REVIEW: 3rd, 4th Nephi: a brief theological introduction, Daniel Becerra
Daniel Becerra’s 3rd, 4th Nephi: a brief theological introduction is a quiet, understated volume in the series, arguably the most fitting approach to what are often seen as the pinnacle moments in The Book of Mormon. Becerra zeroes in on what we learn about Christ in these books and how that understanding ripples throughout their other teachings.
Towards the end of the volume, Becerra draws our attention to what he sees Mormon saying about unity. Becerra writes,
“Mormon seems to suggest that the power of worship and spiritual exercise may also become more efficacious by its collective performance.” (82)
I love this idea and it speaks to some of my own experiences with the sacrament (and perhaps part of what I have felt is missing from continuing the ritual of the sacrament in my own home for the past year, without the visible, immediate witness of collective performance). Becerra suggests that for Mormon our rituals and worship is more effective, more powerful, simply by nature of performing it collectively, together.
This also strikes me as a compelling framework for unity—the togetherness, the worship is collective, but I presume that this collective worship does not resemble the Zoramites we learn of earlier in The Book of Mormon. The collective performance of worship and spiritual exercise must include individual expressions, brought together into one whole.
Much earlier, Becerra digs into what it means for Jesus to be ‘the Father’, offering one of the most striking readings of that idea that I have ever encountered. Becerra imagines that Jesus might say something like the following to each of us:
“ ‘Expect that sometimes you will become mad, frustrated, and impatient with me. Expect that sometimes you will feel like I am too distant or too busy for you. This is entirely normal…Expect to not see all the ways that I care for and sustain you, and for this to sometimes affect our relationship negatively. You may even feel like I have forsaken you; I felt this way with my father too.’” (13-14)
I love this. I love the way it humanizes Christ and works to transform our relationship with Christ. The open acknowledgment of feeling frustrated or impatient with Christ and feeling like he is too busy as “entirely normal” is lovely. I often feel as though my relationship with Jesus should be all sunshine and roses because that is the way people tend to talk about their own. I feel far more comfortable being open about a complicated relationship with God than I do with Jesus (perhaps that’s a personal hang-up that doesn’t resonate with others). Because of that, I loved this openness about the ways we may feel forsaken by Christ and that even in that feeling we are following in Christ’s footsteps. By feeling forsaken and alone and frustrated, we are actually walking a well-trod path, with Jesus’ footprints ahead of us in the sand (to steal and transform an over-used metaphor).
Becerra’s framing here makes communal and universal what often feels like an individual, private experience. This seems to be part of what 3rd and 4th Nephi are all about. Becerra says towards the end of the volume:
“coming unto Christ is a communal and collaborative endeavor. I believe that Mormon would have us understand that the path to the Savior is more circuitous and scenic than one might expect.” (88)
These ideas are fairly foundational to my own belief, so I was thrilled to find them here, expressed so neatly. I am struck by the pairing here of coming unto Christ being communal and collaborative and the reality of a circuitous and scenic path to Christ. Perhaps this is because we need to go places that are essential for some of us, but not that important for others. But the going along the circuitous and scenic path together is part of the deal. We’re on a long and winding road, as it were. Gathering as many people as we can, learning from one another, and how to live together.
Becerra’s prose sits back, quietly doing the work of conveying some profound ideas in such a way that you hardly notice you’ve just read something so insightful. Another solid volume in this fantastic series from the Maxwell Institute, drawing out the key themes of 3rd and 4th Nephi, while always keeping the spotlight on Christ and how we, as a people, can come unto Him.