When enemies become brothers

When enemies become brothers



This post first appeared on Power in the Book of Mormon.

I get the feeling Nephi was a pretty patient, generous guy. Throughout all of 1 Nephi, he recounts many attempts by Laman and Lemuel to tie him up, beat him up, leave him in the wilderness to be devoured by beasts, throw him in the ocean, strap him to a flailing ship, and murder him when they arrived at the promised land. Yet through all their whining and anger and attempted murders, Nephi is very careful to always refer to Laman and Lemuel as his “brethren.”

But all that changes in 2 Nephi. Finally, when Laman and Lemuel are so past feeling that they and their descendants have all given themselves to the dark side and devolved into violent, hate-filled savages, Nephi has to acknowledge what sadly has been unfolding for decades by this point. In 2 Nephi 4, he refers to back to one particular experience where Laman and Lemuel try to drown him and in remembering this, Nephi thanks the Lord for protecting him against his “enemies.”

Nephi’s not the only one who’s experienced that change from brother to enemy, of course. There are many modern-day Nephis among us.They struggle with family members who actively fight against their decisions to live the Gospel, ultimately leaving their faithful brothers, sisters, children, or parents to choose between their family and their God. And when opposition to their faith grows so extreme that it approaches Laman and Lemuel levels of toxicity, then those once-loved family members can even cease being brothers, sisters, parents, and children, but become enemies to spiritual growth.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about one year ago in my post “When brothers become enemies.” One year later, and I’m struck again by a Book of Mormon transition between enemy and brother– but this time in reverse. The Book of Mormon starts with brothers becoming enemies, but it ends with enemies becoming brothers.

Moroni, the lone soldier

Moroni’s life was pretty bleak. Born into the last few years of the Nephites’ existence, he led an entire contingent of them in their final battle under the direction of his father, Mormon. He and his dad, as far as we can tell, were among the very last Christians of the American continents. They knew what was going to happen to their people, but knowing in advance didn’t soften the blow. They watched as men, women, and children– entire families– were mowed down ruthless carnage. Mormon, injured in that last battle, looked over the thousands of his people– his entire nation now mangled corpses on the ground– and wept, crying “O ye fair ones!

Remember, the Nephites didn’t start the moral decay that eventually overtook the nation. The Nephites didn’t start the decades-long war that would eventually extinguish them and plunge the Lamanites into continued in-fighting. The Lamanites did all that. The Lamanites killed Moroni’s friends and family. The Lamanites killed his father. The Lamanites slaughtered his whole people. The Lamanites would have destroyed the records– his family’s life work– if given the chance. Moroni and Mormon had been talking and writing about the Lamanites as their enemies for many decades, and with good reason.

Then it gets worse. Mormon is killed, and Moroni is now completely alone. His entire family is gone. He has no people. He has no home. Aside from finishing his father’s record, Moroni has no purpose in life. He tells the reader at this point that, he basically doesn’t care whether he lives or dies.

My brethren, the Lamanites

Resentment can really fester in a heart like that. I know if I were him, I admit I would probably take a little comfort in reading Nephi’s earlier prophecy that the Lamanites would be basically annihilated by the Gentiles in generations to come (1 Nephi 12). It would feel good to know they’ll get what’s coming to them, and get it good and hard.

But I’m not Moroni. When Moroni starts out his final book– his last few plates left– he tells us the Lamanites are still out there looking for the last Nephite stragglers and martyring any Nephite who will not deny Christ. But then his very next verse he dedicates his whole book to them:

I write a few more things, that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day, according to the will of the Lord.

My brethren, the Lamanites? Where is that language coming from? I’ll tell you where it’s coming from. It’s a little thing called charity, and Moroni was really good at it. If Bill Nye is the science guy, Moroni is the charity guy.

Moroni: the Charity Guy

After spending a few pages giving us a condensed format of the Nephite Handbook of Instruction, Moroni delves into a 48-verse thesis on charity comprising all of chapter 7. The rest of his book touches on several subjects, but charity is a recurring topic all the way until the end. And Moroni certainly practices what he preaches.

Moroni is so charitable that he is “filled with charity.” Moroni is so charitable that his charity inspires him to anxiously pray that we will have charity. In fact, Moroni is so charitable that he overdoes it a little. The Lord actually tells him to quit worrying about whether we have charity or not– that’s not his problem. That charity is why he can look at the barbarians who murdered his family and his people and call them his brothers. He prays for them. He prays for their descendants. He loves them even while they are out trying to hunt him down and kill him.

I am nowhere near Moroni’s league in the race for charity. Moroni watched his family and people get slaughtered by the Lamanites and walked away with love for them in his heart. By contrast, I get in a huff just from having to spend a few minutes on hold waiting for a customer service rep. I feel my temperature rise when coworkers disagree with how I think a new project should be built. I watch my tongue pretty well, I think. I have a reputation at work for being the one who doesn’t gossip or flare up at all. But my thoughts are often not as kind as my mouth. I can tolerate people alright. But I’m not very good at loving them. I need to be more like Moroni. But how can I love someone I don’t like?

As I pondered on this, a few thoughts came to my mind from the Scriptures and General Conference addresses:

1. Love is not a feeling– it’s a choice.

Moroni tells us that charity is love. Specifically, “the pure love of Christ.” But we have to be careful with how we define “love.” Usually, when someone talks about love, it’s easy to think of the “butterflies” feeling that I get when I go on a date with my wife. Or maybe that warm feeling of contentment when we study the Scriptures together. Or the feeling of joy when my kids are getting along and we’re having a peaceful, happy time as a family.

Those are all wonderful feelings. And they do come from God. But what does Satan do with things that come from God? Try to use them against us, of course.

One of the greatest tricks Satan can use is to mislabel things. For example, Satan will take all those wonderful moments and wonderful feelings I described earlier and tell us that they are love. He tells us that in the feelings, the moments themselves are love. And all of society bought into it, thinking that love is a feeling– a kick fo endorphins and a desire for more time together living that happy moment.

Why would he do this? Because when those feelings and those moments are few and far between, he can whisper into our ears the lie that our love is dead. Don’t get butterflies on date night anymore? Love is dead. Feeling a little strained in your marriage? Love is dead. Are kids getting on your nerves all the time now? Love is dead. And if we listen and believe that lie, we tend to react by casting blame, trying to escape, or worse.

So lesson #1 on developing charity: Love is not just a feeling– it’s a choice. It’s a verb. It’s a decision. Love is not what you feel– it’s what you do.

When the feelings of love are replaced by feelings of stress, anger, betrayal, bitterness, or monotony, that’s our opportunities to actually practice loving charity. Elder Andersen taught this principle about the closely related gift of faith, though it applies equally well to charity: “Part of our victory as disciples of Christ is what we do when these feelings come… [Charity] is not only a feeling; it is a decision. [We] need to choose [charity].”

Bishop Keith B. McMullin shared a wonderful example of this from WWII. Corrie ten Boom’s family, all devout Christians, sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. Many of the family were killed for their trouble. Corrie spent months in a concentration camp while her family died around her. After the war, Corrie went around Germany teaching about God’s forgiveness. Bishop McMullin told what happened at one such meeting:

A man approached her. She recognized him as one of the cruelest guards in the camp. “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he said. “I was a guard there. … But since that time, … I have become a Christian.” He explained that he had sought God’s forgiveness for the cruel things he had done. He extended his hand and asked, “Will you forgive me?”

Corrie ten Boom then said:

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there– hand held out– but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“… The message that God forgives has a … condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. …

“… ‘Help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“… Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. As I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”

When I think of charity and love, I think of that story. God doesn’t ask us to feel loving all the time. We are not judged by our emotions at any moment. We are judged by our actions. Charity is choosing to lift the hand, and trusting that God will supply the feeling. As Shakespeare (and later, Pres. Monson) taught, “They do not love that do not show their love.” Corrie and Moroni chose to love.

2. Have ye inquired of the Lord?

When Lehi told his vision of the iron rod, none of his children understood what it meant. Nephi went to pray and ask God what it meant and was able to see it for himself along with the interpretation, including more than his father had seen, as well as the entire Book of Revelation and the entire history of his people and the world. When he got home from this experience, he saw his brothers arguing over the things their father had taught. Nephi asked them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” They responded that they hadn’t because they figured God wouldn’t tell them.

Moroni and Nephi both teach us that charity is not just a choice– it’s a spiritual gift. And like all spiritual gifts, it must be received from God and magnified in our lives in order to take any effect.

So many times, I have found myself wanting to develop something in my life and become frustrated when I can’t seem to improve on it. Then the Spirit comes in a gentle rebuke, asking me the same question Nephi asked his brothers: “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” Too often, that answer is no and I am reminded that I cannot get very far in developing a spiritual gift without asking the giver of all spiritual gifts in the first place. And it must be petitioned daily. How can I honestly say that I am really focusing on developing a gift I desire if I am not following up with God about my efforts every day in prayer?

We must ask God for the gift of charity. Mormon pleads:

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.

If we find ourselves in a selfish rut and not asking for God’s help, it’s our own fault: “it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.”

3. Learn to see others as God sees them

The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that those who inherit eternal life (meaning those who developed and exercised charity) “see as they are seen, and know as they are known.” In other words, they see others as God sees them. I’m reminded of an example Pres. Eyring shared in 2017:

A phone call came when I was a bishop… from the police. I was told that a drunk driver had crashed his car through the glass into the lobby of a bank. When the bewildered driver saw the security guard with his weapon brandished, he cried, “Don’t shoot! I’m a Mormon!”

The inebriated driver was discovered to be a member of my ward, baptized only recently. As I waited to speak to him in the bishop’s office, I planned what I would say to make him feel remorseful for the way he had broken his covenants and embarrassed the Church. But as I sat looking at him, I heard a voice in my mind say, just as clearly as if someone were speaking to me, “I’m going to let you see him as I see him.” And then, for a brief moment, his whole appearance changed to me. I saw not a dazed young man but a bright, noble son of God. I suddenly felt the Lord’s love for him. That vision changed our conversation. It also changed me…

Walking with the Savior in priesthood service will change the way you look at others. He will teach you to see them through His eyes… If you walk with the Savior long enough, you will learn to see everyone as a child of God with limitless potential, regardless of what his or her past may have been.

Elder Dale G. Renlund also taught powerfully on this idea during his very first General Conference address as a member of the Twelve:

To effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes. This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others… Only when we see through Heavenly Father’s eyes can we be filled with “the pure love of Christ.”

The blessings from doing this are immense. Because seeing others through the light of God’s love fills us with the light of God’s love. Transforming how we view the nature of our brothers and sisters transforms our nature to be like our Father. After Mormon pled for his people to develop charity, he gave this promise: If we would pray for the gift of charity and be filled with the love of God, “when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (Moroni 7:48).

How wonderful that will be. We look forward to the day of His Second Coming when Christ will come to dwell with us. How much better, then, to see Him in all His glory and realize He was dwelling in us the whole time.

This post first appeared on Power in the Book of Mormon.

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