Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 2 (The People of God and The King Men)

The story of Nehor reads like a small footnote or blip on the radar of Nephites history, while the story of Amlici and the King Men continues to impact Nephites history throughout the Book of Alma and elsewhere. Nevertheless, I think these two events are actually closely connected to each other.

A major portion of what had held the Nephite nation together since the merger with the people of Zarahelma was a commonly held faith. It’s not sure what percentage of the people formally belonged to the Church of God, but it does seem likely that they were unified in the very least in their beliefs in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is why the Nephites are referred to as the people of God in this chapter.

King Benjamin sought to unite his people under a single common faith because he understood that this would lead to a United and harmonious people. And for at least a generation this worked well. But as the younger generation grew and fell away to Nehor’s teachings, something seems to shift culturally and socially.

Before Nehor, the previous heretic in the Book of Mormon was Sherem. Sherem denied Christ but still operated under the framework of the Law of Moses. Nehor is the first to shake that paradigm. His idea that religious authority comes from the people and that God ultimately will save all regardless of belief allowed for radical innovations and departures from traditional notions of faith. I believe his teachings inspired the King Men to revolt against their leaders and to diverge from the people of Nephi. If religious authority came man rather than God, then there was far less reason to stay attached as a common people with common religious and political leadership.

The move towards the rule of judges may have unintentionally accelerated this shift as well. Without a common sacral and political leader, the people would have felt less bound together by common leadership and authority.

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The Keys of the Priesthood

A couple of days before general conference, my wife and I lost my keys. Our daughter got into our room and had played with them, and we cleaned the room later that day and so put them away by mistake. We spent hours searching for them before finally finding them. It was frustrating to be stuck without being able to get out of the house. “Even though the car had great potential, without keys, it could not perform its intended function.”

So when I heard Elder Stevenson’s talk, about Priesthood keys, the metaphor resonated with me. Ultimately, without the keys and authority of God, Christ’s church is like the stranded car. All of its incredible potential lies untapped. Keys to direct his work activate God’s power.

When I visit family in Israel, I love going to the Orson Hyde Garden in Jerusalem. I love reflecting on the mission to turn the keys of the priesthood for the gathering of Israel to that land. To me, it is miraculous to think that after centuries of diaspora the gathering of Israel began in full force so soon after this event. As the keys were turned, the spirit of gathering touched the hearts of Jews throughout the world. Eventually that same spirit touched my ancestors and led them to return to the holy land. As one born in the holy land, I’m especially grateful for the turning of the keys of gathering that day.

I’m also grateful to know that “[t]he Lord has shown us that He will not leave us standing in the bitter cold without keys or authority to lead us safely home to Him.” Keys and authority will never be taken from the earth.

Our Preeminent Identity As Children Of God

Elder Hallstrom spoke of the importance of remembering our identity as Children of God. As he mentioned, “[t]his doctrine is so basic, so oft stated, and so instinctively simple that it can seem to be ordinary, when in reality it is among the most extraordinary knowledge we can obtain.” Because this doctrine is so easy to forget, I think so many of us suffer unnecessarily from guilt or self-doubt. And so many of us drift off course if we become untethered from this foundational doctrine. For “[a] correct understanding of our heavenly heritage is essential to exaltation. It is foundational to comprehending the glorious plan of salvation and to nurturing faith in the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus the Christ, and in His merciful Atonement.”

If we forget that we are truly beloved children of God, then we are not likely to develop the proper relationship with God. We are not likely to fully appreciate and accept the myriad of blessings God offers us. When he speaks, we are far more likely to doubt that he truly knows what’s best. And we are much more likely to second guess his guidance. On the other hand, spiritual assurance can come when we keep this identity in our mind.

It isn’t enough to merely recite the words. “[T]he critical question is, do we really know it? Do we know it in our mind and in our heart and in our soul? Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?”

If not, then the world will impose a myriad of identities upon us that will in time overcome our common divine heritage. Political, ethnic, racial, national, or sexual identities may come to predominate and drown out eternal truth. 

“These earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity–that of being a son or a daughter of God.”

 I’m proud to be an American or a constitutional conservative for instance. But the moment when we allow these identities to predominate we begin to drift from God.

But it’s when we face trials that our identities as children of God are truly tested. If we do not remember this truth, we cannot have the strength to withstand doubts and tribulations. We will not have the courage or capacity needed to ensure to the end.

“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are–that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because He knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”

I’m grateful for this timely reminder that God loves me and that I am his child. That is the identity that matters most and wil never fade. He loves me with a perfect love and believes in me and my potential even when I do not. I know these things to be true.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Alma 1 (Redeemed All Men)

3 And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, bearing down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.4 And he also testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.
Just as Lucifer tempted our first father and mother in the garden of Eden with a mix of truth, half truth, and lies, Nehor likewise gained great popularity and acclaim by teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scriptural truth.

It is true of course, that God has created all men. It is also true that God has redeemed all men through the atonement of Jesus Christ. But ultimately, whether we achieve eternal life and the full blessings of exaltation is contingent on whether we accept redemption through the power of the atonement.

God loves us and wants to save us, but he cannot save us in our sins. He can only work with us if we are willing to repent and follow him. Otherwise we are left on our own to suffer the pains of our mistakes and sins. Otherwise it as if no atonement had been made for us.

This is an unpopular truth even in Christ’s church. All too often you see members, especially online bloggers, speaking of the Plan of Salvation as universalist in nature. This is a false hearsay. While all will be resurrected, eternal life will only come to those who repent and follow Christ. The notion that because God loves us all he can’t let any be damned is a lie. God cannot save those who do not accept his saving hand. The Book of Mormon’s teaching on hell and damnation is a much needed corrective to the tendency, even among us, towards false universalism.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 29 (Wax Strong in Love)

40 And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure.
How exceedingly rare in history are individuals like Mosiah, who seek not power or personal gain by the well being of their people. And even fewer who have had such adulation and love have been willing to voluntarily relinquish power.

As others have noted, it is hard to not read this chapter as a contrast to the wicked kings of the Old Testament and the Israelites decisions to take upon themselves the burden of a monarch. The mephitis go through the inverse process.

 Such a process occurs either with a visionary leader like Mosiah or through tumult and bloodshed. The Nephites were blessed at this time to have a man like Mosiah.

As I think about the early history of the United States, I’m grateful that we were likewise blessed with visionary leaders who were willing to put the people first. George Washington easily could have become a ceased through the Newburgh coup. He could have created a lifelong presidency by remaining in office past his two terms. But he was willing to stand up and then step down when needed for the good of his nation.

Of course the founding generation was far from perfect. But on the whole, I’m grateful for the great leadership that Heavenly Father directed to the head of this great nation.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Mosiah 29 (Lesser Part of the People)

26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law–to do your business by the voice of the people.
27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.
30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

These verses are both comforting and terrifying. Comforting because they suggest that human nature is generally good and that in a democratic system the majority will often make the right decision most of the time. 

On the other hand, a minority will often teach and advocate for evil. Faction and dissension are hallmarks of free society.
 The danger comes when interest groups gain power over and impose their will on the majority. In time, such wicked conduct becomes normalized and a majority come to accept it and to celebrate sin and iniquity. This process turns fringe vices into accepted practice. 
There are other dangers when a minority gains too much power. All too often, identity politics and us v. them dynamics are needed to maintain and preserve such a situation. If the majority is divided and cannot unite, then the wicked prevail.

We see this problem at work in the primary process. Majorities reject xenophobia and bigotry and yet candidates that promote such cases views thrive. 

Unfortunately, we will all be held accountable for how we except used our agency in a democratic society. There is no king to rationalize or take away our guilt. These sins are upon our own heads.

Journey through the Book of Mormon: Josiah 28 (That any Soul Should Perish)

1 Now it came to pass that after the sons of Mosiah had done all these things, they took a small number with them and returned to their father, the king, and desired of him that he would grant unto them that they might, with these whom they had selected, go up to the land of Nephi that they might preach the things which they had heard, and that they might impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites–2 That perhaps they might bring them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and convince them of the iniquity of their fathers; and that perhaps they might cure them of their hatred towards the Nephites, that they might also be brought to rejoice in the Lord their God, that they might become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land which the Lord their God had given them.

3 Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.

Thes verses declare with great clarity the truth that if we are truly converted and have experienced the power of Christ’s atonement, then we will have a great Deidre and concern for the well being of others.

When we truly get the Gospel, our hearts will be filled  with a desire that others may also experience the joy that we feel. We want all to be saved and all to be exalted. If we do not have that desire, then that is an indication  that our understanding of the importance of the Gospel is lacking. Perhaps we appreciate the Gospel  for what it brings us, but if we do not have this burning desire then we do not truly get it.

Preach my Gospel has a quote from President  Howard W. Hunter which exemplifies this truth:

“Any time we experience the blessings of the Atonement in our lives, we cannot help but have a concern for the welfare of others. … A great indicator of one’s personal conversion is the desire to share the gospel with others.”

If we do not have that desire, it may be an indicator that our  conversion is only superficial.