20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.
Nephi describes the swift fall of the followers of his brethren from the presence of God. Much has been written about the curse of blackness which falls upon Laman and Lemuel, but this curse was at most an outer manifestation of an inner state of spiritual decay. I find it far more instructive to consider ways in which the Lamanites were cut off from the presence of God–or more accurately the ways they cut themselves off from the presence of God.
First, the Lamanites desired to no longer be “afflicted more because of [Nephi’s] words.” The result of this decision is that they were cut off from the living source of God’s word. They no longer could receive instruction from a chosen seer of God. And most dire for their spiritual state, they therefore also lost access to Nephi’s visions and revelations of Christ.
Second, Nephi emphasizes that his people kept the commandments of God. In contrast, he implies that the Lamanites quickly disregarded these commandments. Perhaps they felt that since they were no longer in Jerusalem, they were not bound by the laws of that land. They instead grew indolent and violent and took pleasure in their sins. As such, because of their transgressions they lost the spirit of God and were cut off.
Third, Nephi took the plates of Laban and therefore the Lamanites cut themselves off from access to the word of God. It might seem unfair to blame the Lamanites for this, but it is highly likely that had they remain on better terms with their brothers this dilemma could have been avoided. By loosing access to the word of God, the Lamanites forgot their legacy as members of the house of Israel and lost sight of God’s plan of salvation.
Fourth, Nephi builds a temple of God, while there is no indication the Lamanites do the same. The temple is a place where we can literally be in the presence of God. Therefore, by cutting themselves off from the blessings of the holy temple, the Lamanites lost access to the divine presence and the blessings that come from temple worship.
Fifth, Nephi consecrated priests and teachers. But there is no indication of such among the Lamanites. Perhaps they felt that such offices were vestiges of their father’s misguided faith. Regardless, by not setting apart priests, the Lamanites lost access to sacred ordinances that are vital for helping us return to the presence of God.
Finally, the Lamanites lost their desire or willingness to labor diligently. We don’t usually associate this with a lack of spirituality, but the truth is that a desire to labor diligently is also a gift that can come from God. Indolence by contrast drives away the spirit of God.
The Lamanites were thus cursed in many ways. And as Alma describes later in the Book of Mormon, it can be said that they brought this curse upon themselves. They were cursed because they lost access to those things need to help us feel the presence of God.