The Gospel Doctrine lesson #18 manual objective is “[to] help class members appreciate the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and stay true to their testimonies of the Atonement.”
To examine Abinadi’s discourse on true beauty.
Mosiah 14 is a chapter that sticks with me as one of the few chapters that describes the Messiah in terms of physical appearance. This word portrait of the Savior is not flattering. Even less flattering the portrayal of his contemporaries, who see physical appearances but are blind to true worth. This time of rereading the Abinadi chapters of Mosiah 12 – 17, I was struck by a consistent theme of beauty and appearances and began to explore this text to see whether this idea of beauty was more deeply embedded in Abinadi’s gospel message than I had thought.
We’re familiar with the dramatic context of Abinadi’s sermons. Thrown out of the city of Nephi for his preaching, Abinadi disguises himself and comes back with the same grim warning of persecution and destruction for King Noah and his people unless they repent. The result: his trial before the priests of the city, accused of slander and false prophecy. King Noah’s priests conduct this trial with an interrogation of Abinadi’s doctrinal understanding, using holy texts to test his answers. Citing Isaiah 52:7-10, they ask Abinadi to interpret words in praise of beauty, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who bringeth good tidings; who publisheth peace. . . .” Why would they think this particular passage would stump a man like Abinadi? Abinadi has been brought to court for his prophecies of gloomy destruction– is this request to interpret one of the most joyful descriptions of preaching a sarcastic dig against his role as messenger of God? Are these priests snidely implying that Abinadi should be giving happy predictions rather than dire warnings?
To the priests of King Noah, Abinadi is not a beautiful messenger, and his message is not at all good tidings. But the priests’ sarcastic appeal to a gospel of beauty and peace only pushes Abinadi to a deeper kind of call to repentance. His response to their questions is an impassioned plea, not just that the priests clean up their appearance of evil or their surface-level sins, but that they truly understand the doctrine of salvation and the role of the Messiah.
Abinadi continues reading Isaiah, and his chosen passage again talks about appearances and perceptions. This time, however, the subject is not beautiful and the circumstances are not harmonious. In the context of this passage, Isaiah describes the “marred visage” or disfigured face of the Lord’s servant (Isaiah 52:14). And in Abinadi’s quotation of Isaiah 53, he describes the Messiah himself as one who has “no form or comeliness” and “no beauty that we should desire him” (Mosiah 14:2). This Redeemer, Abinadi reminds the priests, would not be recognized by his beauty. He wouldn’t be immediately appealing. In fact, the very hardships of his mission to save his people would make him seem especially unattractive. Conflicts would arise out of his ministry. And people would turn away from him, thinking that his suffering was evidence that he was out of favor with God.
Why is beauty an important gospel topic? Beauty draws us to itself, gives us joy, and inspires creativity. But in these chapters, Abinadi shows that the beauty of the gospel is not always immediately evident. He reminds us of the tricks of appearance in our quest for truth or goodness, and he refuses to accept the priests’ unthinking and shallow lifestyle of peace and prosperity. As he delves into the deeper meanings of scriptures, he models for us the need to go beneath the surface, not in a rejection of beauty itself, but so that we can understand what true beauty really is. In Mosiah 15, Abinadi comes back to the priests’ original passage, this time clarifying the costs and value of that beauty and redefining our relationship to it. He expounds Isaiah’s words, boldly aligning himself with the prophets who preach of Christ, and then clarifies the source of beauty and peace: “And behold, I say unto you, this is not all. For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people” (Mosiah 15:18).
Elaine Dalton echoes Abinadi when she urges us to, “look into the mirror of eternity. Remember who you are! See yourself as our Heavenly Father sees you. You are elect. You are of noble birth. Don’t compromise your divine inheritance. You were born to be a queen. . . . Develop deep beauty.” Abinadi is an advocate for beauty and peace, but this comes only through a deeper vision of the doctrine of salvation and the spirit of prophecy, a deeper engagement with the word of God. The Savior descended into an ugly world of suffering in order to infuse it with true beauty. If we look with the eyes of the Savior we can see this beauty in ourselves and in the world around us.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Standing Firm When It All Falls Apart, Ashlee Birk
I would say, believe in yourself. Every trial enables us to discover our own strength. We can turn to Heavenly Father and we can turn to the gospel, but we can’t find out who we are through anyone else. No amount of makeup or clothes or kind words will change the way you view yourself. Even though we aren’t perfect, Heavenly Father sees our beauty and He sees our willingness to work hard. He sees everything that no one else does. I wish women who are going through hard times would see themselves as God sees them. If we could do that, we wouldn’t doubt ourselves or question our abilities or our worth.
Other Related Women’s Voices
Here to Serve A Righteous Cause, Carol F. McConkie
I was reminded that to shine with the beauty of holiness, to stand with the Savior, and to bless others, we must be clean. Purity is possible through the grace of Christ as we deny ungodliness and choose to love God with might, mind, and strength.
Remember Who You Are!, Elaine Dalton
Recently, a group of young women visited my office. At the end of the visit, one young woman confided with tears in her eyes, “I have never thought of myself as beautiful. I have always felt very ordinary. But today, as I walked past the mirror in your office and glanced into it, I was beautiful!” She was beautiful because her face shone with the Spirit. She saw herself as our Heavenly Father sees her. She had received His image in her countenance. That is deep beauty.