Friday, July 29, 2016

3 Nephi 17: Overblown Nonsense

Jesus, being awesome, realizes that he's speaking truths beyond the comprehension of his poor audience.  He advises them to pray about it, sleep on it, and return in the morning for further edification.

Occasional Mercy
Apparently moved by the people's desire for him to stay a little longer, Jesus makes this statement in verse 7:
Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
I mean, that's cool and all.  I like that Jesus heals the sick and afflicted. But it's weird that this is kind of a humanizing moment for him—he was busy being all godly and then the puppy-dog eyes of the Nephites stirred him to compassion.  But he's not a human.  Compassion shouldn't be a transient state for him, it should be a permanent aspect of his character.   No amount of adoration from his followers should have elicited any extra measure of mercy from him because he should have already been optimally merciful.

This scene also illustrates a frustrating paradox of the godhead's behavior.  Why does he decide to be merciful to these people and heal their sicknesses, but plenty of his other devout followers die of awful afflictions on a regular basis?  How is Jesus a personification of the same cosmic governance that deemed it necessary to permit the mass burning of the faithful converts of Ammonihah?

In the following verse, Jesus explains that these Nephites' faith is of an adequate magnitude to permit them to be healed, which kind of adds insult to injury for every pious person who's been forced to suffer any serious ailment.

God likes to claim that he's a god of mercy, but his son's actions as a resurrected being serve to highlight that mercy is not one of his most enduring priorities.

Trust Me, it was Great
During this chapter, Jesus prays publicly to his Father in Heaven.  But we have no idea what he said (verses 16-17):
The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 
And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.
These are empty hyperboles designed to make the content of the prayer sound wonderful without forcing the author to actually come up with something wonderful.  This is the kind of writing that finds its most comfortable home in fantastical fiction.
Here's one example that comes readily to mind...
What doctrinal truths does this story relate, other than the already well-established scriptural claim that Jesus is awesome?  What's the purpose of mentioning this at all if the magnificent specifics are going to be completely glossed over?  I mean, if Jesus's prayer was so powerful that his audience was filled with such prodigious joy, isn't that exactly the kind of thing the scriptures should preserve for our benefit?

And also, if "tongue cannot speak, neither can there be written by any great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak," I think it's fair to ask what language did Jesus speak these things in and what words did he use.  Because clearly the words exist, otherwise how could Jesus have spoken them?  The description of the Savior's prayer doesn't even make logical sense, but it definitely sounds cool—which I suppose was probably its primary purpose.

Redundant Ministry
At the close of this chapter, Jesus speaks the epic line, "Behold your little ones" and the Nephites look on in awe as this happens (verse 24):
And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.
Again, this definitely sounds cool.  But what exactly were the angels doing when they were ministering unto the children?  Jesus had just healed every single sick person in the whole multitude.  And not three verses earlier, he'd just blessed and prayed for each child, individually.  What possible physical or spiritual needs could these kids have still had that a mere angel could have provided?

I mean, how would you react if someone ceremoniously (and pyrotechnically) presented you with your kindergarten diploma after you just finished framing your doctorate?

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 Nephi 16: A Pointless Warning

Jesus continues.  He's very long winded.

Verse 10 contains a chilling warning that could be very easily applied to the present-day USA (or, honestly, just about any era in American history):
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
That's interesting.  Because in the preceding two verses, he was just talking about all the awful things the European settlers did to the Native Americans—scattered them upon the face of this land, trod them under their feet, slew them, made them a hiss and a byword, etc.  But it's not until they reject the truth that God will remove the gospel from them.  Because apparently all that business with the Europeans and the Native Americans wasn't quite enough pride, deceit, mischief, hypocrisy, murder, whoredom, or secret abomination to really get God's goat.

And it looks like nothing really has gotten God's goat, even now.  With all the doom and gloom foretold in Mormondom about the fate of America should the nation turn wicked, why hasn't it happened yet?  Why didn't it happen way before I was born?

Surely the slaughter and persecution of the Indians was enough to herald our destruction instead of fomenting the restoration of the gospel.  Well, not according to this chapter. 

What about the slave trade?  I mean, we were so much more enlightened than in Biblical times, so we should have known better, right?  I guess it's no big deal.  Besides, most of the time that slavery was a thing in the "promised land"—and even after full emancipation—God's church wasn't particularly bothered with the welfare of black people (temporally or eternally).

Our embarrassingly long struggle for civil rights must be too much for him, then.  After all the progress we've made, Ferguson and Dallas and so many other tragedies have reminded us how far we still have to go, and we still seem to have a lot of trouble accepting LGBT.  No, it can't be that, because God cares a lot more about religious freedom than equal rights.

Well, it has to be the violence, then.  Gangs and such, murder.  Only that stuff reached its nationwide peak a few decades back, so either we're off the hook or God hit the snooze button and plans to retroactively take the truth away from us once he's well rested.

Maybe the whoredoms will do it.  Pornography exploded with the advent of the internet.  Now that we're all touched by the deviant filth of digital voyeurism and remote whoredom, it seems like the time is right for that apocryphal white horse prophecy.

What about pride?  I mean, if the arrogance of scattering the Native Americans didn't have the mojo to incur God's deepest ire, then surely the blooming of manifest destiny or the jingoistic excesses of the early twentieth century must have done it.  Even now, we're in a bizarre period of intense patriotism and elitism despite a heavy presence of disillusionment, so how has America's pride not reached critical mass at any point in the last two hundred fifty years or so?

Or what about hypocrisy?  Purporting to be the land of the free and claiming to guarantee inalienable rights while still allowing fellow human beings to be property?  Fighting the tyranny of Nazi Germany while rounding up our own Japanese citizens into internment camps?  Pretending to have a moral authority while making unilateral decisions with lasting, devastating international consequences? 

Maybe our priestcraft has gotten out of hand, what with the rich pastors of megachurches and the con-men selling religion for money, power, and influence.  Apparently that hasn't peaked yet, although with an increasingly secular society, we may have missed our window there.

Then surely it must have been the corruption and mischief and secret combinations that have plagued presidencies.  Jackson?  Grant?  Nixon?  Maybe certain movements within current electoral organizations?  No?

So what prerequisites for the Lord's wrath and the removal of his gospel from us have the inhabitants of the promised land not satisfied?  We've sinned against the gospel, we've rejected the gospel, we've been lifted up in pride above all nations, we've been filled with lyings and deceits, we've been guilty of mischiefs, hypocrisies, murders, priestcrafts, whoredoms, and secret combinations.  We've done literally everything on this list numerous times.  Where are the consequences? 

This entire chapter is basically one long, toothless threat.