The past few weeks have involved some deep dives into scriptures. Connecting scripture to other scripture and attempting to identify what even qualifies as scripture, and various ways to tell.
In that search I found some real gems of understanding. Something I noticed when going through a bunch of scriptures a few posts ago about the heart and understanding, is there's a degree of cohesion within our scriptures. They all seem to work together and have numerous interrelated connections to help us form a picture. It's as if all the authors shared some sort of underlying understanding. It's one they seem to want the readers to see too.
When the A&C (here, here) first came out there was a question involved asking if the hearer believed and knew the content came from God. Believing is one thing, knowing is another. The question included both.
Knowledge for me does not always come overnight. At the time, (Sept 2017) I recognized a good seed and had a conviction and swelling motions in my heart from studying it. So I knew the seed was good to the best of my limited understanding and capability. Not a mature plant, but a sprouting seedling that brought light. It's taken some time, experience, and careful pondering and comparison to other scriptures to begin to gather evidence for my mind. And there are a lot of possible comparisons one can make. It's still a work in progress.
If I were asked "Why is ____ scripture to you?" I want to be able to answer that with knowledge and understanding, not just "Because I feel _____".
How easily are feelings manipulated? Or how often do the feelings we like not stay forever even though we want them to? One of the difficulties (at least for me) in Mormonism is that the Holy Ghost is almost universally taught as a feeling a person has. I find that terribly incomplete and often misleading. It gets too easily confused with sentimentalism and often doesn't edify nor communicate any message other than good feelings. I've learned instead to take time and effort to look for pure intelligence, light and truth, rather than just feelings alone.
In my experience comprehension and understanding are different in nature and degree from feelings. The sine qua non of the Gospel to me, is not a feeling although growing up I thought it was. I now view it as an experience, light, truth, comprehension, the Glory of God. Feelings of course go along with it but I've noticed intelligence endures past when the feelings subside. There's more lasting fulfillment in the added light.
My acceptance of traditional LDS scripture as from God originated in my upbringing. I was just always told the Bible and Book of Mormon were from God as well as the D&C and Pearl of Great Price (but of course only the never-identified parts of the bible translated correctly vs incorrectly). Growing up with a tradition is a far cry and a poor shallow substitute for actual conversion. Had I been raised in some other culture on the other side of the world I'd likely have just accepted that religion, and that cannon of scripture same as I did my own. So how then to tell what scripture is actual scripture when it's really difficult to separate out your upbringing and traditions?
For me I had to leave the (geographic region) place where the upbringing and traditions occurred. Such began my own search. I suspect we all just accept part of what we grew up with until the soul hungers. Then, no matter who you are, where you are, or what your traditions are, you begin to search. I think a person searches differently when that hunger motivates the search rather than something based on religious culture or tradition.
In some ways being a lifelong member of the LDS church was an advantage, but in some ways a disadvantage. They tell you to get a testimony of thing they value but when you've always been surrounded by it, that can be somewhat tricky. You have to distinguish communal feelings from actual Gospel conversion, and distinguish all of that from social pressure, and from cultural pressure to come to the "right" conclusions on all the important topics. And all that so you can remain in harmony with those of your religious tribe. They can all get mixed up if you are a life long member. At least they did for me until age 26.
My parents did a good job of teaching me about scripture. We always had family night, would usually read scriptures, and my mom made it a point to read the Book of Mormon with me. I have a deep appreciation for my parents teaching me about scriptures. Although scriptures remained a bit uninteresting for a lot of years, I sensed there was deep value in them. People who "loved" scripture came across to me as a special kind of religious "nerd". I remember some seminary teachers or various people who behaved this way. A religious nerd was below any other form of nerd I could then conceive of. Some folks I remember would gush at how amazing scripture were and it used to make me say ewww. It was not appealing.
I read scripture growing up because everyone told me I had/needed to, and often repeated how special they were. The scriptures seemed to occupy a greater place of importance during General Conference than they do in 2019. The local leaders at various times had me do these youth scripture reading marathons lasting all weekend long so I just did what everyone else did and shared in the communal feelings and post emotional testimony meetings/donuts that always seemed to follow. “Getting through" the scriptures, memorizing out of context verses, and getting a testimony quickly always seemed to be a high priority from my LDS local leaders and young men's leaders. Comprehension and application were usually limited to a strictly LDS context.
So my relationship with scripture started off very mixed. What turned the lights on was a book years ago that a former mission companion called me and told me I had to get. This former companion had proven his recommendations worthwhile so the sound of a newly published book with a title such as this one had struck me as noteworthy. I ordered it on Amazon but it got lost in the mail. The former mission companion followed up a few weeks later wondering what I thought so I had to track down the order and work out getting a new one.
I saw the cover and it was one of those moments where something came with force into my heart. Never before had I sensed a presence so appealing, nor such a deep respectful, humble intelligence anywhere thus far in my life. There was no going back. Once I read the content of the book that initial impression while gazing at the cover now had a logical explanation and substance for my mind to lay hold on. The cover and the book still brings back that same impression.
Anyway, that book talked about Joseph Smith and a lot about the Book of Mormon. Suddenly things began to change. The setting in which I found myself reading this book was after having taken what for me was a very large leap of faith to leave Provo Utah, where I was a student at BYU at the time. I had a prompting to leave the state and move to California. I had been teaching at the MTC at the time and would often tell the Elder's and Sisters about following promptings from God even if you can't see all the details beforehand. I had to live the truth I had just dispensed.
The moment came when I had an unmistakable prompting, and despite how crazy it looked I determined that if God could solve 3 overwhelming (to me) obstacles I would go. God solved my 3 problems, to my satisfaction, so I packed up what would fit in the backseat of the car, dropped my classes, said bye to the Elders and Sisters and set off on a journey.
So it was in that context, out on my own, away from friends, family, and familiarity that I first read this book. Of all the things available to do out on my own this had an appeal that exceeded any of that other stuff. Once I read the book, and began trying to do what it said now the Book of Mormon was a different book. This one was interesting. Not sure what that other Book of Mormon was growing up but this new one was very different. This one had application to my life and church that was intriguing. Things began to happen to me and inside of me. It brought unmistakable never before seen fruit into my life. It opened my eyes and heart and ears and taught me about God. God really does speak to people. This was all post mission, after having grown up in the Church and having read the book 3-4 times already but having gained little from it all those years.
The Book of Mormon didn't stay permanently in the new light. I found a lot of difficulty in slipping back into previous dull, lifeless readings of the Book of Mormon. But it came to life enough that I knew I had to work to preserve the new life I saw it had. Traditions are sometimes hard to get rid of.
Looking back, many of the same folks who used to gush over scriptures still do, and curiously it still rubs me wrong. When I engage them on a discussion of meaning or application they are often not interested. They seem to default to "instructor" mode and insist on teaching rather than discussing. Not tolerating anything other than what they say is the correct and singular meaning. "End of discussion" kind of thing. This dynamic has puzzled me for a long time. Someone can love something so much, even memorize extensive passages, but not enjoy a discussion or application of them or want to consider alternate meanings. Especially if any suggestion goes contrary to the religious traditions of the day. It still puzzles me. But that's an aside.
This new "testimony" was almost a stark contrast to anything I had previously thought about the book. And so too was the stark contrast in the reactions I'd get from people if I talked much about it. I got accused of "wresting" the scriptures one time after trying to engage someone close to me about a few scriptural passages. That rattled me pretty bad. I remember the scene with clarity. I was so excited about the new light and understanding but the people I most expected to welcome it, to my surprise did the opposite. Part of this has likely been my approach. So I've had to really rethink what scriptures mean to others and how to speak about such things in a way that matches the message found inside the scriptures themselves.
I’ve come across folks who wanted to discredit the Book of Mormon or talk about the lack of historical evidence. That however never bothered me as it never felt personal. It seems like God's problem to explain such things. It's His book after all. It was His gift that provided the translation.
In all of this I don't know how someone can understand scriptures without adopting the mind of a student and a learner, regardless of their age or years of experience in religion. There is so much to learn. History, context, meaning, culture, doctrine. The Gospel isn't a fluffy fairy-tale soundbite that fits into a meme. I hope in the next 10 years to understand substantially more than I do now. It seems pretty clear that to have the Gospel be part of you, one needs to become as a little child and constantly seek light and truth. There's no time to loose. If we can get more light and truth in this life, we're taught it will rise with us into the next.
The scriptures came alive as God breathed life into them. I thank God for this and hope to continue to receive the light He offers.