It began with destruction. Then there was impenetrable darkness. In this darkness a voice called the survivors to repentance. It was the voice of Jesus Christ.
Jane Allis-Pike, a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, described the atmosphere that is recounted in Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
"Effectual blindness. Disorientation. And exposure to the elements," Allis-Pike said. "Imagine the pain, the injuries that came during the destruction. Imagine the emotional anguish. Under these conditions, long silent hours passed in which the survivors felt nothing but pain."
Allis-Pike was speaking at the BYU "Conference on Third Nephi: New Perspectives on an Incomparable Scripture." She was setting the stage to introduce the metaphor (in 3 Nephi 10:4-7) that Christ used when he addressed the multitudes a second time.
After hours of darkness, the voice of Christ again came in the darkness: "O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you."
Allis-Pike calls Christ's description of himself gathering the Nephites under his wing the "hen metaphor." Christ chose this metaphor to communicate something to the fearful survivors.
"I suggest that Christ uses the hen metaphor to rekindle the survivors' faith and trust in him, and to remind and teach them of the true nature and condition of their covenant relationship with him," Allis-Pike said.
Christ chose the common chicken for his metaphor because of the hen's selfless devotion to its chicks. Allis-Pike explained that a chicken is almost defenseless, yet it will never abandon its offspring when danger arises. It also is an active mother and will gather its offspring together to protect them. If necessary it will shield its little chicks with its own body — offering itself to preserve their lives.
To the hen, its chicks are valued greatly. It actively will call to them. "Perhaps the most important point about the chicks in this metaphor is what is assumed. These chickens obey instinct. They come to their mother ... this means that when the hen calls they come without hesitation, without delay and without question run to the safety that is only found underneath their mother's wings," Allis-Pike said.
It may seem paradoxical for Christ to compare himself to a mother, yet, as Allis-Pike explained, he has figuratively given birth to his children. "Christ has specific qualities normally existing only in the purview of women and mothers," she said.
A mother hen calls her chicks to protect them from predators. Satan is the predator, according to Allis-Pike. "Just as the mother hen literally uses her body to protect her chick's life, Christ literally uses his body to protect his children from spiritual destruction," she said.
Christ also used his body to bring the resurrection of all people to pass.
"The beauty of the hen metaphor is that it goes beyond language, allowing the readers to simply feel Christ's love for us," Allis-Pike said.
When Christ spoke to the Nephites, he expanded the metaphor to include the past, present and future.
"How oft have I gathered you," refers to the past.
"How oft would I have gathered you," is a conditional reference to the past.
"How oft will I gather you," refers to the future.
"And then in the very act of speaking to these people he is talking in the present and caring for them. Like a hen who watches gently over her chicks, Christ is always available," Allis-Pike said.
In the four verses of the metaphor Christ uses the verb "gather" eight times. This is an active process, according to Allis-Pike. Those who were killed in the destruction were those who refused to be gathered.
"But if the chicks, or the people of the House of Israel, run away ... Christ can not save them from the devouring predator, Satan," Allis-Pike said.
According to Allis-Pike, the hen metaphor sequence in Third Nephi can also be read as a "covenant lawsuit" where Christ takes the position of a prosecutor over those who have died and where the survivors act as witnesses.
Each reciting of the hen metaphor is posed as a question and builds a case against those who rejected the merciful invitation to be gathered. It also applies the covenant question to the Nephite survivors ... and to the readers of Third Nephi as well.
Christ finished his invitation. Allis-Pike points out that the survivors' response to this second announcement from Christ was not silence. The people begin to weep. They weep for the lost. They weep for their sins. But Christ's love turns their weeping to joy as the darkness lifts.
"Christ's use of the hen metaphor has played a major role in this transition (from weeping to joy). Christ in his infinite wisdom has created a visual, powerful healing metaphor that allows people to come to terms with the destruction and the loss of life they have witnessed ... and teaches of their covenant relationship with Christ," Allis-Pike said.