Latter-day Saint Life

Even prophets feel anxiety—how Jacob’s unique sermons can help us find hope in Christ

Studying Jacob may help you see how both deep sorrow and anxiety can coexist with God’s goodness.
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Jacob’s life was filled with deep sorrows. He never experienced the comfortable life in Jerusalem his older brothers knew. Born in a desert to a mother who lived off raw meat and God’s grace, Jacob formative years were challenging. His initial social circle consisted of only his at-times troubled nuclear and extended family.

At a young age, he sailed across the ocean; on this voyage, he witnessed his parents “brought down … near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave” and was “grieved because of the afflictions of [his] mother” (1 Nephi 18:18–19). In his “childhood [he] suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of [his brothers]” (2 Nephi 2:1).

At the same time, however, Jacob wrote that he knew “the greatness of God” and “beheld in [his] youth” the glory of Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 2:2, 4).

Perhaps you can relate to Jacob. You’ve experienced difficulties, worries, and anxieties either in your younger years or later in life. And hopefully, like Jacob, you also know of God’s reality and believe in His loving-kindness. If you need a soothing reminder that God is good, however, studying Jacob’s writing can be very helpful.

Slowing down in your scripture study to think about Jacob as a person may help you see how both deep sorrow and anxiety can coexist with God’s goodness. In particular, we can do this by studying the unique language Jacob uses (see 2 Nephi 6–10 and the Book of Jacob).

Scholar John Tanner pointed out that half of the eight references to anxiety in the Book of Mormon occur in Jacob’s words. In fact, Jacob is the only individual in the Book of Mormon to use this word more than once.

At the outset of his discourse beginning in 2 Nephi 6, Jacob states, “I am desirous for the welfare of your souls. Yea, mine anxiety is great for you; and ye yourselves know that it ever has been” (2 Nephi 6:3). At the start of another significant sermon, given several years later, Jacob said, “I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been” (Jacob 2:3).

Thus, not only does Jacob most frequently use the word anxiety, he also has a distinctive way of using it by describing his feelings before beginning important discourses. The fact that we see Jacob use similar phraseology, both when speaking in 2 Nephi, as well as in his own book, reminds us that Jacob is a real individual, with a distinct way of speaking.

In pointing to Jacob’s unique writing style, Tanner identifies several specific words that are used either exclusively or predominantly by Jacob in the Book of Mormon. Tanner notes that Jacob “is the only person to have used delicate, contempt, and lonesome. Likewise, he is the only Book of Mormon author to have employed wound in reference to emotions; and he never used it, as everyone else did, to describe a physical injury. Similarly, Jacob used pierce or its variants frequently (four of the ten instances in the Book of Mormon), and he used it exclusively in a spiritual sense. Such evidence suggests an author who lived close to his emotions and who knew how to express those emotions.”

Jacob knew both agony and abuse. As mentioned earlier, as a child, Jacob “suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of [his] brethren” (2 Nephi 2:1), and yet he taught that the “pleasing word of God … healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2:8). Although Jacob was concerned he would “stumble because of [his] over anxiety” (Jacob 4:18), he taught that through the Lord’s “grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men,” weaknesses can be overcome (Jacob 4:7).

Toward the end of his life, Jacob reflected that his years had “passed away like as it were a unto us a dream, [his people] being a lonesome and solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions” (Jacob 7:26).

On the other hand, he reverently acknowledged God’s greatness and mercy (see Jacob 4:8; 6:4) and declared that he “knew of Christ” (Jacob 4:4). Like his father Lehi, Jacob was able to simultaneously hold the realities of life’s challenges with “a hope of [Christ’s] glory” (Jacob 4:4).

Jacob knew what it was like to hurt, to pray, to work, and to heal. He knew, in part, what many of us experience today. Jacob’s voice speaks to those who have suffered and points to the Savior as the source of healing. Studying his words in 2 Nephi 6–10, as well as in Jacob 1–7, with the Holy Ghost as your guide may help you find answers and peace in your own circumstances.

Jacob offers tender words of hope that God will “raise [us] from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that [we] may be received into the eternal kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 10:25). The undercurrent of Jacob’s words is one of hope and empowerment: God will keep His promises to His children, and it is within our power to keep our promises to Him and live (see 2 Nephi 10:2, 17; Jacob 6:5–6).

▶ You may also like: An unexpected remedy for my anxiety as a missionary

This article has been adapted from a chapter of the book Voices in the Book of Mormon, by John Hilton III.

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