Mosiah 21

And now we catch back up to the “present” after the flashback scene (just before we embark on another flashback scene with Alma!). There’s a few things in this chapter that caught my eye today.

The first is in verses 24-26:

But when he found that they were not, but that they were his brethren, and had come from the land of Zarahemla, he was filled with exceedingly great joy.

Now king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla; but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness.

Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon.

We could have perhaps inferred this before, but this seems to be the first time it is clearly stated: those who’d set off to obtain help from Zarahemla and found the destroyed cities of the Jaredites instead thought they actually had reached Zarahemla. But rather than being their last source for help, they found nothing but ruins and evidence of an extinct people. It must have seemed truly hopeless (it’s like that scene in Battlestar Galactica – the “new” one – where they find “Earth” only to find it a nuked out wasteland). So when Ammon and party announced that they actually were from Zarahemla, there must have been some (good) emotional whiplash.

Next is perhaps a more minor note, but verse 28 reads:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

However, in the 1830, the line (the 1830 edition doesn’t have verses) reads a little differently:

And now Limhi was again filled with joy, on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice.

IMG_20200515_134836257

See!

What’s going on here? Is this a mistake? Well that’s possible (the Book of Mormon, after all, disclaims inerrancy on its very title page). That’s probably why it got changed to Mosiah in the 1837 edition, although Benjamin is also on the printer’s manuscript (see Royal Skousen’s Analysis of Textual Variations part 3, in which he goes into this verse in some detail in pp. 1418-1421. As he notes, Ether 4:1 similarly originally read Benjamin and not Mosiah). It could of course be an error on Mormon’s part. However, it’s possibly not an error at all and should read Benjamin. Note that in Mosiah 6 it is recorded that after abdicating (becoming King Emiritus?), “king Benjamin lived three years and he died” (Mosiah 6:5). And Ammon’s party were sent to find the colonists after the people started nagging the king “after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years” (Mosiah 7:1). In other words, it’s possible that Benjamin was still alive when Ammon and his party set off, although the time frame is tight (especially for Ether 4:1, which also requires Benjamin to still be alive, if only for a short time, when Ammon returns; but again, that might actually be possible). Of course, the correct reading here matters little in terms of the principles that are being taught, but it’s interesting to think about.

A final thing that stood out to me while reading today comes from Ammon and his party’s reaction to the events they’ve been told about:

….and they also did mourn for the death of Abinadi; and also for the departure of Alma and the people that went with him, who had formed a church of God through the strength and power of God, and faith on the words which had been spoken by Abinadi.

Yea, they did mourn for their departure, for they knew not whither they had fled. Now they would have gladly joined with them, for they themselves had entered into a covenant with God to serve him and keep his commandments.

It’s interesting that Ammon has a desire to unite with the church Alma organised, although he’s already made a covenant with God during King Benjamin’s sermon. There’s a couple of more examples coming up in the next few chapters, but what I feel this really illustrates is some important differences between what “the Church” meant here and what it tends to mean to us today. We think in terms of one, singular, formal organization, and perhaps have a very monolithic picture in which it encompasses all our religious endeavours (and maybe we go too far in that sometimes; it’s in modern scripture that we are told that we should not need to be “command[ed] in all things”, and should “do many thing of [our] own free will”, D&C 58:26-27). But that’s certainly not the case with the “Church” (which, it should be remembered, is generally translating words that can be rendered as “congregation” and “community”) in other dispensations. The early Christians, for instance, continued to worship at the temple (and thus recognised the authority of the priesthood there) after the resurrection of Christ. Likewise here: King Benjamin is a seer, and an inspired man who received specific revelation from an angel on what to teach people, and taught his people so they might enter into a covenant with God. But he didn’t organize a church like Alma did, and so one who has entered into a covenant under the instruction of King Benjamin sees no contradiction in wanting to join Alma’s church, and recognises the divine hand and authority behind both.

Easter Saturday

A few years ago, during a particularly challenging and emotionally turbulent period of my life, I found myself at Easter thinking about the disciples, and how they must have felt on Friday night and then the Saturday following the crucifixion. I wrote:

I find myself thinking about how a small group must have felt on a friday evening almost two thousand years ago. The scriptures are almost silent about that Friday evening and the Saturday. We know the events of earlier, but that group didn’t understand them yet, and so wouldn’t have understood that the suffering they had witnessed would lead to good. And the victory of the Sunday Morning was both so far away and unimagined. What did they feel, I wonder, at this point when despair must have been at its greatest? How did Simon Peter feel, believing perhaps that he’d never have the chance to make right his denial of his master, that he irrevocably lost? What did they do on that Saturday in that moment of grief and uttermost sorrow? And could they have remotely imagined that in the space of a couple of days this would be turned all upside down, and their mourning turned to joy?

The New Testament is indeed mostly quiet about this Saturday (with only the appeal for guards for the tomb by the Chief Priests and Pharisees in Matthew 27:62-66 perhaps falling on it). Compared to the events of the Friday, and those that were to come on the Sunday, perhaps it doesn’t matter much in terms of Christ’s work (at least on Earth – in the world of spirits he was quite busy!). But I think it does matter from a human perspective. That sense of crushing disappointment, of abandonment, of grief, of hopes unfulfilled and dashed; these are feelings we can understand (as my own despair of the time helped me to), because they are feelings that – at least in some stages in our life – in some way we tend to tangle with as well.

There is a bit more scriptural material to work with for this time in the New World, where the Nephites had a voice speak to them from the heavens, with Christ declaring himself and announcing why his judgments had fallen upon their cities (3 Nephi 9:1-10:7). However, as to the condition the people were in during this period, we have this passage in 3 Nephi 8:20-25:

And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.
And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
And in one place they were heard to cry, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and then would our brethren have been spared, and they would not have been burned in that great city Zarahemla.
And in another place they were heard to cry and mourn, saying: O that we had repented before this great and terrible day, and had not killed and stoned the prophets, and cast them out; then would our mothers and our fair daughters, and our children have been spared, and not have been buried up in that great city Moronihah. And thus were the howlings of the people great and terrible.

The disciples in Jerusalem were in emotional darkness; the people here were in literal darkness, thick clouding darkness that prevented any spark or fire. But they too wrestled with grief, with regret, and with despair. Could there be any hope? Could light ever come again?

Following the voice from the heavens, all they can do is mourn again (3 Nephi 10:8):

And now it came to pass that after the people had heard these words, behold, they began to weep and howl again because of the loss of their kindred and friends.

Yet in just the next two verses (vv. 9-10):

And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groanings did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away.
And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.

What perhaps most struck me when I first thought about this was that, as bad as the disciples must surely have been feeling, in but a few short hours their grief would be turned to joy, the source of their sadness turned into one of jubilation. We the readers know this: we may have read or heard the story before, we can turn the page and look ahead. But they had no way of knowing or imagining this. As Mary Magdalene was weeping and pleading with the gardener to tell her where the body of her Lord had been moved (John 20:15), could she have at all expected to get the answer she was about to get in the next few seconds? One which must surely have upturned and overturned all that she had felt (the Gospel does not record her emotional reaction, but we can imagine it; certainly the Saviour then had to urgently tell her not to touch him, vv. 16-17). Deliverance, euphoria, relief, all close at hand, but unimaginable in the moment of despair.

Of the Easter period we remember Good Friday and the Easter Morning: the moments of great sacrifice, and the moments of joy, catharsis and blessing, but for those who passed through it, Saturday must have loomed large. And in our own life, we have our times of sacrifice, and our times of deliverance, but we may spend a good while in the Easter Saturdays of our life, where darkness surrounds us, hope has fled, and deliverance impossible. We are not like the readers of the Gospels; we cannot turn the page and look ahead and see the morning to come. Yet perhaps the message of Easter Saturday we can take into such times is that deliverance will come. It may not come the very next day (as it did for the disciples), and it may well come in ways that we cannot expect or anticipate (as did, in fact, happen for the disciples), but it will come. For those of us in the Easter Saturdays of life, Easter Morn will come, and if we hold on until that dawn – whether it be the very next day or at the time of the final judgment itself – our mourning will be turned to joy, and our lamentations into praise and thanksgiving.

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 Good News

IMAG0038

Almost two thousand years ago, in a minor province of the Roman empire and in the space of just a few days, the most important event in human history took place. More than history even, for the events of those days will have consequences beyond history and throughout eternity, when many “historical” events will seem mere footnotes. Moreover, those events matter not just two thousand years ago, nor just in eternities beyond the end of time itself, but I find myself reflecting on this Easter on the way they matter today.

It seems a human tendency to want to break things up, and subdivide them, perhaps so we can get our head around them. Thus some depictions of Christ’s redeeming work have focused on the Crucifixion. In Latter-day Saint culture, there’s been a tendency to focus on the suffering in the garden of Gethsemane (I specify culture; the Book of Mormon itself refers to the Cross more frequently than to the Garden). But in reality these are all part of one big redemptive work. It arguably began long before Gethsemane itself, as Christ’s experienced the sufferings endemic to mortal life throughout his mortal life (Alma 7:11). He faced hunger and thirst in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, sorrow at the tomb of Lazarus, and abandonment by many of his former followers: such happenings and others like them were all part and parcel of him taking upon himself mortal pains so that he might help us in ours.

It is in the garden, however, that the more than natural sufferings clearly began. In addition to his sorrowing “unto death”, so much that he “fell on his face” (Matt. 26:38-39), in some way that we do not fully comprehend he began the process by which he took upon himself the sin of the world, suffering so much so that he sweat blood (Luke 22:44; Mosiah 3:7; D&C 19:18). He was then betrayed by Judas, abandoned by all, unjustly tried and condemned, abused, scourged and then sentenced to death on the Cross. Yet his spiritual sufferings did not end in the garden, for there was more to Christ’s pain on the Cross than the physical agony of crucifixion, and more to his atoning sacrifice that the suffering endured in the Garden beforehand.

Indeed, suffering alone wasn’t Christ’s offering. The penalty of sin is death (Romans 5:12;  6:23), death and hell, or death of the body and death of the spirit (2 Nephi 9:10). In the first our spirit is separated from our body, in the second it is separated from God. The price to redeem us from these deaths required an infinite offering: “not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast” (Alma 34:10), nor simply a discrete amount of suffering, no matter how multiplied. There is no straightforward arithmetic of atonement that allows trading off one life for another, and so only “an infinite atonement [would] suffice for the sins of the world” (v. 11-12). Thus Christ needed to offer up his own, infinite and eternal divine life as the offering: his sufferings alone would not suffice, but his death was required also (Alma 22:14). Not even his physical life could be taken from him without his will (John 19:11), as reflected in the curious phrasing by which Moses and Elijah discuss “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31, my emphasis). But just like the death we face due to our sins is both physical and spiritual, so Christ’s offering likewise required both. Thus, while in Gethsemane he received strength from an angel (Luke 22:43), on the Cross he experienced the withdrawal of the Father’s presence, causing him to exclaim “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

So Christ offered up every drop of his infinite and eternal life. And yet that is not the conclusion of his atonement, for the victory would yet be incomplete. That came several days later, on the day we commemorate with Easter itself. It is on that day that the bands of death and hell were broken, when Christ rose from his tomb. Notice how he tells Mary Magdalene, the first to see him, to not touch him “for I am not yet ascended to my Father”, but for her to go and specifically tell his brethren “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17 – the fact that those who saw him later could touch him suggest that said ascension took place swiftly). His rising was not just taking up his body again, even in perfect form, but a rising into a fullness of both physical and spiritual life, the ascension of his body from the tomb, and his ascension – body and spirit both – to the Father. Thus our redemption is “brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven” (Mosiah 18:2).

There are those, both of Christ’s followers at the time and others since, who have had the opportunity to bear physical witness of his resurrection, to have “heard”, “seen” and “handled” (Ep. of John 1:1). For others, including myself, there is the witness of the Holy Ghost. In all such cases, however, we have the promise symbolised by the empty tomb, a promise that can bring power and peace into our lives now by assuring us of good things to come. It may be easy, looking around the world, to feel a measure of disquiet at the way things are and the way they’re heading. Even when things are good, no society lasts forever. And then in our personal lives, we may – indeed almost all do – experience loss, or grief, or failure, or feelings of failure. We may feel frustration or pain that life has gone in undesired directions, whether due to our mistakes or the vicissitudes of life. Sometimes life is just rubbish, and sometimes we may simply feel we’ve messed it up.

But the promise of that Easter Morning – the “good news” which is literally the meaning of the word gospel – is that this life is not it. There is more to come than the ephemeral things of this life, and no failure need be final. No matter what setbacks we face, what trials we experience or pain we go through in the present, that empty tomb is a promise that better things are in store if we look to the one who is risen and hold on faithful. It is a promise that we need not be forever defined by our sins nor our failures, nor any other imperfection, for Christ has conquered death and hell, and can put all enemies under his feet.

“To God I cried with mournful voice”

To God I cried with mournful voice,
I sought his gracious ear,
In the sad day when troubles rose,
And filled the night with fear.

Sad were my days, and dark my nights,
My soul refused relief;
I thought on God the just and wise,
But thoughts increased my grief.

Still I complained, and still oppressed,
My heart began to break;
My God, thy wrath forbade my rest,
And kept my eyes awake.

My overwhelming sorrows grew,
Till I could speak no more;
Then I within myself withdrew,
And called thy judgments o’er.

I called back years and ancient times
When I beheld thy face;
My spirit searched for secret crimes
That might withhold thy grace.

I called thy mercies to my mind
Which I enjoyed before;
And will the Lord no more be kind?
His face appear no more?

Will he for ever cast me off?
His promise ever fail?
Has he forgot his tender love?
Shall anger still prevail?

But I forbid this hopeless thought;
This dark, despairing frame,
Rememb’ring what thy hand hath wrought;
Thy hand is still the same.

I’ll think again of all thy ways,
And talk thy wonders o’er;
Thy wonders of recovering grace,
When flesh could hope no more.

Grace dwells with justice on the throne;
And men that love thy word
Have in thy sanctuary known
The counsels of the Lord.

Isaac Watts, Psalm 77 part one (based on Psalm 77)

2 Nephi 19

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

… For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of government and peace there is no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this.

(2 Nephi 19:2, 6-7//Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

I’ve spent some time (okay, a lot of time) on this blog lamenting particular developments in the world. And I’m pessimistic about the current future of Western civilization. But the message of the gospel is ultimately one of hope, on both a personal and a collective level. Through Christ, each of us personally can be saved from sin and death, and He promises to “wipe away every tear” of his people (Revelations 21:4), and make right all our sorrows. Collectively, there will come a time when He will reign, and the Earth will be at rest, and governed in peace and justice. Bad stuff may happen in the meantime, but these too will pass; while the immediate future may sometimes be dim, God’s light will shine, and will shine forever. And if we are faithful, we will be blessed to walk in that light forevermore.

2020 edit:

As is true, really, for all of these chapters, 2 Nephi 19//Isaiah 9 shows the same trait that Isaiah displays of speaking in such a way that his words are applicable to multiple different situations, separated by thousands of years, at the same time. Thus on one hand he’s addressing the situation the nation of Judah faces there and then, with Israel (the Northern kingdom) and Syria allied against it, and promises deliverance for Judah and judgment on those that oppose it. His words about a forthcoming ruler can surely apply in part to the next king, Hezekiah, who would indeed be one of the greatest and most righteous kings that Judah would ever have. There have likewise presumably been many situations since affecting Israel to which these words can be applied. But of course the complete fulfilment of these verses, the antitype to the type, the one who would be a “great light” (beginning in the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali – which includes Nazareth – and Galilee), who would be the one who would be rightfully called “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”, is Christ, both on his mortal ministry and in his reappearance and forthcoming millennial rule yet to come.

2 Nephi 7

Yea, for thus saith the Lord: Have I put thee away, or have I cast thee off forever? For thus saith the Lord: Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement? To whom have I put thee away, or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Yea, to whom have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.

Wherefore, when I came, there was no man; when I called, yea, there was none to answer. O house of Israel, is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem, or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make their rivers a wilderness and their fish to stink because the waters are dried up, and they die because of thirst.

(2 Nephi 7:1-2//Isaiah 50:1-2)

Sometimes its just gratifying to know that – while we often sell ourselves by our iniquities – we are not cast off forever, and that God always has the power to redeem and deliver.

2020 Edit:

Perhaps amusingly, it is much the same verses that leapt out at me today as did when I wrote the original post. They summarise a key point of this passage, however: God is not unfaithful, and does not abandon us. We often abandon him, like Israel did many times, but God will continue trying to reach out, being faithful to his covenant, and has the power to do so.

This chapter is a quotation of Isaiah 50, although the way this chapter’s beginning and ending synchronise with the chapter divisions in Isaiah is an artefact of the post-1879 chapters; in the 1830 edition 2 Nephi 6-8 are all one chapter.

A key part of this chapter, as it is for these chapters in Isaiah, is this image of a servant, one described here as being given “the tongue of the learned” to address the people (v.4), who listens to the Lord and does not rebel nor turn back (v. 5), and who the Lord will help(v. 9). Many of these words can apply at least in part to a number of prophetic figures, as I mentioned in the post on 1 Nephi 21//Isaiah 49. As I discussed there, however, and as can be seen in things like Abinadi’s interpretation of Isaiah 52:7 in Mosiah 15:14-18, many of these prophecies can simultaneously apply to a range of prophetic servants or such servants generally, and at the same time apply above all else to Christ himself. In this chapter, it is perhaps verse 6 and 7 that show this most clearly, where the servant states:

I gave my back to the smiter, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

For the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded. Therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.

And again, much as in 1 Nephi 20-21//Isaiah 48-49, the consequences of continuing to reject the Lord and refusing to obey the voice of his servant are laid out, here in verse 11:

Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

Those that “kindle fire” – which as fire provides both light and warmth, suggests those that seek guidance and security from sources other that God – will be left to their own devices, indeed to my ear it seems suggested that they’ll be damaged by the very sparks they kindle, and ultimately receive sorrow when they could have received joy.

For those interested in the textual differences between this chapter and Isaiah 50 in the KJV, see pp. 396-398 in the appendix of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. Perhaps one the most substantial additions/substitutions in this passage is the addition of “O house of Israel” in verse 2 and the substitution of “O house of Israel” into verse 4, clearly indicating that it is the house of Israel that is not cast off forever (and so resisting any supercessionist reading of this chapter). Another substantial addition is the whole clause of “and I will smite him with the strength of my mouth” to verse 8, indicating that the theme of judgment is likewise never that far away.

Not Luz

There was a man in a land that was not Luz. And the Lord, looking upon the man, saw Satan approaching.

And the Lord said unto Satan, “Whence comest thou?” Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, “From wandering in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”

And the Lord said, “Consider this man. He has often fallen short, and oft stumbled. Yet he has always put his trust in me, and never denied me.”

“Of course he does!”, replied the Devil. “Does he trust you for naught? You have given him so many assurances of what is to come: of his purpose and meaning, of hopes of love and marriage and family, of your own care for him. Even if he finds them hard to believe, you give him comfort about what is to come, and he knows you can and have told him of these things. Remove them from him, strip him of his hopes and assurances, give him doubt that he can or has ever heard your will, rob him of any knowledge of your love and he will deny you to your face.”

“Behold, he is in thine hand”, said the Lord.

And the man was plunged into thick confusion. He no longer knew whether he could tell the difference between an impression from God and his own thoughts, desires and fears. He no longer knew if he could trust the assurances he had relied on. He feared his labours had been in vain, and that he had spent ten years following a false path. He feared he could not correctly hear the answers to his prayers and that he had been falsely guided, decieved by the devil or his own thoughts. He worried that he was a failure, and that even God misliked him.

And the man was grieved at heart and vexed in spirit. He wished for death, and his mind put forth designs for it. But he prayed unto the Lord:

“Lord, I do not know thy will and I am sick at heart. Please save me from despair, for I am alone! Lord, I know that thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. I know that thou hast all power, and can tell me of thy will. I know that thou knowest all things, things past and things to come, and so can guide me right. Please guide me now, and help me to know what is true and not be deceived.”

And the man remained despondant and low in spirit. He feared he could not trust any answers for he knew not where it came from. Yet he continued to pray:

“But may thy will be done. For I know that whatever thou willest – even if it be my ill – is right.”

Thus it was that the Devil was confounded, and the Lord was vindicated, and in time the Lord gave the man peace and clarity.