Thursday, October 29, 2020

A few thoughts on faith and reason

As I have reflected on this topic lately, I came to think of all the heart and mind passages in the Book of Mormon. I thought it was significant that heart (faith and desire) always was mentioned before mind (our intellect). But as I studied it further, I realized that it is all about our faith and desire. I created a post about this when I realized that the original word for "mind" in the Book of Mormon probably has little to do with our intellect.

I have had my share of discussion with former believers or non-believers. I think I understand where they are coming from. When you don't believe in God, the highest intelligence in the universe that you are aware of is that of man. In our time, using logic and reason and the principles of the scientific approach is not only the best approach to discovering and verifying truth, it is the only approach. To the non-believers, religion and faith, like any other topic, must be approached this way. "To a man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail". The scientific approach is the hammer and religion is just another nail.

For a believer like me, matters of faith differ significantly from matters of quantum physics, biochemistry or even social sciences. If there really exists

  1. a supreme intelligence (God)
  2. revelation
it goes without saying that I should "despise not the revelations of God" (Jacob 4:8) and that whatever enables me to receive revelation is the best approach to eternal truth. This is not a viable option for atheists. They will not accept revelation as a possible approach to learn truth before they accept the existence of God, and they cannot verify the existence of God with the only approach they know. They will pound away on that screw with the hammer without getting the desired result and quickly conclude that the screw is useless.

Don't get me wrong. I think that science is a great tool for its purpose. It is also hard to draw clear lines between all the different fields or subjects and in some cases they overlap. For instance, there are church historians who obviously use common approaches within the field of history to learn about the past of the church. But I think that the successes of science in the last century or two has caused it to sometimes overstep its bounds. One example is when some atheists try to convince themselves and others that science has disproved God. In other words, they are using a tool that is only capable of investigating the observable to disprove something unobservable.

Since this is a Book of Mormon blog, I will get to what I have learned from it about this subject. Science was obviously not a familiar concept to Book of Mormon authors, at least not the same way as today. But logic and reason or "wisdom of men", is mentioned several times, and it is usually connected to wickedness and disbelief. A great illustration of this is found in Helaman 16
15 Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them, both of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites, and began to depend upon their own strength and upon their own wisdom, saying:
16 Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken.
17 And they began to reason and to contend among themselves, saying:
18 That it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?
We have repeated several times on this blog that the Book of Mormon plainly teaches that a hard heart leads to lack of understanding. When depending on their own limited wisdom the coming of Christ was not "reasonable". Interestingly, their argument is based on a wrong assumption. This is basically the reaction of the people after Samuel's speech in Zarahemla. He only talked about Christ's birth and death in Jerusalem without mentioning that he would appear to the Nephites after his resurrection. The people assumed that Christ would only show himself to those at Jerusalem and not to them. 

Their hard hearts prevented the "greater portion of the word" (Alma 12:10) and they were left with "their own wisdom". Because of those limitations, they were missing vital understanding and it led them to the conclusion that the prophecies they had heard were "not reasonable". 

I think the same thing is happening a lot today, sometimes with believers like me as well. We apply logic and reason to "make sense" of the gospel and eternal truths. Sometimes it doesn't, but that is probably because we are concluding based on limited information, often as a consequence of hardened hearts. We tend to be unwilling to admit that the error is on our part. Some other ways the Book of Mormon teaches us about this topic:
But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success (Alma 30:53)
The teaching that there is no God was pleasing unto the carnal mind. Interesting. Another well-known scripture:
28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish...
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 9)

Does this mean that logic and reason has no place in religion at all? Of course not. What the Book of Mormon warns against is depending solely on the wisdom of man. Wisdom of man is simply inadequate to know the things of God

How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him (Jacob 4:8)

Faith must come first

God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word. (Alma 32:22)

Then a heart that is soft enough to enable the planting of a seed. Speaking of Alma 32, I find it quite interesting that the best description that I know in the Book of Mormon of developing faith and learning eternal truth, uses the term, "experiment".

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith (Alma 32:27)
Can this be compared to a scientific experiment? Yes and no. Faith, diligence and patience is also necessary in the process of developing scientific proof, just like Alma describes the planting and growing of the tree. I mentioned that faith must come first. Actually, it is the same in science. First you postulate a theory or hypothesis before you do the experiment and get proof. That is also an expression of belief. The major difference is this: Whereas a person or group of scientists do the work, once the proof is there it's available to everybody else not requiring their individual effort. The tree in Alma 32, however, is personal. I can't eat of anybody else's fruit. Each one of us need to put in the effort to grow the tree. Just as importantly, each one of us can 
And even all this can you do if you will (Alma 33:23)

That is the final point I would like to make: If logic and reason is God's way of approaching Him, that means he favors people with the highest cognitive abilities and deductive reasoning skills. That does not sound fair to me. "The way" is prepared for every single one of his children and he favors noone. Some might say that the faith/revelation approach favors people with the highest capacity of faith. But Alma assures us that we don't need anything more than a desire for a start. It is not about our skills or capabilities, it is simply about our will. This is the true meaning of "heart and mind".





"And behold, it is the hand of the Lord which hath done it."

What can we learn from Moroni's covenant allusions in the second half of Mormon 8:8?

Having spent the last several weeks unpacking this verse, I've learned some important lessons in the process. 


...and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war. (Mormon 8:8)


Previous posts of mine have addressed "one continual round of murder and bloodshed" (see here), "no one knoweth the end" (see herehere and here), and "the whole face of the land" (see here). There is much to learn by searching for these phrases and close variants in the scriptures.

Keep in mind:

  1. Each of these phrases is rarely used in the scriptures. 
  2. It is quite easy for each phrase to be connected to covenant themes.

After searching and studying and learning so much, I guess it's natural to desire to find an overarching lesson to tie together everything I've learned. I keep asking myself: What was Moroni's purpose in creating this tight cluster of covenant allusions?  I think I've found the answer in 2 Nephi 1, and it has everything to do with the first sentence in Mormon 8:8, which is found in the title of this post.

Lehi's warning


Lehi begins his final exhortations to his posterity with a monumental sermon about the purposes of the promised land, in which he teaches the following principles:

  • Had they remained in Jerusalem they would have perished. (Verse 4)
  • They were warned to leave by the Lord's mercy. (Verse 3)
  • They obtained a choice land of promise by covenant. (Verse 5)
  • "...none [shall come] into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord." (Verse 6)
  • They will remain free in this land unless they abound in iniquity. (Verse 7)
  • If they abound in iniquity, the land will be cursed for their sakes. (Verse 7)

At the end of this part of his opening words to his sons, he says this:

10 But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord... behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.

11 Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.

12 Yea, as one generation passeth to another there shall be bloodsheds, and great visitations among them; wherefore, my sons, I would that ye would remember; yea, I would that ye would hearken unto my words. (2 Nephi 1)

Moroni is closing the book on the fate of the Nephites by demonstrating that his forefather's prophetic words were fulfilled. 


Conclusion



God's desire is to unite us to Him (and to each other) by the grace of Jesus Christ.  He wants us to live in peace and abundance, to care for each other, to have no divisions among us, and to keep His commandments.  He knows this is how we become truly free and truly happy, but only if we actively choose to live this way.  We need options, and we need clarity.

To that end, He covenants with those who are willing.  In exchange for a greater portion of His light and truth, we agree by covenant to keep a great portion of His laws.  This act of covenant-making lifts us up to a higher elevation on Mount Zion, so to speak, and gives us a better perspective on the purposes of the creation.  Another consequence of this, of course, is that we set ourselves up for a bigger fall if we rebel against that greater light and truth. 

Covenants remove the middle ground.

This helps explain the stark warnings accompanying descriptions of covenant blessings, sometimes within the same verse (see 2 Nephi 1:7), and sometimes in adjacent verses (compare verse 9 with verses 10-12).

The Nephites didn't just get outmatched by a bigger army.  They brought upon themselves their own downfall through covenant rebellion.

This experience with Mormon 8:8 reinforces three really important lessons about the Book of Mormon:

  1. It is carefully written.
  2. Its authors worked from notes and were intimately familiar with ancient themes and languages and used them very cleverly and subtly.
  3. It is designed to help us understand why and how to live by covenant.



Monday, October 26, 2020

Heart and mind

I was actually studying and reflecting on the contrast between faith and reason. I might still post about that soon, but I got distracted when I learned something new. First I searched for the verses including both "heart" and "mind" because I thought they reflected this contrast between faith and the intellect. Then I looked up the Hebrew terms. The reason I often do that is because I believe that reformed Egyptian was a variant of the Hebrew language written with Egyptian script. So I think finding the Hebrew equivalent can help us better understand the original wording on the plates in the Nephite language.

Heart in Hebrew is 'lebab'. It represents our inner self and our will. It is even sometimes translated as 'mind'. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any Hebrew word that translates directly into 'mind'. When the Book of Mormon speaks about heart and mind, 'lebab' cannot be the underlying Hebrew in both cases. So I searched for Old Testament passages with the 'heart' and 'mind' combination. In those cases, 'mind' always comes from 'nephesh'. The KJV often translates it to 'mind' but it is actually better translated into 'soul'. It represents our person, along with our desires, passion and emotion. In other words, it has little to do with our intellect.

Since there are no other good candidates for "mind" in Hebrew and it would be strange to repeat 'lebab' twice, I will assume that "heart" and "mind" in the Book of Mormon are based on 'lebab' and 'nephesh' that is the Hebrew translated to the "heart" and "mind" verses in the KJV Bible. This changes my understanding of these verses. I was thinking about a contrast between our feelings and our intellect. Rather, it seems that there are two synonymous words, both representing our inner selves and our true desires.

Lord Wilmore previously wrote on "heart" and "soul" in the Book of Mormon. This would also be 'lebab' and 'nephesh'. Mind is therefore probably only an alternative translation, but the same concept. This makes sense, because the verses involving heart and mind often show the same kind of poetic pairing or parallelism that heart and soul in Lord Wilmore's post exemplified.

Very often the poetic paring is "hardness of hearts" and "blindness of minds". Just two examples, but there are many more:

Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind...(Ether 4:15)
And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds (Alma 13:4)

Interestingly, this expression is unique in the Book of Mormon. It is not found in any other scripture but in the Book of Mormon it is repeated a dozen times. That makes me wonder if Nephi's first use of the expression just gained traction and was repeated by later prophets. More likely, I think, is that this expression was found in one or more important passages on the brass plates.

As opposed to the hardness and blindness often associated with heart and mind in the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin asks his people to

hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view. (Mosiah 2:9)

We have previously blogged about hard hearts leading to a lack of understanding (see this example) and how the opposite, an open heart, leads to understanding, as also this quote from King Benjamin shows. It is the same for the mind. The mind in the Book of Mormon is apparently linked to sight or vision. The "blindness" of mind is gone when it is opened. Instead, the mysteries of God are unfolded to our view. What a beautiful promise!

"The whole face of the land" -- a third covenant allusion in Mormon 8:8?

The intricacy of the Book of Mormon constantly surprises me.  So often we find deeper layers of carefully-packed information which draw absolutely no attention to themselves. This is a source of excitement for me. It means incredible truths are waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to seek!  

The second half of Mormon 8:8 is a great example of this. I've spent the past few weeks cross-referencing and unpacking three subtle covenant allusions. 


...and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war. (Mormon 8:8)


I'm far from an expert when it comes to the scriptures, and I haven't been able to find any other online resource describing what I've found, so I'm working at the edge of my knowledge base here.  Even so, I'm confident that I'm onto something here for two reasons:

  1. Each of these phrases is rarely used in the scriptures. 
  2. It is quite easy for each phrase to be connected to covenant themes.
Moroni could have conveyed the surface-layer meaning using completely different words. Instead, he chose to word things precisely as he did for a specific set of reasons. Each of these three phrases can be cross-referenced to other scriptures.  It is within those passages we find the deeper layer of Moroni's intent. In other words, we are pointed to deeper insights about the destruction of the Nephites.

I'll circle back to summarize what I've learned as a result of this study in a final post of the topic, which will be my next post. Previous posts of mine have addressed "one continual round of murder and bloodshed" (see here) and "no one knoweth the end" (see here, here and here). In today's post, I'll look at the third allusion: "the whole face of the land"


"The whole face of the land" -- Connections to Genesis


We encounter a close variant of this phrase early in the creation account:


5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2)


I've studied the meaning of this "mist" in the past and have convinced myself it is deeply significant, even if I can't quite seem to put my finger on it.  God causes the rain and man's role is to till the ground. Is this mist related to that, or is it a contrasting symbol, akin to the mists of darkness? 

Here is what I said on the topic in a previous post (with emphasis added):


The Two Mists


...

I don't think I'm stretching too far to connect the elements of "rain," "till the ground," "mist," and "water[ing] the whole face of the ground" to man's true purpose on earth, but I'll dive in deeper to this topic in a separate post. To quickly summarize, the water is God's message of salvation and covenants, the "breath of life" represents our divinity, and the "dust" represents our mortality, and the agriculture metaphor has to do with the work of salvation.

In contrast, the mist of darkness blinds us to our purpose here on earth.


23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. (1 Nephi 8)


17 And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost. (1 Nephi 12)


I'll admit this could be a stretch, but it seems intriguing.



I still favor that interpretation, which connects this mist to Satan's ability to blind us while in mortality.  I believe this because of Enoch's vision:


26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced. (Moses 7)


Mist or streams?


For what it's worth, not every translation agrees on which word belongs in that verse.  The NIV uses "streams" in place of "mist."  The NRSV uses "stream." The Living Bible says: 


However, water welled up from the ground at certain places and flowed across the land.


More to learn


No doubt I have more to learn about this topic. Regardless, I am certain this passage contains "creation-covenant connection" significance.

In a previous post, I noted that tilling is a covenant symbol -- it's what two different groups of people do as soon as they reach the land of promise. In another post, I noted the significant connections between descriptions of Nephite destruction at the time of Christ's death with Enoch's vision in the Book of Mormon. In Mormon 8:8, we find yet another connection in the form of "the whole face of the land" mentioned in connection to the destruction of a covenant people.


Book of Mormon usage


Excluding Mormon 8:8, we find "whole face" six times in the Book of Mormon. Each example comes from the writings of Mormon and Moroni. As perhaps we should expect by now, each instance occurs in a pretty obvious covenant context:


Helaman 11 -- Happy example #1


18 And behold, the people did rejoice and glorify God, and the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing; and they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God.

...

20 And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east. (Helaman 11)


We can see a clear connection between the people's joyful actions regarding the prophetic authority in their midst and the covenant blessings which came as a result.


Ether 10 -- Happy example #2


19 And it came to pass that Lib also did that which was good in the sight of the Lord. ...

20 And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.

21 ... And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants.

28 And never could be a people more blessed than were they, and more prospered by the hand of the Lord. And they were in a land that was choice above all lands, for the Lord had spoken it.


This is a pretty straight-forward example, with themes mirroring the example above.


Mormon 1 -- A reference to a covenant blessing



7 The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.

Compare this to blessings promised to Abraham (see Genesis 22:17) and Jacob (see Genesis 32:12).


Ether 14 -- In the context of destruction (1 of 2)


21 And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead.

22 And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.

23 And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.

24 Nevertheless, Shiz did not cease to pursue Coriantumr; for he had sworn to avenge himself upon Coriantumr of the blood of his brother, who had been slain, and the word of the Lord which came to Ether that Coriantumr should not fall by the sword.

25 And thus we see that the Lord did visit them in the fulness of his wrath, and their wickedness and abominations had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction.

Centuries earlier, a different covenant people had encountered the same fate as the Nephites. Their destruction was a result of their rebellion. The war which brought their demise was "great, lasting, long, swift, and speedy." Notice also the description of the scent of the numerous dead bodies (certainly a twist on the promise of a countless posterity), which troubled the people "by day and by night." Moroni is cleverly playing off of a well-known Old Testament description of the cloud/pillar of fire which guided the covenant people. See Exodus 13:21-22.  We find a similar twist on the same phrase in Isaiah 28:19. Compare also D&C 133:35,40,56.)


3 Nephi 8 -- In the context of destruction (2 of 2)

12 But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;

13 And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough.

...

16 And there were some who were carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth, save they know that they were carried away.

17 And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.

18 And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.

19 And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.

20 And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;

21 And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;

22 And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.

23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.

At the time of great destruction among the Nephites, we find "the whole face of the land" and close variants used seven in the context of destruction. Mormon is apparently far less subtle than Moroni.  He goes out of his way to connect this phrase to covenant symbols, and creates several interesting twists similar to "by day and by night" in the example above.

  • Notice the twist on Isaiah 40:3-4 in verse 13.
  • In verse 16 we get a twist on the story of Elijah being carried away in a whirlwind. Compare 2 Kings 2:11.
  • "No man knoweth" offers a twist on Deuteronomy 34:6 describing Moses' death.  This also has obvious ties to "no one knoweth" in Mormon 8:8. See also Alma 45:18 and 3 Nephi 1:3.
  • "Carried away" has a clear double-usage pattern in the Book of Mormon.  Compare the positive example in 1 Nephi 1:8 contrasted soon after in 1 Nephi 1:13. (I'll create a separate post to detail this, it's a very interesting one.) 
  • Notice also the people only know that some were carried away, not "whither they went."
  • In verses 12, 17, and 19, we get a three-fold repetition of the destructive elements at work. I've pointed out before how this resembles the forces of nature promised to be unleashed by God on the enemies of His covenant people, found in Psalm 18.
  • Verses 19-23 create a twist on the first day of creation.  There was no light, only darkness. This is repeated over and over.  There was nothing the people could do to change this. It's an ominous condemnation. Notice the wording at the end of verse 22, which closely resembles Genesis 2:6 (with a twist, of course).
  • "Groanings" is a concept I've touched on before in the context of what I call the "creation-covenant connection." This whole passage plays on that theme.

Conclusion


I hope I've convinced you that Mormon 8:8 was written with the intent to get us thinking about covenant-related themes, particularly in the context of the consequences of rebellion.  It's beautiful and deep, and yet another example of the layers of complexity and intricacy packed into this marvelous book.

Mormon's references to Alma 5

Alma 6 is a short transitional chapter between sermons in Alma 5 and 7, where Mormon moves from quoting Alma's words on the plates of Ne...