Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Book of Mormon and the Gentiles

I Don't Get It

Have you ever had a joke go over your head?  The feeling can be quite frustrating.  You know there is something there, but you just aren't getting it.  I recently had this experience with the following joke:

"The other day my friend was telling me that I didn’t understand what irony meant. … Which is ironic, because we were standing at a bus stop."

I read through it a few times and tried to look at it at different angles - no success.  I decided to try a web search in order to see if someone had an explanation for it.  I found that other people were also confused and some of the explanations given were incorrect.  I was confused because the last phrase wasn't ironic.

Then I finally saw it.  It required a subtle shift in point of view.  Then it clicked, oh, I get it, I finally realized that the friend in the joke was right.  

So where did I get hung up? Why couldn't I see it?  It was due to my initial interpretation of the first phrase.  When I read the part about the friend saying that the joke's first-person narrator didn't understand what irony meant, I made some assumptions and jumped to two conclusions about the narrator and the friend:  First, I assumed that the narrator did know what irony meant.  Second, I assumed that the friend was mistaken and would be the person about whom the joke would then demonstrate how they didn't understand irony.

My assumptions led me to look for ways that the second part of the joke would show how the friend was wrong, but it wasn't there - because my assumptions were wrong and my perspective was wrong, I could read it over a hundred times and still miss it.

Who are the Gentiles?

In D&C 84, we read about how the church was under condemnation before the Lord for taking the Book of Mormon lightly:

Section 84
54.   And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received--
55.   Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56.   And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57.   And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written--
This revelation was given through the prophet Joseph Smith to the LDS church.  So we can conclude that the LDS church was under condemnation at this time. 

Has this condemnation been lifted since then?  In October 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke about these verses and the condemnation that comes from taking the Book of Mormon lightly, even in our day.  His talk can be found here.

Nephi gives us a key to help us when reading the Book of Mormon in a way so that we don't takes its message lightly:

1 Nephi 19
23.   And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
One of the keys to understanding the message in the Book of Mormon is to liken the scriptures unto us.  If we read the message of the Book of Mormon and then apply the words to ourselves, it will be for our profit and learning.  

The title page of the Book of Mormon tells to whom the message it contains is directed:

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile
It is directed to three groups.  1.  The Lamanites,  2.  The Jew,  3. The Gentile

If we are to liken it unto ourselves, one of the first things we can do is ask ourselves, to which of the three groups do we belong?  For me personally, I am not a Lamanite and I am not a Jew, so I must be in the third group - the Gentiles.  I believe this is true of many of the members of the LDS church today.

Joseph Smith, when he dedicated the Kirtland Temple talked about how we had been identified with the Gentiles:

Section 109
60.   Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles.

Lord, Is It Us?

In the October 2014 General Conference, Elder Dieter Uchtdorf spoke about the tendency we have to apply scriptures and teachings that we receive to others instead of to ourselves.  His talk can be found here.  He tells a story of a man who would notice a dandelion in his neighbor's yard and was very concerned about it while being oblivious to the dandelions in his own yard.  He spoke about how we can develop spiritual blind spots when we do this.  To change this, we need to change our perspective.

The words of the Apostle James apply to us today:
“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. …
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Brethren, we must put aside our pride, see beyond our vanity, and in humility ask, “Lord, is it I?” - Dieiter F. Uchtdorf
I was unable to understand the joke because I was operating on false assumptions about who it was that didn't understand irony.  Perhaps we may be missing much of the message in the Book of Mormon because we have some assumptions about who the book is speaking to when it uses the term "Gentiles".  I think it is easy to read the term Gentiles in the Book of Mormon and think or assume that it is referring to the non-members (ie. those who aren't members of the LDS church).  However, perhaps we would be better served when reading the message to not assume it is talking about our neighbor but instead to assume that it is talking about us also.  Perhaps we should read it with the question on our minds, "Lord, is it us?"

Moroni, in the final chapter of the Book of Mormon gives each of us another key for reading and understanding the Book of Mormon.  We need to pray about it and ask for understanding and guidance from the Holy Ghost in order to understand its message and whether or not it is true.

Moroni 10
4.   And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5.   And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.