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Monday, October 3, 2016

If the Book of Mormon Were a Choose Your Own Adventure: A Profile of Current LDS

The story of Lehi's departure from Jerusalem is the first in the Book of Mormon. The very first narrative verse in the Book reads:

For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. (1 Nephi 1:4)

This is our opportunity to liken this story unto ourselves.

This verse says that Lehi heard of prophets teaching that the Jews had turned away from God, needed to repent, and that if they did not, God would destroy them. However, how would he have recognized them as such? That they were not the duly appointed religious leaders is evident from the fact that when Lehi later pronounces the same message, the people try to kill him (1 Nephi 1:18-20).

Decision Point 1


So, if you became aware of random people--people with no LDS leadership credentials--claiming to have a message from God, what would you do? Would you listen to them, as Lehi did, or would you ignore them?

If Lehi had ignored them, what would have happened? Lehi's life would have gone on as it had to that point. Nothing would have changed. He would have been very comfortable...until he died in the invasion of Jerusalem just a few years afterward. And thereafter he would be in hell as a result of ignoring messengers that God had sent to preach repentance. God never offers a blessing without their being a penalty for rejecting it. The Book of Mormon would have been very short if this had been the case.

Decision Point 2


So, assuming you bother to actually listen to the random people claiming to have a message from God. Once you realize they are teaching things that, if true, require serious modifications to what you currently understand as true, how do you react?

This situation is very common in the scriptures. It happens whenever God mercifully sends true messengers to correct false traditions that have crept into the worship of his children. It happened when Jesus came among the Jews. He showed the falseness of several of the most prized traditions of the Pharisees. They killed him for it.

What would your reaction be if you were Lehi? Would your first response be to shut your ears and run? Would you turn off the podcast, shut the book, etc., and forget you had ever heard of it? Or, would you follow God's instructions in Moroni 10:5, and ask him if it is true, realizing that any attempt from God to increase your understanding of truth will necessarily involve challenging your preconceptions of what is true?

Lehi's first reaction was to pray about it, assuming it could be true:

Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people. (1 Nephi 1:5)
Because of his decision, instead of being promptly destroyed, he had a vision in which God confirmed to him the message he had heard. He was shown the wickedness of the people, suggesting that, until now, he had not recognized the behavior of those around him (and himself) as wicked. He also saw a vision of the Savior, showing that when we encounter a higher degree of truth than what we possess, we also receive experiences with God superior to those we have had in the past.

 6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.
 7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.
 8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
 9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
 10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
 11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.
 12 And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
 13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
 14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!
 15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. (1 Nephi 1)
If Lehi had rejected God's word through the messengers, he would have stayed in his spiritually stagnant state until Jerusalem was destroyed. He would have been very comfortable in his beliefs, not having any clue that it was possible for a normal person to have a vision of Christ, or to hear God's voice, as he did after he was willing to ask God in sincerity whether the message was true.

Decision Point 3


After receiving a knowledge of these things, Lehi decided to go out and preach what he had seen to others.

 18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
 19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
 20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. 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. (1 Nephi 1)

Now, most LDS I know won't even go out and preach what they currently have, a gospel that isn't very offensive or hard to live.  Lehi knew quite well what kind of people he was dealing with. He knew they were wicked. He also knew how they would react to this message. He went out and preached anyway. His friends and relations would have thought he was bonkers or worse. His professional and familial relationships would have greatly suffered. He did it anyway.

What would have happened if he had not? Note that the reason he was blessed to flee to a promised land was because he had gone out and preached these things to the point that the people wanted to kill him. If he had not done this, in spite of his having received true messengers and received visions from heaven, he still would have died with the others in Jerusalem.

The spectrum of LDS: Where do you fall?

1. Prophets have come among you with a message from God. (Here and here). Have you bothered to read the words they say they have been commanded to write? If not, and they are right, you are headed for temporal and spiritual destruction.

2. Assuming you have diligently listened to their message, what has been your reaction? Have you put it down, or have you sincerely taken it to God, with a willingness to listen to him even if you are wrong? If not, and they are right, you are headed for temporal and spiritual destruction, and you are losing out on greater encounters with God that are predicated upon your obedience to his word.

3. Assuming you have listened to the message, asked God sincerely, and learned it is true, what have you done about it? Have you remained anonymous publicly, protecting your worldly associations? Or, have you laid it all on the line, fulfilling your duty to warn others (D&C 88:81)? If not, in spite of any positive benefit you may have received thus far, you are still preventing God from blessing you with everything he has in mind, and you will be held accountable for your lack of charity towards those who have not yet been persuaded of the message that has changed your life. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18).


Conclusion


When I think of my LDS friends, I think of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. They have what they consider to be precious, yet they have no idea of the power of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They have never lived it, despite being in possession of it for (in most cases) their whole lives. They tenaciously reject anyone who suggests that their traditions are false, and therefore cut themselves off from the teachings that would draw them closer to Christ and show them the magnitude of the blessings they have access to. They incessantly spin in fruitless effort in fawning adulation of a few principles and people that not only lack the power to save them, but also prevent them from living the commandments that will bring them to God.

Deep down inside, you know there is something more to the gospel. You know that there is a reason that your experiences are so different and lackluster compared to those in the scriptures. You know there is a reason that you struggle to get yourself to read the scriptures, go to church, home teach, go to the temple, etc.

Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)
The reason is that you are not on the path that leads back to God. Instead, you are on the hamster wheel of the commandments of men. No matter what you put into the system you have, you will only get out what you already have. The best you can hope for is a valid temple recommend and talks featuring the philosophies of men mingled with (an every decreasing quantity of) scripture. Promises of eventually encountering God and reductive comparisons assuring you that your inexperience is the same as the experiences of those in the scriptures will never satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

 33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. 34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; 35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire— 36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn. (Alma 5)