1 Nephi 19:17-22 — LeGrand Baker — Nephi’s Testimony

1 Nephi 19:17-22  

17 Yea, and all the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord, saith the prophet; every nation, kindred, tongue and people shall be blessed.
18 And I, Nephi, have written these things unto my people, that perhaps I might persuade them that they would remember the Lord their Redeemer.
19 Wherefore, I speak unto all the house of Israel, if it so be that they should obtain these things.
20 For behold, I have workings in the spirit, which doth weary me even that all my joints are weak, for those who are at Jerusalem; for had not the Lord been merciful, to show unto me concerning them, even as he had prophets of old, I should have perished also.
21 And he surely did show unto the prophets of old all things concerning them; and also he did show unto many concerning us; wherefore, it must needs be that we know concerning them for they are written upon the plates of brass.
22 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things; and it came to pass that I did read many things to them, which were engraven upon the plates of brass, that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old.

When human history is seen in bits and pieces—an empire here, a kingdom there; a battle, the Renaissance, or a natural disaster—it is sometimes difficult to see the hand of God in it or the premortal decisions of the Council in Heaven being played out according to plan.

One of the reasons we tend not to see that is that it seems difficult to square with our strong sense of the importance of free agency. For some people there is an ideological conflict between the idea that God can move through linear time and know all things as they are, were, and will be, with the doctrine that we are each free to act according to our own wills and desires. The apparent conflict between God’s knowing and our agency is not real because we do not remember who we were then, what assignments we agreed to. Neither do we remember who our friends were there nor what role they played in the Council. Because we have no memory of our past, we are free to make independent decisions in the present. Those decisions are the product of our innate integrity rather than of an actual memory of our commitments to God and our premortal friends. Therefore, we are “placed in a state to act according to [our individual] wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good” (Alma 12:31). As Jacob admonished, “ Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life” (2 Nephi 10:23).

This life is a time when we can define our Selves as though we were in a vacuum of time where only the present exists. But God moves through sacred time, and because he knows, he can accommodate for human weakness and well as for human strengths.

An easy example is Nephi’s being instructed to write the small plates “for a wise purpose” that God knew but that Nephi did not. About 2,400 years later someone stole the translated manuscript of 116 pages, and that material had to be replaced by the information on the small plates. That shows that God knew there would be a problem. It implies that he knew who would be responsible. There were people who had the opportunity to assist the Prophet but who chose to betray him instead. But it does not presuppose that anyone was forced or predestined to participate in the conspiracy that resulted in those pages being lost from Joseph’s possession. Mrs. Harris had the freedom to act as she chose. God knew what her choice would be and made arrangements to thwart her designs, but he did not force her nor her husband to participate in the attempt to prevent the Prophet from fulfilling his mission. God only made arrangements so that each person could act according to his or her own will but still could not upset the overall progress of the restoration of the gospel.{1}

Similar stories are told throughout the scriptures. In each instance, God gives men and women their full agency, even though he knows the source and consequences of their evil designs.

The scriptures also teach that it would be a mistake to believe those persons of integrity were limited to just a few who became prophets. Alma says of the people who lived in the days of Melchizedek, “there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:10-12).

When we speak of foreordination, that presupposes a responsibility one has accepted and which one has been commissioned to perform. That concept also presupposes that the time, place, circumstances, obstacles and blessings associated with that foreordination were foreknown by the Father, Jehovah, and members of the Council.

To understand that continuum, we must understand it as the prophets understood it. That is, not as a history of the mortal world but as a history of our whole existence including this experience in this mortal world.


{1} For a discussion of the loss of the 116 pages and the probability that Mrs. Harris was involved see my Joseph and Moroni 52-74.

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