Marvel Not.

December 8, 2004 | 7 comments

“Go forth and marvel not,” the angels said.

Those words concluded the miraculous events in the prison in the land of Nephi. Two brothers, Nephi and Lehi, were imprisoned there. Enemies came to the prison to take them, probably to their deaths. But fire from heaven came and surrounded Nephi and Lehi, while their enemies were struck dumb and immobile, and a darkness came to swath them. Then a voice from heaven cried repentance three times, shaking the walls. The enemies managed to recover enough movement to look to Nephi and Lehi. They saw a light around them and cried our for repentance. And then they too were surrounded by pillars of fire and heard a voice saying Peace and angels came and ministered to them.

When I read about it I always know I’ve read an extraordinary thing, one of the Great Passages in the Book of Mormon. It makes me shake my head that the angels said, “Marvel not” at the end of it. Why not marvel?

I can only guess that marveling at these heavenly outbreaks makes us tourists to the supernatural when God wants us to be citizens of it. Marveling must psychologically separate us from miraculous events somehow. I remember something the lovely one said when we were reading through First Nephi. We’d got to that scene in the recovery of the brass plates where Laman and Lemuel decide to call the whole enterprise off and beat their obnoxious younger brother Nephi to boot. They grabbed a rod and started doing it. Then an angel came down and stopped the two of them and promised all the brothers that if they went to Jerusalem one more time the Lord would deliver Laban and his brass plates into their hands. Pretty dramatic. After the angel left Laman and Lemuel immediately started doubting. Was it really possible, they said, that God would deliver the mighty Laban into their hands?

When we read this I said what everyone says at this point, that Laman and Lemuel must have been thick in the head. When angels appear sensible persons start thinking there might be something to all this God stuff. They don’t go around saying, gee, I don’t know if God is really a match for Laban. Laban’s mighty.

Of course they believed in God’s power, the lovely one said. They weren’t that stupid. They’d seen the angel. They just didn’t understand God at all, so they didn’t trust him.

I thought it over and decided she was right. God just didn’t make sense to Laman and Lemuel. He completely disordered their natural world. He made their father rave in the streets about the end coming near, drove them all out of Jerusalem, made their younger brother their superior, decreed Jerusalem’s destruction though the people in Jereusalem seemed righteous to them, and, oddest thing of all, made an angel appear to them. They couldn’t fit the angel into the basic fabric of their life–instead they resented it as a supernatural intruder, much as others would have gaped and marvelled at it as a supernatural intruder–and so it changed them very little. If only this visit from an angel could have become part of who they were.

Kaimi Wenger’s mentioned sitting in his office feeling like it was all a unreal. I’ve felt the same way about my spiritual experiences. Just this Sunday we fasted a full 24 hours for the first time in a long time, in obedience to Elder Pratt’s suggestion that it would make us very sensitive to the Spirit. It did. We spent Sunday evening positively wallowing in spiritual insight and the presence God. We could hardly contain ourselves. Now, today, Sunday evening already seems like a foreign country. It hardly happened to me at all.

You all are saints. You’ve had spiritual experiences and blessings. Do you remember them? Do you remember them from the inside? Try. They too are real life.

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7 Responses to Marvel Not.

  1. Ethesis (Stephen M) on December 8, 2004 at 9:26 am

    They just didn’t understand God at all, so they didn’t trust him. is a good point, and one theology often does not prepare people for.

    Sure, Job suffered, but we pay tithing so God will make sure we are part of the elect and bad things won’t happen to us. (I know, I’ve shortened it down a lot, but you will hear variations on that theme from the pulpit 15-20 times a year, not counting fast&testimony meetings).

    After all else God had done to their world, it makes very good sense that the two brothers would not trust him not to do something else just as harsh, arbitrary and unpleasant.

    Especially since in Jerusalem of the time there was a bit of a religious revival and the people felt themselves to be holy and epecially deserving of God’s grace and succor. They were, very much like the people in the post about killing the Zion society ( ) convinced they were a part of a return to God.

    We don’t often talk of the people that Lehi left and that Jerimiah labored over as people who saw themselves as returing to holiness and in a special place to claim miracles and rescue from their enemies from God. But we know that is how they saw themselves.

    It is why I often wonder if their are messages we are hearing, but not listening to or heeding, that will be obvious to those who come after us. is what I had to say about my personal thoughts, for my individual life, but I think it is also something we need to think about from our group life and perspectives.

  2. cooper on December 8, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Adam could it be that the angel’s charge to “marvel not” was one of education? Did he want them to understand that this was a normal part of a spiritual life and not a magician’s trick to gain attention?

    I have pondered the scripture before and listened what those outside the gospel have said with regard to heavenly visitations. Some seem to have such a lack of its possibilities that they would marvel if it came to pass. Interestingly enough the radio program I was listening to this morning, on the way to work, spoke of the visitation to the shepards by the angel. The DJ was trying to make sense of the “they were sore afraid” description and had questions to its real meaning. He said “If y’all want to be really confused, just read more of the Bible!”

    While Nephi and Lehi were not unfamiliar with God and the possibility of angels, their were not. They encountered an appartition so stunning it took them out of themselves, then the angel told them to not marvel at the action, sort of like – “This was real guys, and not trickery, as your mind will want to tell at some future time”.

    I will ponder more. Thanks for the post.

  3. Adam Greenwood on December 8, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about–the tendency to compartmentalize. You see it elsewhere in Helaman, too, when Nephi makes his prophecy about the Chief Judge. When it gets fulfilled people are amazed. ‘He must be a god!’ Then they wander off.

  4. cooper on December 8, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    Exactly. That’s why we are asked to put off the natural man. When we do, we have the ability to develop our spiritual self and gain the ability to access that spiritual gift on a regular basis. So many people “feel” the spirirt. It beckens them homeward, however without the “correct guidance system” in place they (we) quickly lose our way.

    Pres. Packer gave a talk recently admonishing the brethren to fashion their lives so as to dwell with the Holy Ghost 24 hours a day. I suggested this could apply to each of us as I taught Gospel Doctrine one Sunday. The response, from a then member of the Bishopric, was that it was an impossible task. If it were so impossible – would Pres Packer ask that it be done? Would the angels ask us to marvel not if it were the case?

    I think you have hit on something Adam. It is right that we should marvel not. That we should live so as not to be amazed by these strong spiritual happenings, because they are so familiar to us.

  5. Kaimi on December 8, 2004 at 3:30 pm

    Perhaps it is that the raw manifestation of spiritual power can create cognitive dissonance in its recipients. We have to be reminded of who we are, what we’re doing, and so forth.

  6. Adam Greenwood on December 8, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    So, Kaimi, are you saying something like you have to a framework understanding of who you are and what your purpose is into which spiritual experiences can fit?

    Or is it just that you’re supposed to adjust your framework to fit spiritual experiences it when they happen and leave it adjusted?

    The latter makes the angels advice kinda interesting/ “Go forth and reconceptualize the world in a way that makes sense of this spiritual experience.” I like it.

  7. Larry on December 8, 2004 at 5:54 pm


    A meaningful insight on your part.
    I have reflected on this from time to time and came to my own conclusion. If we understand, as Alma explained in Alma 32, that when we come to belief and understanding – it is “light”. The impact the experience has on us depends on how much “light” we have. Light acting on light increases light. However, as the Saviour said: “…if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” then a rejection is quite plausible.
    As for remembering what happened Sunday night, just remember you had to go back out into the world, which is for all intents and purposes, metaphorically speaking, outer darkness compared to where you were. The light will dim until you go back to where you were.


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