“Knowest thou the condescension of God?”
This question was posed to Nephi in a vision by one he refers to as the Spirit of the Lord. (1 Nephi 11:16) I’ve read this verse many, many times and I’ve often heard young people mispronounce it as “condensation” which always cracks me up.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately though as I’ve been hovering around the tree of life vision for several months now; I keep coming back to it and finding things that interest me.
The wording of this question always struck me as somewhat awkward, and what is being implied by the word “condescension” isn’t clear. In fact, in all of scripture, we only find it 5 times and all of those occurrences are in the first three books of the Book of Mormon.
Lately, I have been struck by how shocking this question may have initially been to Nephi. In the course of his vision, he is shown the same tree from his father’s vision, then a beautiful woman, and then he gets asked this question that at this point seems out of the blue an unrelated to anything else. First, let’s check out the meaning of the word condescension.
“voluntarily waive ceremony or dignity proper to one’s superior position or rank and willingly assume equality with inferiors” [etymonline]
Think about what the Spirit of the Lord is asking him. Imagine not knowing up to this point about Jesus Christ and his earthly ministry. To you, God is the Almighty, the Most High, the infinite and eternal being who created the earth, conversed with Adam, liberated his people from Egypt by the hand of Moses, and was now sending his family off into the unknown.
Now, the Spirit of the Lord is asking you something to the effect of, “Do you know about how God will waive his superior position and assume equality to his inferiors?”
No wonder Nephi humbly replies, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (vs.17) Imagine having some wildly shocking information about God presented to you in such a way. What? God leaving his position of superiority and putting himself on the same level as his inferiors? Why would he ever do that? Can he do that? Should he do that? What a crazy idea to be presented with when there’s no precedent for such a thing!
In divine encounters, it appears that learning something new and shocking is a common occurrence.
After a great vision, Moses states, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10)
The brother of Jared after seeing the finger of the Lord confesses “I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.” (Ether 3:8)
A puzzled Enoch asks the Lord, “How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?” (Moses 7:29)
It is then revealed to Nephi that the woman was the mother of God (per the original translation) and that he would be born on this earth just like everyone else. The Spirit of the Lord then says, in effect “Look and behold God waiving his superior position and assuming equality to his inferiors!” (vs.26)
Nephi then sees the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ from his baptism to his deeds and finally his crucifixion.
No wonder Nephi understands what the Love of God is. Imagine for the first time realizing that God himself would be born on earth and live as we do with all of the challenges, hardships, and beyond that the false condemnation, suffering, torture, and wrongful execution. Today, almost everyone knows who Jesus is, even those that aren’t Christians or even religious.
The weight of that question though – what must have been going through Nephi’s mind at that point? Then to see the answer clearly in front of you like that; it’s pretty amazing. I just really love the Book of Mormon.