Sunday, January 3, 2016

Lehi, Nephi, Laman, Lemuel, and "Follow the Prophet"

How did Lehi receive further light and truth? He listened carefully to contrarians, who preached directly against what he considered to be true, and took it with an open mind to God. Is this how you respond to people who seemingly attack what you consider to be sacred, who insult what you consider to be precious? What was God's response? Essentially, God said to Lehi, "it is not only true, but it is worse than those men told you." Lehi was a good man. Despite his faithful acceptance of the apostate Israelite traditions, he was humble enough to consider the possibility that the men who had come preaching against what he cherished may in fact have been from God. God rewarded him with what may have been his first vision. No doubt Lehi had a plethora of "tender mercies" from his life that had suggested that his idea of the gospel was correct. In one moment, all the treasured experiences he had accumulated from a lifetime of living an apostate religion were minimized into nothingness by a supernal direct interaction with God that exceeded by many times any previous experiences he had, like the fire Elijah summoned from heaven exposed the works of the priests of Ba'al for what they were. Whether "the prophet" was the high priest of the apostate Israelites, or the prophets that had come declaring the coming destruction of Jerusalem, Lehi did not follow the prophet. Instead, he heard all messages with an open mind, approached God directly, and received direct instruction from heaven that sat independent of anything he had heard from either the high priest or the traveling prophets. Because Lehi followed God and not a man, he was able to receive instructions directly from God. He did not, upon learning of the truthfulness of the prophets' message, seek out those who had brought him that message, and follow them around. Instead, he followed the instructions he received from God, and received an independent dispensation of the gospel. He relied upon no man. Thus, when he was asked to do difficult things, like leave his home and possessions, he could lean upon the Lord, who had asked him to do it, instead of putting his trust in a man.

How did Nephi receive further light and truth? He did not merely follow his father, "the prophet." Instead, he, like his brothers, thought his father was crazy. But, being humble, he approached God and asked about his father's claims. He did not merely seek for a witness to know whether or not his father's words were true. The supposed response of such an inquiry would be expected to come through his feelings--something very easily counterfeited, especially when the subject has a preconceived notion about the topic. Instead, he asked to see what his father saw. And God granted his wish. Nephi did not "follow the prophet." Instead, he followed God. Thus, when things became difficult, he did not need to return to his father for support. Instead, he leaded upon the Lord with whom he had direct experience. This was particularly important when his father also began to murmur. When we hinge our salvation on another man, we are guaranteed to make all the same mistakes they make. We are limited in our progression to whatever point at which they have arrived. If they do not re-enter the presence of God, neither will we.

Nephi did not follow the prophet, nor did Lehi. But Laman and Lemuel did. Laman and Lemuel, despite being adults, went with their father into the wilderness even though they didn't really believe his claimed revelations. They went back to Jersusalem as instructed by their father, even though they did not believe they would be able to get the plates. They kept doing the things that Lehi asked them to do, even though they didn't believe he was inspired or that what he told them was God's will. They never bothered asking God. If they didn't believe Lehi, and they didn't think God was the source, why did they do it? They did it because they were following their father. The sense of duty Laman and Lemuel had towards Lehi was sufficient for them to go through the motions, but it was insufficient for them to perform at the level required for miracles to happen. Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi all experienced the same situations in the beginning book of the Book of Mormon, but while those experiences were sufficient to propel Nephi from a zero to a king who had exercised miracles and been in the presence of God, Laman and Lemuel were no better than they started (and perhaps a great deal worse). Why?

Progress with God requires faith. Faith requires revelation from God. You can't progress with God by following some man, even if that man is a prophet of God, as Lehi was. That's because you can't have faith unto life and salvation in a man, only in God. When you have faith in God, you have strength to overcome the trials necessary to obtain blessings with God. When your faith is in a man, you will never have strength to achieve the level of obedience in spite of difficulty required to obtain blessings from God. Laman and Lemuel had no chance of re-entering God's presence, as did their brother Nephi, because they relied on Lehi (and later Nephi) instead of going directly to God.

I know some people who constantly chant "follow the prophet." Yet, ironically, these same people ignore "the prophet" whenever he says things they don't want to hear. Before you tell me to "follow the prophet," ask yourself if:
-You have 1 year of food storage (or 3 months or 3 years or 7 years, depending on which president of the church you ask)
-You pay a generous fast offering and fast every month.
-You pay 10% of your gross income to the church.
-You financially and ideologically support the Boy Scouts of America.
-You attend the temple often.
-You complete your home or visit teaching every month.
-You attend all meetings, including stake conferences.
-You read your Sunday School and other reading assignments before church each week.
-If you are in leadership, you fulfill your calling exactly how the handbook says to.
-You read your scriptures individually and as a family daily.
-You completed your genealogy.
-You pray daily as a family.
-You hold organized family home evening weekly.

I'm not saying any of these things are correct. However, it is ironic that those who get the most upset with me for preaching against "follow the prophet" are, in fact, not following the prophet themselves. The difference is that while I disregard certain precepts because God has told me to, they do so because, like Laman and Lemuel, they do not really have sufficient faith in their professed beliefs to bring about obedience and repentance, and therefore have cut themselves off from salvation, even according to their own law.