I intend to focus my thoughts today on the Book of Mormon. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Book of Mormon is a book of scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. The record is composed of the writings of ancient prophets compiled by a prophet-historian named Mormon. Mormon engraved the record upon gold plates, and his son, Moroni, hid the plates in the earth to come forth in a future generation. 1400 years later, the resurrected Moroni instructed the prophet Joseph Smith to obtain the plates and translate them to the English language.
Before sealing up the record in the earth, understanding that a millennial gap would be a lot to bridge, Moroni instructed us how we may verify the Book of Mormon’s origin. He wrote, “When ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5).
This is a remarkable promise! But, what’s the point? Why do we need to know that the book is true? Most often, the truth of the Book of Mormon is used to demonstrate that the prophet Joseph Smith was indeed sanctioned by God and that by extension the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s kingdom on the earth. Those important implications certainly follow from verifying the Book of Mormon’s origin, but focusing on them often leaves the most important implication out of the spotlight.
Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: Who was Mormon and why did he write the book? We can find the answer in his own commentary: “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word” (3 Nephi 5:13). “I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you...that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mormon 3:20-21). Mormon, commissioned by God, wrote the book to convince the reader that Jesus is the Christ and draw the reader to Him.
Now lets ask, to whom was Mormon writing? Mormon lived at a time of almost universal wickedness and constant war. Few of his generation would benefit from his record. Near the end of his life, he wrote: “And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people...may God grant that he may survive...that perhaps some day [the record] may profit [you]” (Words of Mormon 1:1-2).
Can you sense Mormon’s desperation—even a little bit? He had lost hope in his own people. What hope remains is that his son might survive the coming Lamanite apocalypse long enough that he can bury the record in the earth and then return a resurrected being over a thousand years later to point it out to a 14 year old farm boy who is destined to bring it forth out of obscurity to the benefit of future generations. If that doesn’t sound desperate, I don’t know what does. But the point is, he was writing to us. We are his audience, his last hope.
Now, how could Mormon write to the future and hope to remain relevant? Moroni explained, “behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35), and “I know that ye shall have my words” (Mormon 9:30). Mormon and Moroni saw our day, and the Book of Mormon was prepared for our concerns.
So what are our concerns? There are many and plenty are certainly distinct to our time. Did Mormon understand the anxiety of managing a social media presence? I suppose he could have written the text for maximal memeability and help us secure the most reshares. We’d certainly all be happy then, right?
Perhaps there are easter eggs yet to be discovered, but I don’t think Mormon spent a lot of effort on that concern. Instead, Mormon ensured the book would remain relevant by focusing his effort on humanity's primary and timeless concern: developing a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine Mormon as he included these verses from Nephi’s plates, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26). I envision him exclaiming, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! Nephi, this will reach them!”
Brothers and sisters, the power of the Book of Mormon is its unequivocal testimony of Jesus Christ and convincing invitation to “come unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33).
While serving a mission in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to teach the Lopez family. We sought them out because their eldest child had not been baptized yet. But this story is about Brother Lopez. He was a returned missionary, but he, his immediate, and his extended family had stopped attending church years ago. The whole Lopez clan lived in a compound of adjacent homes. Each home was about 200 square feet and barely separated. As a result, they spent a lot of time together in what little common area they had. Often their gathering included drinking, especially when work was scarce.
Brother Lopez was kind enough to meet with us, though we felt a little hostility from his extended family each time we walked through the common area. As we continued to meet with Brother Lopez and his immediate family, we helped him make a plan to baptize his eldest daughter. As part of that plan, he’d have to give up drinking with his extended family. He knew what he had to do. He’d been on the other side of this missionary relationship before, but it would require significantly more humility and heavenly help on the side he was now on.
The next time we visited, we walked through a drunken and boisterous common area to find Brother Lopez alone in his small cinder-block house. It was hot. The heat index was 117 degrees, and, packed in among the other homes, his home was like an oven. Brother Lopez was sweaty and somewhat exhausted, but happy to see us. He had been cooped up in his house all day. He had off work, but did not want to venture out to join or even pass by his family, lest he be tempted above what he could bear and give in to drinking with them. He could hear them outside his home all day, periodically shouting for him to join them.
To compensate for the situation, he turned to reading the Book of Mormon for hours on end in his cinder-block oven. His copy was a bit damp from his sweaty palms, but he held on, enduring the incessant temptations, waiting on us, messengers from His Father.
What was it that gave Brother Lopez the power to endure in those circumstances? It was not the paper book in his hands. Though the book was instrumental, the power emanated from Jesus Christ and his atonement. Mormon did not experience all our concerns—let alone have an answer for them—but he knew someone who did, so his writing directs us to him. The power of the Book of Mormon is its ability to redirect us to Jesus Christ and let him save us from whatever lays siege to us.
Before I left that area, I was blessed to see Brother Lopez and his immediate family return to church. I gave him a white shirt, and he blessed the sacrament in it. After I left the area, he sent me a picture of he and his daughter dressed in white for her baptism, and a little while later he was asked to serve as elders quorum president.
Before I could serve that mission, I had to come unto Christ myself. As a teenager, I had never read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, but I had read enough that King Benjamin prompted me to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God” (Mosiah 2:41). I surveyed the lives of adults around me and sought out life choices that led them to where they were. I worked backwards from those I perceived to be happiest to discover that I should probably go on a mission. I relied on the atonement of Jesus Christ to make significant changes in my life and qualify for it.
On my mission and since, I have read the Book of Mormon many times. Each time I’ve completed it, I’ve put Moroni’s promise to the test and recorded what I felt in response. Sometimes the response has been undeniably affirmative: the book is true! Others, it has been more muted: you already know—keep going. More importantly, the book has testified to me of my Savior and brought me closer to him, fulfilling the less-often quoted portion of Moroni’s promise, found in verse 7: “And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:7). I leave my testimony with you, that the Book of Mormon is true, and Jesus Christ is.
I share this with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.