We Need Unbelievers Like Nephi

We Need Unbelievers Like Nephi November 19, 2018

Are you like Laman and Lemuel?

I’ve often heard this self-deprecating aside in Sunday School lessons. Don’t we all sometimes feel like the skeptical disbelieving brothers and less like the valiant hero of The Book of Mormon’s beginning?


Let’s talk a moment about the disbelieving, hard-hearted sons of Lehi. Don’t be too hard on them, one of them became the prophet.

Oh wait, did you not realize we were talking about Nephi and Sam?

Nephi doesn’t much discuss his initial hesitation about believing his father. He wrote the book of 1 Nephi much later in his life when a long list of choices had separated their paths. Nephi’s emphasis was clearly on showing how his brother’s attitudes led to their later downfall.

What was Laman and Lemuel’s initial problem? They had “stiffneckedness” (1 Nephi 2:11)

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to discover what Nephi’s first reaction was to his father’s words. Only five verses later we learned that the Lord had to “soften [Nephi’s] heart.”

Parenthetically,  in the King James Bible, the word translated most often into stiffnecked (qasheh/qashah) is also translated into hard-hearted. Nephi’s hard heart was the same thing as his brother’s stiff necks.

And not only did the Lord soften Nephi’s heart, He helped him believe his father’s words.

So that means . . .

That’s right. Nephi did not believe his father’s words at first.

So when you feel unsure, hesitant, faithless, or unbelieving, sure you may be emulating Laman and Lemuel, but you’re also emulating Nephi. You are in good company.

Sure, Nephi did not immediately believe his dad that Jerusalem would fall. Who would? The city had stood for four-hundred years unconquered. It even withstood a siege from the most powerful empire on Earth, probably during the life of Nephi’s father or grandfather.

But the fact that Nephi’s mind did not immediately jump to the conclusion that his dad was right didn’t doom him to the same life as Laman and Lemuel. Why should it? This is the same mind, that at least based on his contemporaries, thought the planet was a rectangle.

Fortunately, for Nephi, he had a little bit of intellectual humility. Rather than mocking his father, he prayed.

Nephi prays
“Not Knowing Beforehand” Copyright by Al Young. Courtesy Al Young Studios.

I know that some who don’t believe feel as though they don’t belong as part of the Church of Jesus Christ. They feel excluded. Some feel embarrassed, ashamed, guilty. Don’t. Because if you don’t belong, Nephi didn’t belong. And if Nephi was excluded, kicked out, or marginalized then there is no promised land, no Book of Mormon, no restoration. We need Nephi. And we need you.

Look, when Russell Nelson recently said we should stop calling ourselves Mormons, I didn’t believe. I didn’t. It goes against my training and instincts. But it doesn’t matter what I thought, it matters what I did next.

I’m not sure what your doubt is, what your hangup or concern is.

What matters is what you do next. So be an unbeliever like Nephi.


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