Scriptures are not really that important in God’s eyes.
This morning I was reading the early chapters of the Doctrine and Covenants and pondering the experiences of Joseph and Oliver and Martin. I’ve often mused about the circuitous route that was the translation process, but today I was particularly interested in why an all-powerful God, who kept Joseph alive while freely acknowledging that many “sought to destroy” him, wouldn’t continue to preserve a record that someone 2400 years before labored to scratch into gold plates. Was Lehi’s record suddenly unimportant after nearly two and a half millennia?
All the hands that touched that portion of the record … Lehi carefully recording it, Nephi abridging it, 1000 years of people handing it down and protecting it and carting it from here to there, Mormon carefully reading it and placing it with his life’s-work record … all to be carelessly lost by a “wicked man”? Much of the point of the Book of Mormon is that it is a record for us, and yet when it came down to the wire a part of it was expendable? … what does that say about the attentiveness of God? Or does it say something entirely different?
I turn these questions over and over in my mind without pre-judging, because I know that I am a fool and don’t think like God does. Still, he encourages me to explore, so I do. Removing assumptions that God knows what he is doing and that I should probably just be quiet, while I’m working it over in my mind, makes me ask helpful questions that produce interesting data when I put it all back together with a deep trust in God.
So what does this all mean, this lost record experience?
In section 5 the Lord tells Joseph to “stop and stand still until I command thee,” an interesting thing to tell someone who has been waiting for nearly a decade to find out what he is supposed to do, finally has the thing right there in his hands that he’s to do, has finally figured out how to do it, and has finally enjoyed some satisfying success doing it.
In section 6, given the next month, Oliver is told that “the field is white already to harvest” and invites generally: “whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.” It sounds like he’s telling people who genuinely want to work that the work is very important … but … Stop, then start. This-is-the-most-important-thing-in-all-creation, and then wait-a-minute-til-I-say-so.
I’ve written recently about God’s interest in our ability to follow staged instructions, and I think it’s a staple of his engagement with us. Scriptures, however, are also a staple of his engagement with us. Why let them disappear so frivolously?
In John, the Lord says: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” A curious thing for someone to say to a scripture-loving people, isn’t it? Honor God, honor God’s words – it seems related – yet he’s implying that it’s our perception that we’ll find eternal life in the holy word, and it’s short-sighted.
If that is so, then it’s the testimony of Christ that is the more crucial thing. The testimony of Christ comes by the Holy Spirit as a still, small voice. Our hearing and understanding that voice is predicated on right action, but right action is apparently only a means toward the end of training our communication with and adherence to that voice. Scripture must then serve the development of a well-tuned relationship with God. An iron rod that is … the word of God.
Returning to Joseph and Oliver and Martin, we have a slow development of revelatory confidence, not based in the product they turned out with their efforts, but in their ability and willingness to listen to God as they worked on that product. The translation of the scriptural record served their relationship with God. I’ve always found it interesting that none of those who participated in that translation process ever turned from their testimony that it was of God. Their issues developed over later incidents, so I must assume that they lacked the testimony that could have developed from those specific incidents.
So testimony is compartmentalized, relating to specific issues or phases of our development, and founded on work that we are doing with God that creates an opportunity to talk to, listen to, and follow him in the process.
If our actions, perhaps all of them, are secondary to developing a relationship with Christ, then all that we do – serving in callings, performing the work of individual missions, private morality and study of God – is only a means to an end, and that end is hearing the voice of Jesus Christ, then it would seem helpful for us to perform all of those actions with that end in mind.
I have been pondering the story of Cecile Pelous for days, and her beautiful and inspiring discipleship. She makes the comment that when she first went to Mother Teresa, filled with a desire to thrust in her sickle just as Oliver was – to find her place – she was sent on the simplest missions: to hand out medicine on the street, to care for lepers. She noted that Mother Teresa was testing her. I think she was right, and I also think that God tests all those who “desire to reap” as Oliver did, with tests of trust: whether they trust God and whether they can be trusted by God. And he performs that test by giving small, constantly changing, sometimes illogical, always apparently inconsequential jobs to do. That trust creates a relationship with Christ and also with those we serve and those we serve with.
Elder Boyd K. Packer once made the observation that the study of doctrine changes behavior faster than the study of behavior changes behavior. I wonder if obedience to commandments creates a relationship with the Savior faster than study of the Savior creates that relationship. After all, he said, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” The commandments in and of themselves are marginally helpful to us unless we are using them to come unto him.
It occurs to me that the record of Lehi is not unimportant, but that its importance is less in our reading it than in Lehi recording it, and Nephi abriding it, and all those hands preserving it, and Mormon valuing it, and Joseph translating it, and Martin holding it, and me yearning for it. And if that is so, it occurs to me that everything I do is less about what gets done than what happens to me and to others while I’m doing it. In all that doing, I come to Christ and to the Father and hopefully make that easier for others as well.
Like the people stumbling out of the darkness at Zarahemla, repeatedly told to come unto him, that’s the call for us. “This is my doctrine … to repent and to believe in me.” Not read the scriptures, but hear his voice in them. Not perfectly execute his plans, but learn to trust him enough to follow the voice we hear. Not build a kingdom, but build a relationship within. Means to an end, an end that is ultimately personal: “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
It’s true. Scriptures (or callings or missions or the things that we do) are not really that important. They are merely the essential, perfecting exercises to eternal life.