“A Book about God’s Love,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 41
The Book of Mormon is a book about God’s love. In its history and structure, in its many inspired doctrines, and in its numerous admonitions, the Book of Mormon focuses often on the pure love Christ.
God’s love was the driving force behind the work. Throughout the years covered by the Book of Mormon, God worked to save a righteous remnant from Jerusalem. He nurtured and directed the descendants of Lehi and Sariah and tirelessly tried to reclaim those who were lost. Thus, the manifestations of God’s love created both the history and structure of the book. It is not surprising, then, that Nephi wrote at the end of the first chapter, “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen.” (1 Ne. 1:20.)
Early in the book, Lehi received an intensely meaningful vision concerning a tree that proffers a fruit “desirable above all other fruit,” that filled his “soul with exceedingly great joy.” (1 Ne. 8:12.) When Lehi’s son Nephi asked about the tree’s meaning, an angel told him, “It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. …
“Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Ne. 11:22–23.)
Previously, the angel had explained to Nephi, “This thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree … , thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.” (1 Ne. 11:7.)
Nephi called that tree the tree of life (see 1 Ne. 11:25; 1 Ne. 15:22), and when he asked “to know the interpretation thereof” (1 Ne. 11:9–11), the angel showed him the birth, ministry, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ (see 1 Ne. 11:12–33).
The rest of the Book of Mormon refers often to the tree and to the events and effects of Christ’s ministry, almost always in the context of God’s powerful love. For example, Alma spoke of the marvelous changes that God had wrought in a lost people. He said that Christ “sendeth an invitation to all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
“Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life.” (Alma 5:33–34.)
The actual visit of Christ among the Book of Mormon people is, of course, the apex of the book and a powerful witness of a loving God’s deeply personal care. Who could dare dream that a glorified God would descend from heaven to minister personally to mortal men and women, if it had not been promised?
When we remember Nephi’s promises that the tree of life represents the love of God manifested by the atonement of Jesus Christ, when we study the account of the resurrected Christ calling to his people to feel the wounds in his body so they will know of a surety that he is their Redeemer, who was hanged upon a cross that they might have eternal life, we may better realize why the fruit of the tree of life is the most delicious and most desirable of all fruits.
God’s love is manifested throughout the entire Book of Mormon. The redemptive experiences of the rebellious younger Alma and of the sons of Mosiah are ample evidence of God’s mercy and long-suffering. Their successful work among a previously doomed people is moving evidence that God’s love can reach even those considered by some to be beyond hope. The Lord’s promises that neither the Nephites nor the Lamanites will be forgotten and that one day they may be reclaimed are reassuring evidence of how far-reaching God’s love is.
The two hundred years of peace resulting from Christ’s visit and the people’s sure knowledge of his atoning grace is further evidence of the creative force of God’s love at work among mankind. The disruption that developed generations later shows by contrast how much is lost when the pure love of Christ is lost: “So exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually.” (Moro. 9:5.)
It was in this context that Moroni recorded his father’s great epistle on charity. Mormon’s promise is eternally relevant:
“Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moro. 7:47.)
From its beginning, through its central core, to its conclusion, one of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is God’s love. This is made clear in its doctrines, many of which stand in sharp contrast to the doctrines circulating among Christianity when the book appeared.
The book of scripture forcibly states that Christ had, in the meridian of time, atoned for all the sins of all mankind. (See 2 Ne. 26:33; Mosiah 3:11, 13.) Yet during the centuries after Christ, Christianity had narrowly defined the effects of the Atonement, limiting it in time, in space, and in the people affected.
For example, one dominant belief at Joseph Smith’s time was that all who had lived before Christ’s birth were beyond the reach of the Atonement. Many also believed that those who lived outside the reach of Christian missionaries were beyond the gospel’s reach as well. Because of interpretations of the writings of Augustine and John Calvin, many believed that God had predetermined an elect few to receive the merits of the Redeemer’s grace. For these “elect,” there were no limitations on God’s love, in spite of their works. The rest of mankind, however, were predestined to damnation.
The Book of Mormon presents a corrected view of these ideas. It reveals that the Atonement is efficacious for men, women, and children in every land. The resurrected Lord himself appeared to the people on the American continent, the “other sheep” to whom he had referred in Jerusalem. (John 10:16; 3 Ne. 15:21–24.) His purpose was to make himself and his atonement known to them. He also spoke of “other sheep, which are not of this land,” which he would yet visit. (3 Ne. 16:1–3.) Where the Lord himself did not go, he would send his ministers—the commandment was to “teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19)—so that people in every land could hear the gospel and learn of the Atonement.
We learn that no one is predetermined for salvation or damnation, that all men “are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” (2 Ne. 2:27.)
The Book of Mormon reveals that Christ’s atonement is not limited in time, for it reaches back to the dead and forward to those yet to be born. All people will be resurrected: “This death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell. …
“O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous.” (2 Ne. 9:12–13.)
Furthermore, the Atonement reaches back to those who lived before Christ came, who believed on his name: “Whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.” (Mosiah 3:13.)
The Book of Mormon makes clear that only the condition of our souls limits the impact of God’s love in our lives. While Christ’s love extends to all, we also learn that “no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in [his] blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.” (3 Ne. 27:19.)
The unrepentant would not be able to endure such holiness as God’s presence: “How will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? …
“Do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?” (Alma 5:22, 24.)
The Book of Mormon also greatly clarifies God’s love in relationship to innocent children, stating that those who believe that little children require baptism to save their souls deny the love of God. The mercies of Christ extend to all little children, for they are not capable of committing sin and thus need no repentance. (See Moro. 8:9–11, 19.)
In addition to helping us see that God’s love is not limited in space, in time, or in person, the Book of Mormon specifically teaches us about the quality of God’s love, urging us to pursue that kind of love ourselves and showing us how we might obtain it. Paul’s warnings that we could give our bodies to be burned or give all that we have to the poor and needy yet still not have charity is unsettling. (See 1 Cor. 13:3.) After all, these are the kinds of things people often do, believing they are manifestations of charity.
The Book of Mormon, however, explains that if “a man offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. …
“If a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.” (Moro. 7:6, 8.)
The Book of Mormon also verifies the remainder of the definition of charity that Paul gives: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moro. 7:45; see 1 Cor. 13:4–7.)
But this is not all. Since charity is defined as “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), we know that we may look to Christ to see how he manifests love. The book witnesses, “Thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men.” (Ether 12:33.)
This supports John’s statement that the greatest form of love is the laying down of one’s life for a friend. (See John 15:13.) But this aspect of sacrifice does not tell the whole story. In the process of laying down his life, Jesus Christ took upon himself our sins. The gift of grace is that our sins may be covered, figuratively speaking, with “beautiful garments,” and we may become sanctified, without spot, if we come unto Christ and return his love with our love:
“Come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.
“And awake, and arise from the dust, … and put on thy beautiful garments. …
“Be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; … and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ. …
“If ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” (Moro. 10:30–34.)
It is apparent from these verses that the Savior, in a covenant with our Heavenly Father for the remission of our sins, shed his blood that we might, by covenant with him and by acceptance of his atonement, receive the grace of God and become sanctified and holy. Truly, our Redeemer loves us, for he “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things”—for us. (See Moro. 7:45.)
Christ’s love becomes even more apparent in the Book of Mormon when contrasted with its opposite—Satan’s hate. Christ’s major work of love, which is atoning for, or covering, our sins, is more sharply delineated when contrasted with Satan’s major work, which is covering others with sin. (See 2 Ne. 2:17–27.)
Lucifer tries to cause sin, or entrap people in their sins, or falsely imply sin where there is none. Satan’s work is to spread rumors and arouse contentions against what is good. (See Hel. 16:22.) He is “the father of all lies.” (2 Ne. 2:18.) The devil is the slanderer, deliberately darkening the character and reputation of others until they are wholly stained, while the Lord is the atoner, sacrificing himself in love for others to help them become pure and holy, without any blemish.
In a way, this contrast can be used like a straightedge, to see whether we are deviating from the standard of charity. If we find ourselves involved with covering others with blame or with slandering, we are far from the perfect love of Christ. If we look for faults, if we exaggerate what we see or think we see, if we anxiously spread such things, we are closer to the work of unrighteousness.
Conversely, if we hesitate to judge other people’s faults, if we avoid becoming engaged in darkening the reputation of others, if we work to improve the lot of others and make them more joyful, we are nearer the work of righteousness and Christ’s atonement. This is the third way that the Book of Mormon focuses on love—by helping us obtain it and know when we are losing or increasing it.
Alma counseled that bridling one’s negative passions would leave room for a greater measure of love. (See Alma 38:12.) Mormon indicates that if we seek and find true faith, hope, and meekness, we will also find charity, for they are all interrelated and promote each other. (Moro. 7:42–44.) He also says that we might “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his son, Jesus Christ; that [we] may become the sons of God.” (Moro. 7:48.)
Later, Mormon adds that when people bring themselves to repentance and baptism in fulfillment of the commandments, their sins are remitted. This remission of sins fills them with meekness and lowliness of heart. Because of these qualities, the Holy Ghost comes into their lives, “which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love.” This love can endure with continued prayer “until the end shall come.” (Moro. 8:25–26.)
The way to develop charity, then, is to truly repent, feeling a deep and genuine sorrow for our faults, which fills us with love and gratitude for our Redeemer, who has removed our sins. Then, if we are truly repentant and truly accept the sacrifice Christ made for us, we will tend to judge others less, to develop a desire to remove the burdens of others, and to show others the way of salvation.
The Book of Mormon is indeed a book about God’s love. It shows us how his love was manifest throughout history and through the atonement of Christ. It demonstrates that God’s love is not confined in time or space or person. It teaches us how to develop and recognize godly love in ourselves. And it creates in us a desire to emulate the love of Christ—to love others as he has loved us.