The Spirit of the Lord Will Not Always Strive with Man

Nephi sees (through a prophetic vision given to him from the Lord) that, after falling into deep wickedness, many of his people in the Americas would be destroyed at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection (around A.D. 33-34). After being visited by Christ in person, three generations would pass away in peace and righteousness before wickedness and destruction would again afflict his people. Nephi identifies the loss of the Spirit as the reason for his people’s fall.

“…The Son of Righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness. And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell. For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction…” (2 Nephi 26:9-11)

Questions:

-Why do individuals choose darkness rather than light? Why do whole societies, such as the Nephites did, fall into a general pattern of prideful behavior and sin?

-How and when do things get to the point where the Spirit completely withdraws from a distinct group of people?

-Is it possible for a group or society that hasn’t received the fullness of God’s law to reach such a state where they reap destruction based on their rejection of God’s Spirit?

-Is it ever too late to turn back to God as an individual (even within a society that is headed the opposite direction)?

Thy Ways Are Just

Nephi saw in a prophetic vision that, that after falling into deep wickedness, many of his people in the Americas would be destroyed at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection (around A.D. 33-34). Though it is a great burden on his soul to have this knowledge, Nephi resolutely testifies that God is just in all that He does.

“…After the Messiah shall come there shall be signs given unto my people of his birth, and also of his death and resurrection; and great and terrible shall that day be unto the wicked, for they shall perish; and they perish because they cast out the prophets, and the saints, and stone them, and slay them; wherefore the cry of the blood of the saints shall ascend up to God from the ground against them.” (2 Nephi 26:3)

“And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (2 Nephi 26:6)

“O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto God: Thy ways are just.” (2 Nephi 26:7)

Questions:

-Do you believe, as Nephi, that God’s ways are just?

-When God allows the physical destruction of those of his children who have fallen into wickedness as described in the verses above, is He still acting out of concern for their eternal welfare?

-Can only God feel righteous anger and still be justified? Or, is righteous anger possible for mortals as well?

It Must Needs Be That Christ Should Come Among Those Who Are the More Wicked Part of the World

Jacob, around the years 559 to 545 B.C., teaches that Christ would come to earth among the only nation who would kill Him rather than repent.

“It must needs be that Christ…should come among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God. For should the mighty miracles be wrought among other nations they would repent, and know that he be their God. But because of priestcrafts and iniquities, they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified.” (2 Nephi 10:3-5)

Questions:

-Is there a phenomenon where those who have truth and light from God and then do no live according to it fall into deeper spiritual darkness than those who never had such truth and light?

-Were there many in the Jewish nation that Christ was born into that had succumbed to such spiritual darkness?

-Were there also many Jews during that time who, despite the wickedness around them, showed exceptional spiritual strength and stayed close to God and His Spirit?

-What is priestcraft? And, why is its practice such a powerful source of evil?

There Must Be Opposition in All Things

Lehi teaches his son, Jacob, about how life’s difficulties signify and create meaning in human choice:

“…It must be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

-Is it accurate to say that life can be deeply difficult and deeply rewarding?

-Do you believe God has given us a deeply meaningful challenge in giving us mortal life?

-Is it possible to view earthly trials as a means to greater refinement, rather than as arbitrary setbacks?

If Iniquity Shall Abound Cursed Shall Be the Land for Their Sakes…But unto the Righteous It Shall Be Blessed Forever

Lehi, the Book of Mormon prophet, speaks of some of the special characteristics of the promised land as established by God in the Americas.

“[T]his land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.” (2 Nephi 1:7)

Questions:

-Is there any land where God does not bless the obedient and withdraw blessings from the wicked?

-Has God established certain lands — such as the promised land of the Americas — where this dynamic of blessing and cursing is swifter and more pronounced? Why would He do so?

-Does iniquity abound in America (or areas within the Americas)? If so, are there signs of God withdrawing His favor from these peoples and places? Are their signs of liberty being lost?

The Righteous Shall Be Saved Even If It So Be by Fire

Nephi continues to interpret and expand on Isaiah’s prophecies of the last days around the time of Christ’s Second Coming. After emphasizing that all who fight against Zion will be destroyed, he provides additional detail about why this destruction will occur.

“…[T]he time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned. For the time soon cometh that the fulness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men; for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fulness of his wrath must come, and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore the righteous need not fear; for thus saith the prophet, they shall be saved even if it so be as by fire.” (1 Nephi 22:15-17)

Questions:

-Do these verses only refer to cleansing of the earth at the time of Christ’s Second Coming? Or, is it an expression of a more general principle by which the Lord will operate as the wheat is gathered from the tares (See Matthew 13:24–30; D&C 86:1–7) leading up to the Second Coming?

-Why is pride such a powerful indicator of not being on the side of the righteous? What are some other indicators of being an enemy of righteousness? (see These are Those Who Must Be Consumed as Stubble)

All That Fight Against Zion Shall Be Destroyed

In interpreting Isaiah chapters 48 and 49 for his brothers, Nephi again teaches about the fate of those who fight against the people of the Lord in the last days.

“…[T]he blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood. And every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned one against another, and they shall fall into the pit which they digged to ensnare the people of the Lord. And all that fight against Zion shall be destroyed, and that great whore, who hath perverted the right ways of the Lord, yea, that great and abominable church, shall tumble to the dust and great shall be the fall of it.” (1 Nephi 22:13-14) 

Questions:

-Would the people of the Lord (true followers of Jesus Christ who receive His Spirit) ever be filled with the kind of anger and ill-will that leads to widespread violence and war?

-How quickly, on the other hand, would a group or society that is animated by such ill-will and anger start to turn upon itself and any of its neighbors who are under the influence of the same dark spirit?

-What role will anger toward the truth and light of Zion play in separating the wicked from the righteous in the last days?

-Are there growing signs of hatred toward the Lord’s people (who will not bow to the deteriorating status quos of the societies around them)?

-How easy will it be for those with good-will toward all—and high standards of conduct based on the truths of revealed scripture—to stay separated from each other in the midst of those who have fallen prey to contagious hatred born of ill-will and anger? Will the good in heart from all faiths be gathered together in solidarity, of necessity, as the great and abominable church (described in the passage above) begins to destroy itself?

Hear Ye the Words of the Prophet Isaiah

Nephi taught his family from the scriptures found in the Brass Plates and placed special emphasis on the words of Isaiah.

“…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…Wherefore I spake unto them saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom you have been broken off.” (1 Nephi 19:23-24)

Following are some of the messages from Isaiah’s writings that Nephi refers to after emphasizing the importance of the prophet’s words to those who are of the house of Israel:

…I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (1 Nephi 20:10)

Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called, for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last.” (1 Nephi 20:12)

Come ye near unto me…” (1 Nephi 20:16)

O that thou hadst harkened to my commandments—then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” (1 Nephi 20:18)

…There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” (1 Nephi 20:22)

…I will not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. Thy children shall make haste against thy destroyers; and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.” (1 Nephi 21:15-17)

…thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” (1 Nephi 21:23)

…I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; they shall be drunken with their own blood as with sweet wine; and all flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (1 Nephi 21:25-26)

Questions:

-Is the house of Israel hearing these messages from the book of Isaiah, which are also reemphasized in the Book of Mormon? How important are these messages from the Lord (through Isaiah) seeing that they are included in two different scriptural testaments?

-Is it possible to become part of the house of Israel, in the eyes of God, even if you are not part of an Israelite lineage?  (See The Lord Esteemeth All Flesh in One)

The Lord Esteemeth All Flesh in One and Loveth Those Who Will Have Him to Be Their God

Nephi, in an attempt to help his rebellious older brothers understand the importance of their family’s journey away from Jerusalem, refers them to the experience of the Israelites who left Egypt and were led by the Lord to the land of Canaan (the Israelite’s promised land). He explains to his brothers that the Israelites living in and around Jerusalem – at the time he was speaking to Laman and Lemuel around 590 B.C. — had reached such a state of sin and rebellion that the Lord would allow these Israelites to be destroyed by another nation (similar to how the depraved Canaanites were displaced by the Israelites centuries before). In this context Nephi shares a number of general truths about how God sees and works with his children on earth:

“…The Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35)

“…The Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it. And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked. And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes. He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool. And he loveth those who will have him to be their God.” (1 Nephi 17:36-40)

Questions:

-Are there any groups or individuals toward which God shows favoritism? Is there any unfairness in how he works with his earthly children? How is the favor spoken of in this passage different from favoritism?

-If righteousness is the key to receiving God’s favor, how does a group (or individual) become righteous?

-What role do God’s commandments, covenants, and grace play in helping a group (or individual) live in righteousness?

-Should every instance of human destruction be viewed as a case of God bringing His judgments upon the wicked? If a person dies of old age — which is the destruction of the body – does that mean the person is wicked? Is widespread destruction (affecting a whole society or nation of people) more likely to indicate the loss of God’s favor? Is it easy to fall into the trap of seeing the misfortune of others as God’s judgment when misfortune, separate from God’s actions, is an inevitable part of this mortal life for all who come to this fallen world?

-Does God ever do anything that isn’t what is best for His children on earth? Are there times when God allows the destruction of individuals and nations for the eternal benefit of those who experience the destruction (as well as for those who inhabit the earth after them)?

-What is the difference between the love God feels for all of His children and the increased care He is able to provide to those who will have Him to be their God (i.e., those who strive to know Him and worship Him through obedience to His commandments)?

The Guilty Take the Truth to be Hard

When Nephi teaches his older brothers about the justice of God, they are offended. Because of the way they had lived their lives up to that point, it appears their consciences were troubled by what Nephi — in the power of the Spirit — had to say about the fate of the wicked. In teaching his brothers about why they were offended, Nephi expresses a general truth about how the guilty respond when reminded of the precarious spiritual state they are in:

“…After I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear. And…I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth…and the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. And now my brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth and say: Thou speakest hard things against us.” (1 Nephi 16:1-3)

Questions: 

-Is it possible for a person to be wicked (in the way Nephi uses the word above) if that person doesn’t know what God expects of them? Did Laman and Lemuel — Nephi’s two older brothers – know what God expected of them? Had their father taught them well (see 1 Nephi 1:1)? Had they seen an angel of God (see 1 Nephi 3:28-29)?

-If you believe in God, do you know what He expects of you? Would a just God ever reject those who did not have the opportunity to learn what He expects from them? Are the eternal stakes higher when we do know what God expects of us? Is it valuable to always be striving to learn more about what God expects of us?

-Does everyone have some sense of what is right and wrong by God’s true and perfect standard? Is Western culture, in general, currently open to the idea of there being a perfect standard of right and wrong — upheld by a perfect God – by which all will be judged? How likely will those who are not open to this perfect standard be to seek mercy through Jesus Christ’s Atonement?