Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cliche or Overlooked Gem?

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father, and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

This is 1 Nephi 1:1.  As the opening verse to The Book of Mormon:  Another Testament of Jesus Christ, these words are often (and probably truthfully) called the most read words of all LDS Scripture.  They are so well known that probably a good half of all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could recite them from memory.  And as such they've become almost a cliche rushed over by well-meaning Sunday School teachers eager to dig into the meatier parts of the text.  That makes me sad because it is such a great introduction to what the Gospel is and how to truly live it.

Let's break this verse of Scripture into 5 key phrases and touch on the richness of the ideas they present to us.

Born of Goodly Parents

This phrase harkens to the great commandment to love thy Father and thy Mother.  It talks of respect within the core family unit and the duty of children to their parents.  With it Nephi is telling us much about the character of the people who led his family.  He speaks to the righteousness and loving concern of his father, Lehi, and the unwavering support of his mother, Sariah.  I think it's significant that he calls them goodly.  Other scriptures show us the importance of making a good name for ourselves.  Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold."  And Ecclesiastes 7:1 begins "A good name is better than precious ointment..."

Taught Somewhat in All the Learning of my Father

To me this underscores the importance of education, of always seeking to learn and apply new things to make our lives better.  It also reminds us that it's a parents' responsibility to teach the children in the home... to lovingly help their kids grow up to be responsible and contributing members of society and to seek out their own testimony of God.   I think Mosiah 1: 2 points this out so very well as King Benjamin taught his sons.  "And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord."  The family is central to all LDS Church teachings and beliefs.  A modern prophet, David O. McKay, taught "No success, however great, will compensate for failure in the home."

Having Seen Many Afflictions/Been Highly Favored of the Lord

So often we see these conditions as being exclusive... that being favored by the Lord means being free from affliction.  Nephi shows us that's simply not true; that affliction and blessing can co-exist in one's life.  Looking ahead in the text to 2 Nephi 4:18-25 gives a synoptic glimpse of what he meant by experiencing many afflictions while being highly favored.  Alma 27 tells of another, later, people who were also greatly afflicted and greatly favored at the same time.  Notice especially the mirroring of these words in verses 29 and 30.

Knowledge of the Goodness and Mysteries of God

How many times in bearing testimony of the Gospel does a person begin by expressing gratitude for the many things God has graciously given them?  This is their knowledge of God's goodness.  As they go on to explain that the Spirit has borne witness to them regarding a particular precept, they are telling what they know of the mysteries of God.  With this phrase, I believe Nephi is telling us that he has a testimony... that he knows God lives, that He is aware of, and interested in, us as individuals and that He is eager to bless us as we conform our wills to match His.  We would do well to follow Nephi's example and seek to know within ourselves the goodness and mysteries of God and then to share that knowledge fearlessly.

A Record of  my Proceedings in my Days

Mankind has an innate need to leave behind a record; something to prove that we were here and we mattered.  I think that springs from the notion that a Book of Life is kept in Heaven and our thoughts and deeds in mortality are recorded there for our ultimate judgement.  2 Nephi 4:15-16 tells us that Nephi knew his purpose in keeping his record.  It says, "And upon these I write things of my soul and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass.  For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.  Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard."  To this day, members of the LDS Church are a record-keeping people.  We seek out documentation on our ancestors; we write in journals; there are detailed notes of our meetings... and because we believe in an open canon, new scriptures are constantly added to our standard works.

I think Nephi, with his kind of rambling opening sentence, provides a great overview to the entire gospel message.  It deserves more credit and attention that it seems to get.

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