Returning to the Book of Mormon

Last week I began rereading the Book of Mormon, taking up President Hinckley’s challenge to the Church (I have it on good authority, incidentally, that posting about this challenge is not considered poaching, so there).  Reading the Book of Mormon feels like coming home to me – it is so familiar, so welcoming a book, that it is comfort food for the soul.

Rusty once posted along these lines at Nine Moons, and I agree entirely with him.  I feel refreshed from reading the book, like a trip back to where I grew up, and yet just like that kind of a trip, nothing’s quite the same as it used to me.  Of course I’m the one that’s changed, not the book itself, but I read with new filters and new eyes each time.  I can already begin to believe President Hinckley’s words:

Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.

Now, for my own bizarre reflection thus far: Nephi could be a real jerk sometimes.  After he recounts his dream and his interpretation to his brothers, for example, and exhorts them to be righteous, they reply: "Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear."  For the first time, I saw this as meaning, "what you’ve said is difficult to understand, and the commandments you’ve set out are really tough."  In other words, we’re having a tough time with this.

Nephi’s reply is of course a famous snark: "I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth…wherefore the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center."  Now, that’s not the most compassionate way to reply, but such directness was Nephi’s claim to fame.  I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Nephi had taken them by the hand and shown them some tenderness.  I don’t want to pretend that Laman and Lemuel were more sinned against than sinning — they are the bad guys.  But as I try to incorporate the Book of Mormon into my life, maybe I can learn from both sides of the story.

Comments

  1. This is really “weirding” me out because I, too, have been re-reading the Book of Mormon (per the challenge) and for the first time I have actually been a little annoyed with Nephi. It is interesting that Nephi is the only character that ALWAYS makes the right choice and NEVER complains. I was feeling guilty for being annoyed by Nephi’s behavior, but I’m glad that others had a similar reaction.

  2. I like what JKS has posted. Besides, we can be so ethnocentric and temporalcentric. Some cultures value plain speaking (have you ever lived in a culture where “You are fat” upon meeting someone is not forbidden by the culture–I have). And some cultures value harmony over truth–like Japan.

    So to judge Nephi by the tiptoeing around that we currently see in OUR culture, may be unjust judgment.

    Poor Nephi, he just didn’t know how badly he was injuring L&L’s self esteem.

  3. Steve Evans says:

    JKS, interesting ideas. I agree with you as to what Nephi’s message is — and I fully appreciate that my post misses Nephi’s point. That was something I was trying to make clear. I think that Nephi is entirely right to call people to repentance.

    That said, the “kind father” aspect of God isn’t something external to mormonism — it is the Heavenly Father taught by Joseph Smith himself. He gives us commandments and expects a lot from us, but first and foremost, He is Love and He wants us to return to him. Now if Nephi could have been more effective in helping his brothers repent by being more kind to them, isn’t that worth wondering?

    But I like what you say at the end — the message is about obedience. That’s a tough message to swallow, to be sure.

  4. I definitely agree that our God is a kind father. I meant only that sometimes we concentrate a little too much on it, and I think it is because we are to some extent influenced by our current society.
    In my BoM reading, I just barely read the “cutting” comment a day or two ago. My thoughts were along the lines of the commandments you agree with are easy, its the commandments that you disagree with, or areas that you are guilty of sin, that you do not like to hear what God asks.
    As for Nephi’s words, he speaks very formally. Are we mistaking his formality for harshness or inconsideration? The formality is probably there either because he is writing it down, and is using his best language, or because that is how everyone spoke.
    I think also that they were very interconnected once they left Jerusalem. Back home, they were probably more like us with our brothers and sisters. We feel it is none of our business what they do or don’t do. We don’t expect them to listen to us tell them of their mistakes.
    Imagine if you are in a business partnership with your sibling. Suddenly their mistakes, wickedness, become unacceptable. If your brother is doing something “wrong” you need to address it. If he is embezzling, if he is not following government regulations, if he is not treating employees well, all these things are things you would not be able to let be. You would have to have a talk with them. I assume life on the way to the promised land would have been more like this situation, where the mistakes of some could not be ignored because they hurt the entire party.

  5. GreenEggz says:

    I can’t wait to read the English translation of Nephi’s large plates, at least the ones he engraved himself.

    Or maybe by the time they are revealed we’ll be able to study Reformed Egyptian.

  6. Nephi isn’t PC. I don’t think God is either. We sometimes overemphasize the “kind father” aspect of God (we’ve been influenced by modern US churches).
    God has commandments. Not suggestions. He expects a lot from us. Obedience vs. sin.
    Nephi’s words aren’t just for Laman and Lemuel. They are for us.
    So if we are told to quit sinning, it is a hard truth. How should we react? Like L&L? Do we get angry? Or should we listen to the words of Nephi, and vow to be obedient to God.
    To identify with L&L because we sometimes sin, we make mistakes, we are blind, we are foolish, is understandable.
    But to say that God or his mouthpeice should be more PC when talking to us, to be kinder in calling us to repentence, to be less black & white about sin and obedience, is to miss Nephi’s point entirely.
    He, and Heavenly Father, have a message for us in Nephi. And it seems to be about obedience. No matter what he asks, we should do. No matter how hard it is, we should go forward in faith, no matter what we have done in the past, we are still implored to start obeying the word of GOd.

  7. Many, many years ago, somebody on Prodigy (I guess that tells you how old it is) posted Laman’s diary. Hilarious. Being an older brother myself, I always had a little sympathy for L&L.

  8. A. Gant: You’re thinking of Grant Hardy’s “Book of Mormon Reader’s Edition” published a while ago.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0252027973/qid=1123915629/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-0798104-7528637?v=glance&s=books&n=507846

  9. Steve,

    Can you say a little more about how/why you came to like the Book of Mormon so much? Is it just familiarity? I have to confess that it has always been my least favorite book of scripture, despite many readings and lots of attempts at different kinds of study. The Psalms feel like home to me, and Isaiah, and Luke, but the Book of Mormon never has.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Kristine, I know what you mean about Luke; I feel that way about it too, and James as well. I guess it’s a matter of it being so fundamentally linked to that time in my life when I was first gaining my testimony and first beginning to read the scriptures — any scriptures — in earnest. There’s lots in the BoM I don’t understand, or like (the Isaiah verses!), but overall it’s so linked to the restoration and the restoration of my testimony that every time I read it it just hearkens back to those times. A Proustian madeleine if you will, but it works.

  11. Here is a copy of the Book of Lemuel. It’s been making the photocopy-of-a-photocopy rounds of missionaries for years.

  12. (Cross commented from Rusty’s post.)
    There is an article, Richard L. Bushman. “The Lamanite View of Book of Mormon History” By Study and Also by Faith v.II, p. 52-73.

    From http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/masterbom

  13. lyle stamps says:

    ditto on Ben S.’s initial comment. Just becuase he wrote b/w, given the limited space, doesn’t mean that he experienced it that way. Maybe there is alot more going on than was recorded? on both sides?

  14. Wow, this really is the same conversation as the one at Rusty’s place. Well, then here is bsically the same comment I made there (I loved it so, you see…):

    I thought most of 1 Nephi was written long after Nephi’s family and friends broke off from the main group in the promised land and wars had already begun between the two clans. That sounds very much like a messy divorce today. Think about how one side of the family remembers and talks about the ex-spouse after a divorce. I suspect that perspective helps explain why Laman and Lemuel look like such weasels in Nephi’s history. If they were still trying to work things out together or had remained in one group I wonder how the past events and squabbles would have been recorded…

  15. Ben,
    Thanks for that link, I will check it later tonight.

    Lyle,
    Exactly. More going on.

  16. The direct link is here.

    http://home.uchicago.edu/~spackman/bushman

    The other one is a list of articles organized by chapter and verse that includes the reference to Bushman’s article.

  17. I’ve decided to take the challenge by reading the new Doubleday edition.

    I bought it thinking it wasn’t going to have verse numbers or double colums . . .why did I think that? I don’t know but I’m still looking forward to it.

  18. Nephi says, “I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked.”

    Is it possible that he’s saying, not only that he knows that the commandments are difficult, but also expressing awareness that his language is a “hard thing”? In any case, there’s so little of Nephi’s day-to-day treatment of L & L, that it seems impossible to state with any certainty whether his actions were justified.

    In any case, I tend to think that Nephi is telling us more than anything.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, you’re right on — the brothers are evil, no question. I guess I was focusing on Nephi’s reaction in this particular circumstance rather than questioning whether his approach was justified. Of course Nephi is right – but that doesn’t mean he should have said things the way he says he did.

    And yes, getting them to repent was a good thing — but obviously something wasn’t right, ’cause it sure didn’t take…

  20. “And yes, getting them to repent was a good thing — but obviously something wasn’t right, ’cause it sure didn’t take…”

    I would guess that it often doesn’t take with people who see an angel and go on to repeatedly attempt to murder their brother. Not that there are many of those around, mind you.

  21. I started noticing things like this a few years ago. Nephi like Joseph in the Old Testament) really doesn’t seem to have the best social skills. And so many scriptural parents seem to unintentionally set their kids up for intense sibling rivalry (Lehi, Jacob, Isaac, maybe even Adam). The last time I read the BOM, I reached the conclusion that Captain Moroni, while being an awesome individual, was also a hothead. To me, it makes them all seem so much more human to realize they weren’t perfect.

  22. I was struck not so much with Nephi’s personality, but with Lehi’s. You don’t get too many accounts of a prophet not being a great dad.

  23. Steve,

    By this point, his brothers have already tried to kill him twice. So calling them wicked may not be a big surprise to anyone present. I’m sure I don’t know what the long term best thing to do would have been, but it is worth noting that the proximate effect of Nephi’s hard words is that they repent:

    “5 And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness.”

  24. Steve Evans says:

    Ben, I think you’re right — Nephi does have some regrets in his life and maybe being overly harsh is one of them; it’s interesting to think about.

    Rusty — great minds think alike!! Now where is a) your earlier post on the BoM and food and b) my ad?

  25. Wow, Steve, I just posted about this very thing here. I wonder how many people in the church that are reading these first chapters in the BoM again are feeling the same as us right now? I think since I’ve discovered the blogs I’ve become a more sympathetic person and that’s reflected in how I’m reading the scriptures as well. Interesting.

  26. I’ve wished for a long time story or a movie would be produced telling the Book of Mormon from Laman or Lemuel’s point of view.

  27. I hope Nephi is simply being an editorial jerk, from the perspective of someone writing 30 years after it happened. But I agree, he sure comes of as a goody two-shoes.

    On the other hand, he does tell us at one point (1 Nephi 2:16) that he had been hard-hearted.

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