Sometimes a person’s influence lasts long after he’s gone. And sometimes, that influence is so strong and causes so much sorrow that thousands of people are affected by it, thus altering the course of a people’s history forever.
Such is the case with a guy named Nehor in the Book of Mormon. This guy, we learn, was “large” and “noted for his much strength,” and had crafted a particularly compelling message that many people bought into.
Here’s what Nehor taught:
- Every priest and teacher ought to become popular; they should not labor with their own hands but be supported by the people.
- All mankind should be saved at the last day.
- Therefore, people need not fear nor tremble, but should rejoice, because in the end, all men would be given eternal life.
Here’s what initially happened, as a result of his teaching:
- Many believed on his words and began to support him and give him money.
- Nehor was lifted up in the pride of his heart.
- He began to wear costly apparel.
- He also established a church after the manner of his preaching.
And here’s the beginning of the end for Nehor, the man:
- Nehor contends with a man of God named Gideon.
- Gideon admonishes Nehor.
- Nehor becomes angry with Gideon and attacks him.
- Gideon is old, can’t withstand Nehor’s attack, and dies.
- Nehor is arrested, brought before the chief judge.
- Chief judge sentences Nehor to death for his crimes, according to the law of the land.
- Nehor acknowledges that what he had taught was contrary to the word of God.
- Suffers an ignominious death. (Link to this entire account in Alma chapter 1 is here.)
…But the beginning of Nehor, the message:
So Nehor dies, but we learn it doesn’t put an end to his particular flavor of religion, for there were apparently many who “loved the vain things of the world,” so they carried Nehor’s banner and taught all kinds of false doctrines for the sake of “riches and honor.”
Subsequent antagonists in the Book of Alma embody some form of Nehor’s message. And each one displays the same hot-headedness, anger, and murderous heart against anyone who disagrees with their brand of belief. In fact, nearly each battle Alma and his people fought – and there were many of them during this decades-long account – was against a group of people whose leaders embraced the order of Nehor. Thus, the spread and adoption of Nehor’s message led to spiritual and physical destruction.
Nehor’s Relevance for Today
In 2009, evangelical sociologist Christian Smith published his findings of several years worth of research on the religious beliefs & practices of American teenagers and young adults. He found that teenagers these days generally view God as someone who certainly exists, but whose main job is to help people feel good about themselves. According to Smith:
God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.¹
“Make people feel good” sounds a lot like Nehor’s message to “lift up your heads and rejoice,” but don’t fear or tremble (i.e., repent), because God has saved everyone, and will make everything better in the end. Thus, Nehor acknowledged the existence and even redemption of God, but preached that God demanded little from his people. His message, along with the hate-filled resentment of God-fearing believers that often associated it, proved to be terribly destructive.
That there might not be more sorrow…
It’s little wonder then that Alma, as high priest and one who had testified earlier of the liberating power of repentance, which I wrote about here, spent so much time and energy declaring the word of God to his people. His whole work was an effort to convince people of the need to repent, of a loving Christ who atoned for the sins of each individual, and of the pure joy of being forgiven and embraced by a personal, knowable God. Alma only wished a more effective voice and wider audience:
¹Christian Smith. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. With Patricia Snell. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2009) p.165. [As quoted in John Gee. On Corrupting Youth. FARMS Review: Volume – 22, Issue – 2, (2010) pp. 195-28. Link: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=22&num=2&id=811#_edn155]