Saturday, February 18, 2017

Choosing the Moral

The story of the loss of the 116 pages is basically a parable, and one thing that's both good and bad about parables is that many different lessons can be drawn from them. The good news is that, as we learn the story, we can learn whichever of a variety of lessons we need most. Whether the story is about trusting the Lord, the dangers of peer pressure, the consequences of sin, or the hope of reinstated blessings, is completely up to us. The bad news is that, as the teacher, I need to pick which lesson to focus on. Which, of the many possible lessons we could learn from this story, should I try to convey to the kids? At first, I thought I should pick whichever lesson I need most, but this lesson isn't about me. Unlike this blog, I'm teaching this class for others' benefit, not mine. But which lesson do the kids need? I don't know any of these kids well enough to make a logical guess.

But I know Someone who does.

I've decided that I'm going to pray about it. God knows which lesson(s) these kids need, and if I listen hard enough, He might be able to tell me which specific lesson I should teach. Of course, no matter what lesson I try to leave with the kids at the end of the class, the basic information will be the same. I'll tell the story mostly the same way, no matter which moral we're supposed to learn from it. I might emphasize some details over others, depending on which lesson we're going for, but the basics of the story won't change, which is fortunate, since the raw facts are what I've been studying about this lesson so far. Now, it's time for me to decide on the specific focus of the lesson, and I hope that the guidance of God can help me make the right decision.

God Plans Ahead

Before 592 B.C., the Lord commanded Nephi to make a record of the ministry of his people, separate from his record of the history of his people. One thousand years later, Mormon abridged the record of the history, and then found the record of the ministry, which he decided, perhaps as a result of a prompting, to add at the end of his abridgement. One thousand four hundred years later, the abridgement of the record of the history was translated and subsequently lost, but the record of the ministry remained intact, was translated, and now accounts for the first several books of The Book of Mormon.

God knew the 116 pages would be lost.

God knew that Martin Harris would want to show his family some of what he had translated. God knew that Joseph Smith, at Martin Harris's insistence, would ask again and again for permission to let Martin Harris borrow the 116 pages. God knew that the pages would get lost or stolen and that conspiring men would use them for evil intent. God knew that the first part of the Plates of Mormon wasn't going to make it into The Book of Mormon.

So He made a buffer. He made sure Nephi and his descendants kept an historical record and that Mormon included at least part of that record, so that when Martin Harris lost the 116 pages, all he would end up losing (besides blessings) was a summary of a history book. The ministry of Nephi, his teachings, his testimony, and the rest of the record Mormon would later include and abridge, would remain intact and ultimately get published as The Book of Mormon, partly because God made sure there would be something there that Martin Harris and Joseph Smith could translate and then lose without losing anything too terribly important.

Because God knew, more than two thousand years before it happened, that Smith and Harris would lose the first part of whatever they translated, and He planned ahead to account for that.

I think that now I might understand what God meant when He said that His plans cannot be frustrated (D&C 3:1). No matter what's going to happen next, God knew it was going to happen, and He already accounted for it in His master plan. Now, this raises a few interesting questions, which I should probably explore later, but first, I just want to appreciate the fact that God plans ahead, even multiple millennia in advance.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Was On the 116 Pages?

In studying my lesson on the story of the 116 pages, I began to grow curious about what was actually lost. I vaguely remembered having heard something about "the Book of Lehi," but I wasn't sure whether that was validated, or just speculation. In my search for answers, I found D&C 10: 44, which describes the lost pages as "only . . . a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi."

Mormon expands on this in Words of Mormon 1:3:
And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
The "small account" Mormon found seems be referring to what we have now as the first part of the Book of Mormon, from 1 Nephi through Omni, and possibly a little bit into the Book of Mosiah.

So, then, the 116 pages contained an abridgement of the account of Nephi, taken from the plates of Nephi. But then, where did the rumor of the Book of Lehi come from? Was it just a logical step that Lehi, having been the prophet before Nephi, would have kept some records, which should have been the first part of the Book of Mormon, perhaps even the first 116 pages, which were lost?

As it turns out, that wasn't just a guess or some educated speculation. The Doctrine & Covenants and Church History  Seminary Manual, Lesson 12, says that "the lost document contained the translation of the book of Lehi, which was in Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi." So, there was a Book of Lehi, and it was in the lost 116 pages as part of Mormon's abridgement of the large plates of Nephi, which, according to 1 Nephi 9:4, contained "account of the reign of the kings."

What we lost seems to have been a summary of the historical record of the people of Nephi from Lehi to King Benjamin. The good news is that that doesn't sound terribly important. History tends to be somewhat boring, and what we really need to know about Nephite history, we can pretty much gather from the resources we have. The bad news, as Elder Holland told a group of religious educators on August 9, 1994, is that "We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages." There may have been snippets or insights that would have been really nice to have. Still, we can be satisfied with the records we do have, just as I am reasonably satisfied with the answers I found about what was on those 116 pages.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Accepting and Receiving Answers (In That Order)

I previously puzzled over what the possible difference could be between two consecutive Primary lessons: "Joseph Smith Begins to Translate the Gold Plates" and "Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates." What, besides the word "begins," is different about these two lessons? After reading through both of the lessons, I think I have a rough idea about what sets them apart. The first lesson includes the story about Martin Harris and the 116 lost pages, while the second lesson includes the story of Oliver Cowdery's failed attempt to translate the plates. Through these stories, the two lessons convey their practical messages. The first lesson is about accepting the Lord's answers, while the second lesson tells us how we can receive answers from the Lord in the first place.

I wonder about the order of these two lessons. I understand that these stories are being told chronologically, but I wonder if there's a reason we're taught the importance of accepting the Lord's answers before we're taught the best method for how to receive such answers. Actually, come to think of it, the answer is actually fairly clear.

In order to receive guidance from God, we need to have something called "real intent," which basically means "willingness to act on the answer we receive." Given that that's true, it makes sense to learn the importance of accepting the Lord's answers before we learn how to receive them. When Joseph Smith asked the Lord for permission for Martin Harris to show the 116 translated pages to his family, the prophet was told "No." However, Joseph Smith ultimately disregarded this answer, with disastrous results. Joseph Smith learned the hard way that it's important to listen to the Lord when He answers our questions and gives us guidance. Perhaps part of the reason we learn this lesson first is to help us learn from his example so we can avoid making the same mistake.

When God gives us answers and instructions, it's important for us to obey them. Once we receive guidance from God, it becomes important to follow it. Thus, praying to God for instructions without a personal commitment to follow those instructions is a spiritually-risky endeavour. If we receive counsel and act against it, it would probably be better if we hadn't received any guidance at all. For that reason, it makes sense to learn the importance of obeying God's counsel before we learn how we can get it.

Of course, the real reason these lessons are in this order is probably to keep the stories in chronological order, and the reason "Joseph Smith Begins to Translate the Gold Plates" and "Joseph Smith Translates the Gold Plates" are two separate lessons is probably because there is too much material in these two stories to cram them both into one lesson, especially when teaching children. Still, it was fun to speculate about these two lessons, and it taught me a lesson that might be important later: Don't seek out Heavenly guidance until you're ready to commit to act on it. That's probably not the best lesson to take from this, or at least it's not the best way to phrase it, but it's an important lesson nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Play Through Mistakes

This morning, I heard some some fantastic piano-playing advice: Learn to play through mistakes. When a person hits a wrong note on a piano, it can really throw off the music. Not only can the wrong note sour the song for the listeners, the embarrassment of having played a wrong note can stun or distract the pianist, which can cause him or her to make more mistakes. Of course, the best way to react to a piano-playing mistake isn't to go back to the beginning and start over or to stop playing, but to keep playing as though the mistake never happened. Distract the audience from the mistake you made with the beautiful music you're making now. Move on as quickly as possible, and put the memory out of your mind. Instead, focus on what you're playing now and what you will play a few measures ahead.

The analogy to repentance is clear and powerful, if a bit flawed. When we sin, it's like hitting a wrong note on a piano. It sounds bad, both to us and to anyone else who hears it. When we make such a mistake, we sometimes compound the mistake by believing that our sin is a major setback or that celestial behavior is beyond our capability. We freeze up, go back, or give up, when what we should do is push forward. God knows we're human. God knows we make mistakes; it's part of the plan. That's why a key component of God's plan is repentance.

And repentance does not mean setting ourselves back and starting our spiritual journey over from the beginning. Repentance means changing our behavior. Repentance isn't about the past. It's about the present and the future. When we sin, it's not up to us to fix the mistake. God does that part. Our job is to learn from the mistake and use that wisdom to do better going forward. That's where reality breaks from the analogy. While the pianist would do well to put the misstep out of his or her mind so it doesn't distract him or her, the sinner might do well to remember his or her sin, to remind him or her not to make the same mistake again.

Still, while remembering the past can be helpful, the key thing is to get back on track and to resume moving forward as soon as possible. Our enemy would love to have us agonize over our mistakes and live in paralysed fear of repeating them, but doing nothing is just as damning as doing evil. We need to move forward. We need to move passed our mistakes. The sooner we get back on track and put our past mistakes behind us, the better, even if we made those mistakes only a few moments ago. We still need to pray for forgiveness, but we must not let the memory of our sins hold us back or convince us to resign ourselves to continue sinning. Just as a pianist must play through it quickly when he or she makes a mistake, so too should we repent quickly when we sin. Making mistakes is inevitable. What's important is that we learn from them quickly and not let them trip us up or hold us back.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Good Life

I just watched a video, the last in the Crash Course: Philosophy videos, which talks about what it means to live a good life. Some believe that a good life is a comfortable one, or maybe a fun and exciting one, and I won't fault them for thinking so. I think that a good life would and should contain elements of comfort, excitement, and fun. But for a life to be truly "good," the bulk of it must be spent doing good, which is seldom comfortable or exciting. Unfortunately for those of us who are too fond of leisure time and idle amusement, these are not the things that bring one lasting happiness, and they are not the core elements of a rewarding life. I live to have a rewarding life. I want to live a good life. And if I want to live a good life and truly be a good person, I'm going to have to spend less of my time seeking after the fun and leisure I desire, and instead, I'm going to have to spend more of my time doing good.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"My Pleasure" and "Any Time"

I've been meaning to blog about two more ways to say "you're welcome," and I guess now's as good a time as any, especially since I was reminded of this earlier today. Previously, I had blogged about what "you're welcome" really means and when it would or would not be appropriate to say it. I also blogged about the phrase "no problem" which is appropriate even less frequently. There are at least two other ways to respond to thanks: "my pleasure" and "any time."

I can say from personal experience that doing service is not always a pleasure. Sometimes, it's just a bunch of hard work which isn't much fun and doesn't seem fairly rewarding. Of course, that seems to depend largely on a person's attitude. There are occasions when it really is a pleasure to serve someone. With the right attitude, many forms of service can become enjoyable. This happens to me most frequently when the help I'm doing for someone involves doing something I consider fun, or when I'm doing something for someone that I have a strong desire to serve. There are a handful of people that I would gladly go out of my way to help, and it usually is "my pleasure" to help them.

Along the same lines, one cannot always promise to give service "any time." Sometimes, we're busy. Sometimes, we literally cannot help others. For this reason, I don't consider "any time" a promise. I consider it more of a statement of willingness. To me, it means "I would do that for you any time." The word would here is important. It means that we will always be willing to perform that service, when we can. I suppose, in a sense, "any time" is a promise, but it has a few conditions, ability and availability being among them. Still, it's something you can say to someone to tell them that you'd be willing to help them again.

You can't always say "my pleasure" or "any time" to someone and really mean it, just as you can't always honestly say "no problem" or even "you're welcome." But "my pleasure" and "any time" do have their usefulness, and they are sometimes appropriate to say. There are times when it's a pleasure to serve someone, and there are some people we'd be willing to serve, or some acts of service we'd be willing to give, "any time." And when we're in a situation when one of those phrases may apply, we might as well be open and polite and say what we really mean.