Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The 8th Article of Faith: The Word of *GOD*

From a talk given 4/26/09

The 8th Article of Faith

I find it interesting that the 8th Article of Faith comes with a caveat: “ far as it is translated correctly.”

To illustrate how easily a simple error can happen, I want to tell you about my Aunt Becky. She was up early one Christmas morning, preparing a special recipe, and discovered she was out of whole cloves. She called her friend across town to see if she could borrow some. The conversation went something like this:

Do you have any whole cloves at your house?

Yes, I think so. Do you need them today?

Yes, for Christmas. And the stores are all closed.

Okay, I’ll look around and see what I’ve got, and leave them in a bag on your porch.

My aunt later went out to check her porch, and her friend had left her a large grocery bag, rather than the small package she was expecting. On inspecting the contents, it turned out her friend had not brought any whole cloves, but instead left her a bag of old clothes. Clearly, something was lost in the translation!

It becomes obvious that, over thousands of years, in hundreds of languages, translation is bound to produce errors, and some of them major.

Prof. George Handley recently spoke at BYU on “The Risk in Scripture Reading.” (I don’t ordinarily think of scripture reading as risky behavior. But he says the risk is of misinterpreting, of getting it wrong.) He says, ”The possibilities and combinations are as innumerable as the human population itself.”

He then submits the Book of Mormon as the perfect solution to these varied (and hence, risky) approaches to scripture: “The Book of Mormon collapses this binary opposition. It is a book of scripture that offers transcendent understanding in response to individual belief.” I agree that having the Book of Mormon as both a great clarifier and a second witness makes the 8th Article of Faith especially significant. It is no accident that these two books are mentioned together, in the same verse. It means so much more than “having two”. It means having truth.

It’s typical to hear a child -- or even an adult -- rattle off the 8th Article of Faith like this:
(Pause. Breathe.) wealsobelievetheBookofMormontobethewordofGod.
But when it’s said that way, the emphasis is where the pause is...”as far as it is translated correctly.”

The phrase that I would most like to focus on is this: The Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God. That should never be rattled off lightly, but rather, spoken with reverence and awe: The word of *GOD* (that Supreme Being, all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator of the Universe.) God’s own words. Right here. For us.

I would like to share some times when I’ve heard and felt the literal word of God come into my life through the scriptures.

As a teenager,
I was deeply hurt by someone I was dating (it happens to the best of us), and found deep solace in the book of Jacob. When he described “feelings that were exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God,” I felt he was speaking directly to me. He knew my heart. In the very next chapter were these comforting words:
1 Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions...
2 O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever. (Jacob 2:7, 3:1-2)

As a college student,
a friend came home from his mission eager to show me what he had learned in the 24th chapter of Luke. He’d have me read a verse, then ask what was happening.
So what’s happening here?
They’re walking down that road?
Okay, next verse. Now what happened?
They’re talking about Christ.
Good. What happens next?
Christ draws near....(etc.)
He said, “Isn’t that the coolest thing you’ve ever read?”
I looked again. “Well, yeah, it’s cool that he comes to them right when they’re talking about him, and they don’t even know it. And I like the part where they burn inside and realize it was Him.”
“Look at it again”, he said. “When you break it down to simple subject-and-verb basics, this chapter becomes an exact outline of the steps to gaining a testimony. This is how it works.”
I looked again, tried to see what he was showing me, and suddenly saw with new eyes. Just like in those verses: “There eyes were holden, that they should not know him.” And then in verse 27 it says the first thing he did was open up the scriptures, and teach them about Him: “he cexpounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. Suddenly this verse took on a rich meaning I’d missed before, and every verse came alive, pointing out how we come to know the Savior, and how that knowledge is manifest in our lives.
That basic subject-and-verb, what I like to call the bare bones, or Skeleton, of Luke 24:13-53 becomes an outline of the steps required for each of us to obtain a testimony. And patterns like that show up all over the scriptures when you stop and look for them. I have never studied the scriptures the same way since that day.

Before my mission,
a friend gave me a copy of Richard Anderson’s book, Understanding Paul. Learning some of that historical background, understanding different social factions such as the Gnostics, discovering the ancient derivations of some key words from Greek and Hebrew, gave me a much deeper and richer appreciation for the Pauline epistles, and for the Savior himself. I suddenly felt as Paul wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I was hungry for more. I literally felt like in the scriptures “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor.2:16) I fell in love with the New Testament and couldn’t wait to share the Savior’s voice with the people I was about to teach.

As a missionary,
the scriptures, and especially the Book of Mormon, often supplied answers to investigators’ questions I never could have answered so profoundly or succinctly on my own. Jeff and I were both in the California Arcadia mission, Spanish-speaking. Because of the socio-economic factors in that segment of the population, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for our investigators was (believe it or not) marriage. Mothers could actually make significantly more money on welfare if they remained single than they could if they were married. So many were resistant to take that important step toward baptism. I taught one couple, Gretel and Gustavo Martinez, in that situation. They were from Nicaragua, and they had the most adorable little boys, Gustavito and Armandito. I used to, as Nephi said, “pray...for them by day, and...water my pillow by night” (2 Ne. 33:3) because I was so sad to think these little boys could never be sealed to their parents, because they hadn’t been married or baptized. One morning I woke up and was led straight to D&C 49:15: “Marriage is ordained of God.” I knew exactly the next principle we had to teach them.

As a young bride,
I was called to be relief society president in our student ward, and was concerned that so many of the young women were not participating in Sunday School because they were intimidated by all the returned misisonaries. Our SS curriculum that year was the Old Testament, and I started an Old Testament discussion group based on the SS reading schedule to give these young girls more familiarity with this wonderful book. During this time I became pregnant with our oldest son, Joshua. I was very, very sick and Jeff would often come home from school and find me asleep on the bathroom floor. At the same time, I was self-employed and trying to keep a fledgling business afloat. I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I will never forget when our next discussion was in Exodus 4, about Moses describing his weakness and inadequacy to the Lord:
10 ¶ And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.
14 And the Lord said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.
Suddenly it struck me that just as the Lord provided someone to help Moses in his moment of self-doubt, I didn’t have to do it all by myself either. I felt like He was giving me the wisdom and the permission to hire someone to help me.

As a Gospel Doctrine teacher,
I started a practice I still continue. I buy a new set of scriptures every four years, so I can get a fresh read, hear what the Lord is saying to me NOW, at this point in time. I buy the cheap paperbacks so I can mark them up to my heart’s content. Even after several trips through the standard works, the first time I taught Sunday School, I discovered so many things that I’d never noticed or felt or understood before. And I uncovered layers of richness I might have missed had I not had the opportunity to teach.

I particularly remember studying the story of the Brother of Jared. I was away on vacation, and struggling with insomnia, was reading in the wee hours of the morning. I remember being suddenly so struck with the power, the symbols, the metaphors, the sheer beauty of that story, and just sat there with tears streaming down my face as I read. I already had a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon, but for some reason the Lord had spoken its truthfulness to me again as I read about and pondered the Brother of Jared.

My second time teaching Book of Mormon in Gospel Doctrine, I chose to approach the year as “Book of Mormon Therapy”, the idea that there were many problems in our lives we could find answers to, solutions for, and even minor soul-repair in the scriptures. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. A new family moved into the area, and the wife set about carving out a niche for herself by breaking up other friendships. She became quite divisive as she weaseled her way into friendships, and she had singled out two of my closest friends, trying to get closer to them by talking about me behind my back. I had a hard time having any kind feelings at all for this woman, and my heart was hardening toward her. But as I read the Book of Mormon I realized the one who perhaps most needed this “Book of Mormon therapy” was me. Over several months of intense study, I rediscovered that one of the strongest overarching themes of the Book of Mormon was love, and that it was impossible to sincerely study without being touched by that love and radiating it outward. This woman eventually became a friend, and my heart had been softened and changed by the word of God.

And now, serving in the primary,
I’ve found it a great gift to be able to share my love of the scriptures with children. We had a sharing time on the Witnesses of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and as I wrote the script and called on various speakers, I was amazed at how many there are. I had the privilege of telling the story of the Brother of Jared to the children and feel that spirit fill the room. Last week we reenacted Christ’s visit in Third Nephi, and again was touched by the words of Christ spoken by guest readers. Our theme for the year is Family, and I was also amazed to discover a strong pattern throughout the Bible and the Book of Mormon of families who journey into the wilderness in search of a new home, and find closeness and protection from God in the process.

Our family is undergoing a similar journey ourselves right now. Our oldest son is in the wilderness, both literally and metaphorically, as he figures a few things out, and he seems to have already found a stronger connection to God. During this time I’m seeking comfort, guidance and hope by reading about families in the scriptures who have struggled with youth who stray from the path. I’m learning from Adam and Eve, Lehi and Sariah, Alma and Alma the Younger...and later his son Corianton.

I often feel like we’re living out these stories ourselves...
• when I hear Jeff talk to Josh: “exhorting [him] with all the feeling of a tender parent” and sounding for all the world like Father Lehi.
• when I feel like we’re witnessing a turnaround not quite as dramatic Alma the Younger, but still amazing
• when I am prompted to do or say something in particular, “not knowing beforehand the way I should go”

And I felt a special kinship with God himself when I read how the “heavens wept” when one of His sons was cast out.

I had an interesting experience this past week. I had the opportunity to meet in person several people I have only known online, through my blog. Several of these blog friends are professional writers, and came to Provo for a writers’ conference. I was really looking forward to meeting these people because in some ways I know them better than the people I know in “real life”: We take time to laugh and cry over each other's posts. We encourage each other. We seek (and gain) understanding. Sometimes we offer advice. (I probably give too much). We often share deep spiritual experiences. We come to know a side of each other that the rest of the world probably misses. Completely. I found it amazing that these virtual strangers, some from as far away as Poland and Canada, can know my heart so well; have already become my very real friends. All through reading each others’ words.

I hope it will be this way someday when we meet the Savior and return to live with our Father in Heaven...That we will feel no more bonded then than we already are now through reading His words in the scriptures: “That when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (Moroni 7:48)

I know the Bible and the Book of Mormon and all our standard works are the word of God. I know He has spoken to me personally through their pages. I hope we can all drink more deeply, seek more earnestly, and never take for granted the incredible power of his words when we allow them into our lives.