Sunday, February 12, 2012
Book of Mormon Lesson #8 "O the Greatness of God"
2 Nephi 6-10
Nephi assigned his brother Jacob to give a sermon to the Nephites, and gave him the subject: Three chapters of Isaiah. These chapters will be familiar to those who have been reading the assignments because Nephi quoted parts of them to his brothers already. Anytime we see repetition in the record, bearing in mind the difficulty of inscribing onto metal plates, we can be certain the message is very important.
Isaiah 50-53 has been treated in an Old Testament lesson, which you can find at this link:
The chapter headings for 2 Ne. 7 and 8 give us a quick reminder of the content:
· Isaiah speaks Messianically
· Messiah shall have the tongue of the learned
· He shall give his back to the smiters
· He shall not be confounded
· In the last days, the Lord shall comfort Zion and gather Israel
· The redeemed shall come to Zion amid great joy
THE IMPORTANCE OF ISAIAH’S MESSAGE
Why was this section of scripture so important that Nephi included it in the record twice? A little story from history might illuminate us.
“It was July 4, 1952. [Florence] Chadwick, who had previously swum the English Channel, now attempted the 21-mile swim from the southern California mainland to Catalina Island. The water was a freezing 48 degrees. The fog was thick and visibility almost nil. Finally, only a half mile from her destination, she became discouraged and quit. The next day reporters clamored around her asking why she had quit—had it been the cold water or the distance. It proved to be neither. She responded, ‘I was licked by the fog.’ She then recalled a similar experience while swimming the English Channel. Evidently the fog was likewise engulfing. She was exhausted. As she was about to reach out for her father’s hand in the nearby boat, he pointed to the shore. She raised her head out of the water just long enough to see the land ahead. With that new vision, she pressed on and became the first woman to conquer the English Channel.
“That story teaches a magnificent principle: with increased vision can come increased motivation. So it is with the Atonement. As our vision of the Atonement is enhanced, our motivation to embrace its full effects is proportionately increased…
“Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life. It is an inescapable consequence of so doing. We become like those things we habitually love and admire. And thus, as we study Christ’s life and live his teachings, we become more like him.” (Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, p. 16-17)
With that background, let’s look carefully at Jacob’s explanatory sermon.
“And now, my beloved brethren,” said Jacob, “I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel…Behold my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children. For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come…” (2 Ne. 9:1-4)
“For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
“Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement—save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.” (2 Ne. 9:6-7)
If we look ahead over the rest of the chapter, we can find many significant and instructive statements about God and the power of the Atonement if we look for the word “O.”
“O the WISDOM of God, his MERCY and GRACE, for behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to…the devil.” (2 Ne. 9:8)
This first statement seems to be a general overarching statement about the plan of salvation, elaborated on in the following statements. Three attributes of God are mentioned here: Wisdom, mercy and grace. Because of them, we gain freedom; we are saved from the devil. These three attributes are inextricably linked together, but we can try to examine them separately in order to understand them better.
· Wisdom would be knowledge with correct application. Without this, God wouldn’t know what to do, how to save us.
· Mercy indicates that he actually cares about what happens to us. He is filled with love and kindness for us. He desires our spiritual progress (M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, and the best one I think I’ve ever read).
· Lastly, he has grace. Remember that Christ grew “from grace to grace,” until he was finally able to offer to us the mighty power of his Atonement to heal and sanctify us.
The Wisdom of God
People we would describe as “good” are those who properly apply the knowledge that they have. They are people with integrity and steadfastness.
“O how great the GOODNESS of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape…from death and hell…and because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this [temporal] death…shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave…And this [spiritual] death shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell…” (2 Ne. 9:10)
God uses his infinite wisdom (applied knowledge) to rescue us from our inevitable physical and spiritual deaths. He doesn’t do it randomly or accidentally; God never “wings it.” He always has a plan.
“O how great the PLAN of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again… (2 Ne. 9:13)
God, with his perfect wisdom, created the perfect plan to save us.
“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” (2 Ne. 9:14)
When his plan is complete, the thing we have lacked, a perfect knowledge, will now be ours. What is it that we will know? What we have become.
President John Taylor said, “The spirit lives where the record of his deeds is kept—that does not die—man cannot kill it; there is no decay associated with it, and it still retains in all its vividness the remembrance of that which transpired before the separation by death of the body and the ever-living spirit…It would be in vain for a man to say then, I did not do so-and-so; the command would be, Unravel and read the record which he has made of himself…” (Journal of Discourses, 11:78-79)
A woman who had a near-death experience with the afterlife said that, in addition to reliving everything that had happened to her or that she had thought, she also saw “the effect of each thought, word, and deed on everyone and anyone who had ever come within my environment or sphere of influence whether I knew them or not (including unknown passersby on the street)…”
Another man who had such an experience reported that he relived his life, but with an omniscient viewpoint: “It showed me not only what I had done but even how what I had done had affected other people.” (Brent and Wendy Top, Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door, p. 201)
The Mercy of God
Mercy and justice are conjoined twins, two sides of the same coin. A god who is not merciful would not care to exercise justice either. A god who was not just would not offer mercy. The attributes of mercy and justice in God indicate that he cares enough to make things right, either the one way or the other.
“O the greatness and the JUSTICE of our God! for he executeth all his words…[and] the righteous…shall inherit the kingdom of God…and their joy shall be full forever. (2 Ne. 9:17)
“Joy is the best word to describe a continual state of exaltation…The other kingdoms of glory will experience happiness—that is a state of well-being and even of accomplishment—but they are barred forever from joy, for there is no exaltation where they dwell…[God’s] plan for us goes well beyond achieving a state of well-being, which is sometimes mistakenly made synonymous with eternal life. Achieving a state of well-being is not our full purpose. Achieving eternal life is not an end in itself. The purpose of life—eternal life—is maintaining a state of joy…” (Richard D. Draper, A Fulness of Joy, p. 17-18)
“True righteousness is selfless service…The joy of heaven grows out of serving others, and not out of whether others accept or reject that service. Therefore, the threat of the pain of hell can never hold the joy of heaven hostage.” (Draper, p. 11-14).
“O the greatness of the MERCY of our God, the Holy One of Israel! for he delivereth his saints from…death and hell, and…endless torment. (2 Ne. 9:19)
Christ’s Atonement allows an escape from death and hell, which are not just the killing of the body (death) and the location of the spirit afterwards (hell), but agony of knowing we fell short and cannot be reunited with God (endless torment).
Joseph Smith said, “A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner…The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone.” (History of the Church, 6:314)
The Grace of God
“O how great the HOLINESS of our God! for he knoweth all things…And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice.” (2 Ne. 9:20)
How is “holiness” actually defined? It appears that, in this instance at least, it is deep knowledge of truth, not just mental knowledge, but experience—a complete relationship with truth. Because Christ is completely holy, and is in fact Truth, Light, and Love, he can offer us his grace, his power, his understanding. He not only possesses infinite power, but the power to give that power to his children if they will come unto him. He has the power to execute his plan.
WARNINGS OF DANGER
Jacob then delivered many warnings against wickedness, easily found by looking for the word “Wo.” Wo unto those who are too smart for God, who elevate themselves with material riches, who refuse to hear or see the truth, who refuse to obey the commandments, who are liars, murderers, temporal or spiritual adulterers. There is a standard we must meet in order to receive the effects of the wisdom, mercy and grace of the Lord in our lives.
Both messages, of “O” and of “Wo”, are followed by this entreaty:
“Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal. O, my beloved brethren, give ear to my words. Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel [the “O’s”]. Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you [the “Wo’s”]…
“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One, Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” (2 Ne. 9:39-41)
One little word in this verse is important: the word “straight.” In every other instance in the scriptures in which a path is described as leading to heaven, it is called “strait and narrow.” This is the only one that uses the spelling “straight.” Is it just an editorial error made by E.B. Grandin? No, because the Book of Mormon has gone through many editions since in which small errors have been corrected. The word “strait” refers to being restricted, confined. It is just another term for “narrow,” a Hebraic emphasis. The word “straight” refers to being straightforward, true, clear, easy to see. “The way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him.” For those listening to Jacob’s words, there were actually two adjectives used to describe the path: 1) narrow/strait, and 2) straightforward and easy to see. And so it is for us: We have the knowledge of the gospel; therefore, although the way is very strict, it is also very clear.
Jacob offers some counsel for staying on this straightforward path:
“Behold, my beloved brethren,
1. remember the words of your God;
2. pray unto him continually by day, and
3. give thanks unto his holy name by night.
4. Let your hearts rejoice.” (2 Ne. 9:52)
A VIEW OF THE SHORE
Jacob noted that Christ will be the one to greet us on the other side, not St. Peter as is often thought. As we come to know our Savior more, being greeted by him at the door to heaven will mean more to us. If we gain a vision of this, it can encourage us to finish the race. If we get lost in the fog of earthlife, like Florence Chadwick we may give up just short of the shore. Elder George F. Richards shared his vision of this reunion with us.
“Elder George F. Richards saw the Savior in a vision. ‘He spoke no word to me, but my love for him was such that I have not words to explain. I know that no mortal man can love the Lord as I experienced that love for the Savior unless God reveals it to him…If only I can be with my
Savior and have that same sense of love that I had in that dream, it will be the goal of my existence, the desire of my life.” (Brent & Wendy Top, Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door, p. 87-88, also quoted by President Kimball in April 1974 General Conference.)
The choice is ours: either suffer pain, deaths and torment, or accept the Atonement, live a Christlike life, and receive joy. It's a straightforward choice.
“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.” (2 Ne. 10:23)