Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nephi's Purpose

The different writers in the Book of Mormon offer many different reasons for contributing to the ancient record. Its editor-in-chief, Mormon, wrote that the Book of Mormon was written as a second witness to the Bible (Mormon 7:8-10). The title page includes many reasons, including reminding men of the great things God has done and "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ".

Nephi, the first author in the Book of Mormon, explains one of his purposes in writing in the very first chapter of the book. After relating how his father was called, served and rejected as a prophet-- along with numerous others called of God in Jerusalem-- he states:

But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

There are many messages in this single sentence. One is the message of a merciful god. Another might be that we are chosen and extended mercy based upon our faithfulness. Still another may be that we can become mighty if we have faith and the grace of God.

A message that stands out to me in this passage is the role of agency in our path to deliverance. Even with faith and the grace of God, Nephi aims to show us through his experiences that we are not automatically delivered but rather given the strength and power necessary to bring about deliverance. In other words, though God may give us strength, we must still choose how that strength is used. God will not force our salvation. Though God may give us insight, we must choose to use that insight to build our testimonies. Though God may extend tender mercies without number, it is our decision to take action and make our goals reality.

Nephi exemplifies this principle throughout his life. The Lord preserved his brothers from the hands of Laban, but Nephi had to choose to make another attempt to get the plates. The Lord guided Nephi through his encounters with Laban and with Zoram, but Nephi had to choose to obey the spirit. He gave Nephi power to expound the truth to his brothers, but Nephi had to choose to open his mouth even when it angered them. The Lord taught Nephi how to build a ship that could cross the ocean, but Nephi had to construct the tools, make the bellows and build the ship.

When times got tough, Nephi chose to remember the tender mercies he had received and gather strength from the memory of them. When his heart groaned inside, he responded resoundingly: "I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions...filled me with his love...confounded mine enemies...heard my cry...[and] given me knowledge... O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?" (2 Nephi 4:17-35).

Like Nephi, it is given to us to choose. Each of us may experience the tender mercies of the Lord in our lives. How do we respond? Do we remember the prompting to spend more time with the kids when the boss asks if we can work more overtime this week? When we cannot see what lies ahead do we trust that God will see us through? Are we willing to share the testimonies God has given us and remember the special experiences that helped it grow?

Whatever tender mercies the Lord has blessed us with, the full benefit of God's grace often relies upon our righteous use of agency. We must choose to use the many tools he has given us to allow our experiences to buoy up our spirits and those around us. If we will do so, we can become mighty, as Nephi was mighty, to not only the power of deliverance but also to the ultimate goal of deliverance itself. We can be free from sin and death and return to live with our Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Reaching that destination requires working together with the Lord and a great deal of his grace, but it is possible if we will choose that path.

This is the message of agency and empowerment that inspired Nephi to make his record in the Book of Mormon. His efforts were guided by the Lord and his words are true. With prayerful study, I hope that Nephi's reason for writing may also become our reason for reading-- that through the guidance of the scriptures we may have the opportunity to act in faith and be numbered among the mighty.

1 comment:

  1. Endorsement coming in the next verse (ch. 2 v. 1): The Lord says Lehi is blessed, "because of the things which [he] hath done". So Nephi shows us right away that our actions matter.