At the beginning of 1 Nephi, we read of the exodus of Lehi and his family from Jerusalem. Much has been made of these chapters, possibly because they are likely the most read chapters in the Book of Mormon, and rightly so. There are many lessons in these opening pages.
Surely one of the most famous lessons comes after Lehi was commanded to send his sons a considerable distance back to Jerusalem to recover the brass plates. Here we learn that the Lord prepares a way for his commandments to be fulfilled. Here we see faith in action as Nephi remains true when even his prophet-father begins to waver and doubt. Here we see true gratitude as Lehi offers a sacrifice for the return of his sons.
In the middle of all of that, we have all read and taken note of Nephi, attempting to recover the brass plates by night, as he says, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1 Nephi 4:6). We are often content to consider this statement alone-- and why not? We are reminded here of our daily lives as we seek to be guided by the Spirit, not necessarily knowing where that may lead. We like this idea of being guided by the Spirit, particularly if that is all there is to it.
As I read this chapter again recently, I realized that this verse is not Nephi's complete statement. Including the first phrase of the following verse, the passage reads: "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth..."
The statement Nephi makes is not that he didn't know what to do, but that he had the faith to step into the unknown despite not knowing what to do.
Nephi's example of being anxiously engaged despite obstacles is certainly not a solitary incident in the scriptures. Job declared, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet (nevertheless) in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26). Alma writes of the widespread apostasy in his second year as chief judge: "Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them" (Alma 1:25).
The word "nevertheless" becomes a sign of faith in each of these examples. It is a turning point in the expression from sorrow or doubt to steadfastness and optimism.
Later in his life, as Nephi mourns his own wretched weakness in a passage frequently called "Nephi's Psalm," Nephi exclaims, "I am encompassed about, because of the tempations and sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep" (2 Nephi 4:18-20). Nephi goes on to express how blessed he has been and several of the many reasons he has to trust in the Lord.
In each of these scenarios, the faith that is expressed is not newly acquired; rather it is prepared beforehand and ready to lift its possessor in a difficult moment. We could rightly ask ourselves if we are prepared for such a moment. Each of us has faced obstacles as Nephi, Job and the faithful in Alma's time did; and there are more obstacles yet to come. So what's our nevertheless? How have we prepared our minds to be faithful even in the hardest times?
Paramount in examples such as the ones given so far is the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. While suffering in Gethsemane, he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36).
Nephi recovered the brass plates, Job endured and was blessed in multiples, Alma had generations of righteous posterity and a prosperous people and Christ was able to complete the atonement at least in part because their faith was ready when the hard times came.
The world is gripped by economic uncertainty, declining moral values and increasing frequency of terminal medical diagnoses. Much of the world is suffering from natural disasters, warfare, disease and starvation. Families are crumbling and our societies are weakening. Each of us is surrounded by challenges that are only getting more complex and difficult.
Nevertheless, as those who have come before us, we can endure if we have faith in Christ.