Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Roles of the Holy Ghost in First Nephi

Someone once suggested that many of the most important principles in the Book of Mormon are found in First Nephi. This wasn't a comment against the rich content of the rest of the book, rather an observation that many of the most important principles are introduced or repeated by the book's first inspired author. This allows those of us who start the Book of Mormon more often than we finish it to feast upon the principles most vital to our success.

I don't remember who it was that made that comment. I cannot certify that it is the official position of any person or organization other than the anonymous person who first shared that thought with me. But at the risk of sounding like my high school seminary teacher, I'd like to take this faith-promoting rumor and run with it for bit.

As I've read through the first chapters of First Nephi again, one major theme that I've never noticed before is the role of the Spirit in the lives of Nephi and his family. These roles can be found throughout scripture and are certifiable as official doctrine of the LDS Church, but seem to be concentrated and particularly striking in these first few chapters of the Book of Mormon.

Here are a few examples from the first dozen chapters. Quotes are in italics.

Chapter 1: Lehi, being overcome with the Spirit...was carried away in a vision.
Chapter 2: Lehi spoke to his sons with power, being filled with the Spirit, until their frames did shake before him. And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him.
Chapter 3: Prophets write the words delivered unto them by the Spirit.
Chapter 4: In pursuit of the scriptural record held by Laban, Nephi was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do.
Chapter 5: When Lehi was filled with the Spirit, he began to prophesy
Chapter 7: The city of Jerusalem will be destroyed because the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them.
Chapter 10: The mysteries of God are unfolded by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him.
Chapter 11: Nephi is caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, unto an exceedingly high mountain where he saw his father's dream, learned the interpretation thereof, a spoke to the Holy Ghost as a man speaketh; for [he] beheld that he was in the form of a man.
Chapter 12: The Holy Ghost bears record of Christ from the beginning of the world until this time, and from this time henceforth and forever.

These few examples are by no means an exhaustive list. Within these same chapters the Spirit constrains or gives authority for Nephi to speak, testifies of the truths Lehi reads in a book and preserves scripture for future generations. Throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon, Bible and other scripture, still other roles for the Holy Ghost are discovered and expounded.

Yet, even from these first 23 pages of the Book of Mormon, less than 5 percent of the text, we learn a great deal about the third member of the Godhead. He can enlighten our minds with visions or prophecies and teach us what they mean. He testifies of the truth, including the reality of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and inspires us to write down what we learn. He can exercise great physical power, shaking our physical frames or carrying us to places we have never been before. He preserves records, people and even entire cities. He is in the form of a man and has an eternal purpose and destiny.

The Holy Ghost shares the mission statement of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life" of each of us (Moses 1:39). His many abilities are used to that end. Understanding the way the Holy Ghost can and will influence our lives is likely among the most important principles we can learn in this life, regardless of where it may be expounded upon in scripture. As we seek to improve our lives and bring salvation to ourselves and those around us, we will have the tools we need to be successful as we heed the message inspired by the Spirit and delivered by the living prophet at our most recent conference:

Be influenced by that still, small voice. Remember that one with authority placed his hands on your head at the time of your confirmation and said, 'Receive the Holy Ghost.' Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth. As the prophet Isaiah promised, 'Thine ears shall hear a word... saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Family Disputes in Scripture

In his most recent General Conference address, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf helped us all understand a little more of what the gospel says about strained family relationships. He titled his remarks, "The Merciful Obtain Mercy", intended to remind us all that "with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."

The scriptures, as always, include instructions on how to respond to strain and pressure on our family relationships. They teach us that these struggles are as old as time itself: Lucifer rebelled against God and divided our premortal family; Cain slew his brother, Abel, in the earliest years of human existence. The root causes of these and other family disputes-- pride, envy, lust for power and others-- are a part of our human natures; the scriptures remind us that our challenge is to put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord (Mosiah 3:19).

One particularly instructive example is the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of his father and was blessed with the spiritual gifts to have and interpret dreams. Some of his dreams prophesied that his family would one day make obeisance to him. Joseph's brothers became angry with what they saw as Joseph's haughtiness and favored treatment from their father. Some of his brothers wanted to kill him. Reuben and Judah convinced their brothers to spare Joseph's life and sell him to a caravan instead.

Joseph spent several years as a slave and as a prisoner because of his brothers' actions. When Joseph encounters his brothers again in Egypt there were anxious moments. At first, Joseph didn't want his brothers to recognize him. Now in a position of power, Joseph was in a position to exact revenge on his brothers if he desired. He could've sent them to prison, sold them as slaves or had them killed. Instead, Joseph orchestrated the reunion of the entire family and saved their lives by providing much-needed grain in a terrible drought.

Nephi also experienced contention in his family. His brothers, Laman and Lemuel, beat him with a rod, tied him up and tried to kill him on more than one occasion. Nephi's in-laws were prone to complaining and sometimes helped Laman and Lemuel attack their brother, Nephi. Even Nephi's dad, a prophet of God, complained against Nephi to the point that he must be severely chastised.

As with Joseph, Nephi surely had some anxious family moments. Before his brothers attempted murder, there were surely disagreements and fights just as in Joseph's family. Nephi and Joseph chose to forgive, even when their offending brethren were unrepentant. In Nephi's case, he eventually had to move his family away from his violent and dangerous brothers. His story doesn't have the happy ending that Joseph's does. But in each case, the Lord used the trials to the benefit of those willing to forgive-- and as a testament against those who persecuted them. Joseph became an overseer in Egypt and the birthright son of his father, Israel. Nephi prospered in the promised land as a prophet and king.

In our families, we are likely to experience strain on our family relationships like Joseph and Nephi did. We may not see the resolution to these disputes that we would like, just as Nephi was unable to persuade his brothers to be humble and seek after righteousness. Sometimes divorce, separation or muted lines of communication will happen or even must happen to protect our families.As we choose to forgive anyway, we will experience what President Uchtdorf explained in his address:

The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions—the more we allow our love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the pure love of Christ. As we open our hearts to the glowing dawn of the love of God, the darkness and cold of animosity and envy will eventually fade...

People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.

He concluded with a challenge that would be good for each of us to observe:

Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive.
Lay your burden at the Savior’s feet. Let go of judgment. Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.