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Surprising insights in the Book of Mormon
By Orson Scott Card May 13, 2010

"Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not," says Moroni (Morm. 8:35). "But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing."

After these words were read, the seminary teacher challenged her high school students. "What did Moroni see, when he looked at us?"

The students spoke of how almost everyone walks in the pride of their hearts, of envying and strifes, of malice and persecutions -- things that happen in every high school and middle school in America.

"He says we love money and possessions and fine clothes more than we love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted."

But then the teacher pointed out Mormon 8:39: "Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?"

"What are the things 'with no life' that Moroni says we adorn ourselves with, so we don't notice the needs of the people around us?" asked the teacher.

It took only a moment's thought before the students started laughing ruefully and saying, "Cell phones, MP3 players, texting instead of talking to the people around us."

They laughed because they realized Moroni had seen them and their friends.

Me, too. For the past year or so I've been clipping an iPod to my shirt so I could listen to audiobooks while running errands or taking my walks and runs through the neighborhood.

Whenever somebody tries to talk to me, I have to hold up a hand to tell them to wait while I pause the audiobook. Most of the time, though, I'm immersed in the world I carry around with me.

It may be a good book I'm listening to, but I'm cut off from people who pass me by, and I "notice them not."

We've had the Book of Mormon for 180 years, and sometimes it seems as if we're just beginning to realize what a powerful gift the writers of the book prepared for us.

For instance: As my Sunday school class has been moving through Exodus and Numbers, we were struck by the way the writers of those books handled causality.

"The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart," we're told. Yet we know this can't be right -- how could the Lord hold Pharaoh responsible for his choices, if it was the Lord who made him choose that way? That would be so unjust.

But to the people who wrote the version of the story that has been handed down to us, this was absolutely required. They believed that because God was all-powerful, everything that happened in the world was by his will. If Pharaoh's heart was hard, then it was God that made it so.

This attitude still exists. It's a doctrine of Islam that the world is precisely as God orders it. "Inshallah," say Arabic-speaking Muslims: "If God wills."

The same idea about Divine Providence causing everything has long existed in English, leading to the phrase: "God willing."

It's used the same way in both languages: "I'll be back in a month, God willing."

When fiery serpents come into the camp of Israel (Numbers 21:4-9), it can only be because God sent them. But since God is just, the Israelites must have deserved to be smitten with such a plague.

Since there is no such thing as a large group of people traveling together in which no one complains, we can count on it: Shortly before any bad thing happens, somebody will have been complaining.

If your idea of justice is that God will smite people with deadly pestilence because they complain, why, the philosophical problem is solved!

Of course, if that's how the Lord worked nowadays, it's hard to think of a ward that wouldn't lose member or two every few weeks. I'd have been dead years ago.

The Lord not only doesn't work that way today, there's no reason to think he ever did. He is in the business of saving us from disaster, if we look to him with faith; he's rarely in the business of causing disasters in order to punish us.

The Book of Mormon corrects that false worldview so many times that we almost don't notice it anymore -- and when we do, it's usually to joke about it.

"And it came to pass ...," says the Book of Mormon, over and over. Sometimes "the Lord then caused ...," but usually, "it came to pass."

In the Book of Mormon, most things simply happen, and what the Lord cares about is how people respond to these events.

Thus the writers of the Book of Mormon, without even realizing they were doing it, swept away a deep and widespread error about the way God relates to the world.

The Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient record, reflecting cultures that Joseph Smith could never have imagined -- including ours, 166 years after the Prophet Joseph died.

And when we come up with difficult questions about how the Lord works with us and our world, it's surprising how often the Book of Mormon already has answers and insights that help us understand.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

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