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January 2008

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #14: So Many Treasures!



First edition Book of Mormon

If you’re like me, you have recently finished reading the Book of Mormon in response to the prophet’s invitation. I was sad as I finished. The experience was so enriching.

I know I can start reading the book over again. And I can move to another great book of scripture. But there was something special about this pass through the Book of Mormon. Maybe God is reminding me—and all of us—that there are special blessings in store for those who take the counsel of living prophets seriously. Maybe God is reminding all of us that he is offering “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).

It was surprisingly easy to find clear messages to the latter days to help us steer clear of worldly reefs. The columns I have written on this subject include the following:

#1: Revelation (revelation is commonplace in the Book of Mormon).
#2: Mighty change (we will never get it right until our hearts are changed).
#3: Laws of Survival by Barbara Keil (God’s rules are very different from the world’s).
#4: The R’s of Repentance (the ability to repent is a blessed gift).
#5: Are We Not All Beggars? (we are all dependent upon God and should be gracious as He is).
#6: A Better Kind of Esteem (esteeming God rather than ourselves is the key to our progress).
#7: How Easy is the Way? (God shows us a clear path).
#8: Sizing Up the Enemy (we should turn from Satan to the Savior).
#9: Learning and Unlearning Hatred (hatred is Satan’s way, not God’s).
#10: Our Records Are Vital for Our Well-Being (the Book of Mormon teaches us to keep a faithful record).
#11: Two Views of Conversion (we can learn about spiritual processes by Alma’s change).
#12: Portrait of Evil (Satan is a liar and a cheat—we should recognize his deceptions).
#13: His Image in Our Countenances (compassion is the key to being a disciple).

What would you include if you were listing the messages of the Book of Mormon that can help us steer a safe course through latter-day storms and barriers? One perceptive reader wrote me about the dangers of secret combinations. Others have pointed to other lessons. There are many more vital lessons and correctives in the Book of Mormon than any of us have discovered.

Some of the themes I listed but did not find time to write about include the following:

  1. We should trust God to manage and direct our lives.
  2. We must overcome the natural man so we can become friends with God.
  3. God invites us to consecration.
  4. We must teach our families to embrace light and truth.
  5. The doctrine of the Atonement (taught so clearly and powerfully in the Book of Mormon) is central to understanding mortality.
  6. Rationalization endangers our relationship with God.
  7. Learning is dangerous in the absence of faith.
  8. We can use our minds to carry ourselves to appointments with the divine.
  9. Faith in God often entails surrendering control in our lives.
  10. God gives guidance (and scripture) more gladly than we suspect.
  11. The love and condescension of God are the energizing power in the Atonement.
  12. What some make into a mystery can be plain and precious when we have the key of knowledge.
  13. Afflictions are blessings when seen through eyes of faith.
  14. Agency is a divine gift and blessing.
  15. God is focused on blessing us—unlike the mainline religious assumption that we exist solely to praise God.
  16. Our attitude toward the poor and struggling is the measure of our conversion.
  17. Wealth is dangerous without faith, love, and humility.
  18. Truth is to be found in light.
  19. From the beginning those who have been taught from on high have known of Jesus.
  20. Jesus is the central figure in all of human history.

As I wrote in the first article in this series, “We commonly cherry-pick a verse here or there from the Book of Mormon to fill in the gaps in our talks and lessons. How often do we go to that great book to be taught new ways of thinking? Do we use the Book of Mormon to make our points or to make His? Are we willing to be re-educated by God? Since this great book was written and compiled with us in mind, it has special claim on our interest. It has special power to reform us.”

I feel sure that we as a Church and people have only scratched the surface of truth that is available to us as we seek the mind and will of God. We have seen the first fulfillment of President Hinckley’s promise. We look forward to discovering more great truths as we continue our study of the words of God.

“Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, August 2005, p. 6).

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #13: His Image in Our Countenances



First edition Book of Mormon

For years I have mused about the significance of receiving “His image in [our] countenances” (Alma 5:14). This is a marker for being spiritually born of God and having a mighty change of heart. I would like to think that I have been spiritually born of God. But I have never had anyone look at me and stare: “You seem to have taken on some mideastern characteristics.” I have not even been accused of looking saintly. Usually just tired with an occasional bad haircut.

So I have never observed clear-cut evidence of the physical change described by Alma. Do we actually look different when we have been converted? Can the mighty change in our hearts be seen in our faces?

We might expect to see less fretting and more faith in the faces of the converted. Maybe less anger and more kindness, less sadness and more joy. But is there a distinctive bearing, visage, or radiance?

Wrestling for Meaning

In my most recent study of the Book of Mormon, I determined to crack this theological nut. Using my LDS database, I studied every occurrence of the “image in your countenance” quote in one thousand LDS books. I found that the phrase is commonly used without explanation or analysis. Somehow we’re just supposed to know what the phrase means and take it as a marker for conversion.

But I’m not content using the phrase merely as lovely imagery without any literal meaning. I assume God uses the description in meaningful, practical ways.

Taught from on High

After all the study I pondered the passage and the meaning quietly but suddenly became clear to me. God pointed me to the story of the Good Samaritan—a most unlikely place, I thought. I reflected on three attitudes toward one of life’s travelers in that great story. Thieves see a traveler as a business opportunity. Priests and Levites see him as fool paying for his boldness with his injuries.

The Samaritan—clearly representing Christ—was different. He did not exploit or ignore the injured man. He did not lecture or punish the man. He acted as a model redeemer: He had compassion. He went to him. He ministered to him.

Suddenly it was all clear to me. His image in our countenance is compassion. When we look with compassion on those who are injured, we have His image in our countenance.

The Mark of His Image

It is with compassion that God saw his suffering children in the vision. He shared with Enoch. He wept to see even his wicked children suffer (see Moses 7).

It is with compassion that Jesus sees us as He views our injuries in mortality. “Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice” (Mosiah 15:9).

Compassion is what Joseph Smith described as the measure of our spiritual development: “The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241)

Charity, the full-bodied brother of compassion, is what God commands in His great revelation on spiritual influence: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men” (D&C 121:45).

Compassion is what Jesus recommended in his parable of the unforgiving servant: “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:33).

His Image in Our Countenances

It makes sense that we have His image in our countenance any time we look on fellow travelers with compassion. When we bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, then we stand as witnesses of God (see Mosiah 18:8–9). Our hands, faces, and lives are our testimonies. And it is clear that we are His disciples. It is compassion that makes us card-carrying disciples of Christ. That is the mark in our countenance.

Of course the true test of discipleship is not that we help our friends; it is offering compassion, encouragement, and practical help to those who are damaged and undeserving. Compassion gets purified when called upon to bless the disagreeable and unappreciative.

Yet the injured persons along the road of life can recognize the truly converted—those who look on them with compassion. As Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
I am thankful that the Book of Mormon, that great latter-day corrective has shown us how to be true followers.

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #12: Portrait of Evil



First edition Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon contains some of the greatest insights into the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement found anywhere in sacred literature. It also teaches us about evil and its author. It seems that God wants us to be readily able to discern between good and evil.

A Portrait of Evil
Note the incisive and informative descriptions of the devil found in the Book of Mormon:

And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (2 Nephi 2:18).

Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually (Moroni 7:12).

And behold, it is he who is the author of all sin. And behold, he doth carry on his works of darkness and secret murder, and doth hand down their plots, and their oaths, and their covenants, and their plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation according as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men (Helaman 6:30).

And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness (2 Nephi 9:9).

And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost (1 Nephi 12:17).
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another (3 Nephi 11:29).

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good (2 Nephi 28:20).

As Dennis Rasmussen, BYU professor of philosophy, has observed of Satan’s doings: “Evil has no positive worth of its own. It is always a parasite, a terrible absence of goodness that seeks to draw all things that are good into its own emptiness. . . . The eyes of the world are glazed, hard, empty. The sparkle is gone, the innocence is gone, the spontaneous excitement in the new moment is gone. Weary but not from service, old but not with wisdom, they scan the space before them. Perhaps there is still one thrill untried. Perhaps things would be better with a new job, a new house, a new husband, a new wife. Where is there to go after you have been around?” (The Lord’s Question, 1985, pp. 41–42).

The Dark Strategy

The Book of Mormon even describes the strategy behind Satan’s underhanded work. Apparently two of his foremost tools for the latter days are to lull us into a sense of spiritual well-being or to convince us that hell is a myth. Satan’s sworn enemies are faith and repentance.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance (2 Nephi 28:21–22).

The Devil’s Duplicity

Because he is not bound by any laws of decency or truth, Satan makes the boldest claims. He suggests that his way is the way of fun and ease. As Korihor and all who have followed Satan have learned or will learn, he is a liar from the beginning:
And thus we see the end of him [Korihor] who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell (Alma 30:60).

As Dennis Rasmussen observes of Satan: “How harsh and empty are the words of temptation in the ears of those who have heard the hymns of heaven!” (p. 28). The ways of God involve steady progress on solid foundations rather than glitzy towers build on empty promises.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall (Helaman 5:12).

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #11: Two Views of Conversion



First edition Book of Mormon

Conversion might look quite different from the outside from what it feels like on the inside. The Book of Mormon blesses us with an extraordinary opportunity to study both an inside and outside view of the same conversion.

In Mosiah 27 we get the account of Alma the Younger’s conversion as seen by Mosiah, a witness and outsider to the spiritual change. In Alma 36, Alma the Younger tells his own personal and powerful experience. It is worth noting that Alma tells his conversion experience late in life—long after the reported events. It would appear that he had spent decades carefully crafting the message into perfect theology and perfect poetry. (Those who have studied Alma 36 may know that it is considered an extraordinary model of Hebrew chiasmus.)

Below I have divided the parallel accounts into five sections: Background; Confrontation; Spiritual Renewal; New Creature; and A Lifetime of Service. I will note just a few of the interesting differences in the accounts.

A Brief Comparison of the Two Accounts

Mosiah, the outsider and leader of the people, mentions the Church eight times. As the leader of the Church, he was very mindful of Alma’s effect on the Church. Alma the Younger in his autobiographical account only mentions the Church twice.
In the background, the outsider gives an unsparing description of Alma and his impact: unbeliever, very wicked, idolatrous, speaking flattery, great hindrance, stealing away hearts, causing much dissension, giving a chance for the enemy, destroy the Church (twice!), and lead astray.

In the autobiographical background account, there is a different theme. Alma talks about God as the deliverer of the fathers, the people, and himself. He was mindful of God’s role as deliverer. He rejoiced and testified of it.
When the angel confronts Alma, notice the interesting differences. In the outsider’s account, the angel asked “why persecutest thou the church of God?” Alma’s account is more personal: “If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God.” What an intriguing difference! The son felt keenly the threat to his own spiritual future.
In the accounts of the face-off with the angel, the outsider emphasizes the power of God. Alma describes movingly his own experience: fear, amazement, racked with eternal torment, soul harrowed up, racked with sins, pains of hell, inexpressible horror, the desire to become extinct, and the pains of a damned soul.

Meanwhile the outside witness rejoiced. He knew that God was doing a transforming work with Alma and his sons. He gathered the priests and the people apparently for two purposes: to exercise spiritual energy in behalf of Alma and his sons and so they could witness the process of transformation: “that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God” (Mosiah 27:22).

After the visit of the angel, the account from the outsider’s point of view describes the things that Alma the Younger said.

They were powerful. (Study them in Mosiah 27:23–31.) But the insider’s account describes what he felt: joy, light, and strength.

The contrast between the two concluding sections is also instructive. The outsider reports Alma teaching, traveling, and publishing in order to repair the injuries to the Church. Alma the Younger again emphasizes the role of God as deliverer and recommends that all of us remember both our captivity and our deliverance.

A Sweet Blessing

These two accounts provide a sweet blessing to all of us who have been delivered, hope to be delivered, or hope to help someone else be delivered. As if the two accounts were not enough, the Book of Mormon blesses us with another meta-account. As the converted son goes about the land teaching the people, he gives a great address providing counsel on how to be changed (see especially Alma 5).

I honestly believe that each of us could spend an entire lifetime studying the accounts of Alma’s change and his wise counsel as one who had been changed—and we would all be better for the study.

I am thankful for the blessed accounts of heavenly transformation contained in that beloved book, the Book of Mormon. God must want all of us to understand conversion and to be converted—to be illuminated, spiritually born of God, have a mighty change of heart, receive His image in our countenances, sing the song of redeeming love, and become partakers of the fruit of the tree of life (see Alma 5).

May it be so.

The account from the outside
Mosiah 27Background:
8 Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.9 And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.10 And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—
The account from the inside
Alma 36Background:
1 My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.2 I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.3 And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.

4 And I would not that ye think that I know of myself—not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God.

5 Now, behold, I say unto you, if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself.

The confrontation:
11 And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;12 And so great was their astonishment, that they fell to the earth, and understood not the words which he spake unto them.13 Nevertheless he cried again, saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.

14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.

15 And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.

16 Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.

17 And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.

18 And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.

19 And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father.

20 And they rehearsed unto his father all that had
happened unto them; and his father rejoiced, for he knew that it was the power of God.

21 And he caused that a multitude should be gathered together that they might witness what the Lord had done for his son, and also for those that were with him.

The confrontation:
6 For I went about with the sons of Mosiah, seeking to destroy the church of God; but behold, God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way.7 And behold, he spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet; and we all fell to the earth, for the fear of the Lord came upon us.8But behold, the voice said unto me: Arise. And I arose and stood up, and beheld the angel.

9 And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed,seek no more to destroy the church of God.

10 And it came to pass that I fell to the earth; and it was for the space of three days and three nights that I could not open my mouth, neither had I the use of my limbs.

11 And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more.

12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.

13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.

16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.

The spiritual renewal:
22 And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
The spiritual renewal:
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
The new creature:
23 And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

27 I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.

28 Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulations, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.

29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more.

30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.

31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all searching eye.

The new creature:
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold;yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

22 Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.

23 But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.

24 Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

25 Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;

26 For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.

A lifetime of service:
32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.

35 And they traveled throughout all the lands of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.

36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.

37 And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth.

A lifetime of service:
27 And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.28 And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever, for he has brought our fathers out of Egypt, and he has swallowed up the Egyptians in the Red Sea; and he led them by his power into the promised land; yea, and he has delivered them out of bondage and captivity from time to time.29 Yea, and he has also brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem; and he has also, by his everlasting power, delivered them out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; and I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity.

30 But behold, my son, this is not all; for ye ought to know as I do know, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land; and ye ought to know also, that inasmuch as ye will not keep the commandments of God ye shall be cut off from his presence. Now this is according to his word.

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #10: Our Records Are Vital for Our Well-Being



First edition Book of Mormon

I remember when I was a student at BYU. My fellow students and I enjoyed frequent and glorious sacrament meetings, firesides, and devotionals. Our youthful openness was met with heaven’s goodness―and we were blessed beyond measure!

I remember many times at the end of those days reflecting on the experiences and the powerful feelings of inspiration. It was sweet to reflect on heaven’s abundant graciousness to us.

But I felt a nagging concern. By the end of the day I often didn’t remember the specific discoveries and directives that had come with the powerful spiritual experiences.

So I began carrying 3 x 5 index cards in my shirt pocket. Every Sunday I dated a new card and began recording ideas and feelings when they came. The notes were often brief. Sometimes they were merely the title of a hymn or a word like “Atonement.” But, once I began keeping the record, then, when I reflected on the great goodness of the Lord, I had specific reminders.

Modern (and Abundant) Revelation

The Latter-day Saints have an embarrassment of riches. Along with the Bible we have additional books of scripture, the counsel of living prophets, and the gift of personal revelation. We even have the promise of additional books of scripture yet to be given to us. How we should thank our Heavenly King!

These gifts come with responsibilities. God expects us to keep records.

The Book of Mormon Emphasizes the Importance of Records

I tried to study every occurrence in the Book of Mormon of the word “record” or “records.” I wore myself out—and only scratched the surface. Consider just a few examples from the early part of the Book of Mormon.

    I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents . . . yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days (1 Nephi 1:1).

    Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 3:4).

    And after they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning (1 Nephi 5:10).

    And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children (1 Ne. 5: 21).

    Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews (Omni 1: 14).

    And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them (Omni 1:17).

    And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God” (Mosiah 1:3).

The Book of Mormon seems to send a clear message: Failure to keep a record is a form of ingratitude. It damages us and it puts our posterity at risk. While there are those who will keep records for the Church, each of us should keep records for our lives.

Many Forms of Records

Keeping records can take many forms:

  • Some people strengthen their oral tradition by telling stories and recounting blessings.
  • Some people keep index cards in their pockets.
  • Some people record the day’s experiences on a simple calendar.
  • Some people keep a bound or loose-leaf journal.
  • Some people record their experiences on the computer.
  • Some people write weekly letters to family members telling of their blessings.
  • Some people search family records for evidence of God’s goodness.

A Latter-day Challenge

The Book of Mormon itself is a testimony of the vital role of records. If we want our families to prosper in the land, we should keep a record of the blessings of the Lord to us and those we love.

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #9: Learning and Unlearning Hatred



First edition Book of Mormon

Bertrand Russell made the terse observation that “few people can be happy unless they hate some other person, nation, or creed.” We may vary in what we hate, but most of us have an enemy. It may be the government, a certain political party, a narrow-minded neighbor, an annoyingly successful football team in another city, or an arch-nemesis on the high council. We humans seem to be energized by our adversarial thinking.

Even research by psychologists shows that humans have a tendency to vilify enemies while whitewashing their own behavior (see Baumeister’s insightful book, Evil). This bias does not bode well for peace in the world.

Teaching Hatred to Children

The Book of Mormon records the same tendency in that ancient people:

And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi (Mosiah 10:17).

And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning (4 Nephi 1:39).

Teaching hatred has always been the work of the wicked. Notice the irony shown in the Book of Mormon: No matter how wicked the enemy is, the righteous do not teach hatred.

The Better Impulse

The Book of Mormon records that one of the first impulses of the redeemed is to work for the redemption of others. It does not matter whether the recipients of this good will are mild or hardened impenitents, the holy impulse is the same: to redeem.

    And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit (1 Nephi 8:12).

    Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them (Enos 1:9).

    Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble (Mosiah 28:3).

As we are filled with holiness, we look on others―even the wicked―with compassion.

A Permissible Hatred

As far as I can tell, there is only one hatred that is endorsed in the Book of Mormon:

And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; trust not those secret plans unto this people, but teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity (Alma 37:32).

It is wickedness itself that we hate. We even hate it in those who are guilty of it. But we do not hate those who have fallen under its spell. Rather, we seek to redeem them.

In a time of unprecedented polarization, this Book of Mormon message is sorely needed. We should be latter-day peacemakers. We should “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them who despitefully use [us] and persecute [us]” (3 Nephi 12:44).

Jesus teaches us that “blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (3 Nephi 12: 9).

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #8: Sizing Up the Enemy



First edition Book of Mormon

As we know, the Book of Mormon was written specifically with us in mind. So it is noteworthy that it has many passages about Satan. I suspect that God wants His latter-day children to understand their enemy. The Book of Mormon provides vital lessons about Satan’s objectives, methods, and the proper response to him.

Satan’s Objectives

Satan has nothing but malicious intent. He is miserable. He wants us to join him in relentless misery.
And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost (1 Nephi 12:17).

And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (2 Nephi 2:18; see also 2 Nephi 2:27).

Satan’s Methods

Satan uses every form of subtlety, treachery, and trickery to achieve his vile purposes. The irony is that he does not seem to realize that he is advancing God’s purposes even as he fights against Him. Satan “knew not the mind of God, wherefore he sought to destroy the world” (Moses 4:6).

    And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness (2 Nephi 9:9).And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance (2 Nephi 28:21–22).For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil. Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him (Alma 5:40–41).

    Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing (3 Nephi 2:2).

    Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen! (3 Nephi 9:2).

    For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another (3 Nephi 11:29).

    Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually (Moroni 7:12).

How to Respond to Satan

Agency is a big challenge in mortality. It is also our redemption. We can choose eternal death or eternal life.

And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom (2 Nephi 2:28–29).

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God (Moroni 7:13).

Many Ironies
There are many ironies in Satan’s story. The Son of the Morning has chosen darkness. One of the most talented of God’s children will be most impotent in eternity. The harshness that he directs at disciples hurts Satan himself most of all. He speaks with great confidence yet is entirely unreliable. Even as he tries to thwart God, he advances God’s purposes.

One of the great ironies in Satan’s behavior is that he promises fun, pleasure, and gratification. But he does not honor his promises. He delivers misery, hate, emptiness, and profound nothingness. He promises the world and delivers only the suffering of hell. As we learn from Korihor’s experience:
And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell (Alma 30:60).

We should not trust a liar. We should trust truth and light.

While I believe that the best way to deal with Satan is to be filled with God, the Book of Mormon clearly wants us to understand our enemy. It shines light into the darkness so that we can avoid being tricked by the father of lies.

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #7: The Easiness of the Way



First edition Book of Mormon

Nancy and I recently watched the documentary Endurance, about British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 excursion to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. Only a day’s journey from his final destination, Shackleton’s ship, the HMS Endurance, was trapped in ice. For the next ten months, the crew dealt with the harsh Antarctic winter, dwindling rations, blizzards, boredom, and illness. They hiked, camped, and suffered. Shackleton ultimately took part of the crew, outfitted one of the lifeboats, and sailed for help. It took months to get help and return for the remaining crew. All told, they suffered terribly and never met their goal. (Movie description adapted from www.Rottentomatoes.com.)

Is Shackleton’s tortured and failed journey a good metaphor for life on earth? Do we work hard, suffer terribly, and, in the end, fail to get to our hoped-for destination? That is not the Book of Mormon attitude toward life.

A Book of Mormon Description of the Journey

There are probably many metaphors for the mortal journey in the Book of Mormon. A couple of passages seem especially relevant:

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished (1 Nephi 17:41).

O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever (Alma 37:46).

If the story of the children of Israel confronting fiery serpents is taken as a metaphor for mortal life, then we can expect that we will get painful bites along the mortal path. But we can also be assured that looking to Christ will heal us. “If we will look, we may live forever.” In spite of the peril, we have nothing to fear. He will heal us and redeem us.

Traveling with Trepidation

So life may not be like a day in an amusement park. But neither is it a sentence to a torture chamber. It is a journey through a land that is often fascinating—and sometimes daunting.

There is a human tendency for us to be more anxious about the threats than cheered by the breathtaking scenery. Depression is a latter-day scourge. How would God have us deal with our inevitable burdens and anxieties? Again, the Book of Mormon shows the way.

A Book of Mormon Answer

And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord (Mosiah 24:15).

Intriguingly, the Lord enabled the people to bear their burdens—then He delivered them from bondage! As we learn the necessary lessons, we too may be freed from our burdens—if we “submit cheerfully and with patience.”

And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage (Mosiah 24:16).

When we have been set free, we should be filled with gratitude rather than anxious about future troubles. No matter what arises, we can bear it with His help.

Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God. And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God (Mosiah 24:21–22).

The Way to Travel

So, in spite of peril and uncertainty, each of us can make the journey resolutely, peacefully, and with quiet assurance. With His companionship, we have no need to fear. We can concentrate on learning and enjoying. He provides the travel insurance.

And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen (Alma 33:23).

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #6: Different Kinds of Self-Esteem



First edition Book of Mormon

I suppose that most fish don’t have any idea what it is like to breathe air. They can’t imagine any way of “breathing” other than the one they use.

The same may be true for those of us immersed in the self-celebration culture. Having been taught from the beginning that we must love ourselves before we can love anyone else, it may seem to be eternal truth. It is patently obvious!

This is one place where the Book of Mormon challenges our culture directly. That great message to the latter days teaches a different kind of esteem—and it teaches this kind of esteem consistently, powerfully, and elegantly. It is one of the central themes of the book.

Different Kinds of Esteem

Notice where our esteem is to be focused in the following Book of Mormon passage:

And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 Nephi 9:42).

Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 28:31).

For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state . . . I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement (Mosiah 4: 5,7).

Do not say:

O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy — yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times (Alma 38:14).

O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth (Helaman 12:7).

If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity (Moroni 7:44).

The Best Esteem

The Book of Mormon warns us pointedly about esteeming ourselves at the same time that it beseeches us to esteem God.

From beginning to end, we are taught to esteem God—and our fellow beings— rather than ourselves. Anything remotely like self-esteem is considered pride in the Book of Mormon. In contrast, God-esteem is humility. Fellowbeing-esteem is love. The last two are recommended. The first esteem is condemned.

God taught us to love others and repent ourselves. Satan has got us doing the opposite — loving ourselves and repenting others. This is one of Satan’s greatest triumphs. (As a note of interest, recent research has pulled the rug from under the self-esteem movement. If you are interested in more about this, please see the note at the end of the article.)

In one of the great gospel ironies, it is only by losing ourselves in love and devotion that we find our own souls.

A Book of Mormon Case Study

The Book of Mormon provides a marvelous case study in the principle of proper esteem. When Ammon rejoiced in the accomplishments of his mission, his brother Aaron wondered if he might be boasting. Ammon then taught us true doctrine.

I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.

Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state? (Selected verses from Alma 26).

The Mystery of Esteem

Satan is glad to have us resort to either-or thinking. “Well, either I must love myself or hate myself. I choose to love myself.”

We should not be tricked by Satan’s poverty of options. The Book of Mormon does not recommend self-love or self-hate. It recommends self-forgetfulness. Those who have forgotten themselves and been filled with the love of God and all men know what a blessed state this is. Ammon invites us to learn about it:

And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.

Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance (Alma 26:21–22).

It would seem that Ammon is challenging us to have this mighty change of mindset.

The Blessing of Esteem

So we have options. We can swim in the world’s philosophy of self-focus, which states that we must have self-appreciation before we can truly be whole. Or we can immerse ourselves in God-esteem. We can follow the example of all the Book of Mormon prophets expressed in the inspired words of Ammon:

Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.

Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land (Alma 26:35–36).

The Book of Mormon is inviting Latter-day Saints to experience the joy known only to those who have put God at the center of their rejoicing.

Note: For those unfamiliar with the scientific undermining of the self-esteem dogma, the following books should be instructive:

  • Authentic Happiness by Martin E. P. Seligman
  • The Self in Social Psychology by Roy Baumeister
  • Meanings of Life by Roy Baumeister
  • Hollow Kids by Laura L. Smith and Charles H. Elliott
  • The Curse of the Self by Mark R. Leary
  • The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Need by Paul Pearsall

Even the defense of self-esteem by Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, The Social Importance of Self-Esteem (1989), found it to be ineffective—or counterproductive—for producing the promised (or assumed) benefits.

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The Book of Mormon, A Latter-day Corrective #5: Are We Not All Beggars?



First edition Book of Mormon

There are many ways the Book of Mormon seeks to rescue us from the latter-day philosophies of men. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24).

In the United States there is a strong ethic of self-sufficiency. We are much less likely than many other nations to provide for our families and our poor. That orientation is very good for invention and free enterprise. It has problems for Christianity.

We may convince ourselves that the government should not be in the business of caring for the poor. That may or may not be true. I don’t see a clear scriptural mandate on that issue. The Lord does not tell us how it is to be done but he gives us no excuse for leaving it undone—whether through governmental or other means.

A Core Book of Mormon Message

Consider the following Book of Mormon statements:

But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30).

And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely (Alma 1:27). Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them? (Alma 5:55).

Caring for the poor is a common theme of the Book of Mormon and all scripture.

The Lord’s Mandate

King Benjamin may be the prophet who has most clearly related care for the poor to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Our attitude toward the poor is a measure of our understanding of the Atonement. The doctrine is starkly clear in his great final address dictated by an angel.

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need.

Perhaps thou shalt say: This man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants (Mosiah 4:16–19, 22, 26).

King Benjamin clearly taught that our attitude toward the poor must be gracious. Further, we can measure our understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ by our response to the poor. The

Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.241).

As Hugh Nibley observed (1989, p. 229), “God transfers his claims on our indebtedness to the poor.” If we neglect the poor, we do not understand Him, His work, or His graciousness to us.

Latter-day Rationalizations

It is hard to make the case that we are following scriptural counsel if we give a pittance to the poor while we enlarge our houses, increase our stable of cars, remodel our kitchens, and shop for designer clothes. The data on American lifestyles give the lie to our claims.

For example, the size of a new single-family house exploded from 983 square feet in 1950 to 1,500 square feet in 1970 (1.53 times the size of a 1950 house) to 2,330 square feet in 2003 (2.37 times the size of a 1950 home) (National Association of Home Builders).

As large percentages of this world’s population live in small huts with dirt floors and no electricity, it requires cosmic levels of selective perception and self-deception to convince ourselves that we “need” a larger house, another car, granite countertops, and more shoes. Of the world’s occupants, 60 percent are always hungry and 26 percent are severely undernourished (David J. Smith, 2002, If the World Were a Village).

Our son, Andy, has done work for humanitarian projects. When he talks about poverty in Africa, it pricks my conscience. I know that my yearning for a bigger, lovelier home is the siren call of the great and spacious building (1 Ne. ).

What if we not only doubled our fast offerings but gave hundreds of dollars to the perpetual education fund and to humanitarian aid? What if we gave thousands?

God is inviting us through His message to the latter-days to care for the poor. This is the test that tells whether we understand divine grace. May we respond gladly to this Book of Mormon challenge.