During our recent reading of 3 Nephi, a particular part of the pride cycle raised some interesting political and spiritual questions for me. In 3 Nephi chapter 4, the Nephite nation has just overcome and destroyed the Gadianton robbers, at great cost. In 3 Nephi 5:1, we learn
And now behold, there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled.And then in verse three we learn:
Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.So it would seem that these people are pretty righteous right now. They take all the robbers prisoner, and, as we learn in verse four:
…they did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty.I have always been amazed by this manner of dealing with criminals, and a little envious. What would be to live in a world where your word is truly your bond, and conversion to the gospel can create a trustworthy person from a former robber?
I still believe that it would be wonderful if this could be so, and I believe that the Nephites did what they thought was best. But…as we continued reading, we learned that this righteousness and peace are short-lived. Just eight years later:
And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness. (3 Nephi 6:17)Just eight short years later these same righteous Nephites have turned completely back to evilness. And for the first time, I made a possible connection between the quick return to wickedness and the influence of the Gadiantons. Is it possible that some of the robbers released after their conversion returned to their evil ways? Could that be what hastened the downfall of the Nephites at this time? Is it possible that the Nephites were too merciful for their own good? I have no idea if it is even possible to answer these questions, but it has certainly changed the way I think about this part of the story.
…but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.(3 Nephi 7:1)