Sunday, May 12, 2013

As If Ye Were Present: Reflections on the Book of Mormon

"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received- Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.  And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written-" (D&C 84:54-57)

Today I finished reading The Book of Mormon in Portuguese.  I was not surprised to discover that The Book of Mormon is also true in Portuguese.  Some people, particularly those who come from Brazil or Portugal (or who served missions in those countries), might even argue that the book is more true in Portuguese, while others, in Spain and in other Spanish speaking countries, might claim that it is most true in Spanish.  (There might be some truth to both of these claims, especially considering the audiences that many of The Book of Mormon prophets had in mind while doing the work of engraving.)  I have also read The Book of Mormon in English, Spanish, French and Italian, but I have not as yet read The Book of Mormon in any Native American language.  I imagine that The Book of Mormon is also true in those languages.  My copies of The Book of Mormon in Arabic and in Hebrew are gathering dust on the shelves, and I will probably read The Book of Mormon in the original reformed Egyptian before I finish either of those.  No matter the language in which it was composed or into which it has been translated, The Book of Mormon is the word of God, a marvelous work and a wonder.  No matter how many times or how thoroughly one studies The Book of Mormon, there is always something to rediscover or to discover for the first time.

Not long ago the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that the 150 millionth copy of The Book of Mormon had been printed, and Wikipedia indicates that The Book of Mormon has been translated into 90 + different languages.  Many will recall President Benson's invitation to flood the earth with The Book of Mormon, and his promise to those who engage in regular and prayerful study of the book:

“I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness” (Ensign, May 1980, p. 67).

Certainly it is important not to neglect the living prophets, The Bible (See, Elder Ballard, The Miracle of the Bible) or the rest of the Standard Works, but there is something unique about The Book of MormonMore recently President Gordon B. Hinckley reiterated the importance of The Book of Mormon,  and Elder Neal A. Maxwell proffered this challenging statement regarding The Book of Mormon

"There is so much more in the Book of Mormon than we have yet discovered. The book’s divine architecture and rich furnishings will increasingly unfold to our view, further qualifying it as “a marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:14). As I noted from this pulpit in 1986, “The Book of Mormon is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings (Book of Mormon Symposium, 10 October 1986)."

On another occasion, Elder Maxwell stated "I am glad the book will be with us 'as long as the earth shall stand.' I need and want additional time. For me, towers, courtyards, and wings await inspection. My tour of it has never been completed. Some rooms I have yet to enter, and there are more flaming fireplaces waiting to warm me. Even the rooms I have glimpsed contain further furnishings and rich detail yet to be savored. There are panels inlaid with incredible insights and design and decor dating from Eden. There are also sumptuous banquet tables painstakingly prepared by predecessors which await all of us. Yet, we as Church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall to the mansion."

I too need and want additional time.  Certain scholars, such as Grant Hardy and M. Joseph Spencer  have devoted much time and diligent effort to a serious study of the Book of Mormon.  But one need not be a trained scholar to understand, appreciate, and most importantly to apply the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that are contained in The Book of MormonEven a child can understand.  The Prophet Joseph Smith once declared that "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

While finishing the record of his father, the prophet Moroni boldly declared: "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing." (Mormon 8:35)  Moroni witnessed the destruction of his entire civilization.  He also abridged the record of Ether, an earlier prophet who had witnessed the destruction of his entire civilization.  Like other prophets of The Book of Mormon, Moroni also witnessed future calamities.  Like Isaiah, Moroni stood in the midst of past, present and future destruction, witnessing and warning of the causes thereof, and teaching the universal need for repentance.  

One might wonder, if the Nephites had access to the record of the Jaredites, why weren't they able to avoid the same fate as the Jaredites?  One might also wonder if Moroni, a survivor of a once thriving civilization, a historian who was intimately familiar with the destruction of an earlier civilization, and a witness to future calamities, might have something to say to us now, as if he were present?  What might he say?  In January of 1831 for the occasion of a conference of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in which the Lord declared: "And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give; but beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old." (D&C 38:39)  The Jaredites, the Nephites and the early saints received ample warnings, and those same warnings have continued in modern times (see President Benson, Beware of Pride, and President Uchtdorf, Pride and the Priesthood).   

After Moroni had witnessed the destruction of his family and his entire civilization, and after having abridged the record of the destruction of the Jaredites, he supposed that he would not have written more.  What more could this lone, wandering Nephite have left to write for future generations?  What was Moroni inspired to write about, and why?  Why not just end The Book of Mormon with the account of his father?  After all, he was alone, hunted by the Lamanites, and the custodian of many records. Why include the Jaredite record? and why include his own record?

Moroni chose a few more things to include in his own record, writing for the benefit of the future generations of Lamanites.  His own account includes a record of Christ's choosing and ordaining of the twelve among the Nephites, the conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost, the ordination of priests and teachers, the administration of the sacrament bread and wine, the principles of repentance, faith in Christ, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the workings of the Spirit in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Then, Moroni chose to include a timeless sermon of his father to the Nephites who were the peaceable followers of Christ, on faith, hope and charity.  Of all the sermons and of all the records that Moroni had to choose from (and certainly there were many) why did he choose to include this one? 

The conclusion of The Book of Mormon includes teachings on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the purity of little children, charity, and another epistle of Mormon to his son Moroni.  Mormon knew that if the Nephites perished, they would perish like the Jaredites (Moroni 9:23), but this did not excuse Moroni from finishing the work that he was called to do:

"My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.  And may the grace of God the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power, until all things shall become subject unto him, be and abide with you forever. Amen." (Moroni 9:25-26)

What more beautiful letter has a father ever written to his son?  In the final chapter of The Book of Mormon Moroni testifies of the truthfulness of the record, of Jesus Christ, of His grace, and of the gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He invites all to study and ponder the message of The Book of Mormon, and to ask God the Eternal Father, with a sincere heart and real intent, if these things are not true, and to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.

I love The Book of Mormon.  In any of the 90 + languages into which it has been translated, it is true.  I am grateful for any additional time to repent and to remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments, to do according to that which is written, and to feast upon the words of Christ that The Book of Mormon contains:

"Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy, hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your souls delight in fatness." (2 Ne. 9:51)