In literature, a tragedy is most effective when the protagonist’s failings are so obvious to the reader yet remain hidden, even in plain sight, from main character. When the resolution seems so apparent, the impact to the spectator is more profound. We see this tragic motif displayed in Fourth Nephi.
When the story begins, the people are on the threshold of establishing Zion. At the end, the Nephite nation on the precipice of annihilation. This tragic trajectory leaves the reader stunned because it was so easily prevented.
Mormon presented this story absent of the details necessary to understand exactly what happened. But through the lessons from the Nephite’s cyclical pattern of righteousness and ruin, we can easily deduce the causes
When Christ ascended to heaven for the last time, He left the people with the tools necessary to establish Zion.
They all personally knew the Savior.
They all felt the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Indeed, faith was replaced with knowledge.
With these core commonalities, they created a society that rivaled the City of Enoch.
As their society matured and selflessness reigned, the people flourished. Their population grew, their cities expanded, and true happiness permeated society. As Mormon said: “There was never a happier people on the face of the earth.”
They became comfortable in their prosperity.
Complacency replaced commitment.
The younger generation viewed society as stifling and predictable – in a word, boring. They yearned for more excitement.
These deviations from the norms drove wedges between generations. Those feeling marginalized sought separation over reconciliation.
Families became strained.
Parents, unable to recuse their children, began to lose confidence. As their confidence waned, their faith wavered.
Absent the moorings of unshakeable faith, keeping sacred covenants became too complicated.
Obedience seemed obsolete.
Loving others seemed pointless.
Gradually selfishness reigned supreme.
But this was a pattern common to the Nephites. Why was this time different? Why did this cycle of pride become the prelude to ultimate disaster?
The key to this tragedy is how richly God had blessed these people. They didn’t reject God in their poverty; rather in their prosperity. God gave to them freely and abundantly and they rejected not only His bounteous blessings, they rejected Him.
Before we judge the Nephites for squandering their inheritance, the impact of this tragedy will be lost, if we fail to consider that we may struggle with those same tendencies.
True, we do not live in a Zion society, still we would be hard pressed to deny how richly God has blessed us.
Is God’s love for us becoming so commonplace?
Has serving others become such a burden in our busy lives?
One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to help us learn from their mistakes. Perhaps the most important lesson is that cultivating faith takes constant work. We cannot afford to become comfortable in our testimonies.