Recently I’ve been reading and re-reading the piece of 2nd Nephi that people call Nephi’s Prayer or Nephi’s Psalm (2 Ne. 4:15-35). I began reading it as a part of regular scripture study, but I’ve been looking at it more closely as a personal narrative (Steve Cannon would appreciate it), and as a pattern to me of development and inner change. Nephi sorrows in his sins, then he remembers the Lord and his soul awakens, as he remembers “in whom [he has] trusted.” Nephi later says, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”
The way Nephi repeats “arm of flesh,” and the way his internal process of change is linked to properly placing his trust in the Lord, makes me think carefully about what the Arm of Flesh represents.
You probably all know the common interpretations: the Arm of Flesh is the world, the security of armies or the comfort of western civilization. I’ve also heard that the Arm of Flesh can mean over-reliance on physical evidence, science or logical reasoning in matters of faith. We can view Arm of Flesh as a common trope for anything that seems to protect or comfort, but that has fundamental roots in the finite, limited world we live in. I like to think of things like our government infrastructure, our wealth or our university-acquired knowledge as forms of the Arm of Flesh.
Two lines of questions remain for me about where we should put our trust. First, how can mormons reduce reliance on the Arm of Flesh (esp. if it really refers to things like infrastructure, wealth or university-acquired knowledge)? Does “not trusting in the Arm of Flesh”mean not enjoying it while it lasts? Does the current Church emphasis on financial independence, secondary education and civic participation lessen, or enhance our reliance on the Arm of Flesh? Are we melding the Arm of Flesh into our worship?
The second line of questions is whether we can apply the idea of Arm of Flesh to cultural institutions within the Church. For example, I know a family who has refused to take jobs, etc. to support themselves, saying “the Lord will provide.” Or, often I value church because of my friends and the fun I have; is it trusting in the Arm of Flesh to value those relationships more than, say, taking the sacrament? Can over-relying on LDS pseudo-doctrine be the Arm of Flesh (like the infamous “tannic acid” justifications for the Word of Wisdom)?
Please help me work through these ideas. It seems like an important concept.