Now Nephi looks and beholds the future of his posterity and people. And one can understand why he comes out of this vision depressed and feeling sorry for himself—and why he immediately lays into his brothers with a condemning despair.
The first thing I thought was a sort of tongue-clucking, “Uhh, here we go again. We see history as the history of violence. Of course he won’t see the good parts of his people’s future—the spectacular prophecies and brilliant families (er, father-son relationships), the utterly prodigious and miraculous faith of the Ammonites, the political abnegations and movements toward democracy, and all the other ennobling and inspiring feats of his people. He sees violence. What is it that so rivets us about violence? I suppose it’s because it causes such dramatic rends in the fabric of our individual and collective lives.” But then I saw something else, a then-now parallel.
The angel says, Look and behold your future family. And he sees this great parallel. He sees his family living in and acting out great scenes of violence. Of course violence isn’t all he sees them produce; he also sees them produce great cities and multiply. Conspicuously, their violence is then reflected in the violence of the earth as it is torn apart. And the tearing apart of the earth destroys their cities—their great achievements—and leaves the masses of multiplied people dead. The earth is covered in darkness.
Our violence today is (perhaps) different. But it’s also so systematized and mechanized. Whether we speak of the violence of grinding poverty or the wars we wage—or the non-wars of drones and their civilian casualties—or the daily holocaust of animal life heaped out on an unprecedented scale. Does this too overshadow the cities we build or our other accomplishments? And our violence is certainly leading to a violent response from the earth; we see it intimately as temperatures rise and our coasts become vulnerable. How many of us served missions on islands that soon won’t exist? Will the environmental violence we perpetuate and the reeling of the earth today match that at the meridian of time amongst the Nephites and Lamanites?
But of course in the narrative, all of this is set up. These are the birth pangs for what comes next.