Last week in Sunday School, I had a brief exchange with my class, and it stuck in my brain. I find myself thinking about it often, and any of you writers out there know that sometimes the only way to get it out is to write it down.
We were discussing why there was so much talk of war in the Book of Mormon. It is said that 1/3 of the entire volume is war related one way or another. That's a lot of war - a lot of battles - and a high body count.
The writers of The Book of Mormon make the point - multiple times -(Jacob 3:13, 3 Nephi 5:8, Ether 15:33) that they had to be very selective about what they included on the plates. They said that what was eventually was included was not even 100th part of the available writings. Since the abridged version of The Book of Mormon ended up with 531 pages, that means Mormon had over 53,000 pages worth of material to choose from.
I asked the question to my class, "With 53,000 pages of stuff to choose from, why do you think Mormon chose to include 30% war?"
They thought for a minute, then a brave soul volunteered an idea: "Maybe it's because those war stories contain principles that can apply to our lives." Perfect! Gold Star on the forehead. (I wish we still did that!)
Then another -borrowing courage from the first- added, "A lot of the Book of Mormon is history, and a lot of the most important parts of history involve wars." Another good comment! (These are smart kids: 15-16)
I had one more idea I wanted to bring out. You know when teachers have a specific answer that they are looking for, and they keep asking the same question in different ways, and then waiting for you to psychically divine what they are after? Yeah, I hate that too. And that is exactly what I was doing to my students when I asked, "If you think about who edited The Book of Mormon, does it give you any more ideas?"
Crickets and blank stares.
I figured out a way around my logjam. "When President Uchtdorf gives a talk, what does he always talk about?" All at once everybody had an answer - "He's a pilot," "Flying," "Airplanes." Exactly.
Then one of the kids made the leap and said, "Wasn't Mormon a General? Maybe he wrote a lot about war because that was his job." (See, these are smart kids.)
Mormon was chosen to be a leader of a Nephite army when he was 16 years old. Before that he had been preaching repentance. It would appear that his entire life was about making war and preaching the gospel. Because of that, it only makes sense that his selection process would be tinted by his life experience, and that may be why so much of what he chose for scripture was war related. I have no problem with it.
It makes sense that if President Uchtdorf can teach obedience with stories about airplane instrument panels, then Mormon can teach the very same principles using the Sons of Helaman. Both men use their knowledge base, and draw on their personal experiences, to teach truths.
I imagine if the prophet who had been called to abridge The Book of Mormon had been a farmer, or a lawyer, or a brick mason, the "tint" of The Book of Mormon" would reflect their lives and understandings. It would be a very different book. Would that make it any less true? No. The principles remain true. Just as we see every General Conference as the prophets teach the same principles year after year, but with variation based on their personal experience, or "tint."
As I read The Book of Mormon, and as I try and teach its truths, I keep reminding myself that everything in it is in there on purpose. So when I hit a section that doesn't "speak to me," I need to try and figure out why:
What is the principle that should emerge from this story or teaching?
How does the life of the author tint what I am reading.
If God inspired a prophet to chisel this into metal plates, what does He want me to get out of it?
And finally, how does my personal life and experience "tint" my perception of what I am reading? Because I'm absolutely sure that it can. There are times in my life that a specific passage of scripture can evolve from "meaningless" to "life-changing." Not that the words changed, but that my life and perspective have changed.
That is why we read The Book of Mormon over, and over, and over, and over again. It is never the same book twice - nor should it be.
And that is why I never mark scriptures - but we'll save that for another day.
Coming up: Our view of the Gospel: Tinted or Tainted?