Sunday, June 22, 2014

President's Weekly Letters #93

The Book of Mormon – Chapter 1

I left home to serve in the Netherlands Mission in June 1968.  I was 19 years old, had never traveled much and was really naive.  I had grown up in the church, all my friends and virtually everyone in the community were LDS and our culture revolved around the church in that unincorporated area in Millard County called Flowell.  It was actually more difficult to live an alternative life style there than to be a good LDS kid.  I went with the flow, enjoyed the church programs and felt the church was true enough for me.  I never really felt a burning need to actually know the truth for myself through the spirit.

After serving a few months on my mission, I found myself in Amersfoort with a personal unrest about my testimony.  I was inviting people to join the church and to change their lives, pay tithing, spend Sundays in church, live the word of wisdom, change their friends, etc.  I realized that I had to know.  So over a period of a few months, I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover while praying for a confirmation that it is true.  I received my answer in a clear, recognizable and repeated feeling from the spirit each day as I read.

Who would put the book down after reading the hook in the very first verse?  It is a better first line than in any novel such as:  “Call me Ishmael.” —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

1 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)

Nephi immediately introduces basic gospel themes that are repeated throughout the book and are key doctrine of the church.

1 Family – vs 1.  He had goodly parents.

2 Afflictions – vs 1.  In the course of your days in this world you face opposition and adversity.  This earth was created to allow you to grow by dealing with trials, to make choices and to experience opposition in all things.

3 God’s Goodness and Mysteries, tied to Scriptures – vs 1.  He testifies of the goodness of God and that his record, The Book of Mormon is true and was made with his own hands according to his own knowledge.

4 Prophets declare the Gospel – vs 4.  The need for prophets was declared.  Prophets prophesy and tell people to repent.  Repentance and forgiveness are the key ingredient of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  God works with his children through prophets.  We know that calling people to repent is nothing more that inviting people to change by making and keeping commitments.  The destruction of Jerusalem was prophesied.

5 Prayer – vs 5.  The power and necessity of prayer was introduced.  Nephi’s father prayed unto the Lord, yea even with all his heart.  He prayed for the benefit of others.

5A God Answers Prayers – vs 6.  Nephi says a pillar of fire came upon a rock and his father saw and heard much from the Lord.  Everyone does not see a pillar of fire but God answers everyone’s prayers.

4A The Gospel of Jesus Christ through Apostles and Prophets – vs 9-14. The mission of Jesus Christ is introduced.  The book Nephi’s father received is symbolic of the mission and ordinance to gather Israel. (Rev. 10:9)  The gospel fills people with the spirit of the Lord.  With the destruction of Jerusalem Israel was scattered.  A marvelous work, the gathering, would come forward.

3A God is Merciful, tied to Scriptures – vs 14-17.  God exercises power, goodness and mercy over all the inhabitants of the earth.  Those who come to him will not perish.  Through his mercy your soul can rejoice and your heart filled.  You will receive visions and dreams.  Nephi again declares the Book of Mormon is true because he has written it himself.

2A Persecution – vs 19-20.  As a follower of Christ, people will be angry with you, you may be mocked and people may seek your life.  Nephi’s father withstood it, you are required to withstand it. I wonder if Joseph Smith understood this foreshadowing of his death when he translated these passages before the church was organized.  We know from the interpretation of Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 14) that during the gathering of Israel the world will fight against Jesus Christ.

1A Tender Mercies of God toward His Family – vs 20.  His tender mercies are over all those who have faith which are called his family.

First Nephi 1 is a beautiful introduction to certain principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is written in chiasmic structure which scholars were only first discovering at the time of Joseph Smith.  Chiasmus is popular in Hebrew writing and is found throughout the Bible, but it is also found in the Book of Mormon.   A chiasmus presents concepts and then presents the concepts again in reverse order.  Check it out above.

Unlike the literary classics such as Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities, I discover more spiritual insight to my life each time I read The Book of Mormon, much like the Bible.  One reason for this is the veiled meaning in the stories and teachings in the Book of Mormon much like the parables Jesus taught with.  What is written in the Book of Mormon is like each layers of an onion, which when pealed back, reveal more truth due to changing circumstances and understanding in my life and sometimes just outright spiritual inspiration.

Every time that I read the Book of Mormon, I am amazed at the volume of material and consistent doctrine laced into each chapter.  Stories of groups of people within the story are complicated but presented together with clarity.  Other groups of people came to the Promised Land.  For example, in verse 4, Nephi dates himself, stating it was the first year of the reign of king Zedekiah of Judah.  We know the history of Zedekiah, that he and his sons were killed 11 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.  (2 Kings 24, 2 Chr. 36, and Jer. 37)  The Book of Mormon explains one son, Mulek, survived and came to the Promised Land.  His story is then integrated into The Book of Mormon in later chapters.

Someone wrote the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith, a 23 year old, poor, uneducated man from upstate New York, could not have done it.  He could not in such a short time between when the translation began and ended, have written the book with all the chiasmus, doctrine and story lines.  The Book has never been proven wrong, but in fact has proven itself true with regards to many aspects of discovery.  The book contains prophesy that has been fulfilled.  Prophets for over 800 years wrote the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith translated the book by the power of God, and one can come closer to Christ by reading the book than any other book.

President Robinson

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