My wife listens to the Book of Mormon on her mp3 player at work. It’s one of the few ways she can feel connected to the scriptures in her busy lifestyle. On top of that, she learns better through audio lessons than through reading, anyway. So the system works out pretty well for her.
Recently she started over and texted me from work that she doesn’t really like Lehi. She doesn’t like how he seems to badger his older wayward sons by making comparisons to Nephi (why can’t you be like your younger brother?) and by constantly calling them to repentance. If you ever want to anger my wife, call her to repentance (no, really, I dare you. But please wait until the microwavable popcorn finishes cooking before you do).
By extension, she doesn’t really like Nephi, either. He seems a lot like Lehi. She isn’t saying that their actions deem them horrible people, simply that their teaching methods don’t jive with her. It doesn’t make matters any better when they also often tell the reader that if they reject their words, it’s because of a hard heart.
Now, Ammon. My wife loves Ammon. He’s a good guy, in her book. When he goes off to teach the Lamanites the gospel, he doesn’t barge into the nearest apostate synagogue like his brothers do. He marches right to the king and volunteers to become a servant. He watches the sheep, he’s dutiful, and he does this for a long time. The entire time, he never brings up the gospel. He simply serves and becomes their friend. When, after some crazy circumstances in which bandits suddenly find themselves five pounds lighter, he is called before the king, he waits an entire hour before he decides to bring up the gospel or even start answering the king’s questions.
That’s how my wife is – she is much more interested in becoming your friend rather than your missionary. The gospel, she believes, helps no one and only falls upon deaf ears if those who carry it refuse to live by its call of temporal service. And we should not barge into their own places of worship to do battle; we should become their servants, only bringing up the gospel when we are certain they really want to hear about it.
But when you have an mp3 version of the Book of Mormon, it’s hard to accurately skip to the Ammon parts. So my wife slugs through her less favorite parts, holding out for her real Book of Mormon heroes. Of course, she feels guilty for this course of action. “What do I do?” she asks.
I think about this for a minute. Nephi is not my favorite, either. There’s just something…unnerving about him. Maybe even smug. The serene calm in the face of death caused by others around him. He just seems too perfect. Too unrealistic. Too much like a paragon carved in marble than a living person. We briefly see a glimpse into some of the uncertainties in his life during the chapter many members call “Nephi’s psalm,” but for me, it’s not enough. I have little use for lessons on how to face every disaster perfectly, mostly because I am not a perfect person at all.
At the same time, I can see how some people do react to Nephi and Lehi’s teachings. Sometimes, they need comparisons or badgering or nagging or a really, really, super-duper righteous example to look up to. It helps them feel that maybe some measure of perfection is achievable and gives them hope. My wife just doesn’t happen to be one of those people. She prefer that her teachers really care about her and serve her before they preach to her.
One of my favorite characters in the Book of Mormon is Zeezrom. He’s smart. He’s intellectual. He uses his faculties for reason and learning to get gain through malfeasant practices and dishonest intentions. He attempts to bribe the prophets and trap them in logical inconsistencies. But through the course of his interactions with them, he starts to realize that maybe the righteous guys have something going. He begins to probe, to ponder, to question what he’s believed in. By the end, he’s a stalwart missionary who accompanies the prophets on several missions. I can identify with him, and that’s okay.
I text back to my wife. Maybe we don’t have to like all the prophets, and that’s fine. Why does God send so many messengers? Because we’re imperfect and invariably we will like some more than others. My sister loves Elder Holland’s fiery brand of preaching. She loves his pulpit thumping, hellfire and brimstone sermons. My brother gets turned off by Elder Holland’s rhetoric. He is a huge fan of President Uchtdorf’s message of charity, tolerance, and the focus on finding personal happiness. My wife, on the other hand, finds President Eyring’s talks inspirational and reassuring. I love Elder Maxwell, and I miss him greatly every Conference. Thus far, no one has bested his turn of phrase and fascinating insights into the gospel. All four of us stay active in the Church. We’re taught not to pick favorites, but the more I live, the more I think it’s really unfeasible. And so, God sends a pantheon of messengers. Because sometimes, some of us are Peters, and some of us are Pauls. Yet, both apostles did good in the eyes of the Lord, who is no respecter of persons.