Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Go to all the Trouble?

So often both critics and uninformed members take the same approach with the many technical parts of life and accomplishment during the time of Lehi and the Nephites. As an example, the Lord, they say, could have just picked up Nephi’s ship and set it down on the shore of the Land of Promise. But if we are going that route, why did the Lord have Nephi build a ship in the first place?
A Ship built by the Lord could have been as modern as we wanted to make it and cut through the ocean at great speed, go in any direction and take any course, and shorten the voyage considerably

    Or the Lord could have caused the winds and currents to move differently. Or he could have rearranged the natural circumstances of the time to accommodate almost any scenario some Theorists wants to promote. On the other side of the coin, are those who say that Nephi’s ship had to island-hop across the Pacific, stopping at various islands to replenish their food and supplies, as though the Lord could not have gotten Lehi to the Land of Promise faster than an 18th century Spanish Galleon.
    Somewhere in between these extremes it would seem that most of us have lived out our lives in service to others, to the Church, and to the Lord. While nothing is easy and most everything requires effort—sometimes extreme effort, cost and expertise. In a made-for-TV show a couple of years ago about Noah being told by the Lord to build the Ark, the scene the next day had Noah awakening and finding several loads of timber neatly cut, stacked, and bundled, waiting for his use.
Pre-cut wood could have saved Noah a lot of sawing

    It would simply be easier in life if such help was provided. Think of Noah having a few circular or chain saws, a power nail gun, or a crane. However, the Lord does not work that way as the Biblical and Book of Mormon scriptures so clearly state. Nor would it be wise, for it is through struggle and effort, overcoming obstacles, and eventual accomplishment that we learn, grow and develop. While the Lord obviously could have provided a ready built ship for Lehi and his family to board, there would have been no learning process for Nephi, Lehi, Sam, and Zoram, nor any opportunities for Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael to stand up and be counted on the Lord’s side (which they did not rise to the occasion offered them very often).
    As one critic recently asked with a shameful lack of understanding, “Why didn’t the Lord have the Angel Moroni just hand Joseph Smith a finished book, already written in English without any mistakes?” But think what Joseph Smith would have missed—struggling through learning the rudiments of basic English and Hebrew grammar, relying on the Spirit to verify his work, learning first to use the Urim and Thummim, then the seer stone, then his own ability. The growth he went through was dramatic and extremely valuable for a young man destined to lead the restoration of the gospel, restore the priesthood, and the New and Everlasting Covenant.
    When Alma and Amulek watched as “they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire, and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire” (Alma 14:8), it is one thing to see records burned and even more in Alma’s day considering all the work that went into laboriously making those records and manually reproducing them, but far more in seeing wives and children cast into a fire and burned alive because of their faith.
As much as Alma and Amulek wanted to intervene, the Spirit restrained them

    Amulek wanted to intervene and save the people for when he “saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames” (Alma 14:10). But Alma said, “The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day” (Alma 14:11).
One of the great personalities of the Book of Mormon, a man who did the Lord’s will despite what would befall him was Abinadi
    One of my all-time heroes in the Book of Mormon is Abinadi. First of all, the etymology of his name suggests “ab” means "father," “abi” means "my father," and “nadi” is "present with you," so the name Abinadi may reflect his mission; it may mean something like "my father is present with you.” Secondly, being burned alive has never been one of my favorite thoughts and Abinadi, knowing what was to befall him, never wavered, for when he was threatened, he merely said, “But I finish my message; and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved. But this much I tell you, what you do with me, after this, shall be as a type and a shadow of things which are to come” (Mosiah 13:9-10).
    For those looking at this event more carefully, we find that this was a much more involved process, evoking perhaps the most possible pain involved in death by fire. The record says that “they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death” (Mosiah 17:13). Now “scourge” as a noun means a whip; but as a verb, here clearly used, means “an instrument” of great pain or to cause great pain. Consequently, it appears that Abinadi was not tied to a stake and set on fire, but was poked with faggots, meaning a bunch of twigs and in this case, set on fire. 
    Robert J. Matthews, professor of Ancient Scripture and former dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, put it this way: “I see Abinadi bound, possibly supported by something, and his fiendish executioners (probably the priests) gathered about him with burning torches (faggots) in their hands, jabbing him and rubbing him with these until they caused him to die. They actively, eagerly, and physically caused his death…I can imagine them dancing and cavorting about Abinadi, and hear them shouting, exulting, and gloating over what they were doing” (Abinadi: The Prophet and Martyr, in Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1991), p102).
    The timbre of the man is clearly seen in his reaction to this pain—resulting from his being “scourged with faggots,” meaning bundles of burning sticks poked and rubbed upon his skin until “the flames began to scorch him,” suggesting his tormentors took burning torches and poked him with these, burning his skin until he died—for he condemned them all and foretold their own horrible deaths (Mosiah 17:15-18).
    The point is, why did Abinadi have to suffer so? It’s certainly not something any of us  would have wanted to go through, but this stalwart, almost unknown prophet rises head and shoulders above almost all of mankind for his exceptional performance. No doubt his reward, or his progress was greatly enhanced from the experience and his stead-fastness to the cause.
    The Prussian (German) philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, a cultural critic, poet, philologist, Latin, and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history, possibly understood it best when he said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”
 Left: Friedrich W. Nietzsche; Right: Victory Frankl

    Victor Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, put it this way: “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
    These and many others through time have understood more clearly what many members and few critics seem to grasp, and that is when things are more difficult to achieve, they hold a more important place in our own hearts and our learning and growth expands exponentially as a result. What is given to us, or easy to achieve, we generally have little interest in or limited appreciation toward.
    It is doubtful anyone has more appreciation for the Book of Mormon than Joseph Smith because of all he went through to bring it into existence. Or Mormon before him, or Nephi who started it. To the rest of us it is nice, powerful, helpful, even awesome, but few of us can appreciate it as much as those few who had a hand in its early development.
    So why do we go to all the trouble? Why did the early prophets go to all the troubles they did? Why does the Lord cause us to struggle to achieve and not just give us things? Why is our effort, even in his service, not perfect in the beginning? As Elder Bednar stated in his talk, “Line upon line, precept upon precept,” taken from 2 Nephi 28:30: “Those who faithfully hearken to and obediently heed the Lord’s direction will learn wisdom and receive more." It is a growing period in our existence. There is much to learn and it is doubtful we will learn as much as we could or should in this life, but learn we will,  given enough time, and enough experiences.

1 comment:

  1. I wondered all the way through your Good Hebrew blogs if you would mention Joseph's seer stone. My guess is that the the writing on the Liahona was in Hebrew for Lehi and Nephi. But I also guess that that the writing on Joseph's seer stone was in English. If so, doesn't that make the first draft of the Book of Mormon a more spectacular gift than pre-cut lumber for Noah's Ark? Also, shouldn't the Good Hebrew be attributed to whoever was writing on Joseph's seer stone rather than Joseph himself? Perhaps we can get Roper and Lund to apply stylometry to the the original manuscript and determine who was writing on the seer stone (just kidding).