Reading Nephi – 1:1-6

068-068-the-liahona-full‘I, Nephi’ begins his record in a remarkable manner, and I’m tempted to write long-windedly exploring the labyrinth of the first verse. I’m grateful that he acknowledges goodly parents and not just a goodly father. Some have certainly had only goodly fathers and not goodly mothers (Disney loves this scenario), but as written, I see a reflection of my own life in the first line of the Book of Mormon—of all of our lives. We have goodly Parents — Heavenly Parents. And, accordingly as Nephi notes, we have been taught somewhat in all of their learning, and are continuing to be so taught, which is the purpose of our sojourn.

Indistinguishable from this learning is Nephi’s frank admission of affliction being integral to the whole process. And too often this can come to dominate our view of life. Nevertheless, there is goodness. And how these things are able to comingle in a divine setting is itself the substance of the mysteries of God—whether it’s God in Christ to which we refer or a God-created cosmos with evil in it or a garden with life and death in it or Nephi’s or my own experience. However intimate and outsized I might think of my own pains and afflictions, however irrevocably tainted with suffering and injustice the world appears, I deeply want to affirm with Nephi and with God: it is good.

Toward that end, I remember something that my wife taught me about verse three. We might take truth here—the perspectival I, Nephi-truth—in something like a truth and reconciliation council’s truth. Nephi obviously has a great deal to reconcile given the tragic split of his family and an unfulfilled promised land, together with whatever personal tragedies he’s experienced (perhaps he never discusses his wife because her life ended tragically and Nephi separates out his personal pain from the godly record he’s trying to write; or perhaps he just can’t bring himself to it). Truth & reconciliation councils just are the unhindered tellings of personal stories, personal truths, of how one has experienced and the meanings this has engendered. And I find that in reading it, I too experience something of a truth and reconciliation — a reconciliation between my own soul and God.

Which leads us into Lehi’s reconciliation. It’s surely not coincidental that Nephi’s own account of co-mingling of the good and bad in his affirm-able life (which he states in verse one as the reason for his writing this account) needs to begin with the experiences of his father. We can’t tell our story without telling the story of our progenitors. And of course, here we have Lehi “repeating” Joseph Smith’s experience. In the midst of many prophets—I can almost hear some crying lo here and others crying lo there; not concerning the fundamental need to be saved as in Joseph’s day, but rather over what rivet’s their sense of salvation in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah: the fate of Jerusalem—and in the midst of these prophetic cries, Lehi himself retires to the wilderness to pray on the subject. And now we have the theophany that launches a new dispensation.

And this is where we always already find ourselves: swimming in good and evil, our world undergoing seismic shifts, voices all around us crying lo here and lo there, irrevocably inheriting a legacy not of our choosing, and through it all a divine invitation to seek spiritual knowledge ourselves; which, if we take up, becomes the foundation for all things to come.

5 comments for “Reading Nephi – 1:1-6

  1. Rob Osborn
    September 30, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    I think it is noteworthy that Nephi, in looking back on his afflictions is able to say he was highly favored of the Lord because of all the many miracles and manifestations he had in his being delivered from death on so many occasions. We know Nephi is a hard diligent worker who seldom if ever complains. I think this is due to his goodly parents who taught him correct principles. Plus, it helps when your own father is one of the many prophets in Jerusalem who prophesied and warned the people. Though it is mere speculation, I wonder if it was Lehi who preached to one Mulek, son of Zedekiah who would himself sail to the Americas shortly after Lehi and family depart Jerusalem.

  2. Clark Goble
    October 2, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Why Nephi and others so often exclude women from their narrative is a good question. Obviously there are breaks with this in the OT in places. Yet in general this does seem in keeping with the era. It does bother me though. One wishes that Christ when he appears in Bountiful not only told the Nephites to put in the Lamanites like Samuel that had been excluded but also the women. I like to imagine that the sealed portion of the text is much better here.

  3. James Olsen
    October 2, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Clark, I love the idea. This is, I think, one of the great challenges that’s here — like the radically undemocratic nature of Nephite democracy or like their thoroughgoing rejection of a separation of church and state. There’s no easy way to get around it, and we realize that we’re dealing with a very different culture than own. In some respects this can be comforting. But the change from dispensations linked by the one true culture to exploring and finding edification in dispensations linked only by covenant can be very difficult.

  4. Clark Goble
    October 2, 2015 at 11:02 am

    I think a big problem we have when we read through the text is that we read into it contemporary views of democracy and liberty. Yet I just don’t think the text, at least up through Christ’s appearance, has anything like our views of government or freedom.

  5. Kylie Turley
    October 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    James, I’m interested in this parent/mother/wife issue with Nephi. Sorry to be slow on things if everyone else got this long ago, but it only occurred to me a short time ago that there is a big problem with Nephi’s posterity. He hands the plates off to Jacob and tells him explicitly to hand them down to his [Jacob’s] “seed” (Jacob 1:2) and then anoints “a man” to be king (Jacob 1:9). What is going on? Nephi does have children because Mormon, for one (and there are others), claims to be Nephi’s descendant), but no sons? unrighteous sons? Just daughters whom he never discusses even though he talks about his mom? What is up with Nephi’s kids? What do you think?

    P.S. I am waiting to see what you have to say about verse 20. Grammatically-speaking, it’s a bit of a problem for me. But so is verse 1, now that I think about it.

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