The rise and fall of the perfect Nephite civilisation in 4th Nephi – it’s always wonderful and kind of magical to read about the good years, wish I was there/it was here, and wonder what it would have been like to live then. It’s also always sad and disappointing to read about its decline. Such highs! Such lows!
Last year, I made two lists, on the recommendation of President Eyring: one with the steps that led to the perfect society they enjoyed for around 200 years, and one with the steps that led away from it. He suggested it for improving family relations. I’m going to use the lists for another purpose here: understanding what leads to societal peace and happiness, and to its destruction. I think both are instructive for our current time (as so much in the Book of Mormon is this year!)
I just listened to Ben Wilcox’s insights about this period of Nephite history, and his conclusions are both encouraging and worrying – as worrying as those same conclusions have been for me, this year even more than those before, because the societal problems creating that concern are getting exponentially worse. Here’s the link (I’d suggest watching that, and then reading this – but the other way around would work, too): 3 Nephi 27 – 4 Nephi, Come Follow Me, Teaching With Power
So let’s look at the lists, and then see how they lead to understanding the dangers facing our various societies and global culture.
Steps to happiness and a unified society, Nephite-style
- Everyone was converted to the Lord (over time) – repentance, baptism, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
- There were no contentions – the love of God was in their hearts.
- Everyone dealt justly with each other – fairness and justice.
- They had everything in common among them – temporal things like money and food, political freedom, and no cliques or divisions (as in, no ‘-ites’; no identity groups. They identified with each other and God).
- Peace – there was no reason to fight.
- Miracles – sick, blind, & deaf healed, dead raised, etc.
- Prosperity and industriousness – destroyed cities and roads re-built, and new things created. They become strong and attractive (healthy?).
- Blessed in everything
- Met together often to pray and worship; hearing the Gospel.
- No lying, envyings, or strife. They were upright and diligent in living the Gospel of Christ.
The thing which most stands out is that there was ‘no contention’ – Mormon mentions this several times in 4 Nephi. And we’ll see that it’s a major point, because it’s what leads to the decline of this wonderful society, and where our lessons really come in for this time.
From happy and unified to miserably divided
- One group left the Church and called themselves by a different name – thus there began to be a division (two groups) again.
- Pride – some people began wearing nicer clothes – using their financial prosperity, with which all had been blessed, on this, jewels, and other ‘fine things of the world’.
- From this time, they no longer had all temporal things in common among them.
- Became divided temporally and spiritually – social classes, different churches – and denial of the true Church of Christ.
- Churches multiplied – being established in order to ‘get gain’ – and didn’t follow the Gospel, but added their own things and left out many true, correct things.
- This became more popular, because of iniquity and the hold of Satan on their hearts.
- One church denied the Christ, and persecuted the true Church because of their humility and belief in Christ and the miracles they experienced (jealousy? It probably threatened the legitimacy of this church’s claim – denial of the Christ). They tried to imprison and otherwise constrain the apostles, and to kill them.
- Those belonging to all these other churches hardened their hearts (= pride), being led by false priests and prophets. (Allowed themselves to be led by them).
- Everyone became divided into ethnic/cultural groups – according to their ancestors and who they considered themselves to be (identities). There was a more-encompassing societal division between those in the true Church and those out of it.
- Those in the non-Church group again taught their children, as their ancestors had done, not to believe and to hate the children of God (those who chose to follow Him).
- Churches continued to be established and strengthened, and were ‘adorned with… precious things’.
- Secret combinations were revived and spread everywhere.
- Those in the true Church also became proud, because of their great temporal riches, coming to depend on these (empty) things and consider themselves better than others because of them.
- Everyone became as wicked as each other. Only the apostles remained righteous.
- Gold and silver was amassed and stored in large amounts. Commercial trading in all manner of items went on.
- The sacred records (scriptures) had to be hidden, until a time of righteousness, so they could be preserved for others.
- Wars began again.
This all led to ever deeper and greater darkness and wickedness among all the people – Nephites and Lamanites – eventually culminating in the Nephite’s total destruction and the disappearance of their civilisation.
It’s so tragic to read, every time! The beauty and heights they reached, and the awful depths to which they fell.
Brother Wilcox’s conclusion is this: Satan’s goal is to separate us. Any wedge that divides people, that places them in different groups in opposition to each other, he encourages. This is exactly what is happening in countries around the world – in a big way in the US, and emulated here and elsewhere. Vested interest groups continually stoke the fires of discontent, incite outrage over issues which they distort manipulatively, encourage people to identify with groups and tribes rather than seek commonality, and persecute people who uphold traditional values and/or speak against tribal mentality. Individuals speak of those with differing political, social or religious views as alien, stupid, selfish, outcast. Make them into villains against whom the ‘right-thinking’ people must wage war. People keep inventing more and more ways to label and divide themselves/us. We are living in exactly the time that Mormon has described. And he has a warning for us: division and contention will destroy our happiness and our civilisations.
God’s way is unity. The Saviour makes it very clear, in 3 Nephi 11 – the first thing He teaches in His visit. He also makes it clear in later teachings to his apostles there. They must be unified, calling the church in His name, not disputing about it, following His commandments and being built on His Gospel – not theirs. Unity is a doctrine – disciples of Christ and members of His Church are commanded to seek it. Not unity in the form of what you see as right, or what I do, but in the Gospel of Christ. In emulating His attributes and actions.
4th Nephi is a warning – to us, to whom this record was intended to come. Divisions lead to hatred, violence, and war. They lead to misery. It is also an invitation: unity leads to happiness and peace.