Plainness and Personal Revelation (Notes on 2 Nephi 31:33)

Friday, March 6, 2020

Hello friends! We spent almost all of episode 5 talking about Heavenly Mother (listen here!). We wouldn't change a single thing about the episode, but due to the constraints of time we were unable to discuss other portions of the text that really spoke to us. We still wanted to share them with you, so we transcribed our notes into this post to give you access into some of the thoughts we had about the other themes in 2 Nephi 31-33. Enjoy!


We see the concept of plainness come up in 2 Nephi 31:3:
For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
At first glance we think that plainness is simpleness or something that is easy to grasp. But perhaps its different. What is plainness means accessibility? That idea pairs up well when we look at the second part of the verse where God speaks to everyone in their own language and according to their understanding. This is what makes God's word accessible, because God speaks our language too.

When we think of language, try to break free of the idea that God speaks our words and dialects, like its not just that God speaks English or French, but that God speaks to us in any type of element that communicates something, like art or poems. Even in those mediums, God knows that language too.

Do you remember the Yanni/Laurel phenomenon that was all the rage a few years ago? People could listen to the same recording but hear two different and distinct words, "Yanni" or "Laurel."God can be saying the exact same thing but two people hear it differently. The beautiful part of this is that neither person has the right or wrong interpretation. Its fascinating and showcases the majesty and miracle and surprising nature of God.

Having a Hero

Something that makes us laugh about Nephi saying, "I speak in plainness" is that for the entire book of second Nephi he's quoting Isaiah. Like, what the heck, Nephi?! Thanks for doing those 20 chapters of "plain" and accessible Isaiah. But after some consideration, maybe what he's referring to is the idea that Nephi himself enjoys speaking plainly. Earlier in the chapter, he expresses discomfort with his talent and abilities as an author of written works. He says that he's more comfortable with public speaking than he is with writing. Maybe he feels he speaks plainly, but in his writing he feels more comfortable relying on the words of others he feels are more competent in sharing what he's feeling at the time.

We frequently share other author's works and sharing passages from books that help us understand better. A generous reading of Nephi including Isaiah is that there might be something about Isaiah that helps Nephi understand not just the nature of God but what it means to be Nephi leading this people, having to sustain them through trial, and being the prophet. Perhaps Isaiah helps Nephi do exactly that.

Everyone needs a hero. Maybe Isaiah is Nephi's.

Personal Revelation

2 Nephi 32:1 says
I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in you hearts concerning that which ye should do  after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your heart?
and continuing in 32:4,
Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock...
Part of what is showing in these verses is a bit of Nephi's frustration with his people. Nephi feels they are not readily receiving what he has to say, but instead they are weighing, considering, and pondering his words. Nephi is writing these chapters at the very end of his life, so its easy to imagine he is quite anxious for his people to accept his admonitions, repent, and live in righteousness. But something important to remember is that even prophets are human - they are prone to human emotions like anger, frustration, and pride.

When we have personal experiences with God, its pretty common to become convinced that they way God communicated with you is the only way, or at least the most correct way. This goes in direct contradiction to the idea discussed earlier of God communicating with us in a multitude of ways. Its important to remember that even though we have our own personal convictions and relationship with God, our way is not the only way to interact with the Divine. Everyone is different, which is why caution must be exercised when making broad and generalized statements about the "correct" and "appropriate" ways to interact with God. This includes statements made by those in positions of power and authority.

This is why personal revelation is essential. Without it, we'd be entirely reliant on the experiences of others.

2 Nephi 32:5 says
For behold, if ye will enter in by they way and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
The Holy Ghost speaks to each of us, in our own language, to show us the way. We all have the ability to communicate back and forth with our Heavenly Parents in our own way.

Goodbye Nephi

This quote, taken from The Book of Mormon for the Least of These by Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming gives such beautiful insight into the final words of Nephi.
Nephi's love for his people has been one of the defining characteristics of his life. He has served them, worked to protect them, and preached to them... There is a ferocity to Nephi's love for his people... His love isnt perfect and unbiased, but it is strong. The very last phrase (2 Nephi 33:15) 'for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey' is an interesting comparison to 1 Nephi 3:7 where Nephi says he will go and do the Lord's commandments. We can take together the words of the young man, which are full of zeal, and those of the old man, which sound more quiet and resigned. So much has happened between these two statements: a lifetime of pain and struggle. But one of the most important lessons of Nephi's record is that he consistently tried to follow God's commandments. This is an incredible legacy.
 Nephi has gifted us with two hefty books full of doctrine and a life of faith. We owe much to his faithful record keeping and love of God.

We hope that as you study these chapters, this post offers some helpful insights and understandings about personal revelation, Nephi's legacy, heroes, and plainness. We'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments!
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