“We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.”
These words are often the most quoted political words in the history of America and they are the words that start the Declaration of Independence. These words are those that are cherished in the hearts and minds of most citizens of the United States. Why? Why do we cherish this phrase “all men are created equal” so much? Is it the actual words as were written to mean “all men (read: free land owning white males) are created equal”? Or do we cherish this phrase because we see it to mean “all men (read: Human Beings) are created equal”? Is it the words themselves that we cling to, the diction presented to us by Thomas Jefferson? Or is it the spirit that the words give to us? The Spirit of truth that rings through and declares itself “self-evident”? Personally I am one to follow the spirit that is meant by a law, not so much the words with which the law was created.
When it comes to things of the Gospel, do we focus on the physical words that are spoken and passed down from generation to generation? Or do we focus on the Spirit, which they bring into our lives? Missionaries are now being taught that it is not through the words they speak that people will want to join the Church, but through the Spirit which touches an investigators heart and resonates true with them. Should we not apply this principle to our own lives? Should we not focus on what the Spirit and the gift of the Holy Ghost is telling us rather than on the literal words that are spoken unto us? As C.S. Lewis touches upon in the introduction to his book “The Abolition of Man” we as human beings statements about objects of subjective value (such as “the waterfall is sublime”) are, in part, because of our feelings about the object and the feelings that that subjective object exude with in us. The waterfall humbles us and therefore makes us qualify it as “sublime,” rather than just pretty.
I think that is crucially important for us to rely upon the spirit in our lives because we need it ever so much in these the latter days. There was a time when we, as creatures of our LORD lacked the gift of the Holy Ghost, the comforter left to us by Christ. In that day when all we had was the light of Christ to guide us we were forced to turn out hearts to righteous men who voiced the words of the spirit as they interpreted the Spirit to prompt them. There are hundreds of examples of the need to turn to the words of the prophet, of him with the power of the Spirit in the day and age of the Bible, but one particular example sticks in my mind because a friend of mine brought it up recently.
While the Children of Israel were wandering lost in the wilderness, there came upon them a swarm of snakes that were biting the people. The Lord through the Prophet Moses commanded them that all they needed to do to cure themselves was to lift up their eyes and look to the prophet. Many people died because they were too focused on trying the temporal solutions to the snake bites and protecting themselves from the snakes that they would not hearken unto the prophets voice. My friend used this example to illustrate that when a Prophet calls us to action we need to follow immediately whereas my view was that we needed to pray about the words that the prophet gave us to know the truth of them after having studied it out in our minds. She told me this story to illustrate the fact that as someone called to listen to a prophets voice, the logical answer would be to focus on the snakes and not on the words of the prophet. I understood her point, but later realized the one crucial difference between the Children of Israel and the Members of the Church. The Children of Israel did not have the gift of the Holy Ghost in their lives and so any attempt made by them that wasn’t hearkening unto the prophets would be in vain, whereas if we as latter-day saints follow the counsel in D&C 30 we will turn our hearts and our n=minds away from the teachings of men and draw closer to the teachings of the spirit.
This is the key difference between the people in the bible and us today. They had not the Holy Ghost as their constant companion. And so they were forced to rely on the lesser law of strict obedience to every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses.
When Christ came, he taught the Higher law, the law by which every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses was contained and fulfilled in the Lord’s two great commandments. Love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. “On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets” The Lord Jesus Christ taught us the fulfilled gospel which included following the spirit, not the teachings and rituals of men. He taught us a gospel of Love and understanding and he left with us the comforter so that “we might have his spirit to be with us.”
I can only assume that one of the reasons that we have the spirit is to personally guide us to the truth. The spirit is a speaker of truth and it can not testify things unto us that are false, but I believe that the Spirit speaks to us not in words, but it speaks to our spirit through the language of the heart rather that the muddied languages of men that have been confounded since the tower of Babel. I believe that in the action of placing words to that which has touched your spirit muddies the spirit with the language of men. That “no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls” (3 Nephi 17:17)
Should we try to vocalize the things of the spirit they are often passed through a series of filters that are present in our life. The spirit’s voice passes through our mind following similar tacks to which our mind is accustomed to going. The vocalizing of the Spirit is thus passes through our own experiences leaving their mark on the vocalization of the Spirit. Most people who have given a blessing will tell you that they often receive the impressions of feelings and vocalize them as best they can and only rarely have the exact phrasing come to their minds. Scott has a great post concerning this in relation to Patriarchal Blessings that can be found here.
I think that it goes farther than just blessings that the vocalization of the spirit is filtered through our own prejudices. I believe that when the Spirit teaches us it touches upon our hearts and our minds and teaches us on a level far greater than this pithy set of languages that our tongues manipulate. There is an example that I would like to share with you concerning this lack of completeness that our language possesses. It is in the use of the word Adieu in Jacob 7. Critics often claim this to be proof positive that the Book of Mormon was composed by Joseph Smith but if you look beyond the flippancy of the argument you see that “and it came to pass” wasn’t on the plates either. The Book of Mormon is a translation of ancient scripture and thus the word Adieu is the word that best fit the inscription left by Jacob and was the best word that Joseph could have used to express the symbol on the plates. Just as the Book of Mormon is a translation of the Gold Plates, our vocalization of the spirit is a translation from that which we feel to that which we can tangibly speak. The word Adieu wasn’t on the plates, but it is the word that best describes the meaning that Jacob was trying to get across, similarly, the Spirit is hampered by our own limitations of our language.
I personally see the effects of these filters often in my life. Anytime I redo an action such as re-read a book or re-watch a movie I see things that I didn’t notice before, or something will hit me that I had not experienced before because I didn’t have a filter through which its meaning could pass. The story in each case remains the same, but my ability to understand it grew. That is why it is important to read the Book of Mormon over again, so that we can relate the stories to our current lives. I believe that this is true of the Spirit as well. The Lord is the same yesterday today and tomorrow and yet we have had many changes and reforms to the gospel throughout the course of recorded history. The most recent was the opening up of the Priesthood to all worthy males. This, I believe, was not God changing his mind on something, but a result of President Kimball sitting down with an open and soft heart, removing the filters that would have tipped his mind one way or another and opening himself unto the spirit which pored forth the blessings and revelation unto him. I believe that as we soften our hearts, we will be given more of the word even unto the knowing of the mysteries of God. (Alma 12:10)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that principle in these words: “If you teach the word of truth—now note, you’re saying what is true, every thing you say is accurate and right—by some other way than the Spirit, it is not of God. Now what is the other way to teach than by the Spirit? Well, obviously, it is by the power of the intellect. Suppose I came here tonight and delivered a great message on teaching, and I did it by the power of the intellect without any of the Spirit of God attending. Suppose that every word that I said was true, no error whatever, but it was an intellectual presentation. This revelation says: ‘If it be by some other way it is not of God’ (D&C 50:18). That is, God did not present the message through me because I used the power of the intellect instead of the power of the Spirit. Intellectual things—reason and logic—can do some good, and they can prepare the way, and they can get the mind ready to receive the Spirit under certain circumstances. But conversion comes and the truth sinks into the hearts of people only when it is taught by the power of the Spirit”
This quote by Elder McConkie is one of my new favorites because it shows that we can not be content with the simple action of following what we have been taught in our minds to follow the words of the Prophet, if they are not taught unto us by the power of the Spirit than they are not of God. It is thus vitally important for us to follow the teachings of the Prophet insomuch as they are confirmed to us by the power of the spirit by which all truth is known. Not to simply follow blindly, but to follow because we have been taught the truth by the spirit.