Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gospel Scholarship: Objects in the Mirror are Closer than they Appear

Gospel Scholarship: Objects in the Mirror are Closer than they Appear

Many movies are based on the idea of the average Joe finding out he is actually someone/something special. Whether it is Harry Potter finding out he’s a master wizard that is intricately connected to his arch-nemesis; Jake Sully finding out he has more in common with his Avatar than with his fellow marines; or Dwayne Johnson discovering he is a real Tooth Fairy with deep-seated issues, we find that the teachings in the scriptures are more complex than they seem on the surface.

In the movie, The Blind Side, we are reminded that along with the complex characters in the movie, we have to “peel back the layers” of the onion that makes up the gospel. In joining the Church at 16 years of age, I found the Book of Mormon to be filled with lots of cool, gory war stories. While 1975 preceded the shoot-everything-in-sight video game era, young men in any period tend to be attracted by a show of violent force. I was intrigued by the war stories, and looked forward to getting to the end of long sections of teaching. It’s been remarked that the movie Titanic would have been the perfect guy movie if it would have actually started about an hour into the movie.

The story goes of two missionaries walking along a road to an appointment. One elder was a veteran of 18 months on his mission, the other had been out just a few days. As they walked along, a huge pit bull rushed up from behind some bushes. It lunges towards the missionaries. The experienced elder quickly side stepped the massive dog. The second elder froze in terror with his scriptures in his hands in front of him, hoping to shield him. Amazingly, the pit bull chomped down on the scriptures, pulled them out of the missionary’s hands, growled and tossed his head around. After a few minutes of mangling the book in its massive jaws, the pit bull sighed, dropped the book and trotted off.

The experienced missionary slowly walked over and picked up the book. He opened it up and noted that the dog had bitten the Book of Mormon only through a portion of Second Nephi. The young elder, still trembling from the experience, said, “it makes sense, I always struggle getting through the Isaiah portions myself.”

That is how I viewed the difficult portions of the scriptures for the first several years I was a member. Even as a missionary, the focus on doctrine was limited primarily to the concepts taught in the discussions. Gospel scholarship requires time and effort. Lots of time and effort, in order to become a better scholar. There is no such thing as becoming the know-all scholar, as the scriptures, connected with modern revelation, is an onion with a never ending supply of layers to peel.

Just as we have to go step by step in growing in Gospel scholarship, so did the Savior of the world:
“And I, John, saw that he (the mortal Jesus) received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” (D&C 93:12-13,

In this same manner, we receive grace for grace as we move from grace to grace. Or better said, we move from one level of righteousness and knowledge to the next level. It requires us to take action, and then to allow God to sanctify us to a new level of grace, until we receive a fullness, even as Jesus did.

One eats an elephant one bite at a time. One peels back the layers of the gospel onion one at a time. It is alright to look at it as a long term, even lifetime, goal. On my first foray into reading the Book of Mormon, I could never imagine that 35 years later I would have read it more than 75 times more (I’ve frankly lost count). And I now enjoy the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon much more than the war accounts. So, how do we begin peeling the layers?

First, schedule the time and then make the time to study the scriptures each and every day. If all you can find are 15 minutes a day, it may not seem like much, but each small layer adds up. In a year’s time, you will have read over ninety hours in just one year. The first few times you may want to read straight through the books of scripture, so you can get the gist of the story lines and most obvious concepts being taught. Familiarity, in this instance, breeds inspiration.

Next, ask yourself questions about what you are reading. Go into the scriptures with questions that you would like better answers to. Think about the things you are reading and how such teachings can apply to you in a modern sense, or in an ancient sense. Is there more than one way to interpret a scripture? Is the specific scripture incomplete, and we need to find a more complete answer elsewhere in scripture? This is how Joseph Smith received many of his revelations. He studied it, trying to understand what it was really suppose to mean. While translating the Book of Mormon, he read about baptism. He pondered on it, trying to understand the passages as best he could. It led him to pray about it, and the Lord restored the Aaronic Priesthood through John the Baptist (D&C 13, His later studies in the Bible would lead to the Book of Moses, and many other revelations.

Third, ask God to help you have a greater understanding of what you are studying. Oliver Cowdery, Joseph’s chief scribe, wished to assist in the direct translation of the plates. The Lord granted him the gift of translation, however Oliver quickly became frustrated and stopped trying. The Lord explained to him:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:7-8,

You’ll note that Oliver had to do more than just ask God to reveal it to him. He first has to study, ponder, and try to find possible answers for himself. Only after such effort would God reveal the answers to him from on high. So it is with us. We cannot be like Nephi’s rebellious brothers who did not bother to pray because they felt “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9, Nephi chastised them for the hardness of their hearts, because they were not diligent in keeping the commandments, which would include inquiring after the Lord to find answers. Are we in the same boat as Laman and Lemuel, and don’t even realize it?

Peeling the layers of hidden knowledge from the scriptures does one other thing for us. It helps us to peel the hidden layers from ourselves, as well. We get to see deeper within ourselves, even as God peers into our souls. It causes times of reflection and a will and desire to change. A part of the change is to go, layer by layer, grace to grace, from being like Laman to being like Nephi.

In beginning these steps, the path will look long and foreboding ahead of us. But if we stop to enjoy the grace we receive as we peel back each layer of the sweet gospel onion, we can rejoice in the journey. And the day will come when we look back at the gospel scholarship path we’ve walked and stand pleased with how far we’ve come. Then we can look forward again, and continue further along the scholar’s path.

No comments:

Post a Comment

(please note that any profane or inappropriate comments are subject to moderation by the author of the publication. Opposing views are welcomed and encouraged and will not be removed unless inappropriate in nature)