Wouldn’t you love to be rich? Many people dream of somehow becoming wealthy and being able to have anything they want. Unfortunately, some people who’ve had that dream come true have watched the dream become a nightmare. Being poor is a trial, but being wealthy can be a trial in a different way. The people of the Book of Mormon were frequently reminded of this as their society experienced what Mormons call “the pride cycle.”
The Book of Mormon is a companion book of scripture to the Bible. Like the Bible, it takes place in ancient times, beginning about 600 B.C. It testifies of the divinity of Jesus Christ and helps us to understand essential Christian principles. There were two societies featured in the Book of Mormon (although others existed as well). The Nephites were usually the righteous followers of God and the Lamanites were wicked. However, these roles sometimes reversed.
The pride cycle outlines a basic pattern of civilization that is most often shown in a circle. You can see a representation of this circle in the Book of Mormon Institute Manual:
Even though the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon usually refers to nations, we can also note the pattern in individual lives. Any of us could find ourselves in the pride cycle. It may not be wealth that causes it, but pride is always at the center of the problem.
Pride Cycle: Righteousness
To understand how it works, imagine that everyone in your entire country decided to start trying to keep all the commandments and being Christ-like. That’s the first step in the pride cycle. Because you are all keeping the commandments, God gives you great blessings. These blessings sometimes include financial success, although financial success is not a guaranteed result of obedience to God. However, when an entire nation is righteous, the country usually prospers simply because everyone helps one another to be successful, cares for their poor, practices integrity, and works hard. Everyone working together in unity will often lead to prosperity, because Christ-like values are designed to help us be successful in many different ways.
Pride Cycle: Wickedness and Pride
Unfortunately, after a while, the people in your country get sort of proud of their accomplishments. This isn’t the kind of pride that says, “Hey, look what God and I did together!” Instead, they start to believe they did it all by themselves without any help from God (or anyone else, for that matter). This leads to prideful behavior.
A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma observed the wickedness that came to church members when they were blessed with wealth. He noted that they started arguing with each other, which caused many potential converts to reject the church. He also noted malice, persecution, pride, and envy among the church members.
He saw that instead of caring for one another, as they had in the past, they allowed the sick, hungry, and needy to suffer, preferring to keep their great wealth for their own use. The problem wasn’t widespread yet, but those who continued in their charitable works struggled to keep up and were frustrated by the lack of compassion among their fellow-citizens.
Alma was so concerned that he turned his leadership role over to another, retaining only the title of High Priest. He went out to try to resolve the problem—and that leads us to the next step in the pride cycle.
Pride Cycle: God Warns the People
When this downfall happens, God is upset. He loves you and your country and He wants you to keep all those great blessings He gave you. However, every parent knows that when children misbehave, there must be consequences. Since God does love us, He first gives us a warning. This is done through his prophets, who let us know we’re out of line. The prophets warn us we need to start keeping the commandments and to remember the source of our blessings.
[T]he living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or mind their own business….How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness.—Ezra Taft Benson, Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet
Many people fail that test. When an entire society does it, the world starts to fall apart. The blessings that came as a result of making Christ-like choices disappear. An ancient Book of Mormon prophet named Helaman warned his people that they had become focused on getting wealth and fame, instead of on obeying God and this means their heart is on the things of the world, not on eternal priorities. A lot of people think this is a better way to live, but it’s very shortsighted.
Alma, whose concern for the pride cycle among his own people led him to resign his government office, took action:
“And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them (Alma 4:19)
Sadly, very few people respond to God’s reminders to get back on track. They didn’t in Alma’s time and they don’t today. This means God has no choice but to move on to the next step, and it isn’t a pleasant one.
Pride Cycle: Destruction and Suffering
God doesn’t have to step in and destroy a nation that is filled with pride, disobedience, and lack of faith. All He has to do is to stop helping them. When they face a trial, they find themselves on their own. Many times in the Book of Mormon, prophets and military leaders were afraid for their country because they knew the wickedness of the majority of people was causing God to withdraw. When they went into battle, God didn’t take sides. How could He? Neither side was on His side.
Life is hard. It’s full of danger, tough decisions, and evil people. When God is on our side, we can handle it, but when we turn our back on Him, we have to face those trials alone. It isn’t God who made the decision. It’s us. When we do what we’re supposed to do, God is required and happy to keep His promises. These promises, though, are based on our willingness to do the right things. It isn’t welfare.
The people in the Book of Mormon experienced the consequences of disobeying God and deciding they didn’t need Him. In time, they realized they did need Him. The next stage of the pride cycle starts us on an upward swing in the circle.
Pride Cycle: Humility and Repentance
Usually, the people in the Book of Mormon eventually figured out they really couldn’t stay safe from their enemies—or even each other—without divine help. They understood that their previous blessings had been the result of God’s help, not their own brilliance. They hadn’t, after all, been able to sustain those blessings once God gave them what they thought they wanted—the ability to do anything they wanted without God making rules they didn’t want to follow.
They became humble again and repented of their sins. When they did, God joyfully came back to help them. He loves us and wants us to make good choices. He loves to give us all the blessings we can hold. He just needs us to do our part. This is understandable to anyone who has been a parent or worked with children. We need consequences in order to mature and grow—but when we learn the lessons of those consequences and make changes, we can get life back on its eternal track.
Pride Cycle: Starting Over Again
The people of the Book of Mormon—and of the city you’ve been picturing during this discussion—are now humble and obedient. That takes them back to the top of the circle and they again begin to receive blessings and prosperity. Sadly, it usually only takes a few generations before people forget the lessons learned and move back onto the less pleasant aspects of the circle.
The Pride Cycle in Our Own Lives
Although the Book of Mormon discussions on the pride cycle usually refer to nations, every person can find himself in that cycle as well. We’re taught that hard work can bring success—which it does. However, hard work and God bring greater success. The success might be in the form of wealth, but there are many other blessings God can choose to give us. This is important because those of us who choose to follow God and to keep the commandments will receive the blessings God chooses for us. Those blessings will not be the same for everyone.
The important part of the lesson isn’t which blessings you receive, but how you view them. Do you remember God’s hand in your life? Do you thank Him for sending you those blessings? Do you forget they came from Him and chalk them up to your own brilliance, wisdom, and hard work?
If you forget to give God the credit, you risk sliding off the top of the pride cycle circle and beginning the unpleasant process of working your way through the challenging consequences of self-centeredness. It’s up to us to make certain we don’t let our gifts from God make us prideful. We want to stay on top of the world—or the cycle—all the time—and that takes mindfulness.
The pride cycle also reminds us that while we often dream of great wealth, it can be a great challenge to those who refuse to use it wisely. For many, not being wealthy is God’s gift to us. There are many ways to be blessed and wealth just might be the least important of them all.
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Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.