014: Book of Mormon Lesson 37: 3 Nephi 8-11

3 Nephi 11 is one of the most familiar chapters in Mormon scripture, shared by missionaries daily in countless languages. 3 Nephi 11-28 recount the personal ministry of Christ to the Lehites. Some of the most touching and powerful chapters in the Book of Mormon are found in this section.

But before that ministry, there is destruction. Lots of cataclysmic destruction. The combination of devastation, divine pleading, and then personal visitation provide rich material for discussion on the nature of God. Who is the God of the Book of Mormon? What do we make of these passages? Is Jesus the vengeful God paralleling the activity in the Old Testament? Is Jesus the entreating, loving God (in striking imagery of Jesus as mother!). Is the the God who appears personally to each of us one by one? All of these?

This discussion will take center stage, as well as the following additional points.

  • The life changing power of cataclysmic events
  • Having a “broken heart and contrite spirit”
  • Biblical parallels (this will go into high gear next lesson)
  • Avoiding contention
  • the “doctrine of Christ”

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Listen with an open heart and thoughtful mind to the engaging discussion with Amanda, Meredith, and Les, and then feel free to continue the discussion here on the blog.

You can access my Lesson Notes here.

Much thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in post production.

7 Responses to “014: Book of Mormon Lesson 37: 3 Nephi 8-11”

  1. SteveS Says:

    1) 3 Ne. 8:1: this is possibly an insight into how Mormon knows that the record he is making is “just and true” (see 3 Ne. 5:18, and my question from lesson 36). According to Mormon, a record is true because the person creating it was just. How do we know this person was just? because this person did many miracles in Jesus’ name. Why does that make them just? because you can’t do a miracle unless you’ve been cleansed completely of your iniquity. Hence, miracles were a sign of one’s “just-ness” and proof of the “truth” of one’s words. According to this logic, then, truth probably doesn’t need to mean “factual and grounded in observable historical reality” as much as it does “loyal or faithful or devoted to God and God’s work”. Under such a definition, then, it may be hard to read the account of the fantastic events of 3 Ne. 8-11 as completely factual, because embellishments might still be considered “faithful” or “true”, even if they didn’t happen in objective reality. Sort of like virgin birth and star stories borrowed from pagan stories of other deities being applied to Jesus of Nazareth in order to lay claim on Jesus’ divinity and status as Lord greater than Caesar. Is this Mormon’s way of giving us another editorial clue about his criterion of “truth” as he selects what to include in the BoM? Is this Joseph Smith giving himself a pass for the stories he’s been “embellishing” for God’s glory? Are we supposed to trust anyone who performs miracles in Jesus’ name (by their fruits ye shall know them)? Thoughts?

    2) The voice claims responsibility for the destruction (3 Ne. 9:3-12). This is consistent with other verbiage in the BoM and Bible about God causing natural disasters (c.f. the Flood). But how does this destructive will and action by the voice (i.e. Jesus) interface with Mormon theodicy wherein God simply *allows* evil to happen to people, even though he would desire otherwise? In some Mormon theodicies, God actually *cannot* intervene in atrocities caused by humans, or in natural events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and avalanches because it would destroy agency and a chance for humans to experience pain, suffering, and loss. And yet, how are we to implicate God in the natural disasters of our time? Remember Pat Robertson’s gaffe in claiming that Hurricane Katrina was due to God’s displeasure with the gays in New Orleans? We all try to make sense of the random and brutal aspects of life on this planet, but why must God be the *cause* of these cataclysms? Also, there must have been a ton of collateral damage and destruction of people in the cities of Zarahemla, Moronihah, et al. who didn’t stone the prophets, but who were not spared. Is this simply the cost of doing business?

    3) 3 Ne. 9:17: one must receive Jesus in order to become a “son of God”. Is this Paulian and King Benjaminian theology of sonship (see Gal. 4:6-7; Mosiah 5:7), and is that separate from the “children of God” doctrine taught so frequently by the Church? Are we by nature sons of God, or must we become sons (and therefore heirs) by our own acts of devotion? Also, what about the daughters?

    4) 3 Ne. 9:20: beautiful and maddening scripture. The concept of bring God a broken heart and contrite spirit as the only acceptable offering (was it ever any different, even with the animals, though?) is stirring. But what about those Lamanites and their baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit that they didn’t even know about? How would one not know how that felt? is this because no one laid hands on them to do the ritual that brings the baptism of fire? If some people can receive this gift without the intermediation of priesthood, why does *anyone* really need the priesthood to receive it?

    5) 3 Ne. 11:29: What is the spirit of contention? I feel this injunction gets too much play in LDS culture, and either a passive-aggressive “friendliness” pervades, or else a complacency and lack of critical engagement with matters of doctrine and practice. True, the zion society should strive for and in large part succeed in promoting love, patience, understanding instead of self-interest, one-upmanship, and inequality. But isn’t contention inevitable, especially among flawed and striving individuals? Isn’t “doing away with” contention somewhat of an unrealistic expectation, and one that ultimately doesn’t serve the best interests of a society, whose decisions always are best made in recognition of a multiplicity of perspectives, with lots of gray? IOW, does Jesus’ rather black-and-white counsel against contention actually serve to more fully condemn the society that cannot live up to this ideal?

    6) 3 Ne. 11:31-41: Jesus’ doctrine is extremely simple (essentially just the 4th article of faith). Aren’t we all guilty of declaring “more…than this” (see v. 40)? There seems to be so much more declared by JS and others that goes beyond and in some ways diminishes or alters this doctrinal core. thoughts?

    Reply

  2. dc Says:

    Thanks for these podcasts, Jared & co. One response to the discussion about reconciling a retributive God with a gathering God: Perhaps we need to question the assumption that mortal life is the primary value here. Is dying really the worst thing that can happen? Can there be a good result (both for the wicked and righteous, victims and survivors) from death and destruction? Obviously, our Heavenly Parents take a much longer view (that we can only guess at through extrapolation).

    Re the discussion on God’s hands being tied and the nature of God (viz. King Follett discourse), you might link that to ideas conveyed in Simon Critchley’s interesting 9/16 column: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/why-i-love-mormonism/

    Reply

    • Jared Anderson Says:

      Thanks for weighing in dc. I personally am very hesitant regarding the “this life isn’t really what matters” argument because no matter how sure we may feel about the afterlife, we are *more* sure that we really are in this life, and I think we should live accordingly. Greg Epstein makes a provocative statement in the intro of his book, “Humanism believes in life before death”.

      Reply

  3. dc Says:

    1 Cor 15: 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. Which I read as: If [in this life only] we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

    John 12:25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

    This life matters enormously–all the more because it serves as a funnel between two immensely longer segments, pre & post. The eternal effects of extreme wickedness may be so corrosive to the soul that God is merciful to put an end to them before the individual can sustain more self-inflicted damage (while also abrogating the harm s/he does to others). Although on this last front, the von Stauffenberg story has always troubled me–why couldn’t he have received divine help to succeed with his plan to eliminate Hitler?

    Then-mission president Brad Wilcox tells a funny-ironic story about a missionary who asked him, “Wouldn’t it just be easier if we just let everybody die and then do baptisms for the dead?”

    At times, you just gotta wonder!

    Reply

  4. Ron Says:

    Have you ever gone through the exercise of reading Christ’s words and teachings in 3 Nephi where he asks about Samuel the Lamanite, then considered how did all of Samuel’s teachings get entered and so completely integrated in the preceding chapters?

    Obviously, Mormon has the perspective of time and can go back and re-enter things in whatever order he chooses. But it seems to me that he frequently employs flashbacks to bring the story up to the present. In this case, as a reader, you don’t know that there was a gross omission until you read Christ’s words.

    Not only do the teaching of Samuel the Lamanite appear boldly in Helaman, but even the chapters leading up to the appearance of Christ feature his teachings and the fulfilling of prophecy plainly. It is confusing to me to see how Christ’s pointing out omissions makes anything more clear from the record as we received it, unless there is some other point here such as we need to be sure to “record” our spiritual witnesses as well.

    Any thoughts?

    Reply

  5. Carl Youngblood Says:

    Jared asked me to post some facebook comments on this podcast here.

    ————

    There are parts of me that want to be both more challenging and more defensive in response to this episode.

    For example, I find the paradox of human intervention in religion fascinating. Those of us who know enough about it to realize that many people err because of their false assumptions about the text want to correct and dispel superstition, to “break the myth” if you will. This is often seen by the uninformed faithful as threatening, and even perceived by the breakers of the myth as such (on purpose). But seen on an even deeper level, the breakers of the myth often fail to recognize how our human manipulation of religion has in itself a godlike quality. Humans often supplant deficiencies in the message, and the religious adaptations that are most compelling reproduce and are perpetuated, while outmoded ideas die. Far from being a sign of weakness, I think human intervention and alteration of religious messages is often a good thing (not always though. I especially dislike reactionary trends towards neo-orthodoxy, which I believe we are currently experiencing in the church). Since I believe we are the emergent Christ, our development and honing of religion becomes a godly endeavor. Far from being a sign of weakness, it is a sign that we are assuming greater perfection.

    In defense of more conservative positions, I wanted to push back more on the discussion of the vengeful god of destruction from the previous lesson. I felt like there wasn’t enough acknowledgement of the importance of justice and its necessity to the proper functioning of society. Jonathan Haidt just published a book called The Righteous Mind that makes some really good points here. He talks about how conservatives believe in Karma, whereas liberals often unwittingly foster moral hazard by preventing people from experiencing the consequences of their actions. Lest his point be misunderstood, he is himself a liberal but feels that liberals have failed to understand some important moral pillars on which society is based. I think you might enjoy this interview about the book:

    http://vimeo.com/36128360

    ———————-

    Jared’s response:

    Trust me Carl, I am strongly, strongly for justice. I have very sharp edges when it comes to justified “harm”. As I noted, I just think the idea of a destroyer *God* fails unavoidably because:

    1) if the destruction is not justified, God is not just
    2) if the destruction is justified, then there isn’t enough of it, and God is not just.

    —————-

    My response:

    I agree with you on the weaknesses of the argument. But I think that the text tries to explain it from the perspective of an omniscient sovereign god who perfectly spares the righteous or saves them in heaven while preventing the wicked from creating a perpetual hell on earth. I think where the discussion ultimately ends up at is the irreconcilable gulf between absolutism and finitism, and the fact that JS himself still hadn’t fully resolved these paradoxes in his own mind.

    But I was concerned that the discussion didn’t adequately help the listener through this mine field. It seemed like there was a lot of emphasis on the inadequacy of the destroyer god but little discussion of what to do about it, how to respond to it, what conclusions this inadequacy should lead us to. I was concerned that listeners had the rug pulled out from under them but weren’t offered much in the way of reconciliation with the text or reinterpretation of it.

    I don’t want to exaggerate this point. I still enjoyed the discussion but found myself wanting to counterbalance some of the points being made by pointing to the weight of the absolutist tradition, the fact that JS himself probably read the Bible more than any other book, the fact that our own tradition of punitive justice is centuries old while we only stopped spanking kids in the past two decades etc. etc. I just felt the need to defend and partially justify our forbears for supporting this position despite its obvious flaws. I think it’s important for us to try as best we can to inhabit the world view of the subjects while still having the courage to reject some things from our own perspective.

    Reply

  6. Alan Fleming Says:

    I hope I can add to this discussion on whether its this life or the next that matters as it relates to God as a destroyer. I understand this based on three principles: 1) What is our Second Estate? 2) When do we receive the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel? and 3) When the Lord continuously warns us is there a point reached when judgement comes?
    I start with a quote from Elder Boyd K. Packer’s paper on “The Play and the Plan”. He says: “Act I is entitled pre-mortal life. The scriptures describe it as our “First Estate”. Act II, from birth to the time of the resurrection, the “Second Estate”. And Act III, “Life after Death or Eternal Life”.” It is apparent our Second Estate, the opportunity to hear the gospel and either accept or reject it covers both our mortal existence here on earth and in the Spirit World as spirits awaiting the resurrection/judgment. The critical point is that this opportunity is before the Final Judgment and Resurrection.
    The Nephites and Lamanites in the 3 Nephi 8, similar to all judgements throughout the scriptures, came only after continous warnings. From Helaman 10 onwards we see continous warnings. In Helaman 11:16 Nephi asks the Lord to “try again”. But there comes a point when the day of warning and repentance ends and judgment comes. At the day of judgment the opportunity for repentance is gone. As I understand it is like the doctrine of ” calling and election made sure”, in which the day of Final Judgment for certain individuals is brought forward.
    As to the question of whether in the destruction any innocents or righteous saints died as collateral damage? My thoughts are if they are innocent in that they had not recieved the opportunity to hear the gospel and accept/reject then they are still in their Second Estate and will recieve it in the Spirit World. If they were righteous, and I guess they may have been some, then they would have died in peace knowing that they would be raised in the resurrection of the righteous.
    It is interesting to note that in 3 Nephi 9:12-14, it says the destruction came because of the wickedness of the people, but those who were spared were more righteous and the Lord then calls on them to repent. He will “try again”. It appears the Lord will give us many many opportunities, even up to until our day of “Final Judgment”.
    The destruction in 3 Nephi, like the Second Coming, will be the Final Judgment brought forward for the wicked, and a day of redemption for the righteous. So I view it not so much as God the Destroyer but as God the Final Judge and Redeemer.
    As to whether natural disasters are an “act of God” or just “Mother Nature”, it depends on whether you view them as signs of the times or man-made climate change. Was the Star of Bethlehem just a new star in the sky or a sign (or warning)? Just a few thoughts which I hope are helpful.

    Reply

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