Reading Nephi – 13:30-37

068-068-the-liahona-fullVerses 30-33 give the logic of this vision. There’s a grand parallel going on between the dramatically afflicted and nearly destroyed remnant of the Lehites and the “awful blindness” of the Gentiles. God’s ultimate covenant with Israel is rich enough to offer provisions to both in their different but analogously wretched lots.

While I find this passage tremendously uplifting and profound, I also can’t simply run away from the stone of stumbling that is this language of God smiting whole peoples and generations. My Mormonism keeps me from being fully modern in many ways, and as communitarian as I believe myself to be, I simply can’t grasp the idea that historical, trans-generational, trans-millennial conglomerates of humans can be both accountable and justifiably acted upon in the same way that an individual can. I want to say that these claims of God smiting people is merely the way Nephi understands and elaborates historical tragedies. And maybe that’s right. But it’s also a dodge; since what do I do if it really is the angel speaking?

I don’t know how much stalk to put into chronology here, but if we want to think about the point at which the U.S. was “lifted above all nations,” I don’t think we can place the date before World War II. As large as our history looms in our own eyes, it was only with the conclusion of the thirty-year world wars in the middle of the twentieth century that the U.S. became a global superpower. Interpreting it in this light, it’s fascinating to think of the promise God makes here that at this point (post-1945) the remnants of Lehi are not going to be utterly destroyed. There was a dramatic collapse not just of the Native Americans as sovereign peoples but also as the embodiment of a certain culture and way of life in the first half of the twentieth century, during which time the rest of American society forgot about them (except for those government and economic interests that continued to actively oppress them). As though in fulfillment of these prophecies, the second half of the twentieth century has seen native peoples rallying around the banner of “We are still here.” The dawn of the twenty-first century has seen significant gains in recognition and political influence in both domestic and global politics (their efforts in environmental and Native Lives Matter movements are emblematic). [FN1]

We can also note that the angel is clear with Nephi, who too often focuses his sentiments only on his own posterity. The covenant here is with Lehi, and the promises extend to the remnants of both Nephi and his brethren. Genocides are never complete—whether one speaks of the Nephite genocide, the genocide of Native Americans, or the Mountain Meadows Massacre. God can empower and extend grace through former covenants to the various remnants.

Similarly, apostasy is never complete. However awful our state of blindness, we are not abandoned. God reminds, revives, and renews the covenant, restores that which was once plain and precious.

Here then we see another of God’s mercies. The European colonialists are not physically smitten and in fact are genuine believers—but they’re plagued by the great and abominable church. [FN 2] Here it’s clear that we have multiple means of being held-back: we are held back by physical circumstances, by the violence of others, by our own lack of belief, by inaccessibility to the covenants and revelations of God, by institutions and cultures that rob the covenants and revelations of God of their plain and precious truths. The panacea being offered for all of this is a new Book—what is elsewhere called the New and Everlasting Covenant—and the mercies of God.

This pattern and unfolding also appears to be more universal than the Mormon Restoration—though that movement is central. There is a general making manifest the plain and precious parts of God’s covenant and revelations taking place here. Those who oppose the various afflictions just mentioned, those who seek to bring forth Zion—which is in part the overcoming of all of those afflictions—they are blessed. In or out or unaware of Mormonism, they are blessed. They are inspired by the Holy Ghost. They are beautiful on Mt. Zion.

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  1. The story of course is different—though perhaps even more brutal—in places such as Guatemala and Mexico, though indigenous populations have made some gains there in recent years as well.
  2. despite the paltry speculation of the past, this church can’t be Catholicism since the Europeans filling the abominable pews were overwhelmingly anti-Catholic Protestants. One might respond that this was not the case for the colonists in Mexico and Guatemala, who were indeed Catholic. It’s hard, however, to argue that these colonists have been in any sense lifted up above all nations.

1 comment for “Reading Nephi – 13:30-37

  1. The US being lifted up is tricky. The post war place of the US is of course clear and fits things well. However even early on the US, while far less influential, had an outsized place in popular thought. Think say the French Revolution even if it turned out differently than expected. That said, Marxism and so forth had a much bigger influence I think.

    Your point about how there was that shift in native American peoples in the early 20th century is an important one to note. They become marginalized in that they aren’t the threat they were in the 19th century to expansion. The wars are over although the abuse continued. By the 1980’s there’s a huge shift.

    That said, I think we tend to read the history in terms of the US too much. It’s interesting seeing quasi-fundamentalist use of the Book of Mormon prophesies in say southern Mexico and norther Guatemala in a fashion alien to most Mormons. (Who all too often neglect the warnings in 3 Nephi about the Lamanites to the Gentiles) To me the history of southern Mexico down a ways is much more interesting than what happens in the US. (Although obviously US history is tragic as well)

    There’s a common way of reading the text that simply reads it as a history of the US. That itself is problematic if mesoAmerican settings fit the Book of Mormon best. But more importantly it means that the role of gentiles is being twisted somewhat by neglecting Mexico and Guatemala.

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