2 Nephi 28 tweet: BoM 2 come 4th in day when churches contend, deny pwr of HG, say eat, drink b merry. Stop singing hymn #30. And don’t say we have enough.
In the original Book of Mormon chapter divisions, Nephi’s prophecies in 2 Nephi 26-30 were broken up into two distinct chapters – 2 Nephi 26–27 (Nephi’s interweaving of his own vision with Isaiah 29, which was covered in the last post) and 2 Nephi 28–30. What we find in these chapters is Nephi’s vision of the role of and response to the book that he saw coming forth in the latter days – the marvellous work and a wonder. This vision, which was originally a single chapter, can be broadly be divided according to our modern chaptering as follows:
(1) A condemnation of latter-day churches (2 Nephi 28:3–32)
(2) An explanation about written records (2 Nephi 29:1–14)
(3) The fulfilment of God’s covenant with Israel (2 Nephi 30:1–18)
I’ll cover 2 Nephi 28 in this post and try to cover 2 Nephi 29–30 together in the next post.
I think it is tempting and easier to read Nephi’s words in this chapter as a condemnation of other churches or other people with whom we disagree. However, I think the scriptures are most useful to us when we apply them to ourselves, so perhaps our questions should be about us rather than others. Therefore, as we read this chapter we might ask ourselves the following questions:
- How do I teach with my own learning and deny the Holy Ghost?
- In what ways do I think the Lord has done his work?
- Am I guilty of thinking all is well in Zion or of being at ease in Zion?
- Do I think we have received and we need no more?
Thinking about these questions as I read 2 Nephi 28, I wonder if they can all be bracketed together as problems that grow out of mistakenly thinking we know all that we need to know. That is, thinking that our current understanding of the gospel is sufficient; or that the Lord has essentially done his work, at least as far as our knowledge goes (institutionally or individually); or that we have received enough saving truth and need no more; well those fallacies would seem to go hand-in-hand. And I would suggest that they are errors to which we as Latter-day Saints are particularly prone, addicted as we are to certainty.
In his book entitled The Sin of Certainty, biblical scholar Peter Enns suggests that all of us, often in ways we do not perceive, create God in our own image. Or, as Voltaire said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favour ever since.” In creating God in our own image, we rely on what we have previously learnt and deny the ongoing work of the Holy Ghost to undo our incomplete or faulty assumptions. Being certain of who God is can lead to a spirit of complacency where we think we know enough and need no more. Peter Enns highlighted the danger in this way:
Aligning faith in God and certainty about what we believe and needing to be right in order to maintain a healthy faith–these do not make for a healthy faith in God. In a nutshell, that is the problem. And that is what I mean by the “sin of certainty.” It is sin because this pattern of thinking sells God short by keeping the Creator captive to what we are able to comprehend–which is the very same problem the Israelites had when they were tempted to make images of God (aka idols) out of stone, metal, or wood … We don’t make physical images of God. But we do make mental ones.1
I think churches who are so certain about what is right is what Nephi saw in vision and what he is warning his readers to be aware of. When certainty is privileged, we may become tense and over-protective about our beliefs, and some may begin to police the beliefs of others. By contrast, Enns says strong faith is not faith free of uncertainty, but rather a willingness to keep seeking, learning, and growing. To quote Enns again:
The preoccupation with holding on to correct thinking with a tightly closed fist is not a sign of strong faith. It hinders the life of faith, because we are simply acting on a deep unnamed human fear of losing the sense of familiarity and predictability that our thoughts about God give us.2
Doubting God is painful and frightening because we think we are leaving God behind, when in fact we are only leaving behind ideas about God that we are used to surrounding ourselves with–the small God, the God within our control, the God who moves in our circles, the God who agrees with us.3
If believers place trust in the image of God they have in their own minds, they risk creating an idol that overshadows the true and living God who is knowable in part, but who is ultimately beyond any human’s full comprehension. To give up the sin of certainty is about letting go of the need to be theologically correct and embracing the freedom of not knowing all the answers. It is about learning not to be afraid of doubt, uncertainty and complexity.
As I suggested before, the sin of certainty is something that perhaps Latter-day Saints are particularly susceptible to. We seem to have inherited a culture whereby we feel as though we need to have all the answers to any questions about God or their plans for us. But the idea that the restoration of truth is complete and that we need no more is neither scriptural nor in harmony with our own tradition. Firstly, a continually unfolding restoration is baked into our Articles of Faith. As President Uchtdorf reminded us:
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”4
Secondly, Joseph Smith himself warned that many of the Saints are unprepared are unable to accept more truth than the currently have:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40].5
I’d like to end this post with a quote from B. H. Roberts that highlights the need for disciples who are not content with what they have already received but are willing to give up their certitude in order to continue the endeavour of discovering eternal truth, worlds without end:
I believe “Mormonism” affords opportunity for … thoughtful disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of its truths, but will develop its truths; and enlarge it by that development. Not half—not one-hundredth part—not a thousandth part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to the Church has yet been unfolded, either to the Church or to the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted by teaching the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the fullness of times. The watering and the weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The disciples of “Mormonism,” growing discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to the Church; and, departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas; co-operating in the works of the Spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of its development.6
Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 29–30
- Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty, p. 17–19
- p. 21
- p. 158
- H. Roberts, letter dated June 1, 1906, published in: “Book of Mormon Translation: Interesting Correspondence on the Subject of the Manual Theory,” Improvement Era 9(1906):712–713