A friend recently pointed out that the Lord visited the Nephites in Bountiful, and that they were indeed considered “Nephites” at the time of His visit.
But you already knew that, right? Moroni said so…
…therefore it sufficeth me to say that Jesus shewed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he shewed himself unto the Nephites. (Ether 1:14 NC)My friend pointed this out because of my assertion about these people in a prior blog post:
There were no Nephites in the “Nephite Zion.” Nor were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites. They valued their identity as children of Christ far above their previous, divisive labels.No Nephites in the “Nephite Zion,” yet the Lord ministered to the Nephites at Bountiful. Do we have a problem here?
Well, as it turns out, we do. But it’s not the problem you might think. It’s a much different, and more important problem than me potentially making a mistake in a blog post, though again, as it turns out, I made no mistake in my assertion. Clear enough so far? No?
OK, let’s lay it out from the beginning.
According to the text, the Lord showed himself to the Nephites and former Lamanites who had survived the earlier destruction and traveled to Bountiful:
And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will shew unto you that the people of Nephi who were spared and also those who had been called Lamanites who had been spared did have great favors shewn unto them and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into Heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them, shewing his body unto them and ministering unto them; and an account of his ministry shall be given hereafter. (3 Nephi 4:11 NC)Notice this was at the end of the thirty-fourth year, after which, things developed in due course. Here is a breakdown of what developed, as well as the years noted in the text:
Let’s take note of a couple of things. First, “no contention” is stated three separate times, and if you read the text carefully, you’ll see it’s associated with three different levels of not contending. Second, it took something like 66 years for the people to reach their pinnacle of Zion, by which point they had laid down their divisions and become one.
This may seem like a long time—indeed, a lifetime—to reach the status of Zion, but this is actually remarkably fast. Adam’s Zion, brief as it was, came after he had lived and taught for 927 years. Melchizedek tarried 500 years after the flood before he and his people were taken up. Enoch preached righteousness for 365 years. I suppose having an incredibly long lifespan is a boon to slow, steady progress. The Nephites, who had no such advantage, managed to pull it off in a single lifetime (or what we currently consider a lifetime, anyhow.) This is the world speed record, at least according to the scriptures currently available to us.
But in each case, the Zion society started, grew, and reached its zenith during the lifetime of its founder or founders. The living teacher of righteousness taught and ministered to a receptive people, who believed and practiced the teachings. Always, the opportunity was limited to the lifetime of the teacher. In every case, had the audience not been receptive, Zion would not have come. When the teacher’s life ended, the opportunity ended as well, and did not return for generations. This is always the case.
Joseph Smith’s ministry lasted approximately 16 years, during which time the saints came under the Lord’s condemnation, and repeatedly failed to repent and receive what the Lord offered. His ministry ended first with the death of his appointed successor, Hyrum, followed by his own death moments later. Hyrum’s death demonstrated a definite end to the opportunity by eliminating the successor first. The opportunity for Zion came to an end, and did not return for 4 generations.
So, like I said, we have a problem, and it centers on our own opportunity for Zion, which must come to fruition in the lifetime of the dispensation head, or be lost. The fuse is lit and burning. Our time is limited.
This comes as no surprise to many of us, who feel the urgency of the opportunity. There’s no shortage of excitement, even impatience, for the Lord to act to bring Zion. Tremendous things have happened, and many of us hope more will happen soon. Look at all that has come in a few short years: The gospel taught with clarity and power; new scripture giving us the most accurate accumulation of Christ’s words to date; a covenant established by God; incredible light and knowledge pouring forth; people awakening and arising. These are tremendous blessings, which ought to fill us with gratitude.
Yet, in the midst of such an outpouring, we exhibit an insatiable appetite for more. When will we get more scripture? When will the temple be built? When will Zion come? When will more cool stuff happen? When will we gather? What’s taking so long?
Hey, I’m as excited for these things as anyone. But no matter how impatient we may be, the Lord controls the timing. And He’s already shown Himself more than willing to act. Therefore, I’m left to conclude that “things” aren’t happening for one reason only: We aren’t prepared for the Lord’s next steps. If we were ready, the Lord would act. He intends to complete His work, and He most certainly will as soon as the time is right and He has a people prepared to receive, believe, and act on what is offered. But He is also far more patient and wise than we are, and He will allow us to wait out, even squander our opportunity, in hopes we will finally repent and turn to Him.
So what’s the hold up?
This brings up the topic of how fast things can happen. The establishment of Zion is the Lord’s work (Isaiah 18:7, OC), and we cannot hasten it (Isaiah 1:16, OC). However, though the Lord’s work cannot be hastened by man, our own work in our own lives CAN. The scriptural record is replete with examples of those who made astonishing changes, almost instantly. Rapid repentance and conversion are possible, and frankly recommended. The Lord is quick to forgive and ready to teach. He patiently waits for us to repent, just as He invited those who would eventually meet Him in person at Bountiful:
O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me and repent of your sins and be converted that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, If ye will come unto me, ye shall have Eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. (1 Nephi 4:7 NC)Question: How much time passed between the above invitation and the personal ministry of Christ to these people?
Answer: Less than a year.
More questions: How long did it take Benjamin’s people to experience a mighty change of heart? What about Lamoni? And his father? Alma the younger? Paul? The Lamanites at the prison where Lehi and Nephi were held?
Alma the younger, who knew something about conversion, had the following to say about it:
And now, my brethren, I would that after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that the holy scriptures testify of these things, come forth and bring fruit unto repentance. Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer. For behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation. And therefore if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. (Alma 16:37 NC)Immediately. You can’t get much quicker than that. The Lord’s plan accommodates even the impatient, just as quickly as they will repent. (And just for fun, check out how many times the word “speedily” associates with the word “repent” in scripture. Returning to the Lord SHOULD be a matter of haste.) There is no prescribed checklist to be followed, no specific time period required. There is only recognition, desire, and a mighty change of heart, which can happen almost instantly. It is born more of abject surrender and desire, than it is of grueling effort. Repentance is speediest when it is most desperate.
Yet, repentance also seems to be a low priority. Speaking for myself, anyhow, I often find it more appealing to consider the Lord’s future work and my hopes of being involved, than to recognize my own shortcomings, disobedience, and bad behavior. As foolish as it sounds, I’m sometimes more interested in the Lord keeping His promises than I am in keeping my own.
Maybe you’re in the same boat as me. We all fall short of living the truths we claim to embrace, and Christ is more than willing to forgive. But forgiveness alone is not progress. We cannot succeed collectively until we succeed individually in repenting, turning to our Lord, and doing as He has asked. Until then, He will wait. He will not move things even an inch beyond where we are prepared to go. Some have already been pruned from the tree of life. Some will yet be. The digging, dunging, and pruning will continue until the Lord, at last, has a people who are humble, obedient, and filled with understanding. The natural fruit must return to the vineyard.
In that spirit, and intended mostly as advice to myself, my next few posts will focus on “what’s taking so long” and what to do about it. Again, this is not about hastening the Lord’s work. He, alone, controls the timing. This will be about preparing ourselves to be ready for Him to act, and capable of accomplishing what will be required.
Behold, verily I say unto you that these are the words of the Lord your God, wherefore labor all of you, labor in my vineyard for the last time; for the last time call upon the inhabitants of the earth, for in my own due time will I come upon the earth in judgment. And my people shall be redeemed and shall reign with me on Earth, for the great Millennial, which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come, for Satan shall be bound.