Behold the condescension of God. Earlier, the angel asked Nephi if he understands it, and Nephi admits that he does not. Now the angel tries to show him. But what is it that Nephi sees? First is the mere fact of the Redeemer going forth. I’ve often heard it interpreted that the condescension is actually that of Jesus, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, willing to come down incarnate among mortals and subject himself to their rejection and cruelty. I’ve nothing against this interpretation, though it strikes me as merely a remnant of traditional Christian theology. But here there is the following series of “Looks!” with no other direction, taking us to the end of the chapter. It seems that this whole series of events is the condescension of God. There is a Redeemer sent, a prophet sent to prepare the way, rituals and ordinances given to humans, angels that descend to minister, an atonement performed, twelve apostles to testify and teach the world. That is, there is continual, varied forms of God reaching out to mortals. To me this is the lesson of the Book of Abraham as interpreted by Joseph Smith (e.g., in the King Follett Discourse). God has a singular reaction to the tragedy and suffering inherent in the universe: to condescend toward those lesser intelligences that exist; that is, to love and heal and unite with them, to spend existence in an effort to exalt them; this is the work and the glory of God. Condescension is succoring union.
Vs. 29 is opaque to me. I don’t understand what this means and don’t understand it in the chronology of events being described.
The great and spacious building. The angel says it’s the world and the wisdom of the world. Nephi declares it to be the pride of the world. And it is somehow tied to fighting against the apostles. I’ll take that last bit first. I struggle to understand this as well. I’m not sure what it could mean for all nations to fight against the apostles. As far as I understand it, what the apostles do qua apostles is to testify of Christ. So the world could fight against their testimony. But the world doesn’t much do that, and it brings to mind disturbing scenes from the past with crusaders and infidels, evil pagans and fanatical martyrs. And even if we accept such an interpretation of the declaration—interpreting it in traditional Christian terms as referring to pagan Rome fighting the rising tide of Christianity—the angel says “all nations.” Given the lack of a temporal caveat, it seems we ought to think of all nations—including nations today. This makes understanding even more difficult. The overwhelming force of today’s political culture round here and a significant portion of the world is to remain neutral on questions of religion. Many argue that neutrality actually isn’t neutral, but favors a secularizing of sensibilities. There’s a lot to say for that claim. But it doesn’t seem to me to be a compelling understanding of what it means to “fight”—vehement neutrality, even if it favors secularization, is far too passive. What does it mean for all nations to fight against the testimony of Christ (i.e., the apostles)?
Getting back to the wisdom or pride of the world. Again, the interpretation I’m familiar with is the one that reifies pride—the great human flaw, “enmity” as Elders C.S. Lewis and Benson have interpreted it—and to then say that this building is a symbol of that great vice, which will eventually fall (when the Lord chops down the cedars of Lebanon and casts them into the fire!). Grammatically, however, we can talk about it differently. My children are the pride of my life. This way of looking at it allows us to put both the angel’s and Nephi’s pronouncements together. The building is a symbol of the wisdom of the world (and it’s a good symbol for that—in the ancient world a large and complex building is an absolute wonder and would have indeed been a culmination of its wisdom). And wisdom is the pride of the world. This is the age of the axial sages, this is when philosophy, the love of wisdom, was born. It is indeed our learning and our accomplishments and what we build that we take pride in. In and of themselves there is good reason in this, and it is not a vice. But all of it, all of our wisdom, all of our accomplishment, no matter how great and spacious, eventually will fall. Death and time and entropy cover us all. There is only the testimony of certain witnesses who claim to have seen and known something different: a resurrected, glorified being. A God who’s existence is oriented (or condescends) to the resurrection and glorification of all.