“The Condescension of God”

Alan C. Miner

Gerald Lund notes that after Lehi recounted to his family his marvelous vision in which he had seen the tree of life, Nephi reported that he was "desirous also that [he] might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (1 Nephi 10:17; emphasis added). Nephi was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain where a grand vision was unfolded before him, and he saw not only what his father had seen but also much more. In the early part of that vision, on two different occasions, the angelic messenger used an unusual phrase--"the condescension of God" (1 Nephi 11:15-16; 11:26). . . . As Nephi obeyed the angel and looked, he saw the Redeemer of the world. He saw his earthly ministry and its culmination in the death of the Savior (see 1 Nephi 11:26-32). . . .

According to Lund, if we are to more fully comprehend the idea of God's condescension, we must first understand who he was before coming to earth. As we look at Christ as the Creator, we are told in latter-day revelation that the extent of his creations is so vast that they cannot be numbered unto man (Moses 1:33, 35, 37). Enoch stated the same idea in a much more dramatic form when he said the following: "And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations" (Moses 7:30).

For much of the world's history, man has had to accept these statements basically on faith, for as we look up in the heavens with the naked eye, we can see approximately six thousand stars. Only in our own century have we begun to sense the vastness of the universe. . . . The vastness of space is such that normal measurements do not suffice to describe the distances between stars and galaxies. So astronomers have come up with a measurement called the "light year" or the distance that light traveling at approximately 186,000 miles-per-second will travel in a year's time. That distance turns out to be approximately six trillion miles. Here is an analogy to help us conceptualize the vastness of the universe. Someone calculated that if we took the distance from the earth to the sun, which is ninety-three million miles, and reduced that in scale down to where it was the thickness of a single sheet of typing paper, the distance from our earth to the nearest star would be a stack of paper seventy-one feet high! On that same scale, the diameter of the Milky Way, our own galaxy, would be a stack of paper three hundred and ten miles high. And if we carried that same scale on to the edge of the known universe, we would have a stack of paper thirty-one million miles high or a stack of paper that would stretch from the earth nearly one third of the way to the sun.

When we consider the incredible vastness of the numbers of creations, all of which were completed under the direction of the Father by the Only Begotten, we begin to sense the position, the majesty and power that were his before his coming to earth. [Gerald N. Lund, "'Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?'," in Doctrines of the Book of Mormon: The 1991 Sperry Symposium, pp. 80, 82-83] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 4:26]

According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers), the term "condescension" or "condescension of God" is not found in the Bible. The word "condescend" is found but once, in Paul's epistle to the Romans, where Paul lists a number of qualities required for saintly living: "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate" (Romans 12:16). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

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