2 Nephi 2:5, 7, 26 — LeGrand Baker — knowing good from evil
I would like to try to address Devan Barker’s question about the nature of the eternal “law,” but before I do, I would like to make a brief comment about another of his questions.
I look around and I see very few people who seem to know good from evil or who seem to have had the law given them. In fact, I manage to like a lot of people that I might not otherwise like by assigning their acts to ignorance rather than malice. What am I missing?
Devan, you are missing what you have always missed: a narrow little mind which would make you judgmental and overly critical. Keep missing it. It’s that quality in you that is one of the reasons I love you so much.
Devan added this quote to his question:
5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men (2 Nephi 2:5).
So his question is, whether all (a word Lehi did not include) men are instructed sufficiently to know good from evil.
It is true that the conscience teaches one to do what is right, but it also seems true that one’s culture teaches the conscience what “right” is. So, it appears, the conscience teaches one to do good, but only within the parameters of what his culture defines as “good.” Sometimes cultures get it all wrong. The flood covered the earth because the people sought to do evil continually. Nephi taught his brothers that the reason the Israelites were permitted to supplant the Canaanites was because that entire culture had turned from doing good. Presumably that means, in both cases, that a child reared in those cultures could not have the opportunity to know good, so could not learn in this life to judge between good and evil. Their situation was apparently extreme, but not unique; other peoples have been destroyed for the same reason. And, I suspect, in every one instance there was a Jeremiah or an Abinadi.
Most ancient religions which were contemporary with Lehi had no theological sense of good and evil. Many Babylonian prayers have been found and translated from cuneiform tablets, but none speak of sorrow for sin, or of the idea of repentance. What the Babylonians prayed for, instead of forgiveness, was that Marduk would divert the consequence of their inappropriate actions so they won’t get punished. That is not the same as repentance.
We are in a world like theirs. In America, the most pervasive legacy of the 60’s revolution is that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” During and after that revolution “right”
and “wrong” came to mean “politically correct” or “politically incorrect.” The intelligentsia of the revolution declared that all standards of excellence in political, Constitutional, and religious matters were archaic relics of Victorian morality. They were said to be the arbitrary and irrelevant remnants of a less enlightened age, and ought to be surgically removed from our culture. The effectiveness of their argument has left many people, especially the better educated, with a keen sense of “right and wrong” in terms of social, ecological, and ethical questions; but little sense of “good and evil” as the scriptures would define them.
Nonetheless, in our world there is enough left of the heritage of religious “goodness” that when missionaries talk to people, the Holy Ghost can teach them correct principles. Then, when they are baptized that same Spirit can teach them further, so they can truly know to cherish the good. Thus, knowing good from evil is available in spite of the setbacks of their cultural background.
In the meantime, we appreciate the goodness that is inherently theirs. We, and the church, and its missionary system survive because we live under the umbrella of the fundamental moral sense of the majority of people whose basic “goodness,” honor, and fair play protect us from persecution and give us the right to teach whomever will listen. I truly appreciate those good people and if I have written anything here which suggests otherwise, I did not intend it to be read that way.