What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Self-Reliance?

A core message of the Book of Mormon is that we are nothing compared with God.

  • King Benjamin reminded his people that God created them, and that he preserves them from day to day “by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21).
  • Nephi pledged to trust in God forever and not to trust in “the arm of flesh.” Then he said, “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34).
  • Mormon condemned the obliviousness of people who thought they could take credit for their prosperity: “At the very time when he doth prosper his people,… then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity…. O how great is the nothingness of the children of men” (Helaman 12:2, 7).

The first principle of self-reliance, then, is that we are totally dependent upon God.

But that is not the end of the story. Book of Mormon prophets are clear that God expects us to do what we can for ourselves.

  • When Nephi and his family left his brothers and formed their own city, he said that they planted seeds and raised animals, made weapons to defend themselves, and built homes and other buildings. They were industrious, he said, and they were happy (2 Nephi 5:11, 14-15, 17, 27).
  • When Alma and his people escaped from King Noah, they “began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.” As a result, “they began to prosper exceedingly in the land” (Mosiah 23:5, 19).
  • Captain Moroni wrote to Pahoran, “Do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” (Alma 60:21).
  • Moroni lived this principle. He prepared his armies to defend themselves against the forces of Zarahemnah by providing armor for them and by asking the prophet for guidance (Alma 43:19-24). He later prepared the Nephite cities by building fortifications around them and by urging his people to pray (Alma 48:7-10, Alma 49:4-5, Alma 50:1-6). He trusted God but also believed that God expected him to work hard and to be prepared.

A church manual defines self-reliance as:

The ability, commitment, and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal necessities of life for self and family….
Church members are responsible for their own spiritual and temporal well-being. Blessed with the gift of agency, they have the privilege and duty to set their own course, solve their own problems, and strive to become self-reliant. Members do this under the inspiration of the Lord and with the labor of their own hands (Handbook 2, 6.1.1).

The manual lists six areas where church members should strive to be self-reliant: health, education, employment, home storage, finances, and spiritual strength.

Obviously, we can’t be entirely independent in any of those areas. But we can set goals, make plans, work hard, overcome obstacles and persevere. We can also plead with the Lord for help in each of these areas. Like Nephi, Alma, and Moroni, we can find joy and peace in hard work, risk management, and personal preparation. We can also trust that the Lord will prosper us as we exercise our agency to seek and follow His guidance.

Today, I will strive to become more self-reliant. I will remember that I am totally dependent upon God, but that He expects me to take advantage of the opportunities and blessings He has given to me. I will strive to maintain my physical and spiritual health, to prepare for emergencies, to continue my education, and to manage my finances carefully. As I do all of this, I will remember to trust God and to seek His help in faith.

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