When starting to read the Book of Mormon the first verse is something I have read many times however have skipped over much of the meaning preferring to focus instead on the narrative. In the first verse of the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 1:1, Nephi mentions that he had good parents, a good education, and that he was “highly favored of the Lord”. This status of being highly favored I never really thought too deeply about however it has immense meaning and applicability to us today.
In Oct 2020, Elder Stevenson gave a talk titled, “Highly Favored of the Lord” in which he interprets the concept of being favored by God. In the talk he mentions the covid pandemic and how much impact it has had on things. He then continues by quoting 1 Nephi 1:1 and then keys on the fact that Nephi writes that he had “seen many afflictions in the course of my days,” nevertheless he was “highly favored of the Lord in all [his] days”.
Elder Stevenson then explains through various examples that hard things can happen and we as a people are still highly favored of the Lord. I understand what he is trying to say however I think he greatly misses the mark as to what a highly favored people of the Lord actually are. Certainly, bad things can happen, and we shouldn’t forget God in that time of affliction. However, we must also not assume a standing before God that is unwarranted. God punishes the wicked in order to help them understand the consequences of their actions. In addition, assuming a people is highly favored of the Lord doesn’t make it true.
I don’t want to go through Elder Stevenson’s entire talk however I do want to just briefly discuss some small quotes from the talk. Early in his talk he mentions:
Times of affliction and disappointment do not change the watchful eye of the Lord as He favorably looks upon us, blessing us.Elder Stevenson
Certainly, times of affliction should remind us that God is watchful of all people that seek him. We also can keep in mind that the blessings from God are available to all who are willing to obey him and his commandments. The critical thing to keep in mind though is sometimes punishment is a source of divine anger therefore we must constantly be looking inward.
Elder Stevenson then continues in his talk:
We too can draw parallels as individual members and as a church in the way in which we have been highly favored of the Lord during the challenging times we have encountered the past several months.Elder Stevenson
He then proceeds to list a number of ways that the church has been highly favored of the Lord during the pandemic. This includes cancelling the third hour, switching to a new educational curriculum, loosening the concept of home and visiting teaching, and finding joy that the temples reopened after their closure. Scripturally none of those things have anything to do with being favored of God. Each of them could be supported by evidence to indicate they were good ideas based on trends in membership and their attitudes concerning church policies. Each one of them was also done to some degree by other religious groups that according to LDS belief should not be as divinely guided. Thus, it is strange he would assert those things as evidences of any kind of divine favor. It would be kind of comical if instead of prophesying of Christ, Samuel the Lamanite instead got on the city wall and told the people that God wanted them to meet one hour less on Sunday.
Lastly, he concludes his talk with:
I pray that, along with Nephi, we can acknowledge the afflictions in the course of our days while at the same time recognizing that we are highly favored of the Lord.Elder Stevenson
Affliction is a key aspect of drawing closer to Christ. As we fight the natural man and work contrary to Babylon then we most certainly will experience affliction. At various times this will be more severe than others. In his talk though he states that the LDS people are “highly favored of the Lord” based on no scriptural evidence. As will be shown shortly, signs of a highly favored people of the Lord are distinct, numerous, and divine in origin. Policy decisions that were debated before the pandemic was even news certainly don’t qualify as sign of God’s favor. As will be discussed, the LDS people currently enjoy almost no signs of divine favor. At least not as compared to the examples we have from the scriptures.
To actually understand what “highly favored of the Lord” means it can be helpful to look at a few examples from the scriptures. Chronologically, the first usage of this phrase is in Ether 1:34 which describes the brother of Jared as a man that was “highly favored of the Lord”. From the rest of the account, we can understand that he was a great prophet who had a personal relationship with God. He ends up leading his people away from their known world to a land of promise and plenty. However, he was not without problems according to verse 14 where he was chastened for three hours by God.
On the other hand, later in the book of Ether we have an account of many kings who seemed to vacillate between good and evil. This unfortunately must have been a hard time to live in the land as the people were subjected to the whims of their leaders. The scriptural record however indicates God’s feelings towards one particular leader. In Ether 10:13 the record describes that a king named Kim inherited the throne from his father who treated the people justly. Kim however, “did not reign in righteousness, wherefore he was not favored of the Lord”.
Thus, we see that those people who are unrighteous are not favored of God which certainly makes sense. However, the concept of being favored or highly favored by God is still not fully clear. This is also a little more complicated by 1 Nephi 17:35, where Nephi mentions:
Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God.1 Nephi 17:35
In this passage it seems Nephi is saying that God respects and admires everyone equally however those that are righteous enjoy a more favorable standing with God. To understand this more fully we can look at what it means to find favor with God.
Favored of the Lord
In 1 Nephi 3, Nephi is asked by his father Lehi to return to Jerusalem in order to obtain a set of records that Lehi knew would be advantageous to his people. This journey was likely not very pleasant and involved obtaining the records from someone that wouldn’t part with them easily. Thus, it was not something that Nephi would automatically want to embark on. Lehi at the end of his speaking with Nephi mentions that he “shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured”.
Another example is in Mosiah 10:11 which states, “Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord-therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them”. Therefore, we can see that two aspects of being favored of the Lord is to obey his commandments and not murmur against him or his servants.
The concept of being highly favored is refined in Alma 48:20, which describes how numerous prophets and great leaders had worked with the people and gave them reasons to repent and return to God. The verse describes that “the people did humble themselves because of their words, insomuch that they were highly favored of the Lord, and thus they were free from wars and contentions among themselves”.
One last example is found in Alma 27:27-30. This is an account of a righteous people that turned away from their violence and made a promise to God that they would never use violence again even in the defense of their own lives. The people are described as follows:
And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end. … And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.Alma 27:27-30
From these examples we can see that to be a highly favored people of God then we must not complain against God’s doings, we must keep his commandments, humble ourselves, be firm in the faith of Christ, and be zealous in our righteousness. At first this may seem like a high bar to meet. However, this is just describing that we must be fully converted to God. Once we are converted then our actions will match, and we will become a highly favored people of the Lord.
Fruit of Being Highly Favored
Alma 9:20-22 shows exactly what a people that are highly favored of the Lord can expect from God. It describes the Nephites and the many wonderful things they were blessed with as they listened and obeyed God.
After having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; (1) after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come; (2) having been visited by the Spirit of God; (3) having conversed with angels, and (4) having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and (5) having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation; yea, and after (6) having been delivered of God out of the land of Jerusalem, by the hand of the Lord; (7) having been saved from famine, and from sickness, and all manner of diseases of every kind; and they (8) having waxed strong in battle, that they might not be destroyed (9) having been brought out of bondage time after time, and (10) having been kept and preserved until now; and they (11) have been prospered until they are rich in all manner of things.Alma 9:20-22
Therefore, we can see that the Nephites enjoyed a very large number of blessings from God and were in a very real sense a highly favored people of the Lord. This also begs the question of whether we today are a highly favored people of the Lord if we are not seeing these same blessings. Of course, some of them may be manifest to some degree at one time or another. However, in reality we enjoy very few of these blessings in any real sense at all. Therefore, it is confusing how anyone could claim the LDS people as being highly favored of the Lord or even favored of God at all.
Since the blessings to the Nephites from God were so many and so miraculous to a highly favored people then it is very understandable why God would rather remove those people from the earth than let them continue in their wickedness. The passage continues in verse 23 by describing how even though the Lamanites were wicked, God tolerated their wickedness more than that of the Nephites. This was because the Nephites had been a highly favored people and then turned away from God to live a life of wickedness. They turned away from the high blessings of God to something that was obviously of less value and wouldn’t in the end bring them the happiness they sought. As God blesses us with more of his glory then the consequences from turning away from him become much more severe.
Being a highly favored people of the Lord is being a righteous people that enjoy many signs of divine favor. These signs are numerous and are frankly missing today from the LDS church. This is not to say that the LDS church is not favored at all or is not special. However, we must be honest that if we as a people are highly favored then why do we not see the same signs of acceptance and blessings that the scriptures describe that we should be seeing? Why do we see no signs of divine acceptance for any temples? Why are the LDS people almost indistinguishable from Babylon? Why should we as a church be experiencing the same calamities as the rest of the world? Why are the signs of our assumed favor with God the same things other churches are doing? God wants us to be a highly favored people however we first have to recognize our true standing with God so then we can understand what actually needs to happen.