Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three Visions of a Murder --1 Ne 4: 10

"And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him." (1 Ne 4: 10)

Speaking of this story, perhaps Alma once said:

There were actually two Labans Nephi was afraid to kill: the Laban of the past, and the Laban of the future.

When the Spirit told Nephi to kill Laban the second time, Nephi remembered that Laban had tried to kill him and his brothers, had stolen their goods, and was in all contexts a wicked and oppressive man. This was enough to legally justify killing the Laban of the past, but Nephi still refused to strike a blow that in cutting against the past, would also cut into the future.

And so the Spirit spoke a third time, and continued to speak until Nephi understood that if Laban were allowed to keep the plates both legally purchased and ordained by God for the family of Lehi, the Laban of the future would continue to harm the family forever.

Violence is not justified only by what has been done in the past. There must also be a possibility that if violence is not committed, conditions will become worse in the future.

And perhaps Teancum said otherwise:

Nephi hesitated because he knows that whoever commits violence also brings the curse of violence back on himself. It is because Nephi killed Laban that Laman and Lemuel later attempted to kill Nephi: if Laban had given Nephi the plates, Nephi would never have been subjected to his brothers' violence. Thus, a share of the accountability for all the violence among the Nephites lies forever with Laban.

But maybe Nehor nonetheless believed:

That Nephi killed Laban was a historical necessity, and Nephi's hesitation came only because he did not understand that anything which is necessary is also right.


  1. Perhaps Nephi hesitated because he knew that if he killed, later men would try to derive a rule for when violence is condoned or justified, in order to justify and condone their own violence.

    Perhaps Nephi shrank because he knew that the blood on his hands would become the blood on the hands of his children, his children's children, that every generation would convince itself that its murders were condoned by God, pointing to this moment as evidence.

    Perhaps Nephi knew that the Gadianton robbers would grow from the blood on his hands, that even by killing this wicked man he would not keep his descendants from perishing in unbelief.

    And perhaps the Spirit commanded Nephi to kill Laban in the hope that his children, remembering their father's remorse at even this act of violence, would never glory in the shedding of blood. And truly, this promise was fulfilled through Moroni and Mormon, who fought with heavy hearts and counseled their soldiers to do likewise.

  2. "Anything which is necessary is also right."

    That's really scary - the problem with that philosophy is that it doesn't provide adequate criteria for what is necessary, so its followers are those who walk after their own hearts instead of following an absolute moral standard.

  3. Yeah, it is really scary. We still use it sometimes when explaining away painful parts of history, though: x had to happen in order for y to happen, therefore, we don't need to worry about how x happened.

  4. Isn't this, in a way, the philosophy Joseph expresses when forgiving his brothers? He does seem to imply "I forgive you for wanting to kill me and selling me into slavery, because that was necessary in order for me to be able to protect our whole family from this famine now."

    Do we say that we can't use this philosophy to justify our own behavior, but we can use it in forgiving others?

    Hmmm... maybe this is part of what Paul is addressing in Romans, when he repeatedly refutes the claim "Let us do evil that good may come."

    Although God's grace does bring good in the face of evil, the good does not come from the evil. So it is not that Joseph's brothers' violent intent was necessary for God's grace to be shown. Rather, as Christ says, "Offenses will come, but woe unto him by whom they come."

    Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers is not because their betrayal of him was a historical necessity, but because God's grace has already undone the evil consequences of that betrayal, and replaced them with good. There is no grudge for him to hold, for God has already paid the debt.



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