Saturday, 2 March 2013

2 Nephi 7: The Importance of Asking Questions

Jacob continues to preach from Isaiah 50. It is a short chapter that that starts off by using the voice of God to condemn the people for turning away from him (v. 1-3). The rest of the chapter is in Isaiah's voice, spoken through Jacob, who identifies with Isaiah.

Isaiah/Jacob talks about the things that he has received from God to help him be a prophet. "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O house of Israel" (v. 4). "The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back" (v. 5). "For the Lord God will help me, therefore I shall not be confounded" (v. 7). "And the Lord is near, and he justifieth me" (v. 8). "For the Lord God will help me" (v. 9).

I find it a little strange that Jacob is preaching about how much God is helping him and justifying him. I understand these statements in the context is journal writing and record keeping, but when these things are part of a sermon, I'm a little confused. "I was not rebellious" models the behavior that Jacob wants others to follow, but the other statements are included to justify the speaker's power over others. I am uncomfortable with this kind of persuasion because it is too forceful. It is as if Jacob is saying "God is watching me/us right now, and he approves this message". It would be the kind of sermon an experienced or overbearing leader would give. It is not hard to see that Jacob takes some of his cues from Nephi, who never seemed to realize when he was being overbearing.

The reason that this makes me uncomfortable is that there isn't much room for personal growth or spiritual development when a leader insists on being followed or their language is too manipulative. I believe in following my church leaders, but I also believe that I can draw a line and think for myself. I'm allowed to ask questions. Yesterday I read this article over at Modern Mormon Men about this very issue. The whole of Mormonism is founded on the question of a teenage boy, and I really love that. Joseph Smith earnestly sought an answer and he got one, but not the one he expected. I wish that we had a culture of encouraging questions in our church, instead of seeing them as faithless.

When I think of good questions that have been asked in the church and their positive results, I think about the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, the lowering of the missionary age in 2012, and the new edition of the scriptures that was announced yesterday. Some of the changes in the new edition are discussed in this article over at BCC, but they boil down to placing scriptural statements in a clearer historical framework. As an (art) historian, I think that this is a big positive change. I'm looking forward to comparing the chapter headings of some of the racism Book of Mormon chapters in the old and new versions. The church is moving in the direction of more openness with regard to our (often difficult) history and I applaud these efforts. Keep asking those questions!

Cross-posted at

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