Highlights and discussions from scripture.

Symbolism in Nephi’s journey to the promised land

The story of Nephi’s journey to the Promised Land is well known and widely told amongst Mormons.  It’s a beautiful and compelling story, rife with principles and drenched in doctrine.   But I sometimes wonder if we overlook many of the most meaningful and marvelous symbolic lessons within it.  Here I’d hope to explore at least a few of these, and invite you to share with us those that I’ve missed by adding your own comments.

If you’re familiar with the story, feel free to skip ahead to the first symbol, otherwise, perhaps you’d enjoy a brief refresher of what happened more than 2600 years ago (view the illustration).

 

Early in The Book of Mormon we find the story of the prophet Lehi, who was commanded to take his family and leave Jerusalem around 600 B.C.

After departing into the wilderness with little more than their tents and a few supplies, and after experiencing untold trials, the family of Lehi eventually made it to the seashore.  There, Nephi, a righteous son of Lehi, was commanded by the Lord to build a ship.  This ship was to carry them across the ocean to a promised land that had been prepared for them, a land where they would enjoy freedom and prosperity.

Nephi, who of course had never built a ship, least of all one that could sail across the ocean, didn’t doubt or complain.  Rather, he simply inquired “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship…”

The Lord told Nephi where to go, and showed him how to construct the ship, using “curious workmanship”.

Once complete, and likely with much anticipation, Nephi and his family went into the ship, and launched into the sea.  They were carried before the wind for many days, after which many of them began to “rejoice”.  But they got carried away, and Nephi, fearing that the Lord would be angry, tried to persuade them back to humility and righteousness.

His two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, weren’t keen on their younger brother acting as their ruler, so they took and bound him, and treated him “with much harshness”.  Upon so doing, the Lord, angry at their wickedness, caused the Liahona (a compass he’d provided them in the wilderness, and that worked upon their righteousness) to stop working.  A great storm arose, and they were driven back for four full days.

During all this time, Nephi remained bound, and in much pain.  On that fourth, and final day, when the tempest became “exceedingly sore”, Laman and Lemuel thought they would die, and so released Nephi and begged his forgiveness.  Nephi, in spite of his swollen and sore limbs, forgave them and did not complain about his afflictions, but rather worshiped the Lord and prayed for assistance.

The tempest died, Nephi took the compass, which resumed working, and after “many days” of travel, they landed upon the promised land (the American Continent), where they were blessed in abundance.

 

To Nephi the Lord said “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.”

Always has the Lord blessed the lives of the righteous, and prepared for them a place or circumstance of similar abundance.  As we work to keep the commandments of God, and endeavor to be as obedient, faithful, and enduring as Nephi, so too will the Lord prepare for us a “land of promise”.

 

Nephi’s ship, can appropriately symbolize our own lives.  Just as the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, strong, and secure enough to carry his family to the Promised Land, so too has he commanded us to build our own lives, and make them strong enough to carry ourselves, and even our families to our own “promised land”.

What’s more, of the ship Nephi observed:  “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me…” (1 Nephi 18:2).  So too, have we been commanded to live, not as the world liveth, but as God lives, to build our lives not after the manner of men, but after the manner of god.

Only then, will we find our lives a vessel sufficiently capable to weather the storms of life, to provide shelter for those we love, and that will allow us to endure to end.

 

Not after the manner of men

When the Lord told Nephi to build the ship, not only was it after a fashion completely foreign to him, but it was a work that he’d never before done.  But never did he complain, never did he doubt, rather always he simply went forward with faith.

Many times in our lives we may be asked by the Lord to do things that we have not before done, or that may seem impossible.  But our faith should be in God, for with God, all things are possible. 

Of this, Nephi said “If god had commanded me to do all things I could do them.  If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. Now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?”

We must always remember, when seemingly overburdened, or overwhelmed by the requirements set before us, that while relying solely on our own native capacity our task may be impossible, but when we involve the Lord in our lives, we augment our capacity with his, and can do anything.

Seek the Lord often

It is also enlightening that Nephi includes “I did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things”.

How often then do we seek out the Lord, how often do we find ourselves on the “mount”, or in the temple, or seeking the Lord in other holy places?  Doing so is a critical component of receiving the necessary inspiration to guide us as we build our own ships.  It is true, that as we seek the Lord he will show, even unto us, great things.

Line upon line

It should also be noted, that while Nephi knew what he was building, he was not given it all at once.  He said “And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship”. 

How often we want to know it all, to see the end from the beginning, but generally it is simply not so.  Instead we are given line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.  We are expected to build our lives step by step, strengthened by the exercise of faith and our ongoing reliance upon continued revelation and intervention from the Lord.

As Nephi, we too must seek the Lord often, and not shun aspects of our lives that push us out of our comfort zone.  For again, we’re building the ship, our lives, after the manner of God, according to his vision, and not our own – a principle so beautifully portrayed in the famous poem “Life Sculptor” by George Washington Doane.

 

The compass provided by the Lord to Lehi and his family clearly represents the spirit of God, the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  It’s profound and vital guidance hinging upon our own righteousness, humility, and willingness to obey.  Often we may find ourselves directionless, wondering which way to turn, with feelings of isolation and helplessness.  But it doesn’t have to be so.

We too have been provided a spiritual compass, but its value is only as good as the heed we give it.  When we attempt to steer our own lives, on our own course, and look not for the directions from the Lord, we too may find ourselves lost, alone, and facing the fierce winds of the world.

But by repenting of our sins, turning back to God, and asking for his help, we’ll find our course correcting itself as the spirit takes hold of the reigns of our life.  The seas of the world seem calmer when we sail with God, in truth, the very wind that so previously tortured our existence, becomes the pushing power that drives us forward.  But only when we remember God, and include him in our lives.

 

At times, we may find ourselves in the position of Nephi, endeavoring to teach, but finding ourselves regularly rejected, or even persecuted.  But as with Nephi, we must never let fear of failure or fear of man, prevent us from proclaiming the gospel, and standing up for that which is right.

And in those times when, alas, even confronted by our fiercest adversaries, may we too be as forgiving as Nephi, too focused on an eternal perspective to let the fleeting actions of others long win our attention.

 

Perhaps even more often we find ourselves in the position of Laman and Lemuel.  There are inspired leaders, such as Nephi, all around us.  These leaders seek to guide us, they care for our souls and seek our welfare.  But often their counsel comes sharply, is unwelcome, or at least unexpected.  Often, just as Laman and Lemuel, we shun that counsel, whether in anger or not, and by so doing, bind those leaders, at least symbolically, from their ability to help us.  Not with physical cords, but with mental, emotional, and spiritual deafness.  By turning a blind eye, and a deaf ear to their inspired guidance, we bind them just as Nephi.

When we do this, we are left unto ourselves, to face the world alone, and we find the wind against us gaining strength, with the seas and troubles of life working against us.

We must not be like Laman and Lemuel of whom Nephi proclaimed “And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts”.

We must elect to be humble, before we’re compelled to be humble.  Life is too good, too sweet, too rich for us to waste our time with the self-inflicted burdens that only come from “going it alone”.  Instead, may we embrace the Lord, and let his strength be our own, that our lives might be lived in righteousness, and that we too, may find ourselves with our families, safe in a Land of Promise.

Rusty

P.S.  To read or listen to the full story of Nephi’s marvelous journey online, click here.

Is there Biblical Precedence for Polygamy?

In the recent post “A quest for spiritual knowledge“, the comments quickly became centered around two distinct topics.  The one being blacks and the priesthood, which was thoroughly covered within the comments on that post.  The other was regarding the practice of polygamy early in the church.  It was to this point that Matt G. asked:

Rusty, I looked up polygamy and polyandry in the Bible and didn’t find any other prophet teaching the practices. Could you show me where the prophets were teaching these as God’s inspired word?

Rather than answering within the already lengthy comments of that post, I’ve decided to address them in a fresh post, so as to allow the natural divergence of comments around these two separate topics, and since the topic is important enough to deserve higher exposure.

In response:

Matt,

Thank you so much for asking.  There are few things I enjoy more than to expose the scriptures, for as we see here, it becomes incredibly problematic that people don’t study the scriptures more thoroughly (which coincidentally was the topic of the originating post).  So many have made such a fuss over polygamy in the early days of the church, either about why it was practiced, or why it was revoked, and then turn around and profess belief in the Bible.  I say to them, you may believe in it, but you don’t understand it.

There are numerous scriptural precedents regarding polygamy taught biblically, and I’ll cover several of them.

There’s no better place to start than with the Lord himself, who in Deuteronomy gives instructions on how to successfully manage a plural marriage… (Deut. 21: 15-17).

15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:

16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:

17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.

The Lord cannot tolerate sin, so if Plural marriage were to be accounted as sin, why then would he here choose to counsel in how to do it successfully, wouldn’t he instead be condemning the practice?  Yet interestingly (but not coincidentally) there are times in the bible where he has said it was not to be, even earlier in Deuteronomy, he said:

Deut. 17: 15, 17

15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.

17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

It could either be that the Lord was unable to make up his mind, or that there is a time and season for all things.  And what he has commanded once, is not necessarily to be for all times.  I find the latter far more likely, which therefore not only provides precedence for His commanding Polygamy in the early days of the church (at a time when this particular commandment served a particular purpose for the Lord to try the saints), but also sets precedence for the commandment of the practice to later be retracted.

At one point in the Bible the Lord told his disciples only to preach to Israelites.  He later told the prophet (Peter) to preach to all people.  Again, was it that the Lord couldn’t make up His mind?  The thought makes reason stare.  Rather, there is a time and a season for all things, and what matters, is that we follow the current set of commandments as clarified by the current, living prophet.  Another sound confirmation of the importance of a living prophet.

But let’s not stop there.  Let’s talk about David.

In  2 Samuel 12:1-27, we find some important scriptures in this regard.  One of which is vs. 7 and 8:

7  And Nathan said to David…Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;

8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

Here the prophet Nathan himself tells David the it was the Lord that “gave thee… thy master’s wives”.  What’s more, the Lord would have given him more of such political power, wives, and wealth.  If plural wives were a sin, why then were they a gift from God, and why would Nathan, who had arrived to condemn David for killing Uriah, not have condemned him then (or earlier) for plural marriage?

Let’s now talk about Solomon.  (1 Kings 11:1-8),

1. BUT king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites;

2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love…

7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.

Here the Lord accuses Solomon not of having plural wives, but of allowing them to turn his heart away from Him.

There are other instances as well, such as when Abraham married Hagar (Genesis 16:3), Keturah (Genesis 25:1) and other unnamed concubines (Genesis 25:6).  Or Jacob (Genesis 29:21-30Genesis 30:3-4Genesis 30:9).  Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chron. 13:21) and yet he is described as a righteous king of Judah who honored the Lord (2 Chron. 13:8-12) and prosper in battle because of the Lord’s blessing (2 Chron. 13:16-18) to name a few.  It’s also interesting that Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute as a sign to Israel (Hosea 1:1-3).

In short, it is clear from a true study of the bible that polygamy is not only not immoral, but (at times) sanctioned of the Lord, and a blessing from righteous living.  Having studied the scriptures, I do not find it odd that at one time the practice is taught and sanctioned, and at another time it isn’t.  Wasn’t the Law of Moses also done away, in place of something else?  Was the Law of Moses therefore bad, or merely tailored for the specific needs of the specific people alive at the time?

The prophet Joseph Smith once addressed this very issue with tremendous eloquence and inspiration with which I cannot compete.  It is therefore with his quote that I’ll conclude:

This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed…in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness-and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has-He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinances

– Joseph Smith

Rusty

Our power to overcome

This post is part of an ongoing series “What’s in the Book of Mormon”, to provide a taste of this sacred record. It is not meant to be a substitute for reading the Book of Mormon itself, however (you can get a free copy here).

1st Nephi in The Book of Mormon, contains a profound and inspirational story about mans power to overcome adversity and create his own destiny.

In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Lehi was commanded to leave Jerusalem and depart with his family into the wilderness. There they would spend a number of years, before journeying across the ocean to the Americas.

At one point in this journey, his righteous son Nephi records that as he and his brothers went out to hunt for food, Nephi broke his bow. Because his brother’s bows had already lost their springs, this left them incapable of providing sufficient substance for their family. They began to suffer much hunger and affliction. Many began to complain against the Lord for their hardships.

During this time, Nephi did not lose faith, but rather exhorted his family to be faithful, and to trust in the Lord. But he too began to feel the weight of their affliction and hunger.

At this point, rather than allowing himself to wallow in self-pity, or complain, he decided to take action.

1 Nephi 16:23

And it came to pass that I Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myslef with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?

It sounds easy, when said simply in only so many words. But Nephi and his family had lived a privileged and prosperous life in Jerusalem, and building a bow was likely as foreign to him as it would be to you or I. It must have taken significant work and care, and all while hungry.

Because Nephi decided to take action though, he was able to go out into the forest and hunt, returning with food, which caused much rejoicing.

Often our lives are disrupted by such events. I associated with Nephi well, having recently lost my job (my “bow”, or ability to provide food, was broken). But we each have been given the ability to overcome much, if we will just remain faithful, hopeful, and optimistic, take stock of what we’ve got, and then exert ourselves in working out our own solutions.

Often the Lords help comes only as we invest of ourselves. When our power to overcome is supplemented by His power, we too can overcome the adversity of our lives.

Rusty

A quest for spiritual knowledge

Lehi’s landmark vision of the Tree of Life is one of the most well known revelations from the Book of Mormon.  It’s a beautiful depiction of life, and embodies numerous eternal principles with profound depth.  One of which is the importance of pursuing spiritual knowledge.

The Tree of Life, a synopsis:

Since many of my readers are new to the Book of Mormon, here’s a brief synopsis of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life.

In it, the prophet Lehi finds himself in a “dark and dreary wilderness”.  He travels for a time, and upon praying for assistance, beholds a large and spacious field, on the other side of which, stands a tree, whose fruit was exceedingly white, sweet beyond all other fruit, and caused his soul to be filled with exceedingly great joy.

Compelled to share this joy, he looks up to find his family, and notices the rest of his surroundings.

He sees a river of water, and next to it, a rod of iron with a “strait and narrow path” leading along the bank of the river, so as to protect one who held onto it from falling prey to the current and being swept away.

This path led through the great and spacious field, wherein “numerous concourses of people” were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path, which led to the tree. But in the field, there arose a mist of darkness, so that those who would not cling to the rod of iron, would lose their way, some drowning in the depths of the river, and others becoming lost along forbidden paths.

He spoke also of a great and spacious building on the other side of the river, which seemed, as it were, to float in the air, and in which there were many people who were pointing their fingers at, and mocking those who were partaking of the fruit. There were many who partook of the fruit of the tree, and feeling ashamed, left in search of the building, and were lost. After a time, the building, which lacked a foundation, fell to the earth, causing the destruction of all who were within.

The tree of Life, an interpretation:

Upon hearing his father speak of his vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi, a soon-to-be prophet, sought the Lord for understanding. He too was then given the same vision, but in expanded form, complete with interpretation of its symbolic meaning.

To Nephi it was revealed that the Tree of Life, and the fruit thereon was representative of the Love of God, which fills the soul with joy. The Rod of Iron was the word of god, the great and spacious field was the world, and the great and spacious building was the pride of the world.

The pursuit of spiritual knowledge

Amongst the many lessons taught in this vision, one of those that stands strongest for me is that of the rod of iron. Often within the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints (the Mormons), the phrase “hold to the rod” has become cliché. It has sort of come to represent the vague notion of righteous living, our need to “choose the right”.

But while these too are good, the specific, inspired translation of that symbol, as revealed to the prophet Nephi, is that the rod of iron, that thing to which we are to “cling” is specifically… the “word of God”. And cling to it we must.

There’s nothing casual about the word cling. It is defined as “to hold tightly, to grasp or embrace, to cleave”. It is an active word that depicts active behavior.

It’s no mystery where we can FIND the word of God. It is to be had in abundance, in the scriptures, in inspired teachings by the prophets today as well as in times past. And it is to be had by direct revelation to you, as an individual, according to your faith and effort.

In the chapter preceding Nephi’s vision of interpretation, he comments:

“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father… was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever… For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost…” (1 Nephi 10:17-19)

Here Nephi communicates the primary ingredient for receiving revelation: diligent seeking. This is how we cling to the word of God. By diligently seeking it. We must become singularly focused on obtaining, understanding, and internalizing the word of God.

We are told through modern revelation to do “all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19). And what is the Glory of God? “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36).

The prophet Joseph said “No man can be saved in ignorance”. We must therefore reflect upon the urgency with which we search the scriptures, seek divine revelation, and work to obtain the word of God. For this is how we cling to the iron rod, this is how we obtain the fruit of the tree… the Love of God, this is how we plunge through the mists of darkness (confusion of the world and the adversary).

Only by clinging to the word of God can we obtain the tree. As the angel told Nephi of the Great and Spacious building “behold the wisdom of the world”. Great was the fall thereof, for it was founded upon the pride of men. But our foundations must be built upon the solid ground of true doctrine, entrenched in the fertile soul of divine revelation, from which eternal lives may grow.

So cling to the rod, and begin your own quest for spiritual knowledge, that the fruit of the tree, or the love of God, will be yours.

Rusty

There must be opposition in all things.

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/there-must-be-opposition-in-all-things

Behold not the filthiness

Earlier, I’d posted “A quest for spiritual knowledge”, wherein I talked about Lehi’s grand vision of the tree of life. Still studying my way through that section of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, today I stumbled accross the following passage that struck me as important, but that I’d simply read over countless times before.

Nephi had just returned from being carried away in the Spirit, receiving his own vision of the Tree of Life. Upon returning to his camp, his brothers, Laman and Lemuel began asking about the meaning of Lehi’s dream. They had just asked “What meaneth the river of water which our father saw?”

1 Nephi 15: 27

And I said unto them that the water which my father saw was filthiness; and so much was his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water.

It struck me that living in the world, we too are surrounded by filthiness, even as prominent as was this river of water in Lehi’s vision. But we can choose our focus. We can choose what thoughts occupy our minds.

Indeed, so much can our minds be swallowed up in the good that surrounds us, in the opportunities, in the service of others, and in the light of the Lord that we too can become impervious to the filthiness of the world.

At such a point, we live in the world, but not of the world. And then, our minds become single to the glory of God.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:67

And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his will.

Rusty

The grand panorama of scripture

Once upon a time there was a man who was given a map, and was told that if he followed the instructions on this map, he would find treasure untold.  Excited by the prospect of this treasure map, he set out one day to find the buried treasure.

The instructions on the map were many, and some were very difficult.  One of the instructions conveniently directed him to a tree under which there was much shade.  He was happy to see this instruction, for the day was hot, and he sat under the tree expectantly.  After a while, another man came to the tree, enjoyed the shade momentarily, and then made to move off.

“Where are you going” said the first man?  “I’m following the instructions in a treasure map” said the second.  “But I’ve got the same map said the first, and the instructions say to come to this tree, under which there is nice shade”.  “Ah”, said the second man, “Indeed this is nice, but there are more instructions on the map than just this one, and to reach the treasure, I must follow them all.” 

The scriptures of God contain many instructions.  But they cannot be cherry picked.  This man can sit under the tree as long as he wishes, completely fulfilling one of the distinct instructions, but he will get no closer to his desired treasure than this.  And because of the convenience of this particular instruction, it is easy to cling to it alone; justifying to himself that this was sufficient, for indeed it was instructed on the map.

Often as we discuss principles of religion on this blog, I seem to find this recurring theme.  Someone will quote to a certain scripture, justifying a particular belief or behavior, but in doing so ignoring so many other scriptural instructions that must also be taken into consideration to paint the full picture.

Much like a large oil painting, when you stand up close to the picture, with your eyes mere inches from its canvass, all you see are brushstrokes.  And while you can determine the color of each brush stroke, and it’s individual beauty, it’s not until you step back and consider the canvas as a whole that the true glory of the painting becomes clear.  From this vantage point, each brush stroke is seen in context, in conjunction with all the rest, for a clear picture.

As we work daily to increase our understanding of the scriptures, may we more diligently step back and consider the work as a whole, and see each principle in its proper place, that we might more completely abandon the short-sightedness of mortality, in favor of the grand vista of divinity.

Rusty

What’s in the Book of Mormon?

If you’re a frequent visitor to my Blog, you’ll know I like to create series of posts.  Most of them are ongoing.  For instance, I’ve got a series on Faith “Faith Fitness“, and a series on the Mormon articles of faith, and others.

In this series, I’m going to cover principles and teachings found in the Book of Mormon. 

Whether you’re Mormon or not, the principles taught in this book are compelling and eternal – even if you don’t consider it a divine work (which I do).  What’s more, they provide a powerful second witness to the Bible, and help us gain further understanding of the teachings of the gospel of Christ.

To be clear, if you’re wondering what is taught in the Book of Mormon, this is not meant to be a substitute for simply picking one up (they’re free), but rather to be simple inspirational insights and commentary into its contents.

This post will serve as an index to all posts in the series, the first of which I intend to provide shortly. To make sure and not miss an issue, feel free to subscribe using one of the links below.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Rusty

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Do Mormons have more than one god?

I’ve got a page (here), where I allow people to ask questions about Mormonism.  On June 27th, Mitch.4.Him asked the following:

Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt taught, “We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on, from generation to generation”

Isaiah 43:10 says “… before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me”.

I think your real question is “why do you preach polytheism (the belief in many gods) when Isaiah apparently teaches Monotheism (the belief in one god)”? 

Actually, this is a common question we receive from critics of the church who poorly understand Mormonism and incorrectly interpret this scripture.  For Mormons are not Polytheists, and the assertion that Isaiah was teaching Monotheism is an icorrect.  But first let me address the notion of polytheism.

Mormons are not Polytheistic, we worship only one God.  They’re confusing Polytheism with theosis (human deification, or the belief that we can become like God), which is what we really are.  The belief in theosis and being Monotheistic are not mutually exclusive, but are perfectly harmonious, and this scripture in Isaiah happens to point out why (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Additionally the belief in theosis is not, actually, unique to Mormons, but is shared among many early Christians and much of modern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox).

This official statement from the church on the idea that we can become like God was given in response to an interview by Fox News (here):

We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.

This is theosis, or the belief that we can become like God. 

Next, the assertion that Isaiah was teaching Monotheism isn’t accurate.  Actually in Isaiah’s time, they were not Monotheistic either – so he wasn’t saying “there are no other gods”.

What he actually said was that before God, there were no gods, nor will there be any after him.  But if you think about it, God is eternal, which means there never was a time in which God did not exist, so there never was a “before god”, nor a scenario that would be “after God”.  But what then could he be talking about?

Further study of Isaiah reveals that this scripture is a comparison of Isaiah between the God of Israel (YHWH) and Ba’al, a deity worshiped by the Canaanites.  Ba’al had defeated Yaam, his preceding deity, to become chief of the Canaanite pantheon.  And as such, it was assumed he too could be superseded.  But Isaiah wanted to make it clear that YHWH did not replace his god, nor could he be replaced (hence – there was no god before me, nor will there be after me).  For he didn’t oust some prior diety to become God, and nobody else can remove him to take his place.

You’ll notice, therefore, that while he says there were no gods before him, or after him, there was no mention of any gods “during” him.

Hence, theosis, or the belief that we too can become like God, partaking of his divine nature (Peter), and becoming joint heirs with Christ (Paul), is not in contradiction to scripture, for in doing so, we do not replace god, we simply become like him.  Regardless, he is our only God today, and will be our God eternally, our relationship with His is everlasting, but doesn’t preclude our ability to become like him.  We are taught that we should become perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, that we become joint heirs with Christ, inheriting all the father hath.

What a beautiful and magnificent doctrine, to know that our goal is greater than salvation from sin, but rather ultimate exaltation.

Such a notion expands our minds to behold all new vistas of opportunities, and provides further foundation to the real understanding of the true nature of God (which I’ll cover shortly), and the concept that we must do more than just believe and be baptized (which I cover here).  Actual exaltation and the opportunity for eternal progression requires a higher degree of dilligence, but is within our reach. 

After all, we are children of a living God, and were created in His divine image, is it not fitting that such a loving father would desire that we should inherit all that he hath?

Rusty

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Scriptures for the iPhone

For all of you iPhone fans (like myself), you’ll be happy to know that on August 6th, Michael Jensen (who brought us www.ReadScriptures.com – the free, web-based app) released a full-fledged (natively installed) scriptures app for the iPhone.

It contains LDS Scriptures including the Old Testament, New Testament (KJV), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.  It also contains additional LDS content like Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual, Hyms, the Book of Mormon Study Guide, and even General Conference talks!

They’re soon going to be releasing the ability to search, bookmark, add footnotes, cross-referencing, highlighting, and more.

The app is available in iTunes right now (just search for “Scriptures”.  It is a bit spendy in comparison to other apps, asking a full $14.99, but on the other hand, the economics of the model make sense.  Whenever you have a smaller target audience, you have to charge more, whereas when you have a really large target audience, you can charge less and rely on mass to make the same revenue.

There are already 270 reviews, giving it an average rating of 3 ½ out of 5 possible stars.  But in looking through the reviews, it seems most of those that rated it poorly did so because of the price, not the quality of the app.

If the $14.99 is a deal-killer for you, Lee Falin has also released a version that is free, called “The Scriptures”.  His is also natively installed and doesn’t require an internet connection, but is limited to the Standard Works without the extra “goodies” of additional LDS content.  Still, it’s hard to beat free.  he too plans on updating his for footnotes, Topical guide, Bible Dictionary, ability to mark scriptures, and even aditional language support!

You can find more on Lee’s blog here.  His app currently has 101 reviews, averaging 4 1/2 stars (the cost is a big deal).  Most of his lower ratings are Mormon critics voting down the app because of the religion, not the app.  But it looks great.

I’ll download them both tonight from home to try myself.  If you’ve already tried either one, please let us know how you like them.

 

Rusty

With God, nothing is impossible

Perched upon the precipice of the past,
And engulfed in the darkness of doubt,
You gaze at the chasm of change before you.

Fear’s destructive power presses upon you,
It clouds your vision and erodes your commitment.
It stifles your thoughts and saturates your senses.

You wonder if it’s possible, if you should even try,
But then you remember…

I am a child of Royal birth,
My Father is King, of Heaven and earth.
My spirit was born in the courts on high,
A child beloved, a Prince am I

Sparked by hope, and spurred by the spirit,
You realize that with God, nothing is impossible.

Rusty

Is there evidence for the Book of Mormon – the answer may surprise you

Tina, on the post “Seeking for evidence” asked today:

Please give me the name of one renowned historian who takes the Book of Mormon serious.

Tina, I appreciate your question.  I have your answer.  Before I share it, I think it’s important to note why so many ask this question.

The Book of Mormon presents a serious challenge to orthodox Christianity.  It is said to be another witness of Jesus Christ, a record of His dealings with the Ancient American inhabitants.  If scripture, it provides clarity to the bible in ways which create occasional, but important contradictions to the traditions and beliefs that have evolved over the centuries by all other Christian denominations.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then not only does it call into question the beliefs of so many, but it has eternal implications for you, and calls for meaningful, but difficult changes to your life.

As such, it would be much easier if we could simply dismiss it, rather than undertake the spiritual responsibility of studying it ourselves, and asking God if it is true.  That makes us vulnerable, and we all prefer to have our beliefs validated, and not challenged.

If it could simply be dismissed, that would be so much easier.  If we could just say “there is insufficient archeological evidence to support such claims” then we give ourselves reason to move on.  And so rather than seek the answer from God, we seek answers from men, from science.  We say “give me evidence, give me proof”, even when we know that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Indeed, faith is the evidence, not things we can see.

Still, we want a sign, and archeology is the easiest, and often the first place to turn.  Why?  Because we’ve been raised under the misconception that the Americas don’t have the archeological evidence to support the massive amounts of people, or the advanced technology as recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Indeed, even today, textbooks teach that pre-Columbian America was largely uninhabited.  But as we continuously find throughout all the sciences, things previously accepted as facts (like a flat world), end up not being factual at all.

While there are numerous new findings (archeological, anthropological, and otherwise) that I could recount (and will at some point), perhaps the single best source I could refer you to is a new book, recently published, and that is now a National Bestseller. It’s called “1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann.  Coincidentally, Mann is not LDS, and didn’t intend to validate the Book of Mormon with his work, even though that’s precisely what he did.

The Washington Post said “1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas…”  The book explains that contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled, but were here in huge numbers, larger even than any contemporary European city.  That the people shaped the earth around them, had immaculately clean streets, running water, and were even the first to genetically engineer crops.  But for decades, archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others have been bringing forward a different story.  1491 brings it all together in one read.

One interesting revelation brought by these scientists, is the realization that rather than the first Americans having come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C, but rather that they came by boat.  Interestingly, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes it.

Another interesting revelation is that the reason early European visitors found an empty landscape, was not because they’d found the natural, unchanging state of native America, but rather the end product of a vast society decimated by wars and epidemics – perhaps the greatest in human history.  Again, remarkably, that’s just how the Book of Mormon explains it.

Mann describes discovering gigantic ancient cities, with huge, 14 foot walls thrown up as fortifications.  Again, just how the Book of Mormon describes Moroni’s fortifications of the Nephite cities.

It was believed that the Inca, for instance, fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy.  But these findings clearly show that they actually had a highly refined metallurgy, just as the Book of Mormon states.

About the book, “Publishers Weekly” stated that “Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality.”  Again, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes the creation of the Nephite nation, and Moroni’s “standard of liberty” which united the cities, even placing them in the right area.

So while it would be convenient to dismiss the Book of Mormon based on the old, uninformed notion that there isn’t sufficient archeological evidence to validate its claims, in fact, the opposite is true.

So true in fact, that the new evidence not only validates the description of early America as recorded in the Book of Mormon, but validates the prophetic nature of the Joseph Smith.  For it must be remembered that we’re talking about a book written by Joseph Smith (actually translated from ancient plates) hundreds of years ago.  Long before any of this evidence was to surface, at a time when such writings were in stark contrast to current beliefs.  But here we are, hundreds of years later, finding detailed evidence validating that work.

It’s been surprising to many.

Publishers Weekly further commented about the book:  “In a riveting and fast-paced history, massing archeological, anthropological, scientific and literary evidence, Mann debunks much of what we thought we knew about pre-Columbian America.  Reviewing the latest, not widely reported research in Indean demography, origins and ecology, Mann zestfully demonstrates that long before any European explorers set foot in the New World, native American cultures were flourishing with a high degree of sophistication.  The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head.”

I’ll be posting additional similarities illustrated in the Book (and elsewhere) to further eliminate this “easy out”, but if you prefer not to wait, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

Most importantly, however, are two simply points.  The first is the principle that we should not require the validation of science (or signs) to substantiate our faith.  It’s sure nice when it does, but true faith needs no such validation.  Second, having removed the easy dismissal of the Book of Mormon, it is upon each of us to then undertake the spiritual responsibility to consider the work for ourselves.  To study, and read it for ourselves.  And then to ask God, for ourselves, if it is not true.   It’s simply too important not to.

Indeed, “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).  The Book of Mormon itself contains a promise.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things be not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:3-5)

Rusty

P.S.  for more information about the Book of Mormon, or to request a copy, click here.

See also “Discussing an open canon” for coverage and discussions about the common  misconception that the canon of scripture is closed.

Proving the Book of Mormon

First, I’ll say that no matter how much effort you invest into proving the Book of Mormon to be true, whether through research, archeology, or discussion and debate, there’s only one way to REALLY know, and that’s through a confirmation of the Holy Ghost.  That kind of confirmation comes subsequent to sincere supplication, inquiring of the Lord directly of its truthfulness (Moroni 10:3-5 | James 1:5), for whereas “facts” and “evidence” is always subject to dispute, a divine testimony is inarguable to him that receives it.

Still, there’s a certain amount of entertainment value in discovering evidence of the remarkable events described in the Book of Mormon, and certainly an increased validity to the Book of Mormon itself, along with Joseph Smith, who found, translated, and died for it.

Such a discovery came to light recently, as reported by the Nephi Project, whose mission it is “to discover Book of Mormon archaeological sites relating to Nephi’s writing” (from their website).

On February 3rd, 2008, an iron ore mine was discovered in Nasca Peru.  That might seem trivial, but it just so happens that this particular mine is believed to be at least 2,000 years old, placing it squarely within the timeframe the Book of Mormon places the Nephites and the Lamenites at that same time.  Historically, critics of the Book of Mormon have used the lack of such a discovery to dispute the validity of the Book of Mormon.

From the Nephi Project’s recent newsletter:

“The discovery is gratifying to George Potter, since his new book (which will be available in the fall of 2008) proposes that Nasca was the possible site of the Book of Mormon’s city of Bountiful.”

You can read about the discovery here.

Still, it surprises me how much dispute there is about the Book of Mormon, not because there are some bits of evidence here and there that it was true, but because if someone really wanted to know, all they’d have to do is read it and ask, with sincerity and faith. 

It’s my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true.  I know it with complete certainty.  Not through any physical evidence or extensive archeological research, but simply because I asked.  And that testimony is galvanized daily as I to study its teachings and can be yours by doing the same.

Rusty