Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 8 (He is with Them)

“23 And behold, he is God, and he is with them, and he did manifest himself unto them, that they were redeemed by him; and they gave unto him glory, because of that which is to come.”
Nephi’s testimony of Christ is one of those stunning passages in the Book of Mormon which really makes you appreciate the power of this book. It testifies that all of the prophets of old from Abraham on, knew of Christ and rejoiced in him. Not only that, he manifested himself them. And not only that, he is “with them.”

This suggests that the  spirits of the already departed were able to mingle with the savior as he prepared for his mortal ministry. Perhaps he was able to visit them as they breathlessly awaited his coming. Regardless, we know that they were redeemed even before his coming because of their great faith in him.

What an extraordinary doctrine! What an extraordinary book.

What Message Would Christ Share With Us Today?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie began his address during the October 1973 conference with a piercing hypothetical:

“If the Lord himself had chosen to come down, open the conference, and address the Saints, what message would he have delivered? If he had elected and chosen to come and speak at this session, what word would he have given us for our blessing and benefit and salvation?”

And Elder McConkie’s response was equally profound:

“[W]e … operate under the principle that the word of eternal truth which is given to the children of men, whether it comes by his own voice or the voice of his servants, it is the same. And I had it impressed upon me, when President Lee opened the conference yesterday, and again when President Romney bore the persuasive and powerful and true witness that has just come from his lips, that if the Lord himself were here, those statements which came from them are the very things that he would say at this time.”

We hear that the Prophet is Christ’s mouthpiece on the earth so often that this phrase has become trite and cliche. But do we really believe it? Do we really understand what this truth means for us?

When we read the Ensign, do we respond as if Christ is speaking to us through those pages? However imperfect our leaders are, do we really have confidence that they are receiving revelation for the lord? That their instruction is the will of the lord and the mind of the lord for our day?

Without that confidence, we will not have the strength to withstand the crush of the world. We will not have the strength to stand up for divine truth in the face of changing world conditions. We will not have the strength to endure to the end.

I am grateful to be in a Church led by a Prophet and Apostles who speak the words of God. I echo Elder McConkie’s powerful testimony:

When I think that the Lord has a living oracle guiding his earthly kingdom, and that there are apostles and prophets who walk the earth again; when I think that the Lord has given us—the gift and power of the Holy Ghost so that we have the revelations of heaven and the power to sanctify our souls; when I think of the unnumbered blessings—the gifts,the miracles, the promise that the family unit shall go on everlastingly, all the blessings that are poured out upon us,and offered freely to all men everywhere—my desire to praise the Lord and proclaim his goodness and grace knows no bounds.”

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 7 (Oh, that I could have had my days)

“7 Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord–
8 Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.

9 But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.”

It’s easy to give oneself over to longing for a past glory day. It is easy to imagine that things would have been easier in decades past. Or to think that people were righteous or easy to be entreated.

And there may even be some truth to this. Mainstream culture and gospel values had a long period of overlap which has coincided with great church growth and improved standing. And when I read of restoration era America, I am shocked by the degree to which even the poor and poorly educated were biblically literate. In some ways, we have fallen from a great heyday.

But our days offer their own unique opportunities and challenges. We can communicate with people from around the world instantly. We can gain great knowledge from the treasured works of history in the palm of our hands. We are living in an era of incredible potential.

And lest we forget, that same biblically literate populace murdered a prophet. The ‘righteous’ people of Nephi’s day rebelled and was tempted by whoredoms. There have been righteous and wicked people in every generation.

Wherever we find our selves, or whenever, we must act our part. We must do whatever good we can where we have been placed. We must, to quote President Uchtdorf, lift where we stand. It won’t do to lament a halcyon past. We must improve the present and build a better future.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 6 (Fellowship with one Another)

“Nevertheless, the people of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy.”

“For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world ….therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another…”
These two verses seem to deliberately contrast with each other. The members of the Church welcome their former foes into the fold with compassion. They fellowship as one. In other words, all signs of status between them are eliminated or reduced. The rest of society on the other hand moves to even greater regard for status. People seek wealth in order to elevate themselves above each other.
I am reminded about one of my favorite things about serving in the temple. I love how all are on an equal playing field when dressed in the white temple robes. Social status ultimately melts away in the eyes of God. That is the society that we should seek to build. That is Zion.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 5 (Taught Unto You)

“41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom”

It’s worth noting that here we have Nephi and Lehi preaching to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi. Yet, they find a former Nephite living among the Lamanites. And this Nephite reminds the Lamanites of sermons that were preached by Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom to Nephites living in Nephite lands.

This story illustrates that the neat divide between Nephite and Lamanite that Mormon identifies was likely not nearly as neat and tidy as he suggests. At this time, We see former Nephites going over to the Lamanites and living among the Lamanites without obvious stigma. We see Nephite sermons being widely known not just among the Nephites, but also parts of the Lamanites. Such a society allowed for a flourishing of missionary work among the Lamanites, but it perhaps perversely also allowed false ideas from the Lamanites to infiltrate Nephite society.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 5 (A Sure Foundation)

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.

This is one of the most iconic verses in the Book of Mormon. And clearly has significant parallels to the Savior’s biblical teaching about building a house “upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). But I find it fascinating to consider the differences between these verses.

The savior in Matthew is speaking in the context of keeping Christ’s sayings and teachings. He is contrasting those who are mere listeners to those who will do and act. On the other hand, Helaman seems much more concerned with belief that Christ is the savior. He emphasizes that we must build our faith on the “redeemer” and “son of God.”  So Helaman is focused on faith while the savior is focused on behavior.

But perhaps this can be explained by  another difference. The Savior talks about a house that is already built. But Helaman is at an earlier stage of development–he is focused on laying the foundation. Once a proper foundation is built, then the house can be built. So Helaman’s focus is on faith in Christ as a prerequisite to building up the house. In other words, Helaman understood that grace s a prerequisite for meaningful sanctification.

Another significant difference is that the source of the storms and the “shafts in the whirlwind” for Helaman is not merely naturalistic. He is well aware of a devil that seeks to destroy lives. As a result of this understanding, the consequences of falling are far more dire in the parable of Helaman. In the savior’s telling the house’s fall is great. But there is no indication of “misery an endless wo.” Helaman puts this story into starker contrast. He makes it clear that this is a lesson with eternal significance.

I am grateful for how these two parables fit together and help us better understand the process of developing faith in Christ and building lives upon his firm foundation.

 

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Helaman 5 (Ripening for Destruction)

For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.

 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.

And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;

The transformation of the people of Nephi from a righteous people to one where a majority desired iniquity happened with dramatic speed. This is a frightening cautionary tale for our day. Values and mores which have long held sway can quickly give way. In the past decade in the United States we have seen such a rapid change in social and moral views. In some regards there have been some positive changes. But on the other hand, what was once seen as right is now seen as wrong and what is wrong is declared as right.

Mormon notes that Nephi resigned the judgment-seat. But I wonder, did he have a choice? If the voice of the people established the government and the laws, then could Nephi really retain his seat for long? Or would those who corrupted the laws also seek a new chief judge? I suspect that something more dramatic than a voluntary resignation may have been happening here. As the people grew more wicked, it is likely that they could not tolerate a leader such as Nephi who preached righteousness.