1 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded me, wherefore I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people. And upon the plates which I made I did engraven the record of my father, and also our journeyings in the wilderness, and the prophecies of my father; and also many of mine own prophecies have I engraven upon them.
2 And I knew not at the time when I made them that I should be commanded of the Lord to make these plates; wherefore, the record of my father, and the genealogy of his fathers, and the more part of all our proceedings in the wilderness are engraven upon those first plates of which I have spoken; wherefore, the things which transpired before I made these plates are, of a truth, more particularly made mention upon the first plates.
3 And after I had made these plates by way of commandment, I, Nephi, received a commandment that the ministry and the prophecies, the more plain and precious parts of them, should be written upon these plates; and that the things which were written should be kept for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land, and also for other wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.
(1 Nephi 19:1-3)
7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
(Words of Mormon 1:7)
After providing some insight into his record keeping process in two earlier editorial notes (1 Nephi 6, 1 Nephi 9), Nephi provides some additional insight in the passage above. Originally, there was only one set of plates. The second set (which contains the text found in the Book of Mormon) came only after he had recorded a great deal of content on the first set. Since he only had one set of plates at first, he recorded everything on them, both secular and spiritual. But on this new set of plates, he limited the content to “the more plain and precious parts” of his ministry and prophecies.
What was the purpose of this new set of plates? Why were they necessary? Nephi was aware of one purpose: “for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land.” His posterity would benefit from having a dedicated record of his spiritual experiences and the doctrines he understood. But he also knew that there were other purposes, “wise purposes, which purposes are known unto the Lord.” He was willing to take a leap of faith, to make significant effort on a project without fully knowing why that project was so important.
Nearly a thousand years later, Mormon found these plates among a collection of the historical records of his people. “I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands,” he wrote, “and I found these plates” (Words of Mormon 1:3). Even though space was limited in his abridgment of the history of his people, he was so impressed with these concise words of Nephi and some of Nephi’s descendants that he decided to include them in his book without any modifications. “I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren” (Words of Mormon 1:6). Why was this a good idea? He didn’t know. As he tells us in the passage above, “I do this for a wise purpose…. And now I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things.”
When we are asked to do something, we naturally want to understand why. Even small children will ask that question. We don’t want to waste time and energy on activities which are unlikely to produce a meaningful return on investment. It takes trust to fulfill a request without fully understanding the reasons. Sometimes in life we have to do this. We follow instructions because of our confidence in the person making the request. Nephi and Mormon both knew the Lord and trusted Him enough to make significant decisions based on that kind of trust.
After a recent announcement clarifying the importance of using the correct name of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson was asked about the difficulty of changing deeply ingrained habits. He said, “We know that it’s going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than 100 years. And we don’t have all the answers. All we know is the Lord has said, ‘Thus shall my church be called …. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ That’s enough for me” (“‘We’re correcting a name,’ President Russell M. Nelson tells Latter-day Saints in Canada,” Deseret News, 18 August 2018).
Today, I will seek to emulate the faith demonstrated by Nephi, Mormon, and President Nelson. I will remember that I don’t have to have all of the answers in order to take reasonable action. When I know what the Lord wants me to do, I will do it, rather than expect to understand all of the reasons for the request before moving forward. I will trust that the Lord’s commandments are given for a wise purpose.