Zenos, Zenock and Neum. There are several reasons for why these collections would not be identical, but one significant reason would be there different origin: the Bible, while it includes writings from the northern kingdom of Israel, and contains narratives about them, is fundamentally a record from the southern kingdom of Judah, collected and collated by their hands. The plates of brass, by contrast, are a record that has been kept and preserved by descendants of Joseph (i.e. northerners, perhaps until as late as the Assyrian conquest of 721 BC) as an ancestral record, complete with genealogy (1 Nephi 5:14-16). While it obviously includes some southern prophets like Isaiah and apparently “many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah” (1 Nephi 5:13), it should be noted that both of these prophets operated in the period after the Assyrian conquest (Isaiah’s career began before it, but continued throughout the period and through the failed Assyrian conquest of Jerusalem, in which Isaiah played a pivotal role and prophesied of Jerusalam’s deliverance; perhaps it would be natural for those who may have fled from Assyria’s conquest of the north to be especially interested in such a figure).

Similarly, from 3 Nephi 10:16, we learn that Zenos and Zenock are actually ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples (and presumably descendants of Joseph themselves). It thus seems natural that they would be included in the records preserved by such descendants (indeed, they may have been keepers of that record themselves, in which case their words in the brass plates could have been their actual writings, not simply a record of them!). And likewise, it would be little surprising that direct descendants of Joseph would seek to preserve Joseph’s own prophecies, and contain a fuller account of them than those records preserved by Judah, especially when – as in this case – they concern the destiny of those very same descendants.

There is one verse in this chapter that I find poses an interesting puzzle. After quoting Joseph in Egypt, Lehi addresses his son Joseph directly, and states in verses 23-24:

Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.

And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.

Now the uncontroversial part is that Lehi is stating – presumably by prophetic inspiration of his own – that some of Joseph’s (son of Lehi) own descendants will part of that remnant that Joseph (in Egypt – there’s a lot of Josephs in this chapter!) prophesied should be preserved, and receive the teachings of the Book of Mormon. The puzzling part comes with verse 24: “there shall rise up one mighty among them…”. Based on the preceding chapter, one might think this to be a description of Joseph (Smith), but while claimed to be a descendant of Joseph (in Egypt), he wasn’t a descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi – see what I mean!), unless he had some native American ancestry I’m unaware of. There are several possibilities I see here: a) “among them” could simply refer to working among Joseph’s (son of Lehi) descendants, with no imputation of common ancestry, and so can refer to Joseph (Smith) or b) this is a referring to another figure, who will be an actual descendant of Joseph (son of Lehi), who will also be involved in the work of restoring Israel.