- The Top Five ABUSED Nephi Quotes: #4
“For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men.”
By Elder Brother Ess
This expression is often abused by an institution eager to see their congregation continuously sleeping, whispering in warning, “Stick to the basics! It is so easy if you just do what you are told. Oh, and by the way, we are the ones who tell you what to do, but only because the Lord told us to tell you.” “Plainness” in this reading is really just an obligation to not ask questions, and to go along with whatever is presented as Gospel: as in “Yes! (I will obey you!).” It is given as an ethical responsibility for those without power to comply with. The term has been shoe-horned into an institutional hierarchy’s concerns to draw circles around the world and its texts, with straight lines to one-word interpretations. “Plain” in this reading is a fancy way of saying, “simple.”
This posture is contrasted in caricature with something said to be exhausting, nowhere-leading: a soul’s search for answers. What is more complicated than asking questions, putting things to the test, and formulating one’s own answers based on constant pondering and questioning? Man, Being Alive is sure not simple! Surely Nephi is saying, KISS, right? And we ought to liken ourselves to his audience? “You need to follow a plan! Here is a diagram! You see the stick figure? That’s you… starting at this circle, moving through the squiggly line and going to that other circle. You’re here right now! And after you leave this circle you will go to that other circle, and then you want to get to the top of the three circles next to it… the one that has a sun in it. Of course, the moon circle wouldn’t be such a bad deal and even the star circle is way better than the circle you’re in right now. But you don’t want to follow the arrow that leads to the black cloud. It really is BAAAD. Then again, it’s pretty much impossible for you go there because you have to be practically perfect to qualify to fall that far. And that about sums it up. See, the Gospel is simple!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opAxushh6-E)
What is Plain?
We hear things like, “The Lord has a great many principles in store for us, and the greatest principles which he has for us are the most simple and plain,” or “Mysteries include those matters that are speculative. They are things which have not been revealed or are beyond our understanding. It is the plain, simple truth confirmed by the Spirit that converts when accompanied by the testimony of a humble servant of the Lord,” or other such nonsense from smiling men desiring to keep you in darkness.
Something simple should not be confusing. Yet, how confused are they, in their false simplicity? Plain is swapped out for Simple, and Simple calls up a false humility comfortable with platitudes, bullet-lists of doctrine, chalk-board theology, and being addressed as High-Grade Simpletons incapable of holding two thoughts simultaneously. They speak of “Plain” as opposed to “Complex,” or “Mysterious,” or what anyone other than an approved speaker says. Let me be plain, that is, giving an explanation that is not dark and obscure, demanding compliance; but light and answering a question.
Let’s look at this verse in context.
Now I, Nephi, do speak somewhat concerning the words which I have written, which have been spoken by the mouth of Isaiah. For behold, Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand; for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews. For I, Nephi, have not taught them many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations. Wherefore, I write unto my people, unto all those that shall receive hereafter these things which I write, that they may know the judgments of God, that they come upon all nations, according to the word which he hath spoken.
Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words; for because the words of Isaiah are not plain unto you, nevertheless they are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy. But I give unto you a prophecy, according to the spirit which is in me; wherefore I shall prophesy according to the plainness which hath been with me from the time that I came out from Jerusalem with my father; for behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn.
Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah, for I came out from Jerusalem, and mine eyes hath beheld the things of the Jews, and I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews.
But behold, I, Nephi, have not taught my children after the manner of the Jews; but behold, I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about; and I have made mention unto my children concerning the judgments of God, which hath come to pass among the Jews, unto my children, according to all that which Isaiah hath spoken, and I do not write them.
Notice that Nephi is qualifying his “plainness” in that it is directed to those who will “hereafter” receive his writings (including “my people,”), giving a message about “the judgments of God” made open by one filled with the spirit of prophecy. Ironically, Nephi is required to give in plainness his reading of Isaiah because his audience is ignorant of Jewish learning. And they lack the spirit of prophecy resting on him since his exile from Jerusalem. When he starts, “let me speak in plainness,” he is also saying, “You lack the spirit of prophecy.” Another prophet in our own day said something along these lines, many years ago. In 1842 Joseph Smith addressed the Relief Society, reading to them from Ezekiel, and saying to them: Don’t Be Like Israel. What was Israel Like, according to their own scripture?
And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD (Ezek.13:1-8).
Continuing his warning, the “Lord” says the priests have “seduced my people, saying, Peace, and there was no peace,” building walls but daubing it with mortar untempered. To the overweening women of Jerusalem, spending their days “hunting souls,” the Lord announces, “I am against your pillows.” Liken that to yourselves, O ye sleepers!
Anyway, Joseph Smith made particular mention of chapter 14, a passage he’d read at a conference many years earlier. Now, in 1842, Joseph-Ezekiel-Lord said:
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?
Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him; That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD (Ezek.14:4-11).
Now, Joseph rendered this voice of an Idol (i.e., the Bible) in plainness, warning them they have had their minds darkened because they sought to follow a man, rather than to take upon themselves the burden of their own salvation. Plainness is given as a feature of an interpretation of text, not as defining the Gospel Itself as Simplicity. These Saints were like unto the Jews anciently, and that likeness allowed Joseph to bend this text to their dark minds. Plainness is not simplicity, but instead a making plain, a showing of the truth. He cannot give them light, however. He can only point to where the light can be found.
What of our modern would-be Israel? Plain is contrasted with Mystery, with Complex, with Difficult and Not-Yet-Known. It says, “Peace! Let us build the wall, and daub it lightly! Don’t look here, but keep your eyes there!” However. What is revealed by the spirit of prophecy is always plain, and thus, not a mystery except to the wicked who remain in darkness, and to those who follow such men as do err. Plain is not contrasted with Mystery, however; but with Unbelieving, with a desire to Not-See. Is this confusion-in-simplicity recent? Clearly not. 1842 we find it, and Joseph gives us its cause. In the 6th Century BCE we find it. At the Foundation of the World we find it:
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation (D&C 93:29-32).
We can Liken Unto Ourselves that particular passage, being addressed to Man. And what comes of Man’s refusal to receive what is plainly manifest by the light? A sort of death, perhaps relying on puppet-masters to keep the corpse dancing.
Nephi adds a curious thing: “Wherefore, hearken, O my people, which are of the house of Israel, and give ear unto my words…” Since Nephi was learned in the ways of the Jews, and had the Brass Plates, it seems to me that he was invoking the Psalmist (Psalm 78), “Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” What follows that intro in the psalm is “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.”
“Plainness” in this case has a very specific purpose: to address the House of Israel. Specifically because they remain in darkness, and lacking the spirit of prophecy, they need another to lead them and explain. Yet, when thus led, they remain in darkness! How to give them light they might comprehend? Or, another puzzle mentioned in Matthew: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Perhaps this question also leads Jacob to channel Isaiah in an earlier chapter of Second Nephi: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O house of Israel. When ye are weary he waketh morning by morning. He waketh mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” Our ears must be opened to hear as the learned: awake, eager to learn. And then we must go about comprehending.
Perhaps you have come to see the “plainness” spoken by Nephi has to do with the House of Israel arising from the dust? These plain and precious truths are perhaps embedded in “parables.” It is speculation on my part, of course, but I believe that the things “kept secret from the foundation of the world” (and incidentally, I think the “foundation” is a place, not a time), are accessible by ALL those who are willing to receive Nephi’s words. This includes the Gentiles. So we have a possible way for the House of Israel to comprehend what is plainly manifest: from the Gentiles, who will not lead them, but be numbered among them.
Nephi makes it clear in his own “prophecy” that his words will be understood by men in the last days, and will be of worth to them. How does this happen? We must have the Spirit poured out, I suppose, and it would seem that at least one factor blocking that out-pouring is our waiting on a single leader to guide us in the darkness. Acting like ancient Jews! Nephi gives us a glimpse of Christ coming to earth, and foresees:
When that day shall come that they shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things. And the Lord will set his hand again THE SECOND TIME to RESTORE HIS PEOPLE from their lost and fallen state. Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.
Can you see the light cast upon the folly of the Gentiles and our proud ways? Yes, but only if we take this foolish need for plainness-as-simplicity, spooned out by vain prophets, as a sign of our own condemnation: lacking prophecy ourselves, harkening to a single (corporation) man, we remain in darkness. In this Fourth Abuse, we take an excerpt which is one part of an ornate mosaic and use it to prop up our institution, so to hide in its dark shadows, where we hear priests warning us to let them build walls and keep us safe. Let us point this text toward us, and bend that one away, they demand.
There is another narrative going on here, throughout Nephi’s writings. One that some readers remain oblivious to, caring only about how to “liken” happy anecdotes or edifying messages to ourselves, in as simple and vain terms as possible; all the while ignoring the Story of Mercy being told by God. I think there are roles for us to play in His tale, if we awaken from our narcissism.