Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Paths We Choose

If you were to plot the righteousness of the Nephites and Lamanites as a line graph, you’d get something like a sine-wave drawn over time with increasing amplitudes. We can see this in the cyclic nature of the Nephite society.

Leading up to the Savior’s appearance, which ushers in a great high point, you have the low point of the Gadiantons destroying the government. You have the righteousness following the Sign of His birth. Before that the imminent massacre of the righteous. And so it goes. I’ve wondered what the lesson there are for us in that.

One the one hand, I think we’re in that descent into wickedness which parallels the Nephites' path before the destruction immediately preceding the Savior’s appearance. We need to be mentally ready for the long haul. Several years ago, Elder Packer said in a conference talk we live in times where our children and theirs can experience joy, but in a wicked world.

One the other hand our lives I think are like the sine wave too. As we mature, so does our understanding and the consequences of our choices for good or bad increase over time. Mistakes as a child don’t carry the consequences of mistakes as a teenage youth. And those mistakes don’t carry the consequences of those of an adult.

The Prophet Joseph once made the observation about people’s life choices. He said most are content to live in the valleys where the path undulates. It never gets bad, but neither do they ascend the spiritual heights to see the true grandeur and majesty of God. But for those hardy souls who choose to ascend the heights, they will see great things — at the cost of great risk and severe trials. Nephi saw the Lord. Yet he also dealt with his brothers, Laban, the Arabian peninsula and an ocean. Alma had a war, Ammonihah, and the Zoramites. Mormon and Moroni both had a war and Cumorah. Abinadi, Noah’s court. Even the Savior had Gethsemane and Golgotha. Should we expect less?

Put another way, any athlete will tell you, you pay a price to become great. Spiritual growth is no different -- especially today.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Case for the Ohio River Valley

I think one of the archeological evidences for Book of Mormon events occurring here in North America are the fortresses described in 3rd Nephi. This is the time of the Great Siege I wrote about a year ago. There is evidence among the Hopewell ruins in the Ohio River valley which I think fit well with what happens in the Book of Mormon.

From it, we get the sense Zarahemla is to the West and Bountiful is to the East. Between them is the “center of the land” where the Nephites and Lamanites go to outlast the Gadianton Robbers. Next to Zarahemla is the Sidon River. Here’s how I see the match.

Zarahemla to the West: Havana Hopewells. The older Hopewell sites are along the West side of the Mississippi and run South to Florida. The ruins in the Appalachian mountains aren’t considered Hopewell because they use a different mode of burial. Interestingly enough, the mode these people use is more like how the Egyptians did it than the Hopewells. I’m just sayin’.

Bountiful to the East: Ohio Hopewells. The archaeological evidence shows the Hopewells migrated East and then began to shrink towards upstate New York. There, the last of their culture disappears around 450-500 AD. Cumorah anyone?

The Center of the Land: Crab Orchard Culture. This is the interesting part. In Southern Illinois there is an escarpment running the length of the state. If you look at the Ohio River to the East and where it joins the Mississippi to the South and with the Mississippi to the West, you see a bowl. Running in a line forming the rim of the bowl is the escarpment and all along it are the ruins of ancient fortresses. Picture yourself… you have wide rivers that are impassable by armies on three sides: East, South and West. Along the North side you have the escarpment and at the top of it, running its full length are these fortresses. It would be a great place for a large population to outlast an enemy.

Obviously, I don’t know for certain, but it’s a compelling match of what’s described in the Book of Mormon with what exists unmistakably in the archeology. Even the timing is right. Is it? It seems like it to me. The Meso-America advocates will disagree, but that’s what makes it fun to debate these things.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

A True Sense of the Miraculous

Third Nephi starts with a literal bang and in my opinion, the most impressive sign God has ever given to man. For one night, after the sun goes down, the sky remains as bright as at mid-day. It’s followed by a new “star” which was visible in the night sky. The record doesn’t say how long it remained visible. My guess is it faded from sight over a period of days or maybe weeks.

From our perspective and knowledge of astrophysics, the event they saw is easily explained. In the distant past, a star exploded and in the act, emitted a powerful, focused, stream of energetic particles. They crossed the vastness of space and struck the Earth's upper atmosphere causing it to fluoresce in a massive aurora so brilliant it lit the ground like day and lasted through the night.

For me, the miracle isn’t in what happened, but in the timing of the event and the precision needed to aim the stream of particles to hit the Earth from astronomic distances. There are a couple of aspects to this which could simplify the complexity, but not enough to diminish its miraculous nature. Some might say, the wavefront could’ve been spherical in which case no aiming is needed, just timing.

The complication to this is we’ve not seen an explosion powerful enough to do that over the distances involved. To my knowledge there aren’t any known nova or supernova remnants close enough to us to account for this phenomena if it had emitted just a spherical wave. But, we have observed stellar explosions which emit two focused beams of particles which shoot off in opposite directions from the star's center.

The other miraculous aspect is the timing. I cant begin to imagine how many decimal places are needed to compute the travel time to the day to pull this off. Not only that, you need its "flight path" through space and you have to account for the effect of gravity fields of stars it passes.

Then there's the aiming. My guess is the explosion was somewhere not close but still inside our galaxy. Heavenly Father wasn't aiming from near-Earth, or interstellar but interstellar distances. That He scored a bulls-eye from so far away boggles my mind.

The Nephites and Lamanite knew none of this. For them the sky lit up without the sun for a night. The real miracle is how soon they forgot or discounted the event. But I can’t be too critical — I’ve experienced many smaller but much more personal miracles in my life. Yet I need a constant diet of them because I so quickly forget myself.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Samuel the Lamanite

The role reversal of the Nephites and Lamanites is on its greatest display with Samuel the Lamanite. During this time, the Lamanites repeatedly sent missionaries to the wayward Nephites. Samuel was one of them. Yet his prophecies have the singular distinction of being the only ones the Savior insisted on being added to the Nephite record. I’m certain this endorsement is why his words also made it into the Book of Mormon.

It makes me wonder why. One of the reasons why it’s there is a bitter pill, but I’m grateful for it just the same. Samuel tells the people the Lord loves the Nephites. Because of that love and their wickedness, He chastens them to get them back in line. I don’t know about you, but living so I don’t get chastened seems a lot smarter thing to do than living so I need it.

I hadn’t noticed until reading through this, but an observation on what the unbelievers were saying about Samuel’s prophecies shows unbelievers tactics haven’t changed. What they complained about then, they complain about today. To borrow from Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” What do I mean by this? Critics today dismiss the archeological bullseyes scored by the Book of Mormon. An example is their dismissal of Nahom, saying, “out of so many guesses, mere chance says he’d get one right. It’s still a work of fiction.” Mormon tells it this way: “Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass…”

One of the things which occurs to me as I read through this is virtually all the people, Nephite and Lamanite, are or were members of the church. Any who are not now are not by choice. Makes me think of something President Benson said in General Conference in April 1987 about the passage in the Book of Mormon leading up to 3 Nephi 11. He said, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” How true.