Nephi, the Not So Epic Superhero

Have you ever thought of the story of Lehi’s family from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel?

Nephi, from the perspective of Laman and Lemuel, was a twit. Nephi writes his OWN story, and he does so in epic fashion, with himself as the superhero. For example, he only could succeed in getting the plates. Only he had a solution when their bows broke. He was the only one who could build a ship to cross the ocean. On more than one of my bad days, I'd have REALLY been pissed off if I had a brother like that. ;-)

Think also of how uncaring Lehi's feelings would have come across to Laman and Lemuel at times. When, for example, Lehi recounted his vision of the Tree of Life, he was very careful to point out that he had little faith in Laman or Lemuel's ability to do good things, because they had not done so in his dream. It would have been very easy for them to say, "Okay fine, if that's all the faith you have in us, then we're outta here." And it's fascinating that exactly THAT point in Lehi's recounting of the dream, Laman and Lemuel appear to have left the tent (or the gathering where the dream is being re-told), because they begin to be talked about from that point in the third person.

It seems, from Nephi’s retrospect, that he eventually came to understand his own shortcomings vis a vis his brothers. Second Nephi chapter 4 is a catalog not only of the great things that Nephi had experienced in his life, but also of the “temptations and sins which [did] so easily beset [him].” (verse 18.)

I’m not suggesting that Nephi was as at fault as his brothers for the contention that plagued the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations for 1,000 years thereafter--and which eventually resulted in the complete destruction of one of those groups (the Nephites). But it is easy to imagine Nephi, years after his tribe’s separation from that of his brothers’, often engaging in deep contemplation as to what he could have done more in order to keep the family together. It seems to me no accident that Nephi’s “Psalm” found in 2 Nephi 4 is adjacent to the account of the separation of Nephi’s people from Laman and Lemuel’s (2 Nephi 5). By doing this, it seems to me that Nephi is signaling that the separation of his family into oft-warring factions over the coming centuries was one of the events in his life that he would much rather have had go differently. I imagine Nephi, the editor of the Gold Plates, having written the Psalm after the tribal separation had occurred, but placing it before the account of it on the Gold Plates for the very reason that he felt somewhat culpable for the split.

I imagine him wishing that he’d been more patient when his brothers asked him about the meaning of the symbols in the visions he had seen, rather than just pithily spitting back the words “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” I imagine him in retrospect contemplating the natural human trait that one’s curiosity is piqued when one’s questions and concerns are validated--something that Nephi did not seem to do when he brushed them off by asking them if they had done something that he knew that at that point they would not have been inclined to do. And I imagine him desperately wishing he had done so.

I imagine Nephi ruing the fact that he had not been more deferential to his brothers during times of trouble, such as during the loss of the use of their bows to hunt for wild game, or during the time of the building of the ship to cross the waters to their “promised land”.

But, all of that said, all of my thoughts expressed here give me a greater reason to appreciate Nephi, and to appreciate the Book of Mormon as well. After all, he ISN’T the epic superhero that most of his self-telling of the story portrays, which gives me greater hope for myself. Instead, he--and his brothers--are a lot more like me than I first thought. Even in an epic retelling of his life, Nephi is human and kind enough to tell us of his bruises and his scars.

The Book of Mormon is "the most correct book", I agree, as Joseph Smith said, but it is made up of VERY imperfect people. It is that dysfunction that thrills me, because I have similar dysfunction in my life and in my family. In Nephi’s telling of his story in epic fashion, and then later cluing us in to the reality that it wasn’t so epic after all, I find even more correctness in the Book of Mormon, and more to learn from than I found in my initial searching of the Book of Mormon treasure. If Nephi and others in his family kept their faith in Christ intact regardless of the trials that they went through, then there is MUCH hope for me. But, just as importantly, for those of Nephi’s family who didn’t retain their faith in Christ, in part because of things Nephi did (or failed to do), there is much hope for them as well.

Life presents great meaning to us in our struggles; it is about warring passions--inside and around us, and about the potential that we have to become great as we tame and direct those passions. In the process of becoming great, Nephi shows us that neither side of our warring passions achieves greatness in the beginning, but that eventually, all warring passions can be tamed, polished, and crafted into true eternal greatness, regardless of any and all mistakes that we have made in the past.


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