The Book of Mormon
Virginia H. Pearce
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
February 3, 2004
When I was a senior in high school, I had a good friend who was an active member of another church. We talked about religion quite a bit. She had a minister whom she wanted me to meet, thinking that he would be helpful in our discussion. We agreed that I would go to church with her and meet with her minister afterwards and she would do the same with me, meeting with my bishop afterwards.
I remember only one incident from the day I went with her to her church. We were having a discussion in the minister’s office after the services about his church and my church. I don’t know what prompted my question, but I know it was sincere and not meant to be accusatory. I asked, “Well, then, how do you explain the Book of Mormon?” I asked it feeling sure that he would have a valid and well-thought out answer. Instead, I was caught off guard with the instant fury of his response. He almost shouted at me, “I don’t have to explain the Book of Mormon. I don’t even have to think about it!”
Well, I had and still have a low ability to tolerate open conflict. I simply can’t stand to have people yell at me. So I quickly changed the subject and somehow the interview ended amicably. However, I have never forgotten his words. I have thought of them often in terms of myself. Perhaps that minister didn’t feel impelled to consider the Book of Mormon, but I did and do. I believe that once honest, god-fearing people come into contact with this sacred record, we do have a mandate to consider it—to read it and allow ourselves to personally and honestly respond to it.
President Faust described his mother’s copy of the Book of Mormon. He said it was “timeworn” and “dog-eared,” “…almost every page was marked.” As I read that description I immediately thought of my husband’s copy of the Book of Mormon. This book is concrete evidence that over many years he has “read it, studied it, prayed over it, and taught from it…No one [has] to tell [him] that [he] could get closer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by any other book.” How could you not love a man who every single morning during our 38+ years of marriage has begun his day by studying and pondering the words of this book. I am very sure, because of the way he lives that he would explain the Book of Mormon by saying it is from God and provides a beacon and a map to navigate successfully the ups and downs of life.
Our individual explanation of the Book of Mormon, in other words, our personal knowledge of its divinity is absolutely critical to everything else about our religious beliefs. In fact, one could say that everything succeeds or fails in light of this one critical item. I have a friend who explained to me that in the business world, there is a term called “single point failure.” A single point failure is used to describe an item that, if failed, would cause the failure of the entire system. Obviously, in business there is an extreme reluctance to establish such an item. We try in every way possible to decrease the risk of one item having such a potential. In contrast, we try to spread the risk. For instance, if we deal in commodities, we would never want one commodity to be so powerful, that if it were weakened, the whole package would fail, and so forth.
In contrast, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we consider the The Book of Mormon a single point failure item. In other words, if the Book of Mormon is a hoax, dreamed up and written from the imagination of a New England farm boy, then the rest of the church is invalid.
President Hinckley said,
…if the Book of Mormon is true, then God lives…if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Son of God…If the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is verily our Redeemer, the Savior of the world…If the Book of Mormon is true, then this land is choice above all other lands…If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God…I repeat, if the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true …(Teachings of GBH, pp. 40-41).
When you consider such a vulnerable position, I believe it places a mandate on each of us to dig deeply into this sacred record. I don’t believe any of us in this room have the right to say that we don’t have to explain the Book of Mormon, or that we don’t even have to think about it. Because we have been exposed to it and it is so important to the validity of this church, we each must come to a personal explanation of it.
And of course, we must come to an explanation that, in the words of President Hinckley,
[it] is more than literary analysis or scientific research, although these are reassuring and most welcome. The truth will be determined today and tomorrow, as it has been through the yesterdays, by the reading of it in a spirit of reverence and respect and prayer…(ibid, p. 38).
My personal explanation of the Book of Mormon is one of testimony. I believe with all of my heart and mind that it is a sacred record, one authored by prophets through the ages, meant “to establish and tie together eternal principles and precepts, rounding out basic doctrines of salvation” (Ensign, Jan 2004, Faust, p. 3) that are only partially explained in other books of scripture.
In a very personal way, beyond the establishment of doctrine, I have come to love and rely on the Book of Mormon to understand how real people live—their relationships to one another and to God. In no other book of scripture do we have so much information about individuals, their families, their history over time, and the cause and effect relationship of righteous and unrighteous decisions. We see them under circumstances of war, fatigue, triumph and desperate need. This is “stuff” I want to understand! And so I read it over and over, pouring over verses that bring new insights with each reading.
Because I have come to love so many of the people of the Book of Mormon and because the messages of their lives have so much power in my own, I would like to talk with you this morning about three of my Book of Mormon friends and give you just a nibble of the abundant menu they offer in terms of life truths. I have chosen three men. Nephi, the first hero of the Book of Mormon; Moroni, the last; and Alma the Younger, smack-dab in the middle!
Nephi. What a man! Who of us doesn’t love his straightforward beginning:
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days (1 Nephi 1:1).
There are many habitual responses to the challenges of life that are noteworthy with Nephi. I will identify only one, hoping that you will never forget it, because I believe it makes us so powerful personally. Nephi’s lifelong pattern first reveals itself in the 2nd chapter of Nephi. Nephi indicates that his father has had vision. Lehi’s vision is described by Nephi, and the subsequent exodus from Jerusalem. Then Nephi indicates that Laman and Lemuel… “did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 1:12).
Let’s examine Nephi’s reaction to his father’s vision. Nephi was young and inexperienced and so he must also have been in some ignorance of the doings of God and had some questions about his father’s vision. But, rather than sitting around discussing the vision with his brothers and being obstructionary, he does something that is quite remarkable, but quite simple: He goes to the Lord himself.
I, Nephi,…having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit, me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers (Nephi 2:16).
There is so much information in that verse. Nephi went to the Lord because he desired to know the mysteries of God. I am told that the word “mysteries” comes from the Greek “mysterium”, which means things that can only be understood through the spirit. So Nephi desired to understand spiritual things—he wanted spiritual information concerning Lehi’s dream.
Not Laman and Lemuel. They too were concerned about their father’s dream, but they had no desire to understand it. They seemed to be completely focused on their own disrupted lives—leaving Jerusalem, their land, their gold and silver and their precious things and risking their very lives in the wilderness. Their desires were centered on their own needs. Actually, that doesn’t seem too unusual. Who wouldn’t have realized what leaving Jerusalem would mean? They finally did as they were told, but only because they “durst not” utter against Lehi when he spoke with a terrifying power that shook their frames.
And so, one message that I hear over and over again from the life of Nephi is simply: Go to the Lord yourself. Find out for yourself, not from other people and your own figuring out, but from the Source. I hear it when he seeks to retrieve the plates from Laban. Rather than focusing on all of the difficulties, Nephi, our hero, focuses on hearing and “obey[ing] the voice of the Spirit” (1 Nephi 4:18).
Go to the Lord yourself. I hear that message when Nephi “arose up and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord” (1Nephi 17:7) and then obediently went about building a ship. In contrast, his brothers took counsel with one another, failing to see beyond their own limited understanding, because they did not even desire to find out for themselves.
Translation 2lst Century: A woman told me that she heard President Hinckley’s forceful General Conference message concerning debt. This woman lives prudently but owed some money at fairly low interest rates for a particular property. It would have been a fairly simple matter to discuss this loan with a friend and determine that it wasn’t really the kind of debt Pres. Hinckley was counseling against. Rather, she gave a Nephi response. She determined to go to the Lord herself. The impression was clear that she should cash in some other assets and pay off the debt. She did it. Not out of fear, or because she durst not, but because responding to the Lord was a peace-bringing and satisfying labor.
Last Monday night my husband read aloud a talk given by one of the brethren. I must admit that in my mind I began to carry on a Laman and Lemuel conversation—questioning some of the conclusions with my limited vision. When I had done some of that my husband quietly said that he really didn’t believe one of the brethren would be wrong in his assessment of the situation. I felt somewhat ashamed, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I was willing to Go to the Lord myself.
And guess what? I understood what was meant, spiritually. My little opinion was off just a bit. Not only did I understand the truth of the matter, but I lost those negative argumentative feelings. In hindsight, it seems like a no-brainer that we would all like to live like Nephi rather than be miserable like Laman and Lemuel, but in my experience it somehow seems ever-so-important for us to hold onto our little assessment of things and not want to admit that we could be wrong. Small comfort, holding out against the Lord and his spiritual confirmations. Quite pitiful. Really, who wants to feel that they are RIGHT when the tradeoff is living with the vision and happiness that the Spirit provides! Go to the Lord yourself.
Now to Alma the Younger. Elder Holland said,
More pages are devoted to the span of his life and ministry than to any other person in the Book of Mormon, and the book that bears his name is nearly two and a half times longer than any other in the record. He strides with prophetic power onto the great center stage of the Book of Mormon, appearing near the precise chronological midpoint of the record—five hundred years after Lehi leaves Jerusalem, five hundred years before Moroni seals ups the record (The Book of Mormon: It Begins with a Family, various authors, p. 91).
So we will consider Alma as a great center point. Certainly his life and writings provide many messages, but today I would offer this one: Change is possible. It comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Alma teaches us that through repentance and acceptance of the Atonement of our Savior, we can become new creatures. We can be born again. He tells and retells the story of his spiritual re-birth. This is, in fact, the central task of the whole human family (Mosiah 27:24-26).
Now this may not seem like such a big deal when you are twenty. But, trust me, as you grow older and older and fail again and again at resolutions to do this or not do that, you will long to not just do things differently, but to actually be different. Self-discipline, personal goals, resolutions, and keeping covenants are vital, but the real miracle of change comes through the Savior.
Elder Oaks said,
The greatest miracle is not in such things as restoring sight to the blind, healing an illness, or even raising the dead, since all of these restorations will happen, in any event, in the Resurrection.
Changing bodies is miraculous, …but an even greater miracle is a might change of heart by a son or daughter of God (see Mosiah 5:2). A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body…A change affecting what the scripture calls the ‘heart’ of a spirit son or daughter of God is a change whose effect is eternal. If of the right kind, this change opens the door to the process of repentance that cleanses us to dwell in the presence of God. It introduces the perspective and priorities that lead us to make the choices that qualify us for eternal life, ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God’ (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).
President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed.” I love that idea. I think it’s true.
The change is far deeper than anything we would probably put on a New Year’s Resolution list, although some of the things on our list might move will move us toward a spiritual rebirth, when those resolutions involve keeping commandments and covenants (Mosiah 5:5).
It’s always hard to know if we are making progress in our desires to become new creatures. Elder Oaks addressed that issue. He taught us that we could be encouraged “if we are losing our desire to do evil,” and want to do good continually. We will also be making progress if we are “beginning to see things as our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, see them” (DHO, Ensign, Nov 2000, p. 32). Isn’t that something worth praying, repenting and pleading for? Wouldn’t you feel very good if you saw situations and other people like Our Heavenly Father and the Savior see them? And wanting to do good continually? No wonder Alma, the Younger’s message speaks to my heart: Change is possible. It comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Now to my last hero: Moroni. Moroni was born into two worlds: one of decadence, in which the people were without principle, and “past feeling” and another of faith in which parental righteousness ensured continued exposure to the gifts of the spirit. Moroni grew up at the frontier of decision between these two worlds. Bound to his father by a warm affection and by their mutual concern for the kingdom, he would devote 2/3 of his own book of scripture to a presentation of his father’s teaching and letters. It is impossible to talk about Moroni without his father, Mormon.
They stood together on Cumorah, two of only 24 survivors, looking down on blood and carnage—the bodies of about a quarter of a million of their brothers and sisters. Moroni would eventually endure loneliness virtually unparalleled in chronicled history. By the time of his first entry on the plates, Moroni had already wandered alone for some 16 years, and another twenty years were still to pass before he finally sealed up the records.
One of the great messages of Moroni has to be that One plus God is sufficient. How could he survive for so long without kin or friends? He was ministered to by the Nephite disciples, who did “tarry in the land” (Mormon 8:10). He gloried in the majesty of God: “Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes?” (Mormon 9:16) He took comfort in his testimony of the power of God: “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moroni 7:33).
One plus God is sufficient. I’ve felt alone and misunderstood before, and I’m sure you have too, but although he mentions his terrible aloneness, Moroni doesn’t dwell on it. Rather, he looks beyond himself to his brethren and to the Lamanite people. When he can no longer focus on teaching and helping them he turns his attention to future generations, to us. He writes, teaches, exhorts, persuades, pleads. We can take inspiration from Moroni. One plus God is sufficient and Think Big, beyond yourself.
I went to a bridal shower recently where the mother of the bride gave good advice to the young couple. She warned them not to lead “small lives.” I believe she was recognizing the dangers of keeping our lives centered on ourselves and our little daily problems. Think about that when you’re feeling down, think about the people around you, those who have gone before, those who will come after, the kingdom of God—here and beyond. Think big, like Moroni.
I love the last paragraph of the 1st Presidency Proclamation written in 1907.
We contemplate the human race—past, present, and yet to come—as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now and forever.
I love the Book of Mormon. The people in it are real. They are replete with messages for us.
I hear Nephi say, “Go to the Lord yourself.” Alma the Younger shouts, “Change is possible; it comes through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” And Moroni whispers steadily, “One plus God is sufficient; think big, think beyond your small self.”
The furious response of my friend’s minister many years ago leads me to believe that he indeed felt some compunction to investigate the Book of Mormon and was fighting against it. What he felt or didn’t feel, however, is not mine to say, but I would like to invite each of us to continue to consider the Book of Mormon. We can read it, pray about it, think about it, put its principles into our lives, see if they work.
If we do so, I believe we will be blessed beyond our wildest expectations.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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