Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Making Friends With The Book of Mormon

In quite a few discussions about scripture study and the Book of Mormon within the last year, I've noticed and been fascinated by the different methods people use in the personal study and their different levels of familiarity with the Book of Mormon, or any standard work for that matter. Many times I see people getting confused about the historical background, who went where when, which people came from where and why, etc. I've have been able to come to a firm understanding of such details, but only because of meticulous scrutiny of the book and attempting to actually make friends with the book and all those of whose lives it speaks.

Something I've always wanted to get out my own studies as I do so is unraveling the unwritten spiritual layers of every word written by ancient and modern prophets. This helps me develop a sort of mental flagging system that I use to connect all the spiritual, historical and cultural details. I think (?) I've noted this is a previous entry somewhere, but there is one Latter-day Saint author who has posed the following insight, preferably in lieu of mine as just mentioned:

"...anytime Christ descends and speaks to a mortal, it is so weighty with meaning that mere words cannot convey the fullness of the truths given. The message is layered. First are the words He speaks, and then there is a vastly larger body of truth you receive spiritually, layer upon layer, more truth than you can understand for years afterward. One small moment in the presence of the Savior can last for a lifetime. This is the reason the scriptures are so powerful, because they contain the words spoken by Christ, and this layered truth is still there, spiritually interwoven with those words. It takes a lifetime of spiritual growth and obedience to be able to receive the deeper layers. They are truly there, and they contain the great mysteries and greater truths He desires that we acquire and enjoy in our lifetime."

In my studies I always go into it with this in mind and prayerfully search out those layers. In the 30+ times I've studied the Book of Mormon cover to cover, I end up filling each page with yet more marking, more side notes, more insights and references to other places in the scriptures. In this uncovering of these layers, I feel like I've made a best friend, so to speak, of the Book of Mormon and those of whose lives it speaks. I've become familiar with the book to the point where someone can name almost any chapter and I can tell you exactly what it talks about, everyone who is involved, where they are, what they are doing, the historical context, etc. Part of my purpose in writing this one is to express some personal feelings about a few key parts of the Book of Mormon that have been especially motivational to me in my efforts to become more Christ-like in the last few years, especially during my attempt to study the entire standard works in 2018 (which circumstances cut short towards the end of the year).

First. Next to 1 Nephi 14:3 I have 14 different other verses throughout 2 Nephi, Alma, Esther, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah where the Lord illustrates the same principle through His servants, that all the efforts the wicked put forth to make life difficult for the righteous will ultimately end up coming full circle and resulting in their own demise. It also reminds me that the opposite is also true. All our trials, especially those caused by others, (provided our response is Christ-like) will be engineered by God to be sanctified for our good and even directly contribute to our sanctification and perfection, opposite the intent of those who persecute us. This is illustrated well in Isaiah 14:2, "And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors."

It also causes me to feel pity for those who seek to make others lives more difficult. Said the Lord to Isaiah in Isaiah 29:7-8, "And the multitude of all the nations that fight against [Jerusalem]," and by extension, all faithful saints, "even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion."

Sometimes I feel like I'm getting to know a little better how Nephi felt about his trials and his enemies each time I read through 1 Nephi 11-15.

Second. Helaman's words to Corianton in Alma 42 are especially amazing. They are an example of how the Lord can teach us some pretty amazing, deep truths by repeating fairly simple ideas often enough and with different context. One such example of this is illustrated by dissecting verses 13-26, focusing on the different ways Helaman speaks of the justice of God. If you pay careful enough attention, you can unravel the layers that teach how God is all powerful from a purely logistical point of view. I was dumbfounded when I realized, after reading the following part of Tad R. Callisters The Infinite Atonement, that the exact same teaching is right in the Book of Mormon. Speaking of justice and mercy, he says,

"There are certain laws of the universe that are immutable, that are without beginning of days or end of years. They were not created by an intelligent being, nor are they the product of moral thought, rather they are eternal, coexistent realities with intelligences of the universe. These laws are immutable in that they cannot be altered or modified in any form. They are unchangeable from eternity to eternity. They are self-existing, self-perpetuating laws to which even God Himself is subject."

This does not mean that God is not all powerful, but that the reason He IS all powerful is simply because He has mastered the laws of justice and mercy and knows how to use them to accomplish His purposes. The end of verse 15, all of verse 22, the end of verse 23, and all of verses 24 and 25 from Alma 42 as well as Mosiah 15:27, the end of Alma 12:32 and the beginning of Alma 41:2 all testify of this truth.

Third. I'll give one last example, but there are so many I've found in the last year. It comes from Helaman's (son of Helaman and grandson of Alma the Younger) reminder to his sons Nephi and Lehi why he gave them their names. In verse 6,

"...Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written that they were good."

Part of the reason I think I can relate to how Nephi and Lehi felt about this is because of this part of my great great great great grandfather's autobiography.

"But when the Revolutionary War commenced my father was very young and being away from home one day he heard that the British Army had destroyed some Military stores at Concord, New Hampshire, and being fired with indignation he sought for a recuruiting officer and enlisted for one campaign. When he returned home and informed his father of the circumstances, the old gentleman told him that he was too young and that he would enlist and go with him. Accordingly he did, and they both went to Boston, Massachusetts. In the memorable Battle of Bunker Hill, the 17th of June 1775, there they stood side by side and fought with about 13 Americans against 3000 of the Bristish for about two hours. When the enemy, after firing Charleston and wending around under the smoke, and nearly surrounded that wing of their own army, when they saw but a small gap to retreat through which was then [continually] plowing the ground with balls from the shipping. But while they were going out my grandfather saw one of our men wounded and crawling away on his hands and knees. In the meantime a British soldier ran him through with a bayonet, being filled with indignation at such rank breach of the laws of all [civilized] nations he immediately stopped, amid scenes of death and [carnage], loaded his gun and shot that man down before he left the ground and then obtained a safe retreat. I speak of this to let my posterity know that our ancestors were clothed with that steady unshaken determination in time of the most immanent dangers that are incident to human life."


There are so many more of these gems noted in the sides margins on my scriptures and I encourage everyone to seek daily to become completely, intimately, lovingly, deeply familiar and friendly with the Book of Mormon and individuals therein.

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