Now that Jesus has gotten some important information about the name of his church out of the way, he again offers to grant his disciples some wishes.
Selfishness is Next to Godliness
Nine of the disciples ask Jesus that, upon reaching old age, they "may speedily come unto thee in thy kingdom." Jesus replies in verse 3:
And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because ye desired this thing of me; therefore, after that ye are seventy and two years old ye shall come unto me in my kingdom; and with me ye shall find rest.Wait...so these guys are going to bypass the spirit world and the whole judgment and resurrection process and get fast-tracked into celestial glory? How is that fair? What's the point of having a Plan of Salvation in the first place if members of the godhead get to manipulate it according to their whims? What's the point in pretending like people have free agency if you're handing out no-strings-attached tickets to paradise?
And furthermore, why are these guys "blessed" for wanting this? It seems like a pretty straightforward act of self-interest. If they'd asked for world peace, or the cure to some disease, or mercy for the sinners or something even remotely altruistic, I can understand why Jesus would be so impressed. But they've only asked to be guaranteed a spot in the highest degree of glory—and without the usual waiting period, no less. This is selfish. Understandable, sure, but selfish. Why are we praising people for being selfish?
Awesomer than the Bible
The other three Nephites (who have come to be known in the church as The Three Nephites) are hesitant to ask, but with a bit of Snape-like legilimency, Jesus discerns that they essentially desire to live until the end of everything, at which point they will be translated instead of physically experiencing death. And what follows is a summary of the Three Nephites' exploits in which Joseph Smith engages in an ethusiastic game of biblical one-upmanship.
This, to me, is a pretty good indicator of the Book of Mormon's status as biblical fan fiction. Like a lot of bad fan fiction, it takes the source material and tries to make everything way more totally awesomer without much in the way of imagination. For example:
In the Bible, Jesus makes a vague reference to his ability to grant someone life until his Second Coming. In the Book of Mormon, he explicitly gives three people this supernatural longevity. That's much awesomer than the Bible.
When the Three Nephites were cast into the earth (verse 20), "they did smite the earth with the word of God" and were "delivered out of the depths of the earth." That makes them way awesomer than Joseph of Egypt.
The Three Nephites were thrice "cast into a furnace and received no harm" (verse 21). That makes them three times awesomer than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
And verse 23 even implies that their missionary work converted an entire civilization to the gospel. Such a feat makes them incalculably more successful than Jesus Christ himself.
Stories, events, characters, abilities, and plot points have been recycled from the source material and given a clumsy boost in scope and significance. This is all so much awesomer than the Bible. And yes, I'm quite aware that "awesomer" is not a word. But I feel that it appropriately mocks the poor, unimaginative, and juvenile qualities of the storytelling here.
Doom and Gloom
Mormon shares some words of comfort in verses 34 and 35:
And wo be unto him that will not hearken unto the words of Jesus, and also to them whom he hath chosen and sent among them; for whoso receiveth not the words of Jesus and the words of those whom he hath sent receiveth not him; and therefore he will not receive them at the last day;
And it would be better for them if they had not been born. For do ye suppose that ye can get rid of the justice of an offended God, who hath been trampled under feet of men, that thereby salvation might come?
Okay, first of all, I'm going to point out some grammatical vagueness: In the opening line, are we saying also wo to them whom Jesus hath chosen and sent, or also wo unto him that will not hearken unto the words of them whom Jesus hath chosen and sent? I mean, by the end of the verse, it's obvious from the context, but grammatically speaking, it could go either way.
But my real problem with this is that Mormon, a prophet of God, says it would be better for those who reject the word of Jesus to have never been born. That's one of the boldest, ugliest, most unmerciful sentiments I've seen in the Book of Mormon so far.
Why were we born? Because we sided with God and Jesus in the War in Heaven and now we have the opportunity to receive mortal bodies and we have access to a pathway to eternal exaltation. In what way is it fair for God to create any kind of environment in which our reward for our loyalty to him can backfire so spectacularly as to utterly negate the progressive value of our mortal births?
God's basically saying, "Hey, guys, thanks for making the right decision. So I'm gonna give you some physical bodies and throw you down on earth. But I'm also going to wipe your memories so you won't know what you're doing. Oh, and if you screw this up, you'll be worse off than ever before. Good luck!"
What a dick.
Mormon tries to rationalize this principle with a claim that God's umbrage is easily stoked and his justice is immutable. But considering that pretty hefty memory wipe I mentioned earlier, it doesn't seem rational, just, or befitting of divinity to drop us into a system engineered for overwhelming failure and then to exact such draconian punishments upon us for failing.
The Mormon God is too easily offended and too eager to hide behind a mercurial temper that he prefers to call justice.