“The Anguish of My Soul”

Ed J. Pinegar, Richard J. Allen

With prophetic vision, Nephi sees the time when the Savior will visit the Nephites following His ministry in the Holy Land. The prelude to that visit is to be an unprecedented natural catastrophe that will leave much of the land in ruins and bring about the destruction of the wicked. Nephi is consumed with pain and grief over the loss of life. He has witnessed in vision the decline and destruction of his people. Those among us who observe the waywardness of loved ones can understand and grieve with Nephi.

Memories: The Broken Heart of Charity

Within the magnificent six-spired Washington D.C. Temple there is a wall-size mural depicting the Day of Judgment. The Savior stands majestically in the center, His joyful followers to His right and the lost hordes of the shame-filled and wayward to His left. The point of departure is the scripture in Matthew that reads: “And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:32–34).

My wife and I were living in that area of the country during the construction of the temple and thus had the opportunity to participate in the dedicatory session on November 19, 1974, conducted under the direction of Spencer W. Kimball. During our subsequent visits to the temple, I would look intently at the mural of the “sheep and the goats” and ponder on the significance of the doctrine reflected in it. More often than not I would find myself instinctively associating with those happy souls to the Savior’s right-hand side (after all, was I not in the House of the Lord?) and sensing relief at not finding fellowship with those on his left. But was that the appropriate sentiment?

When Nephi was granted a vision of the unfolding of his people’s destiny leading up to the time of the resurrected Savior’s visit in America, he perceived the judgment that took place at that time, including the widespread destruction of the wicked. Was his mindset one of relief at not having affinity with the wayward and prideful? Listen to his expression: “O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just” (2 Nephi 26:7). And further: “And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, not withstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass… . For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul” (2 Nephi 26:10–11).

Pain and anguish of soul over the wicked? Being consumed with grief over the sinful? That is the perspective of a prophet and a man of charity. Throughout the Book of Mormon we are presented with portraits of individuals who reflect either hearts that are soft and humble or hearts that are hard and rebellious. This is one of the grand themes of the book, summarized in the essential quality of having a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (see 2 Nephi 2:7; 4:32; 3 Nephi 9:20; 12:19; Mormon 2:14; Ether 4:15; Moroni 6:2). We are prone to think of this phrase as pertaining to our inward humility and contrition of soul before our Father in Heaven—and so it does. But does the phrase not also refer to the quality of heart we bring to bear in our relationships with others—in our ability to suspend judgment and exercise service-minded forbearance when others seem to stray or fall short in some way? Does a broken heart not also mean broken over the loss of blessings that others seem to relinquish when they wander into forbidden pathway? Does a contrite spirit not also imply being consumed with grief over the suffering that others must go through based on their choices? Is this compassionate quality of soul not a quality of the discipleship of charity?

“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9–14).

Thus it seems that the broken heart of charity—as it reaches out to do all in its power to rescue the disenfranchised, to reclaim the transgressor, to give hope through the gospel to the lost—comes very close to resonating with the Savior’s pattern of love because, while not robbing justice one whit, it extends gentle service to all, even those who may find themselves shifting toward His left-hand side. (Richard J. Allen)

Commentaries and Insights on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1