Prophetic Perspectives: How Lehi and Nephi Applied the Lessons of Lehi’s Dream

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "Prophetic Perspectives: How Lehi and Nephi Applied the Lessons of Lehi’s Dream" by Grant Hardy in the book Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision.)

It is a prophetic prerogative for those called by God to choose how best to express the truths they have received through revelation: to decide when it might be appropriate to highlight the open-ended nature of God’s invitation to come unto him and enjoy the blessings that he has prepared; or when a harsher, more judgmental voice of warning is required. Both are probably necessary in different circumstances, though the personalities and histories of particular prophets may incline them to take one approach more often than the other. In relating to Laman and Lemuel what was essentially the same visionary experience, Lehi urgently emphasized the rewards for righteousness and the possibility for change, while Nephi offered a stern reminder of the fate that awaits the wicked.

In similar fashion, in our own callings as leaders, and especially as parents, there are times when it is best to hold out hope, to offer second (and third and fourth) chances, and not to give up on the wayward and weak. Yet there are also situations in which stern admonitions and imposing strict consequences may be the better course. It is undoubtedly a blessing that different bishops and relief society presidents and mission presidents bring their own particular sensibilities to their callings; some may be able to touch the hearts of some members, while a different style of leadership may work better for others. Indeed, it is probably a good thing that such positions are rotated regularly.

Mothers and fathers may also balance the principles of mercy and justice in slightly different ways, depending on the child and the circumstances (though the two principles are not, in themselves, gendered—there are plenty of strict mothers and kindhearted fathers and vice versa). Finding the right balance is one of the great challenges in life, one that requires us to seek personal revelation. Fortunately, we have the examples of both Lehi and Nephi, who demonstrate how prophets are able to take the lessons they need from their encounters with the divine. Lehi shows what it means to express wholehearted love and concern, while Nephi may give us the courage to articulate sometimes difficult truths with boldness. Yet both men, despite their different approaches, speak for God sincerely and authoritatively.

It is also worth noting how Nephi, in recording many years later the experiences of both his father and himself, does not entirely rewrite the former. It is still possible to recover Lehi’s original words and perspective from Nephi’s record. This is significant because it highlights the process by which Nephi’s history was written—based on prior accounts, exhibiting unfolding understanding, and responding to different stages of life. (In my opinion, coming to see Nephi as a narrator or an author is a crucial step in recognizing him as a real, historical person.) Rather than an abstract discussion of the contrasting principles of justice and mercy, which might only be reconciled by ranking one above the other, 1 Nephi offers a narrative in which gospel values are applied by different prophets, in different circumstances, and within different sorts of relationships. This narrative perspective—of true principles in action—makes the Book of Mormon a rich source not only of truth but also of wisdom.

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