This one’s gonna be a little raw, y’all. When you dive deeply and head first into the gospel sometimes you run into something shallow and get hurt. But I can usually find comfort from the Lord as I sit with my feelings, have compassion for myself, and just let is all out and give it to God. If that makes you uncomfortable, skip this one.
There have been some conversations swirling around me lately related to the story of Nephi and Laban. In particular, the murder, the direction from the spirit, and the contradictions which arise given Jesus’ entire life and message. Hang with me for a bit, I’ll get back to this.
I believe that the purpose of scriptures and prophets are to bring us to Christ, and that there are certain truths about the eternal nature of man that we will only learn as we walk with Christ. We won’t get them from any books or counsel from others.
Joseph Smith taught that the true order of the patriarchal priesthood was one of those things the church would never teach about because it could only be learned from Christ himself. That’s interesting, but that aside, our Sunday School classes often focus on uplifting and easy doctrines which promote faith. And they definitely should always lead one to faith in our Savior.
But when we skip around in the scriptures and read only the parts that fit the bill (only cover the parts of the lesson that have been done before and are thus easy to teach), are we missing something, or worse, creating blind spots?
There’s this book I read once called Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses by Philip Jenkins. It’s not my favorite book on Christian non-violence (I can provide a list of good reading on this topic if anyone is interested), but it is certainly a fascinating one. He proposes that one of the reasons violence is still so rampant in the world today is because we cherry-pick through the written word and we don’t confront the parts that seem hard to understand.
The danger arises because then those who do dig into those scriptures often do so without the guidance of the spirit from current prophetic teachings or edifying gatherings of Saints. They are easily manipulated by the adversary as he promotes the philosophies of men mingled with these scriptures.
This has happened in all religions. Misreadings of the more difficult passages of the Quran have fueled much of the hate-filled terrorism we see in the world today, when the rest of the Quran declares peace and Mohammad taught peace. Out of context and without the spirit as our guide we get violence.
A little closer to home are those who use difficult scriptures about Joshua or Nephi to justify their own political beliefs which end up running contrary to Christ’s own teachings of love and charity. We skip over these difficult scriptures and leave our brothers and sisters susceptible to winds of doctrine which do not come from the Lord.
I’ve often wondered what would happen in Sunday School if 1 Nephi 4 and 3 Nephi 12 were found close to each other in the scriptures so that they would be covered in the same Gospel Doctrine lesson. What would we do? How would we handle that, when we can’t compartmentalize the scriptures?
I’ve written on this before, and so have others. There have been many attempts to create a soft place to land for those who grapple with these issues. And perhaps it is all best kept in our personal study so we don’t have contentions arising in Sunday School. I totally get that. I’m not suggesting that we should tackle all of these things head on at the expense of the faith-promoting portions of scripture.
I’m just suggesting that maybe we could, as a body of Saints, do a little better not avoiding them. Challenge ourselves to deal with it, and find God through it all. Then, maybe, we can see him more in our own lives, and throughout all of our own decisions. Especially when our own decisions affect the lives of our brothers and sisters, like in the way we conduct ourselves in our communities, and the way we vote or the philosophies we promote.
I really believe that our Christianity was meant for the way we live our lives, not just what we talk about on Sundays.
So, I’d been pondering all of these things today when my husband came in and showed me the trailer for the newest video produced by the church for the Book of Mormon. For the most part, these videos are great. But they bring to life a narrative which leaves no room for interpretation or personal revelation. In the past, once you see it in a church video it becomes doctrine. For example, Jesus cleansing the temple.
You guys, I really dislike this video. You see people running away in fear being scattered away from the temple, Jesus angrily turning over tables, and then yelling at them until there’s no one left. But this isn’t what happened. Let’s take a look:
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,
And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? (Matthew 21:12–16)
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. (Mark 11:15–18)
And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought;
Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.
And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him,
And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him. (Luke 19:45–48)
And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. (John 2:13–16)
This is one of the few stories that is in each of the four gospels in the New Testament, so each of the four gospel writers believed this story was important to their unique message of Christ. There’s some debate as to whether John’s account is the same event as the one described in the other three accounts, but the similarities are there nonetheless. There was a purpose for including this event, and it wasn’t to justify the use of violence.
Not once did it say he was angry, or any form of that word. Not once does it say he yelled at anyone. Not once does is say that the people in the temple were afraid of him. In fact, it says the opposite. He taught them daily and they praised him for it. Children sung Hosanna to his name. The blind and lame were even healed in the later accounts. The people were attentive to hear him and astonished by his teachings. They loved him.
The chief priests and scribes were the ones that were scared. This incredible showing of charity at the temple had the people hooked, and they sought ways to destroy him.
Just to make sure we’re catching everything here, yes, he did make a scourge of small cords to help him get the sheep and the oxen out. But he also handed the cages of doves to their owners and asked them to take them out. Yes, he overthrew the tables, but so do I when I put tables away after we’ve used the gym for an activity in the church.
We call this story “Jesus Cleanses the Temple”, but we treat it as if it’s “Jesus purges the temple with fire and brimstone and the wrath of God”. He cleaned it up, powerfully and without mincing words. He taught pure doctrines, and the people came to be with him. This is a very different picture than the one we’ve seen in artwork throughout the ages, and very different from the scene depicted in the church’s Bible Video.
I’m sitting over here wanting to pull a Bible Video Jesus move on that Bible Video. But that is not who Christ is. So, I’m going to keep going and hope I can calm down a little and be more like the Savior.
But before I do, I’ve gotta say I don’t have much hope for the Book of Mormon Video Nephi. To be more specific, I’m concerned that the general membership of the church isn’t going to be able to see through the visual depiction of “Nephi’s great faith to kill Laban”. I’m concerned the emotion of the narrative is going to forever solidify in their minds that God is an “ends justifies the means” God, even though all of Christ’s life and teachings would say otherwise. I’m concerned that we’re going to continue to put prophets on pedestals and preach that we should emulate them in all things, when there is only One whom we can look to for exaltation. I’m concerned we’re going to be content with what we think we have and never really find our true and living God so we can follow him as we walk through life.
I know, I know, this little video isn’t going to keep most people from finding Christ. I get it. But it definitely doesn’t help us really deal with the texts and find new ways to understand scripture through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings. It makes it way too easy for Saints to use these rough little bits of history to justify anything they want to believe. For some, it could keep them from being full of charity towards all men, and thereby keep them from being like Father. I believe in God’s unconditional love for all men, and that he’s patient and can handle his affairs without resorting to utilitarian violence.
So, now I’m sitting with my frustration that these narratives continue to be perpetuated. But I don’t want to be frustrated. Those aren’t the fruits of the spirit. So, I look out the window here by my desk and ask the Lord, “Why? What am I going to do?” Peace comes, slowly but surely, and I know I must continue to believe that my God is patient.
These depictions of a vengeful, utilitarian, impatient God will not last forever. They will be ever-present in the culture of Christ’s church while I am yet alive, and probably throughout my children’s lives as well. That gives me cause to mourn. But in general I’m excited about the changes the leaders are making, the direction a lot of the Latter-Day Saint thinkers and writers are going, and the way a lot of the members are seeing God and their religion in new, more charitable ways. Eventually that will begin to color our mainstream thought, especially if I play my part. If I really believe that God is patient, loving, and all-knowing, then I can trust that just because I can’t see how this is all going to play out, I can trust that he’s got it taken care of.
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:66–68)
I can be compassionate and charitable in the bearing of my testimony of Christ. I really do love my brothers and sisters, and I know we’ve all got to walk our own paths with God. I can do my part to change the culture, while also bringing healing and unity, the way Christ did at the temple. I’m not as good as Jesus is yet, and sometimes I need to sit with some of these things and get my bearings again. But I can do that. I’ve repented, I’ve got my sights back on my divine path, and I know where I want to be. Where else would I go?