Youth and the Book of Mormon


See “Being Parents, Being Children,” a companion article on the role of parents in the Book of Mormon in the September 1977 Ensign, p. 13.

Not long ago a friend of ours and a recent convert to the Church observed that Mormon and Moroni, even though they lived thousands of years ago, seemed to have written words especially for her. The things they recorded as they watched their once great civilization crumble before their eyes fit so well her own spiritual needs that she knew the book had to be the inspired word of God. So it is with scriptures. They have a simple way of speaking to us about our own lives. Such has been our experience as we have looked carefully at what the Book of Mormon says to youth. Its messages are timely for us today, given the many problems that young people face in our mixed-up 20th-century world.

In many ways Alma’s words to his son are a preface to what we wish to say:

“Learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.

“Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” (Alma 37:35–37.)

The Book’s View of Youth

The Book of Mormon has a stirring message for young people. Joseph Smith is symbolic of the importance the book places on youth. When he was only 14, he talked with Jesus the Christ. Through that experience the young boy became the hope of the world, a prophet chosen to restore truth to the earth.

This divine call came to a mere lad in a day when the leading churches of the world were practicing infant baptism to remove what they believed was a depravity of the human soul. The Book of Mormon translated by that young man taught that the human soul is not depraved. Instead, it taught that children, because of Christ, are good, even the embodiment of what man should become if he is to enter back into God’s presence:

“And again I say unto you, … become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (3 Ne. 11:38.)

One father wrote a letter to his son and told him to “teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.” (Moro. 8:10; see also Mosiah 3:16–21.)

Not only are children likened unto those who will inherit the kingdom of God, but faithful young people in the Book of Mormon are also called to do mighty and great works: “I, Nephi, being exceeding young, … having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me.” (1 Ne. 2:16. Italics added.) Mormon received his initial instructions about keeping the sacred records of the Nephite nation when he was ten. Five years later he said, “And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.” (Morm. 1:15. Italics added.) At the tender age of 16 he was appointed leader of all the Nephite armies. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon itself or the circumstances surrounding its coming forth that implies that young people are incapable of doing mighty works. Indeed, as to things pertaining to righteousness, the young people in the Book of Mormon seem especially well equipped for great and honorable service.

Perhaps the single most impressive message contained in the book for worthy youth appears in 3 Nephi. Christ was in the new world teaching the people his gospel and his doctrine. After teaching the multitude and his chosen disciples of the necessity for faith, repentance, and baptism, he then blessed their children. The heavens were opened and angels encircled the young people and ministered to them. Christ then taught them “great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter.” (3 Ne. 26:14. Italics added.) The children in turn spoke with their parents of the great and marvelous things Christ and the ministering angels had taught them. What Christ taught the children and what the children taught the parents we do not know because man was forbidden to write “the things which they did utter.” (3 Ne. 26:16.)

In this day the uplifting view of the nature of youth found in the Book of Mormon could not be more timely. In matters of righteousness young people are to take a back seat to no one. Indeed, youths are called in their tender years to mighty and marvelous works of God.

Youth and Their Parents

The most frequently encountered examples of the acts of young people in the Book of Mormon, refer to parents and youth. In the opening verse of the Book of Mormon, Nephi tells us that his parents are good because they have taught him their ways. Enos also observed that his father is a just man who taught him in his ways and in the admonition and nurture of the Lord. (See Enos 1:1.) Nephi wrote the scriptures for the instruction of his children. (See 1 Ne. 19:3.) Lehi taught his children with all the feelings of a tender parent. (See 1 Ne. 8:37.) Jacob often taught his son about eternal life. (See Enos 1:3.) King Benjamin made sure his sons were “taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding.” (Mosiah 1:2.) He further commanded his children to search the scriptures that they might “profit thereby.” (Mosiah 1:7.) King Benjamin commanded all the people to care for their children and to teach them to “walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:15.) Alma the Younger, like his father, carefully instructed his sons. (See Alma 36–42.) The 2,000 stripling warriors, whom Helaman called his sons, were preserved in battle because “their mothers had taught them.” (Alma 57:21.) They knew that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” (Alma 56:47.) Mormon, the great Nephite historian, at the sad and bitter end of the decadent Nephite civilization, wrote moving letters to his son Moroni. Two of the closing chapters in the Book of Mormon (Moro. 8;Moro. 9) contain Mormon’s pleading counsel to his son to teach the correct principles of the gospel and, above all, to be faithful in Christ in order to be lifted up to eternal life. (See Moro. 9:25.)

What Parents Should Teach

The pattern of parents teaching youth is repeated over and over in the Book of Mormon. When we look further to see what parents should teach their children, we are struck with the simplicity and importance of the central message: the absolute necessity to believe in Jesus Christ. How this is to be taught is most easily seen in Alma’s words to his sons. He taught about Jesus Christ, but he did it in a special way. He pleaded with his sons to “hear my words and learn of me.” (Alma 36:3.) Alma taught his sons how he came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. How significant it is that Alma was saved from the awful spiritual death resulting from his own sins by remembering and then realigning himself with the teachings of his father about Jesus Christ. Thus the message seems clear to parents: they are to teach Christ crucified to the young people and tell them about how they came to know Christ as their Savior.

What Youth Should Learn

The Book of Mormon is very clear about parents’ responsibility to teach, but what does it tell us about youth’s responsibility? An encounter between Nephi and Lehi gives us a partial answer. Lehi taught his children what the Lord, through vision, had taught him. Nephi, upon hearing his father’s words, believed them, but in addition he said, “I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (1 Ne. 10:17. Italics added.) Nephi went to the Lord in prayer and received the same information his father had received.

Just believing on the words of parents is not sufficient. Youth are to see, to hear, and to know for themselves.

King Mosiah’s sons were wayward in their youth. They were young men who consciously went against the teachings of their father. They were miraculously converted and became active missionaries for the Church, the very thing they had earlier tried to destroy. After their conversion, the father and his sons disagreed about what the sons should do with their lives. As King Mosiah was getting old, he “was desirous to confer upon them” the kingdom. (Alma 17:6.) They refused to accept the kingship, letting their father know that they had something else in mind. (See Mosiah 28:10; Mosiah 29:6.) This example of a father desiring one thing and sons desiring another is very instructive for us in our day. It is not uncommon to find parents and youth at odds about what youth should do. How are such differences resolved?

From the record it is clear that the father and sons spent a great deal of time discussing their problem. The sons pleaded their case to their father “many days.” (Mosiah 28:5.) After much discussion King Mosiah went before the Lord in prayer. The Lord let King Mosiah know that he was to let his sons go and do what they wanted. In addition, the Lord promised Mosiah that He would protect his sons and because of their teaching many people would be led to believe in Jesus Christ.

Another example, similar in some respects to King Mosiah and his sons, occurred with Nephi and his father. At one point in the long journey from Jerusalem, Lehi, along with everyone else except Nephi, began to murmur against the Lord because of his sufferings and afflictions. Nephi became concerned with his family’s unfaithfulness and “did say many things unto them.” (1 Ne. 16:24.) After trying to change their minds with his much talking, he made a bow and arrows and prepared to hunt for food. At this point a very enlightening encounter took place between Nephi and his father. Nephi went to his father and asked where he should go for food. This might seem unusual since Nephi at that moment was the most faithful among the group. What did father Lehi, who had just been murmuring against the Lord, do when his son asked for advice? He went before the Lord in prayer just as King Mosiah did. The Lord chastened and humbled Lehi, who went “down into the depths of sorrow.” (1 Ne. 16:25.) The voice of the Lord also told Lehi to read the instructions that were written upon the Liahona to find out where Nephi should go for food. Nephi obeyed both the Lord and his father, and the families of Lehi and Ishmael were saved from starvation.

Some obvious conclusions seem apparent from these three examples. First, youth are expected to seek a confirming witness of the Spirit for themselves about the teachings of the gospel. Second, when there are disagreements between parents and youth, youth are expected to discuss their ideas with their parents. In short, young people and parents are to talk to each other. In our day of generation gaps, this is a critical need. Nephi tried to teach his family with all the energy of his soul. The sons of Mosiah pleaded with their father many days. Third, after parents and youth discuss their differences, parents are to take the decision to the Lord in prayer. We suspect that in our contemporary world, this last step is seldom taken. Parents and youth may talk about differences and eventually resolve them, but they often fail to go before the Lord in prayer to receive direction and approval from him. Fourth, even if youth feel their own desires are right, when they disagree with parents, they are still to go back to their parents for advice.

The final lesson to be learned is that if children will remain close to the Lord, they can become mighty helps to their parents in living lives in greater harmony with the Lord’s teachings. Because of his sons’ faithfulness, diligence, and persistence in following what they felt to be right, King Mosiah grew closer to the Lord through prayer and many hundreds of people came to know Jesus Christ as Redeemer. Likewise, because of Nephi’s faithfulness, Lehi had his faith and trust in God restored and received further direction from God in leading his family through the wilderness.

As youth in our day, you need to realize the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead of you in helping your parents be more faithful children of our Father in heaven. After all, your parents have never been parents before. They are going through this for the first time, just as you are learning about being mortal children for the first time. They may need your help at being parents as much as you need their help in becoming faithful youth.

Preparing Today for Tomorrow

While the Book of Mormon advises parents to teach youth of their own search for Jesus Christ, and it challenges youth to see, hear, and know for themselves, it also has excellent advice for young people about preparing for the morrow. A number of examples highlight the fact that many times young people are taught things years before they are ready to use that information. Prophets are taught about record keeping long before they are of age to do it. For example, ten-year-old Mormon was instructed in considerable detail about what he should do for the Lord some 14 years later. He was told where he should go, what records to take, and what records to leave. In addition, he was told to observe the doings of the people over that 14-year period so he could faithfully record it. (See Morm. 1:2–5.)

A number of the prophets remember the words of their fathers that were spoken years earlier. Enos, in his time of spiritual struggle, remembered his father’s teachings. They in turn helped him come to know Jesus Christ. Alma remembered his father’s teachings at the time of his conversion. In a remarkable example of changing careers in later life, Lehi and Nephi, sons of Helaman, remembered the teachings of their father from years gone by.

Nephi, as chief judge over all the people, was a very powerful political leader. He was also a very righteous man deeply concerned because the people “who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good.” Nephi “had become weary because of their iniquity.” (Hel. 5:2, 4.) In the face of all the strife and unrest, Nephi gave up the judgement seat and became a full-time missionary with his brother Lehi, because “they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them.” (Hel. 5:5.) Helaman wanted his sons to remember “that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. …

“And they did remember his words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God, to teach the word of God among all the people of Nephi.” (Hel. 5:9, 14.)

Later, because of the missionary work of Nephi, it was said that “the people did rejoice and glorify God, and the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing; and they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God.

“And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness.” (Hel. 11:18–19.)

What a tremendous blessing for Lehi to have a brother like Nephi, and then have the prophet say that as to things of righteousness he was not one whit behind. We think there is a lesson in this for all of us. If we will remember the teachings of our earthly and spiritual fathers, one day it may be said of us that as to things pertaining to righteousness, we are following the example of our spiritual brother Jesus Christ. Because of Him we may become like Him, free from all our sins.

One of the most remarkable Book of Mormon incidents concerning preparation years in advance of an important mission is the account of Abish, a Lamanite woman. Ammon, the great missionary son of Mosiah who refused to become king, journeyed into the Lamanite lands to preach the gospel—even at the peril of his own life. Ammon succeeded in converting King Lamoni, who fell to the ground. After three days King Lamoni arose and blessed his wife and praised God. At this time Ammon, King Lamoni, his wife, and all their servants prayed mightily unto the Lord until everyone was overcome by the power of the Spirit, everyone except Abish. We are told that she did not fall to the ground because she had “been converted unto the Lord for many years, on account of a remarkable vision of her father.” (Alma 19:16.)

We do not know anything about her father nor the vision, but we get some insight into this remarkable woman because of what she did. Because she had been converted all these years but had kept it a secret, she recognized the power of the Lord. “Therefore she ran forth from house to house” (Alma 19:17) telling them of the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit. As the multitudes gathered and saw the king, the queen, all the servants, and Ammon lying on the ground, great confusion arose among all the people. One of the Lamanites attempted to kill Ammon but fell dead upon the ground as he raised his sword. When Abish returned from alerting all the people and heard of the contention, she was very “sorrowful, even unto tears.” (Alma 19:28.)

At that point the faithful servant Abish took the hand of her queen and raised her up. The queen acknowledged Jesus Christ as her Savior and blessed the people. The queen then raised the king from the ground, and he in turn taught the people what he had seen and heard. After Ammon and the servants of the king were raised up, they also went among the people teaching of Christ and testifying of the change that came over them. They no longer desired to do any evil. As many as believed were baptized.

Because a Lamanite father taught his daughter about a vision he received and the daughter carried her own conversion within her for years—a secret between her and the Lord—she was ready to do the Lord’s work when missionaries finally reached her land. Without the teaching of their parents, their own desire to know for themselves, and their obedience to that which they knew to be true, Abish would not have been the faithful servant of the Lord and Ammon would not have been so successful as a missionary. If that had happened, many of the Lamanites would never have come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The Book of Mormon, brought forth in our day by the gift and power of God, clearly calls youth to great and mighty works. If today’s youth are of a sober mind, they will taste of the goodness of Jesus Christ as did Mormon. If they desire to see, to hear, and to know for themselves, knowledge from on high will flow unto them as it did to Nephi. If today’s youth, like Nephi and the sons of Mosiah before them, plead their case to their fathers, who then go before the Lord in mighty prayer, young people will be directed to life’s pursuits with divine approval. And like Abish, if youth live true to their convictions, they will be ready to do the Lord’s work when He calls. Spirits reserved in the spirit world for thousands of years are now coming to this world in the eleventh hour to prepare for Christ’s second coming. The Book of Mormon testifies of youth’s profound goodness and promises eternal salvation because of their mighty works of righteousness.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jon Burton