Four passages from the Book of Mormon that I wish more Mormons would liken unto themselves

One of the best-known verses from the Book of Mormon is this one, which the Book of Mormon says was written by one of its first and best prophets, Nephi:

Nephi is the founder of the protagonist group of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites. At this point in the story, his people are quite small in number and are separate from another small group led his oldest brother, Laman, who does not share the religious beliefs of Nephi and their father. In this verse, Nephi explains what he teaches his people from the scriptures and why.

“And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23).

This verse is used fairly frequently to teach members of the church to apply the teachings of the scriptures to themselves. It is used to teach us not to just read the scriptures for intellectual understanding, or just to feel closer to God, but to find in them some relevance to our own lives. It is advice that is too often ignored, as too many members of my church read the scriptures only to feel the Spirit and stay close to God and not to find any new understanding in them, whether that understanding is practical or intellectual in nature.

So, here are four well-known passages from the Book of Mormon that I wish more members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would apply to themselves.

Passage Number One

The Book of Mormon says this chapter was written by Nephi and that Nephi had visions of the modern era. In his visions, he saw the Bible being brought to the Americas by the Gentiles and distributed to his descendants. He then saw his own words being brought out of the dust and delivered to the Gentiles. He did not care for their reaction.

“(3) And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible….” (8) Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word?….(9)…for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever….(10) Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words….(11) For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them….” (1 Nephi 29).

I included quite a bit from this chapter. It is one of the most-cited and most-remembered chapters in the Book of Mormon. It lays out the justification for the book’s existence and answers some of the criticisms of the book that are still being made today. I have included the points that I wish Mormons would pay more attention to and left out other points that Nephi made, where he says that God reveals the same things to different groups, especially to different branches of the house of Israel. Mormons don’t have any problem remembering those.

It is easier for all of us to remember the things that support our opinions, beliefs, feelings and convictions, and this chapter not only expresses the opinions and beliefs of Mormons, but gives voice to the same frustrations that many Mormons have felt since the book was published in 1829, although–consistent with Mormon politeness–that frustration is rarely expressed.

So, Mormons love this chapter and use it to tell each other how wrong their critics are. I wish they would turn and apply it to themselves a bit. Sometimes I feel that Mormons are identical to the people being criticized in this chapter, but instead of saying something like “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible and there cannot be any more Bible!” I think they say “The Truth! The Truth! We have got the Truth and there cannot be any more Truth! (unless the prophet comes out and says so.)”

I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my entire life. I am now 47 and have been present at something like 2,400 Sacrament Meetings (the main worship service of the church). I have heard it all. One of the things I have heard far too many times is that we have “the fulness of the Gospel.” It’s not that this isn’t true. It’s that we misunderstand what it means.

Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon contains the “fulness of the Gospel.” We believe that God himself said so in at least one revelation to Joseph Smith. Some people point out that the Book of Mormon does not contain all the important things that were taught by Joseph Smith after the Book of Mormon was published. Here are two fairly well-written, but unnecessarily academic articles that explain why this is not a contradiction, one from FairMormon and another from famed Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson. Their point is that the “fulness of the Gospel” refers to the basic truths about Jesus Christ and what he taught. This is perfectly consistent with the origin of the phrase “the gospel of Jesus Christ”, which as many people know, meant “the good news about Jesus Christ.”

So, when we say we have “the fulness of the Gospel,” it definitely does not mean that we have all the truth about God that is important or good to know. We just talk and act like it does. We end up closing ourselves off to many precious and valuable truths that are known and loved by our neighbors, friends and family. We are too-often certain that if there is anything else we need to know, our beloved prophet will stand up and let us know during a session of General Conference.

General Conference functions as something of high holy days for Mormons. Outsiders rarely grasp its importance. Even some members might ask themselves why it is so important to them and why they enjoy it so much. It is just 12 hours of talks and hymns, after all, spread out over one weekend and a piece of another. Yet for Mormons it can be a deeply personal and deeply meaningful experience.

The Conference Center of the church holds less than 30,000 people and is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Few members can attend the meeting itself, so it is broadcast live over TV and the internet. For most Mormons, one of the pleasures of General Conference is not having to get dressed up and go to church. You can attend church from the comfort of your living room and watch in your pajamas. If you wish, you can just roll out of bed–or not–and turn on the TV.

We look forward to hearing from our favorite church leaders, and especially our prophet and president of the church, currently Thomas S. Monson. Sometimes there are surprises, like when Gordon B. Hinckley announced the church would build dozens of small temples to serve members in far-flung areas of the world, or when Thomas S. Monson announced that missionaries could serve at younger ages. The changes these announcements brought to the church are difficult for outsiders to appreciate and they stunned the members who heard them.

Our passive viewing of General Conference reveals a common Mormon attitude about additional truth: we don’t need to do anything to receive it. We just need to turn on the TV or log onto the internet and it will be presented to us in a nice, easy-to-understand and possibly humorous fashion. This is very different from the way it has actually happened at any time in the history of our own religion.

God didn’t just appear to Joseph Smith and tell him what to say. Joseph Smith didn’t just go to God and ask. He struggled with the truth. He did everything he could to find it out on his own. He didn’t just open up the famous Gold Plates and read them. He tried to find a way to translate them by himself first. He didn’t just receive revelation, he read and questioned and thought first.

And he wasn’t alone. The Christian world was full of people who were seeking more, who were asking questions, who were thirsty for more of God’s word. Throughout his journey, Joseph Smith was accompanied by others who thought and debated and asked questions. They looked to him for the final answer, but they did not just sit and wait.

I wish modern Mormons wouldn’t just sit and wait. I wish it was more common for Mormons to think, question, debate and then ask. How can we expect to receive truth if we don’t do those things? Even more importantly, if we reject the truths that other people know, if we even fail to consider them, how are we worthy to receive any more truth from God? We aren’t. The fact that we don’t receive more doesn’t mean there isn’t more. It means we have stopped looking for it.

Passage Number Two

This passage comes from the beginning of the Christian church among the people of the Book of Mormon.  Most of the book’s stories take place in a long period that started around 600 BC and ended shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In this portion of the book, the people somewhat resemble Messianic Jews or Jews for Jesus. They have less in common with rabbinical Judaism. The Book of Mormon says they lived centuries before Christ was born, but while they followed the Law of Moses, they also believed in an atoning savior who would die and be resurrected. After the visit of the resurrected Christ, they stopped following the Law of Moses and became more like Jewish Christians than the Christian Jews their ancestors were.  (The religious boundaries in the Book of Mormon are a little fuzzy and contribute to the difficulty Mormons have in drawing a line between the two religions.)

The dates in the text indicate that the following event happened more than a century before the birth of Christ.  In the early part of the Book of Mormon, government and religion were combined. Then, when a local king led his people astray, a prophet was sent to them to call them to repentance. He was burned at the stake, but one of the king’s corrupt priests repented, defied the king and his soldiers and led a secret religious movement that became a church and spread throughout the Nephite people. This priest was named Alma, which is apparently a Hebrew word and possible name meaning “young man”, and thus sounds like a rather anonymous pseudonym.

As Alma led his people into the waters of baptism, this is what he said:

(8)… and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; (9) Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…that ye may have eternal life—(10)…what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?  (Mosiah 18)

This is one of the best-known passages from the Book of Mormon. It is read to every potential new member of the church before they are asked to be baptized. Mitt Romney even seemed to quote from it during his presidential campaign. It expresses some of the most beautiful things about our church and our beliefs. And by now, you probably can imagine where I am going.

We are asked to bear one another’s burdens and mourn with those who mourn. We believe we promise to do so. There are times when we rise up and do that. Those are the best moments in our church and countless members hold treasured memories of comfort and support.

Yet, more and more often, what we do is similar to this:

Instead of bearing one another’s burdens, we sometimes say “It is the individuals’ responsibility to care for themselves. We are dong people a favor by allowing them to be independent, grow and progress.” I have even heard a Relief Society President (a woman in each congregation who runs its charitable efforts and has other significant duties) express concerns about the church’s welfare program to an important leader of the church, saying it ran counter to her beliefs that people should take care of themselves.

Or we say to the discouraged and overwhelmed, “Forget yourself and go to work.” This was the advice a father gave to his discouraged missionary son. It worked well for that young man. He grew up and became a leader of the church, told everybody how wonderful the advice was and now it is almost doctrine. It is not universally good advice, however. It is unfortunate how often it is inappropriately applied. Too often, instead of bearing up each other’s burdens, we add to them with additional church responsibilities to administer and carry out church programs that are designed to support general needs, rather than focusing on the actual individual needs of our members.

Then, instead of “mourning with those who mourn,“ or “comforting those who stand in need of comfort” too often we tell people “If you obey the commandments, you can be happy whatever your circumstances.” We end up dismissing their sadness, their anguish and their grief and manage to blame them for it in the process. The strong implication is that if you are not happy it is your own fault and that you would be fine if you just followed the commandments more closely or had more faith in Jesus Christ. I wish this would stop entirely. The idea that we can be happy in any circumstance is untrue. We are not even meant to be happy in every moment. We are meant to experience the full measure of life’s emotions. Trying to be happy in every moment is unhelpful, at the very least.

Passage Number Three

These words come from a passage that describes the advice that a prophet named Helaman gave to his sons. It sounds like deathbed advice from a loving father. According to the Book of Mormon, Helaman was the great-grandson of Alma, who founded the Nephite church, and was the grandfather of the Nephi who led the church when Jesus Christ visited them some time after he was resurrected.

Here are his most-remembered words:

(12) And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.  (Helaman 5)

This is another well-known verse from the Book of Mormon. We cite it not just to encourage each other, but to show people outside of the church that we really do believe in Jesus Christ, that he really is the center of our belief. And he is, or at least he should be.

Too often, Jesus Christ is not our foundation. The church is. Too many members build their foundation on the church, its teachings, its leaders and its members. This is not a good idea. The church is made up entirely of imperfect people. If we emulate the leaders of the church, who are all good men and women, we will sometimes emulate their weaknesses and imperfections as well as their strengths and virtues. Then, if certain weaknesses and imperfections are common among the leaders of the church–which is not unexpected given that they have relatively similar ages, personalities, backgrounds and beliefs—those weaknesses will automatically multiply among members of the church.

It is Jesus Christ and his teachings that ought to guide us first, not our leaders or fellow members, no matter how inspired they may be. No one is so perfect that they can substitute for Christ.

Passage Number Four

The Book of Mormon says that this passage includes words Moroni wrote, quoting from a sermon his father Mormon gave in the temple. A quick explanation: Mormon was a Nephite prophet who compiled and abridged the records of his people, which by then covered a period of about 1000 years. He died leading the great final battle between the wicked Christian Nephites and the less-wicked non-Christian Lamanites. The Book of Mormon is named for him due to his efforts (he, himself was named for the place where Alma baptized the first members of the Nephite church).

Moroni was the son of Mormon.  He added to the work of his father while he was hiding from the Lamanites, who were killing every Christian they could find. If Mormon scholars are correct, he fled thousands of miles from Mesoamerica to the area of the Great Lakes in upstate New York, where he buried the record he and his father had engraved on gold-colored metal leaves. He then appeared to Joseph Smith as an angel many centuries later and led the young man to the place where he had buried his priceless record some fourteen centuries earlier. The Mormon attitude towards others’ skepticism of this story is basically that if it sounds impossible, so do general relativity and quantum physics. So there.

That small bit of levity aside, this is the passage that I really wish was more emphasized in the church.

(46) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—(47) But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. (48) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; 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. Amen.  (Moroni 7)

As non-Mormon Christians will recognize, this chapter repeats some of the words written by the Apostle Paul. Critics, finding Paul’s words in the Book of Mormon, accuse Joseph Smith of plagiarism.  Mormons, who believe the same God inspired Paul, Mormon and Joseph Smith, are not particularly concerned.

Instead, their repetition should make Mormons sit up and pay attention. Some things from the Bible are repeated in the Book of Mormon: a large section of Isaiah, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, words written by Paul about spiritual gifts, and some of the words he said about love. These are key things. Their repetition should underline them in Mormon minds.

Most importantly, please note that this verse does not say “Chastity is the greatest of all and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” It says “Charity is the greatest of all…and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” Listening to members talk these days, you would think the book  contained that first sentence.

Mormons quite rightly argue that chastity is a part of love, that if you love yourself and others, you will be chaste. But this glosses over the fact that chastity is only a part of love. It is not higher than love.

Sometimes, Mormons seem to read the words “charity is the pure love of Christ” and hear “charity is the perfect love of Christ.” They seem to believe that it is unattainable and they move on to something they can actually achieve. This is a misunderstanding of the scripture. If Mormon had meant to say “perfect love,” he could have said so. It is more likely that his use of the word “pure love” is simply a way of separating the love of Christ from other kinds of love, like romantic love.

That was not difficult in Greek, which was the language Paul spoke and wrote. Greek had a word for pure love like Christ’s: agape. And there is a reason the King James Version translates “agape” as “charity.” The translators of the King James Version learned ancient Greek as children and used it for most of their lives. They were practically native speakers of the language. Translating the more specific “agape” as “love,” with its multiple meanings, would not have seemed right to them.

The reason charity is described as the pure love of Christ in this passage from the Book of Mormon may be similar. It describes charity as the kind of love Christ had, as opposed to romantic love or other kinds of love, not the degree of love that he had. We do not have to be the same as Jesus Christ to have charity and receive the blessings promised in this scripture.

Bonus Passage Five

This is not a passage that is frequently quoted in the church. It is almost unknown, in fact. Neither does it express anything that members ignore. Instead, it sums up Mormon attitudes quite nicely.

At times it has brought me great comfort and, because it is so overlooked, I would like to mention it here. It is from a letter that Mormon wrote to his son Moroni while terrible battles raged between the despicable Nephite Christians and their slightly less despicable non-Christian enemies. According to the letter, Mormon wasn’t entirely sure he would see ever see his son again. In it, he describes the war crimes of the Lamanites and the even worse war crimes of his fellow Nephites. Those crimes are horrific and would disturb anyone in any war zone today or in any time and place.

But, after listing the worst of those crimes, this is the advice Mormon gives to his son, Moroni.  It is found in the last few pages of the book.

“(25) My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever. (26) And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be, and abide with you forever. Amen.” (Moroni 9)

If anyone is curious why the Book of Mormon actually appeals to people in Uganda or war-torn parts of Africa, it is not the positive attitude of the missionaries.  Instead, this chapter reveals the nature of book’s attraction and its relevance to people who might think God has forgotten them: no matter how awful your life is, here are some people who had it just as bad and worse, and here is how they managed.  It offers some reason to hope in the face of the greatest suffering we can imagine.

The Book of Mormon is one of the most under-appreciated books currently in print. It is not for nothing that Ezra Taft Benson, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, repeatedly and frequently scolded the members of the church for not taking it seriously enough. Its words are profound. They are not easily absorbed in a single reading, or even a dozen readings. You do not even have to believe that its story literally happened to appreciate it (there is a whole church, The Community of Christ, that takes the position that the book is inspired, but not historically accurate in any sense).

I genuinely love this book and believe all people could find benefit by reading it and thinking about it, whether they believe it to be the word of God, like Mormons do, or total fiction, like everyone else.

My name is Allen Warner. I like to think. And I am a Mormon.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s