Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Left to themselves

 11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
 12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—
 13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.
 14 But behold, Moronihah did preach many things unto the people because of their iniquity, and also Nephi and Lehi, who were the sons of Helaman, did preach many things unto the people, yea, and did prophesy many things unto them concerning their iniquities, and what should come unto them if they did not repent of their sins. (Helaman 4:11-14)

In these verses, Mormon tells how the Nephites would not have lost their lands in battle to the Lamanites if they hadn’t been wicked, and he lists the wickedness that lost them their possessions and ends up with the observation that boasting in their own strength caused them to be left to themselves.  But based on the previous list of wicked things they were doing, it is evident that their “strength” was actually weakness.

Since I don’t want to focus on the negative right now, I’m going to take each of the elements in the list, point out the opposite virtue, then show how the virtue makes strong.

Pride à humility.  Humility makes strong because it involves a true idea of what your abilities are, no more, no less.  Humility allows you to appreciate skill greater than your own and allows you to aspire to improve and take instruction.

Exceeding riches à exceeding poverty.  Exceeding poverty makes strong because it pushes one to continuous effort to provide for one’s self.  It builds creativity and resourcefulness. 

Oppression to the poor à Nurturing the poor.  Nurturing the poor builds strength in that it helps one expand one’s concerns past the narrow confines of self.

Withholding food à imparting food.  Imparting food builds strength in that it teaches one how to cook for larger numbers, it increases skills of hospitality, and it expands ability to have compassion on others.

Withholding clothing from the naked à Giving clothing to the naked.  Giving clothing builds strength by increasing ability to have compassion and helping one realize what clothing is really needed.  It makes one strong enough to live with less.

Smiting humble brethren on the cheek à Lifting up the hands that hang down.  Lifting up the hands that hang down builds strength because it requires that one look outside oneself to understand the struggles of other people and find ways to encourage them.

Making a mock of the sacred à Reverencing the sacred.  Reverencing the sacred makes us stronger because it teaches us to adapt our behavior in the presence of greatness.  It builds our humility and ability to appreciate spiritual things.  It prevents us from becoming creatures dominated only by the physical and temporal.  It allows us to transcend the material.

Denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation à Affirming and cultivating the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  Affirming and cultivating prophecy and revelation makes us strong because it leaves us open to greater wisdom that comes from above.  It opens our minds to the possibilities of hope in redemption and exaltation even though we don’t see with our eyes the events that made it possible.  Hope for the future galvanizes us to act with faith to prepare and change and do things impossible or improbable for the natural man.

Murdering à Giving life/having mercy/saving life.  Those things make us strong because through them we affirm that we are not the only ones deserving to live.  It calls for greater efforts to work out conflicts.  It calls out our capabilities for altruism and heroic self-sacrifice.

Plundering à Giving.  Giving makes us strong because it gets us out of ourselves and helps us recognize the needs of others.  It also tends to decrease our own estimation of what we need.

Lying à Telling the truth.  Telling the truth makes us strong by strengthening our ability to communicate with others and see the truth about ourselves.  It can lead to greater humility.

Stealing à Asking.  Asking strengthens us by requiring us to believe in the generosity of others, that they will understand our need, have compassion, and give.  It requires us to be clear about our needs (versus our wants).

Committing adultery à Chastity and fidelity.  Chastity and fidelity make us strong because they teach us to control our passions and to focus them in ways that build a strong family unit.  They help us strengthen our ability to love even when it gets hard.  It requires us to learn to appreciate and strengthen a seasoned and mature relationship where time-tested trust is a factor.

Rising up in great contentions à Making peace.  Making peace brings strength because the effort requires us to understand the roots of the conflict, who the parties of the conflict are, how to negociate, and how to reassure and act in ways that build trust and dissolve concerns.  It requires developing enough of an understand of both sides in order to find common ground.

Deserting away à Remaining loyal in one’s post.  Remaining loyal requires one to search for the good in what is currently irritationg and find better reasons for staying than for leaving.  It builds strength to stick it out even when circumstances are uncomfortable.

Now, having examined what kind of strength can come from those different virtues, we also should be able to understand the weakness that would result from breaking the associated commandments.  Thus, when we are told in verse 13 that the Nephites boasted in their own strength (even as they broke the commandments), we see how idiotic they were, and it should be no wonder to us that “they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten and driven.”

This shows me that the strength of a community or a state or a nation is the sum total of the strength of the individuals in it, and that strength is based on virtues and keeping the commandments.  For me, a practical message I get from this is if certain afflictions may be rooted in failure to keep the commandments, then I can overcome them with greater faithfulness.  Also, it reminds me of something I've noticed in my own life that when I boast (even internally) of my own strength, I am quickly brought to realize how weak I really am.  It is as if the impulse to boast is a sign of weakness, a sign that I have deceived myself into believing that I am strong when I am not.


Ramona Gordy said...

I just love the Book of Mormon don't you?
In our past Stake Conference,the Stake President took a moment to reflect and pose a question: Have you experienced a mighty change in your hearts? He answered this question for us by talking about service, specifically the "dwindling" service noted in our stake. He listed the "stats" on just about everything and with each one, the air in the room sucked out. He said that we were in danger of "dwindling". But all was not lost, because we have an opportunity everyday to effect a change of heart. It was such a quiet rebuke, and when I have read the record in Helaman, I felt that those prophets approached those saints with a soft voice rather than fire and brimstone.
So I know I took everything to heart because I don't want the word "dwindle" to be named among me and my family. I believe everyone took it serious.
Sometimes a kick in the pants goes a long way.

Michaela Stephens said...

Wow! That must have been intense! Thanks for sharing that, Ramona.