Nephi's "burning love"

It's amazing how much we can learn from a story the second time it's told. Details and viewpoints you missed entirely the first go-round tend to come out in subsequent tellings (like Joseph Smith's First Vision). You may not have caught it, but this month in Come, Follow Me, we're reading one such re-telling that teaches us some important truths about love– what it is and what it isn't. Perfect for Valentine's Day.

A "shocking" experience in the Book of Mormon

Throw your mind back just a few days to 1 Nephi 17. Laman and Lemuel noticed Nephi was making fire and tools. "Whatcha doin' there, little brother?" "Oh, you know, I'm just… building a boat." This didn't go over well. After 8 miserable years, the family had finally arrived at a "bountiful" land and secured some nice beachfront property. Now Nephi wanted to start on another ridiculous, large project. And what's more, he had the gall to try and rope the whole family into it!

They were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea; and as they came forth to lay their hands upon me I spake unto them, saying: In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him.

This stiff warning kept them at bay for now, but they still weren't quite sold on Nephi's calling. So the Lord took a more proactive approach. A few days later:

The Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God. And it came to pass that I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and they did not wither before me; but the Lord did shake them, even according to the word which he had spoken.

We read this account and see the righteous indignation of the Lord– the deserved punishment of the hard-hearted. Yet consider the interesting context Nephi adds years later when he refers to this experience in his famous psalm:

[God] hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

Did you notice that? The power of God that overwhelmed Nephi and nearly consumed him wasn't the anger of God– it was the love of God! His brothers couldn't touch Nephi because he was on fire with the "burning love" of God.

The duty to correct

Contrast that divine experience of "tough love" with the definition the world provides us best summed up by Haddaway: "What is love? Baby don't hurt me!" Do no harm. And treat people the way they want you to treat them.

This sounds noble on its face, but it's subtly different from the golden rule set forth by our Savior who told His followers we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. It's a slight difference in word, but it makes all the difference in the world.

When we let the desires of others define how we treat them, we open ourselves to grave mistakes. Good girls give in to boyfriends who want to "take their relationship to the next level." Parents relent to children who demand they support their lifestyles. And we've seen many powerful world leaders cover their children's illicit addictions and shield them from prosecution. All under the mistaken presumption that to love is to treat someone how they want to be treated.

By contrast, as Christians, our desire is not to be coddled and told we're "enough"– we want to be reminded we're not enough and led to God. When we choose to view all our brothers and sisters through this lens, love impels us to prioritize others' eternal welfare over our feelings, their feelings, or any other comparatively shallow considerations.

Sometimes, like Laman and Lemuel, we and those we love are best served when concerned friends and leaders carefully break through what is considered "nice" from time to time, occasionally "getting in our face a little, nose to nose, with just enough fire in their voice to singe our eyebrows a little." Parents in particular bear an incredible responsibility to warn their children, being warned time and time and time and time again. But this responsibility extends far beyond parents, for "it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor." And dire warnings accompany us if we choose to stay silent when the Spirit constrains us to speak:

In the world to come, thousands may call your name blessed,… ancestors and the descendants of those who chose eternal life because of something you said or did… [But] if someone rejects the Savior’s invitation because you did not do all you could have done, their sorrow will be yours.

Pres. Eyring knows a thing or two about that danger if we don't raise the warning voice:

The Lord would not use the word warn if there is no danger. Yet not many people we know sense it… That willingness to ignore the signs of danger can make it easy for you to think: Why should I speak to anyone about the gospel who seems content? What danger is there to them or to me if I do or say nothing?

Well, the danger may be hard to see, but it is real, both for them and for us. For instance, at some moment in the world to come, everyone you will ever meet will know what you know now… And they will know that you knew. And they will remember whether you offered them what someone had offered you.

It’s easy to say, “The time isn’t right.” But there is danger in procrastination. Years ago I worked for a man in California. He hired me, he was kind to me, he seemed to regard me highly. I may have been the only Latter-day Saint he ever knew well. I don’t know all the reasons I found to wait for a better moment to talk with him about the gospel. I just remember my feeling of sorrow when I learned, after he had retired and I lived far away, that he and his wife had been killed…

I don’t know how the crowds will be handled in the world to come. But I suppose that I will meet him, that he will look into my eyes, and that I will see in them the question: “Hal, you knew. Why didn’t you tell me?”

While Pres. Eyring may have one former boss to answer to, I'm sure I'll have a line of insulted people waiting for me, demanding why I didn't say something. When I've seen friends start down forbidden paths, I've always bitten my lip, telling myself that same lie: "I'm respecting their agency. My voice won't make a difference so why say anything? I don't want to cause hurt or contention." But in reality, it was all excuses. I was more concerned about how I was perceived by them than I was with their eternal welfare. In short, I didn't love them enough to say anything.

The duty to receive correction

But if we're going to start dishing it out, we better be prepared to take it. We shouldn't grudgingly accept correction– we should earnestly and zealously seek it out!

"He that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of [God's] kingdom" for "all those who will not endure chastening… cannot be sanctified." So we shouldn't take offense ourselves when we are corrected, for the Lord promises us, "as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." Elder Christofferson gave one of the quintessential talks on the topic of such correction:

Though it is often difficult to endure, truly we ought to rejoice that God considers us worth the time and trouble to correct…

If we are open to it, needed correction will come in many forms and from many sources… [revelation, Church leadership, parents, spouses, even] fellow Church members; it is one of the primary reasons that the Savior established a church.

Even when we encounter mean-spirited criticism from persons who have little regard or love for us, it can be helpful to exercise enough meekness to weigh it and sift out anything that might benefit us.

Correction can be a tough pill to swallow. Elder Hugh B. Brown gave a famous talk called "God is the Gardner" (quoted again in Elder Christofferson's talk). Rather than describe that amazing talk, you should just watch the condensed version of it:

In contrast to the modern definition of love ("Baby don't hurt me"), a disciple of Christ humbly accepts correction from the Lord, Church leaders, and anyone else, saying "Thank you for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me."

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