A few weeks ago I was helping a student pick a song for an audition for an upcoming musical at school. As I glanced through the many musical theatre anthologies, my eye fell on the song “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon, the Musical. So many of my friends love this musical. To be honest, I don’t understand that kind of love for something that demeans other human beings. Come on! If the musical were to attack gender issues, race, or many other human conditions or rights, there would be hell to pay from the entertainment industry and many other civil rights groups. However, religion, of all kinds, seems to be fair game for the general population to poke fun at, ridicule, and demean. I just don’t understand that because I believe that we are all on this planet together and that we really ought to be considerate and tolerant of many ideas and feelings and passions. My ideas, feelings and passions just happen to be centered on my religion and on the Savior, Jesus Christ. I don’t go around attacking people who “believe” something different than me. In fact, I go about my days and weeks looking for how to lift people and to add light in this world. Thus, something that deliberately attacks my passions feels like a personal attack and I have avoided this musical by choice. Anyway, I looked up at the kid and knew it would be a good song choice for him, even if I had avoided this musical because it ridiculed something so near and dear to my own heart. However, in making the choice to help this student prepare the song, I read the lyrics and began to ponder just what it meant when I added my own testimony that “I believe.” (Someday I will get around to writing out my own commentary on those lyrics… you will just have to look for them at some future date). It led me to begin again my concentrated study of The Book of Mormon.
It has taken me days to study, ponder, think about and write out my thoughts on what I believe concerning the Book of Mormon, the Savior and my church. In fact, in two weeks of study I have only made it through 6 chapters. In those six chapters I have come to a more solid belief in God and in His Plan of Salvation. In addition, my testimony of how that plan helps strengthen families has grown exponentially.
The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a family. This family is very much like my family. This family faces many of the same challenges that I and my family face today. They lived in a corrupt environment while trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and following the prophet. They faced financial hardships when they chose to leave the city on an adventure the wilderness. Their adventure was hard physically, mentally and spiritually. They were consistently asked to try new things, like new country sides, building a boat (as desert dwellers that must have been weird), and being on an endless camping trip. They discovered that things got worse before they got better as they tried to follow the Lord’s council. This family had children who chose to be obedient to God’s commandments. They also had children who were not obedient and chose to reject family values. They loved. They suffered. They repented. They forgave. They complained. They saw miracles. They experienced illness and death. They really were a family just like my family and the families of today. Families today face many of the same challenges. Even the institution of the family is under attack. The roles of women are under attack and fathers, as leaders in their families, are under attack. The Book of Mormon is about families; families struggling to find God together and to feel God’s love for His children.
The Book of Mormon isn’t really about ancient Jews hopping on boats (although this family, formerly from Jerusalem, did sail away and landed somewhere in the Americas) and it isn’t really the story of the ancient American Indians, as rumored. It is a story of families striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. The examples in the Book of Mormon can teach us many truths that can assist us in protecting our families, in strengthening our families. Book of Mormon stories help me to realize I am a normal parent struggling along trying to make good choices for my family and that I can look to others for ideas on how to handle the difficult terrain of family life in this world.
Case in point…
Lehi… Some may have considered him crazy, a complete whack job. Originally, he was a city dweller. There is no way he really knew much about camping and living like a nomad. He was educated and spoke more than one language. He taught his family to be educated (Nephi spoke Egyptian – they were living in Jerusalem when it would have been under Egyptian rule – and Hebrew). Lehi was a good parent. Nephi called him a “goodly” parent. What made him a “goodly” parent? He made good choices. He set a good example. He taught the gospel of Jesus Christ to his family. He provide all the good things his family needed. He was well off – well off enough to have a home, gold, silver and precious things. He left it all behind. Why? Not because he thought his boys needed a “high adventure.” He left is all behind because he was obedient to the whispering of the Spirit. He knew God. He knew the scriptures. He searched the scriptures. (To search is to try to understand, to look for personal meaning, to understand the history, to reference other sources, to find resolutions to conflicts and to internalize principles) Lehi searched the scriptures and taught his family to do the same. Scriptures are of little value unless they are searched, and he valued his scriptures. He knew the words of the prophets. He listened to the prophets. He listened to the Lord. He did something about what he knew. He had charity and he deeply cared for his neighbors and his family. His “go to” to problems that came up in life was prayer. He had a firm testimony of Jesus Christ. He was a seer. Like Moses, he saw a pillar of fire and was instructed (a burning bush kind of thing). Like John he saw the throne of God and all of God’s angels, Jesus coming to the earth to teach and to serve, and the calling of the twelve apostles. Like John, Lehi was delivered by a book. The book as a little bitter, yet he found joy and thanksgiving in God’s Plan of Salvation.
Lehi emulated the character of the Father through his demonstration of love and compassion and his desire to share the truths of salvation with his family and neighbors. He did not succeed in his missionary efforts. In fact, he was laughed out of town. He was called crazy and “visionary” (“Crazy old Lehi; always good for a laugh). His life was threatened. But he was not swayed by public opinion. His testimony of the gospel remained strong… maybe even got stronger. Lehi may not have succeeded with sharing the gospel with his neighbors (since they were ready to string him up for his beliefs), but his real mission was to focus on teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to his family.
Lehi wasn’t in the family relationship alone. He had a loving companion who taught gospel truths right along side him. Sariah was a “goodly” mother. She taught her family to work and love God. She taught them to value family and to respect their father. I have learned some valuable principles from the marriage of Lehi and Sariah. One of my favorite lessons is from the story of Sariah’s reaction to Lehi sending their boys on a dangerous adventure (more than likely over 30+ days in dangerous countryside). She was a normal mom and worried about the safety of her children. (I get that!). And dude! She was on an endless camping trip and had left all the comforts of home forever. Gosh. We complain about 6 am seminary, early Sunday morning meetings, hard benches and boring speakers. She was still working on “knowing” and not just “believing” But hey! She believed enough to follow Lehi into the wilderness while she worked on her own testimony of his calling. Lehi’s response was one of patience as he spoke to her, as he did to all of his family members, in the highest language of hope and faith, meekness and strength rather than being rude and negative when his family members expressed frustrations and fear. Sariah demonstrates great courage and faith as she follows her husband in righteousness and trust. She trusted God. Although she had been listening to a despairing inner dialogue that came out as doubt, fear and blame, she was able to let go and change all that to faith, hope and compassion. She was willing and able to seek answers for herself and listen to the inspiration of Spirit. She formed her own testimony of the gospel and did not lean on the words and testimonies of others only. She had a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation. She taught her family that followers with great faith struggle along and gain a testimony for themselves. She taught them to seek a testimony of the prophet’s instruction for themselves. We are not sheep following blindly. We more than “believe.” We come to know for ourselves.
In these first few chapters I can see so much of Laman and Lemuel in myself. These guys loved their parents. I think they even loved God. But I wonder how well they understood God. They struggled to know and understand God because they didn’t really want to make the effort to obey and to try His word (after all, to know him is to love him and to love him is to keep his commandments). They were lazy and didn’t want to put in the work to know God. They were rebellious. Let’s be honest, who among us isn’t a little rebellious? They were whiners and complainers. Sure. The camping was fun until it wasn’t. When things got hard the whine fest began. (Although, may I point out that they didn’t complain about the second 30+ day trip back to the old stomping grounds to get girls. Says something about their character now, doesn’t it?) They were jealous and just couldn’t bring themselves to rejoice in the successes of others. Despite testimonies (they had to have them to follow their dad out there), good examples from good parents, and miracle after miracle, they just did not see the light that spiritual things had any relevance to “real life,” to their life. They still feared the public opinions, the power welded by Laban, and hard work. Even the messages from angels was not enough persuasion for them believe that God would truly provide a way for them to succeed in hard things.
In contract, Nephi had a “can do” attitude. He suffered a lot of things too. He left behind a cushy home, riches and a comfortable life for the longest high adventure trip ever just like his older brothers. It couldn’t have been all that fun for him since he felt compelled to chisel out “my father dwelt in a tent” onto his metal plates journal. It must have made a huge impression. He suffered ridicule and even beatings from those brothers. Together, they would have suffered the extremes of being cold or too hot, hunger and thirst and maybe even being lost once in awhile. Yet, Nephi knew, despite (and maybe even through) his hardships, that he was loved and favored of God. He had an attitude of gratitude. Nephi was obedient to his father and to his Heavenly Father. He had a desire to know for himself and to nourish his faith and testimony. Nephi followed the example of his father and the prophet. He was persistent and did not give up when things became difficult. He looked for solutions and worked through problems. Nephi worked hard (no wonder he was large in statue). He was educated. He was a scriptorian. He was full of love and compassion for others, praying for them and working to teach them. He was quick to forgive and to see the good in others. He was not afraid of the opinions of others. In fact, he was smart enough to leave when things got abusive.
Nephi is a great example of faith… faith in what his father had taught him and faith in God. Even after two failed attempts to complete his assignments and his brothers tying him up and beating him, Nephi continued to have strong faith. Seriously. Can I say I still believe when I have been beaten down by life? (something to work one.) Nephi trusted God’s timing. He believed that God had helped deliver his ancestors from the Egyptians so he did not doubt that God would make a way for him get the plates… even if Laban was influential and had a small army to back him. He had no idea how he was going to accomplish the task. He just knew that God knew how and would help him. This is real faith, putting complete trust in God. President Harold B. Lee said, “Walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find that the light will appear and move ahead of you.” Nephi had that kind of faith. The way provided was hard. He had to face choosing between two difficult things. He chose to follow the Spirit. If Nephi had not been able to bring himself to obey, it would have been nearly impossible for him to obey with what was to come. “I will go and do” is not small oath. It is a major commitment! It was this kind of commitment to God that led the Savior, Jesus Christ, to the cross. Nephi’s faith contributed to saving his family.
The unsung hero in this story about a family is Sam. Sam is the best role model for us… remarkable because he was unremarkable (a little like Samwise in Lord of the Rings). He is only mentioned 11 times in the Book of Mormon. Yet, I believe he was honest, loyal, unselfish, brave, determined, and caring. I believe he kept a positive attitude even during the darkest of times. He listened to his brother and his father. He believed their testimonies (a spiritual gift in it’s own right). He was always on the Lord’s side. He was meek. He was non-competitive and truly rejoiced in the successes of others. He did not let jealousy overtake him. His relationship with God was a stabilizing factor in his relationship with others, especially his family relationships. He was willing to follow the Lord steadfastly. By following the Lord in an unremarkable way he received the same blessings as his famous brother.
All this from the first few chapters of the Book of Mormon. All this from a careful study and thoughtful pondering of the words on the page. What conclusions have I come to? Well… that the Book of Mormon is truly about Christ and His interactions with people. It is about a family and how a family interacts with each other, others and especially, God.
I have also gained a better understanding of what “I believe” vs. what “I know” as I have embarked on this intense study of the Book of Mormon. I have come to understand that I need to know and be familiar with the doctrines, ordinances, covenants, and teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church and the prophets. I have also come to understand that knowing what I believe is believing what I know. Knowing and believing come through personal experience. We are all passing through the same educational process. Along the way I am making more and more observations about the learning experiences the Lord is granting me.
Through my study I have come to understand that faith does not require proof; it requires love and trust. It’s like a dad asking a child to jump into his arms. At that moment the child decides what they believe about their dad. Will dad catch me or will he let me fall? If there is love and trust, the child will jump. Once the dad catches the child, the child knows, has proof of what he believed.
What I have learned from the families who struggle to live the gospel in the Book of Mormon and from my own personal experience is “I believe” is just as strong as “I know.” I love seeing “evidence” God supplies of His reality, but even without “evidence” I would still choose to “believe.” I believe because I love God. I believe because I want to know God. I believe that the path to understanding and true knowledge is to believe so that I might understand.
I get that you might want to criticize me for my “beliefs” and that faith frustrates some who feel more comfortable with undisputed facts. However, how many undisputed facts do you really know? The hard truth is that we are all stumbling along here, “looking through a glass darkly,” with much of what we think we know being strongly held beliefs. Okay. That doesn’t diminish the truth nor the power of those beliefs. There is power in faith. There is power in believing. Lehi and Nephi and their families proved to the world that their faith was more important to them than their comfort and safety… that their hope in the eternal took priority over the things they could see and feel. Their faith was rooted in the Savior, Jesus Christ. My faith is rooted in Him. My faith is rooted in the Redeemer who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” He is the Author and the Finisher of my faith. And I believe…
So… if you love the Book of Mormon, the Musical, all I can say is, “Read the book. It’s much better than the movie.” It will enlighten your understanding of Jesus Christ. It will help you and your family wade through the terrains of life.