I know there are some people who have an immediately negative or skeptical reaction to the Book of Mormon (the book, not the musical, just to be clear), and if you’re one of those people, I ask you to hear me out on this, and, if you can find it in you to temporarily suspend your less-than-enthusiastic feelings for a moment and simply consider the following, I encourage you to do so.
In 1986, an LDS leader – the president of the church, whom Latter-day Saints believe to be “a prophet, seer, and revelator” (think modern-day Moses or Isaiah) – made a curious statement regarding this unique text:
It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path…When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance (emphasis mine).
I’ve sequentially read through the 531 pages of the Book of Mormon several times. I’ve also studied it in a somewhat similar way to how I study some textbooks for school: reviewing certain topics, themes, narrative structures, subsections, literary devices, and whole sub-books. I’ve counted and marked the number of times Christ is mentioned (6,758, by my last count). I’ve counted and marked the instances where a divine voice – either Christ’s or the Father’s – is quoted or speaks directly (949, by my last count), which is a distinct break from the very human, largely first-person, though multi-speaker narrative that makes up most of the Book of Mormon.
The gathering of interesting facts and trivia like these, is all well and good, and can certainly serve a purpose. But each of these personal explorations of the text have yielded an interesting side-effect for me. The side-effect has been the feeling of something deep within me stirring my soul and drawing me back to the Book of Mormon for more. Not more of book-knowledge in and of itself, necessarily. Just more of this really wonderful feeling of being close to God and seeing all of life more clearly – a kind of quiet happiness and joy. In other words, my experiences have led me to conclude that the statement by Ezra Taft Benson is true. There is a power in the book. I do feel a strength within me to resist temptation. I do feel a new kind of eyesight and discernment to avoid deception. And I find an internal resolve to stay true to my commitments. Life is more abundant, more clear, and more enjoyable.
The heart and soul of the LDS Church is not that individual members simply give intellectual assent to some authority figure. My belief is that the heart and soul of our church lies in the hearts of individual Latter-day Saints who have felt this same stirring, this same power, which we believe to be the still, small voice of the Spirit of the Lord – the same spirit that confirms the truths of the Bible, which Latter-day Saints also read, study, and love.
Of course, while I hope – based on my experiences – that more people will want to read the Book of Mormon to test promises like these, I also know that many will remain indifferent, maybe because it’s a religious text, maybe because it is rather dense, maybe because they’d just rather see the musical than read the book. Even so, I hope that eventually the Book of Mormon will be viewed more favorably by the outside world, because there’s a lot to value in this book. As historian Daniel Walker Howe described
True or not, the Book of Mormon is a powerful epic written on a grand scale with a host of characters, a narrative of human struggle and conflict, of divine intervention, heroic good and atrocious evil, of prophecy, morality and law. Its narrative structure is complex. The idiom is that of the King James Version, which most Americans assumed to be appropriate for divine revelation. Although it contains elements that suggest the environment of New York in the 1820s (for example, episodes paralleling the Masonic/Antimasonic controversy), the dominant themes are biblical, prophetic, and patriarchal, not democratic or optimistic. It tells a tragic story, of a people who, though possessed of the true faith, fail in the end. Yet it does not convey a message of despair; God’s will cannot ultimately be frustrated. The Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature, but it has never been accorded the status it deserves, since Mormons deny Joseph Smith’s authorship, and non-Mormons, dismissing the book as a fraud, have been more likely to ridicule than to read it (Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, Oxford History of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 314 [as cited in Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon – A Reader’s Guide, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 11]).
Even if you never pick up a Book of Mormon and start reading, I hope you’ll at least glance at the posts here categorized as A Mormon’s Book of Mormon (link also above on the menu), which will highlight phrases, verses, or teachings that you’d find marked or starred in a Mormon’s personal copy of the Book of Mormon – mere remembrances, really, of times in their lives when, while reading their Book of Mormon, they too felt a special power.