Abide #16: Doctrine and Covenants 121-123
Everything changed for Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints in a few short months in 1838. 5000 Saints gathered in the burgeoning city of Far West, Missouri to celebrate the 4th of July. Confident and secure in their main settlement, Sidney Rigdon declared that if a mob came again, it would be a “war of extermination.” His words proved prophetic–the Missourians would remember that language. Governor Lilburn Boggs signed Executive Order number 44 the 27th of October declaring that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state.” After the Hawn’s Mill Massacre and the siege at Far West, 66 Latter-day Saint men were arrested. Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon, as well as Caleb Baldwin, Lyman Wight and Alexander McRae were eventually jailed in the Clay County Jail at Liberty, Missouri for “crimes of high treason”–an offense that did not provide the possibility of bail. BH Roberts would later call the jail a “prison temple,” yet it was a squalid, dirty, and dark place. They spent four months there as the Saints were scattered across Missouri hoping to find safety in the city of Quincy, Illinois.
Joseph wrote his first general missive to the saints in the middle of December. After a long winter in the jail with “screeking iron gates,” Joseph wrote again to the Saints as the spring began to thaw, not knowing they would soon escape. The Doctrine and Covenants sections we know today as sections 121, 122, and 123 are all portions of a larger letter written to the Saints on March 22nd. Not being able to stand up straight in the jail, in the letter Joseph also described how, “Our souls have been bowed down and we have suffered much distress … and truly we have had to wade through an ocean of trouble.”
Joseph directed the letter “to the church of Latterday saints at Quincy Illinois and scattered abroad and to Bishop Edward Partridge in particular,” however he sent the missive to his wife Emma because he wanted her “to have the first reading of it.”
The 17-page letter was quickly circulated amongst the Saints. As members would often do with revelations, some created their own handwritten copies. Mary Fielding Smith described the letter as “food to the hungry.”
Everything changed for Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints in a few short months in 1838. 5,000 saints gathered in the burgeoning city of Far West, Missouri to celebrate the Fourth of July. Confident and secure in their main settlement, Sidney Rigdon declared that if a mob came again it would be a war of extermination. His words proved prophetic. The Missourians would remember that language. Governor Lilburn Bogg signed Executive Order Number 44 on the 27th of October that same year, declaring that the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state. After the Haun’s mill massacre and the siege of Far West, 66 Latter-day Saint men were arrested. Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, as well as Caleb Baldwin, Layman White, and Alexander McGray were eventually jailed in the Clay County Jail at Liberty, Missouri for crimes of high treason––an offense that did not provide the possibility of bail. B. H. Roberts would later call the jail a “prison temple” yet it was a squalid, dirty, and dark place. They spent four months there as the Saints were scattered across Missouri hoping to find safety in the city of Quincy, Illinois. Joseph wrote his first general missive to the Saints in the middle of December. After a long winter in the jail with squeaky iron gates, Joseph wrote again to the Saints as the spring began to thaw, not knowing they would soon escape.
Doctrine and Covenants sections we know today as sections 121, 122, and 123 are all portions of a larger letter written to the saints on March 22. Not being able to stand up straight in the jail, in the letter Joseph also described how, “Our souls have been bowed down and we have suffered much distress and truly we have had to wade through an ocean of trouble.” Joseph directed the letter to the Latter-day Saints in Quincy, Illinois and scattered abroad and to Bishop Edward Partridge in particular. However, he sent the message to his wife Emma because he wanted her to have first reading of it. The 17 page letter was quickly circulated amongst the Saints. As members would often do with revelation, some created their own handwritten copies. Mary Fielding Smith described the letter as, “food to the hungry.”
My name is Janiece Johnson, I am a Willes Center research associate at the Maxwell Institute and I, along with Joseph Stuart, the Public Communications Specialist at the Institute, will be discussing each week’s block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Come, Follow Me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson, but rather to hit on a few key themes from the scripture block that we believe will help fulfill the Maxwell Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints and their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to engage the world of religious ideas. Today, once again, we have a visit from our friend, Jim Faulconer.
Janiece Johnson: Joey, Jim, good morning!
Joseph Stuart: Good morning! Excited to be here today because sections 121 through 123 are some of my favorite sections in all the Doctrine and Covenants. For whatever reason these, actually for reasons that we’ll get to, these are revelations that have stuck out to me for a very long time that I turn to when I’m in a tough spot. I learned as an undergraduate that sections 121 to 123 were part of one letter and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t canonize the entire letter. Could you tell us more about it, Janiece?
Janiece Johnson: Yes. This gives us another example of a different kind of revelation. A letter from Joseph. The letter as a whole was printed about three times (not about, it’s printed three times in church newspapers) between 1840 and 1854. If you want to go to the Joseph Smith Papers project website you can see the letter as a whole with the canonized parts set apart and think about how this letter came to be. There are pieces that are now not included in the canonized version. Just as an example, verses 1 through 6 we have Joseph crying out to the Lord for justice and this comes after a couple pages in the letter. He has spent two pages describing the “hell surrounded with demons” that was the jail as well as the horrors that the Saints are still in the middle of. But there are some pieces that I actually really like that kind of stick with me that are in that larger letter. We get a little sense of Joseph’s writing, and kind of his cadence, his incomplete sentences at times that I really enjoy. I just want to read one little piece here. “Our eyes were a fountain of tears but those who have not been enclosed in the walls of a prison without cause or provocation, can have but a little idea of how sweet the voice of a friend is. One token of friendship, from any source whatever, awakens and calls into action every sympathetic feeling it brings up in an instance. It is past. It seizes the present with a vivacity of lightning..It grasps after the future with the fierceness of a tiger. It retrogrades from one thing to another until finally all enmity, malice, and hatred, and past differences, misunderstandings, and mismanagements are slain victims at the feet of hope. When the heart is sufficiently contrite” and then, I love this piece, “the voice of inspiration steals a long and whispers, ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul. Thy friends do stand by thee.’” Now not all the letters Joseph wrote were canonized, but here we have about 40% of the letter. The letter was excerpted and canonized with Orson Pratt’s 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. Jim, what happens here when we do this, when we take something that was a larger whole and it gets edited and then canonized? How does it change it?
Jim Faulconer: I think it changes the meaning. Now obviously, it doesn’t change it drastically. It doesn’t go from meaning A to meaning not A. But, I think it’s important to notice. The analogy I like to use is of a collage where maybe in elementary school or high school you made a collage out of pieces of newspaper and you could glue them onto a background in a different order than they’d come out of the original newspaper or even maybe more than one newspaper. If you put them together and someone said well I’m interested in where these came from that would be an interesting question. A historical kind of question. But that’s not the same question as: what do they mean now that they are put together in this new order? And I suppose it seems to me that when we are talking about canonization they have been put together in a new order and so for Latter-day Saints the real question is not what did it mean in the original letter, but what does it mean now that we’ve got it in this particular edited version.
Janiece Johnson: This makes me think a lot about the influence of Orson Pratt on our experience as Latter-day Saints and the theological act of editing this letter but also what he does with the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon- he doubles the number of chapters in the 1879 edition, changing how we read the text. I think that very few Latter-day Saints really are aware of just how much Orson Pratt does to influence our experience with scripture, with modern scripture, with restoration scripture today.
Jim Faulconer: I think that’s right. I also think that it ought to help us as Latter-day Saints think about what we mean by things like revelation and inspiration because if we believe that the final document that we have, the canonized document, is a revealed document then we are hoping, we are assuming, that there was also inspiration and revelation involved in the way in which the editing occurred. Now that changes, as we go back and we re-edit and we make differences and sometimes we think that some edits were more inspired than others…
Janiece Johnson: Like commas that you want to delete.
Jim Faulconer: Yeah that’s commas that I want to delete or sometimes commas I’d like to add in. Nevertheless, it does seem to me that what it shows is that revelation is not just a- one time the Lord spoke to Joseph and now that’s what there is- but the revelation is an ongoing process. The Lord speaks to Joseph in a letter in which he speaks to Emma and he speaks to the church and the Lord speaks to Joseph, and I mean this is a letter with all sorts of voices in it. The Lord speaks to him in that letter which goes out to the Saints and is a revelation to them and then it gets edited and the voices take a different shape and we see a difference between 121 and 122 that we might not see otherwise. Anyway, they take a new shape and it seems to me that it’s important to recognize that that’s also a part of the revelatory process.
Janiece Johnson: And I think, considering the way that the Spirit works, we have the possibility of receiving this differently depending on our own context and depending on what we are going through at the time. And again new meaning can be produced from the same text that has changed over time but still has the ability to reveal truth to us.
Jim Faulconer: Yeah, I think if we see it as the spirit revealing from beginning to the end rather than just revealing then and now I’ve got to try to somehow figure out how to get myself through this last (almost) 200 years into the mind of what Joseph was experiencing, I think we misunderstand what revelation is about.
Janiece Johnson: Now, why do you think––I brought up the example of verses 1 through 6 where we start this revelation today but in Joseph’s letter there are two pages that preface that and got really a laundry list of depredations that Joseph and the saints are going through. What happens in that act of removing that context from this and starting there with Joseph crying out to the Lord?
Jim Faulconer: It changes our focus on––if we read this section, 121, from the beginning rather than starting with verses 31 or 32 or something like that, if we read it from the beginning, we see this as a plea. Joseph is pleading on behalf of the Saints and he––even there––he asks for vengeance but the request for vengeance is much milder than it might be had those first several pages been tacked onto the revelation. I think it puts Joseph Smith in a pleading position and it gives the Lord a chance, in this revelation, to respond to his pleading with the answer that he finally ends with at the end of the section.
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I also think that it allows every Latter-day Saint who reads this to apply it to their own situation. So it’s not just that the Saints are in trouble in Missouri, which they certainly are. It’s not just that Joseph Smith is in jail. But it’s something as trivial as, “I don’t know how to choose avocados at the grocery store” to something as serious as, “something is happening to myself or my loved one that I don’t know what to do about and I’m at the end of my row.” I think that, in this editing process, what Elder Pratt did is he made it more universally applicable. In canonizing it he made it so that it’s accessible not just to prophets in prison or people waiting for their prophet to get out of prison but for you and me and everyone else who needs it too.
Janiece Johnson: I suspect we have all called out at some point, “Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? Why are you far from me? Why aren’t you showing yourself and stepping out?”
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, it actually reminds me of something Elder Hugh B. Brown said once. You may have occasion to say, “God where are you? And if you’re there, why aren’t you answering me?” And I think that that certainly comes through here. And in what I see in the revelation that is canonized now are three questions. That first question is,”where are you Lord? I need you. I need help. I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to and I can’t do any more.” Second, “Why are you silent?” And I can only imagine from the perspective of Joseph Smith who has received so many revelations and had so many marvelous, really incredible experiences to suddenly feel like the Lord isn’t speaking to him.
And third, “When are you going to treat us like your chosen people? If you are going to call us out as Israel, if you’re going to restore the priesthood, if you’re going to have us construct a temple, what was the point of doing all that if you’re going to leave us to suffer in Missouri? Or for men, women, and children to be crossing the plains in snow, and just hoping to survive?” I think that there is an intense vulnerability to Joseph asking these questions. He’s the prophet. He’s in charge. He has the keys. Maybe this is just me as a modern Latter-day Saint but I would think like, “Oh, the prophet always knows what’s going on. He always has a pretty good feel for what’s going to happen.” It’s the same thing for a great Relief Society President or Bishop, or Primary President but that’s why I admire that it’s so vulnerable. That sometimes the folks we look up to most, it’s incredibly important to hear them say, I don’t have all the answers, I rely on God for everything.
Janiece Johnson: And that piece that I read from that larger letter, I have actually written that last piece in my old-school written scriptures, “But the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers, my son, peace unto thy soul” And I think for me the reason I like that is because the way that it has been edited I almost think, “Oh suddenly he waited a long time and then this grandiose response came.” But no, actually the response came in a whisper. It was not this grandiose manifestation, but the Lord spoke to him in this whisper, “It’s going to be but a small moment. There will be an end to this.”
Joseph Stuart: A verbal hug is maybe one way of thinking about it. As the Lord comforts He does in ways that Joseph Smith expects, by visiting him with the Spirit but also in unexpected ways. He promises that, this is in verse 26-29, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last items, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, and held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest. All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” So I guess in one sense Joseph knows that there’s going to be an end because he is going to receive more information, there’s going to be more revelation here, but at the same time, if I’m having a hard time I don’t want to hear like, “Oh, well don’t worry. In the future, and I’m not going to tell you exactly when, you’re going to be ok.” That’s not always, at least for me, one Joseph to another, I’m not sure that’s what Joseph Smith wanted to hear. But I do think that there’s an interesting contrast between the beginning of the revelation and what the Lord starts to tell Joseph Smith in these verses. Jim, do you have anything more to say about that?
Jim Faulconer: With you I think that this contrast is quite interesting because the Lord goes from more or less responding to Joseph’s plea to destroy his enemies by saying, “Well ok, they’ll have economic ruin” and He, I mean, he goes to quite some length. I think money must be hyperbolic because some of the things He says seem unlikely to me. But He does that, but then what he promises Joseph is the Spirit. He promises him knowledge. He doesn’t say there’s some tit for tat. They get economic ruin, so you get economic prosperity. Instead he says, I will take care of them and I will bless you with knowledge.
Janiece Johnson: And he actually gives them an assignment right, You need to record what you’ve done here so rather than this, “Ok I’m fixing it all for you,” at some point there’s this promise of knowledge and then they’re given responsibilities. And they need to document what has happened to them. I think about that in verse 26 quite a bit, “God shall give you knowledge by his holy Spirit, yea by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost” The unspeakable gift, that’s Pauline, it’s Paul’s phraseology. But thinking about revelation in this way, I wonder if this perhaps points to the fact that revelation occurs differently for all of us, that we can’t always articulate. I may see some outward manifestation and think that someone is feeling the Spirit––is maybe receiving some sort of revelation or having some sort of revelatory experience––but I’m not sure that there are words to describe what’s happening to them. And perhaps they can’t find the words themselves to describe that process of receiving revelation. But it’s something that happens to each of us differently, and here that is the promise that the Lord is giving them more light, more knowledge.
Joseph Stuart: So Joseph continues in verse 33, “How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it upstream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.” What’s going on here Jim? What do you see when you read these verses?
Jim Faulconer: It seems to me that this is pretty clear in saying, “Look, you may be underestimating God’s power. He can stop the Missouri river, He could turn it upstream. You can’t do that. You put out your arm, nothing happens. I put up my arm, whatever I want to happens.” These people who are trying to stop the work of the Lord are going to be unable to do so, and the work of the Lord is to pour down knowledge upon the Saints. “They will be unable to stop me from doing that,” he says. We might think that the thing to pray for, and what Joseph Smith is praying for is “I just want out of prison, I want to be economically ok,” and so on. The Lord doesn’t really seem to respond to those kinds of wishes and desires. He just says, “Look, I will pour out knowledge upon you and the rest of the Saints. I will do it and I can do it and nobody can stop me.”
Joseph Stuart: Certainly. I also like the image of rolling waters remaining pure. I love to be up in the canyons of Utah and love seeing the streams. I confess that I don’t drink from them because giardia is not our friend, but I really like the metaphor that the river water is clear because it’s constantly moving. It doesn’t have time to sit still and become less drinkable. But, Jim, there’s probably another way of reading that don’t you think?
Jim Faulconer: If we read it my way I don’t understand the image, so I don’t know how rolling waters work because they seem to me to kick up dirt.
Janiece Johnson: Well I know if I’m hiking and I need water and I don’t have a water purifier, I’m definitely picking the rolling water over the water that isn’t moving.
Jim Faulconer: I would choose the same. I’m thinking about the Mississippi or the Missouri rivers. And those are rivers where the rolling seems to kick up a lot of mud.
Janiece Johnson: Now I think we have a significant shift between verses 33 and then 34. And we shift to responsibilities of the Saints. In this sense of comfort, the comfort and the promises that the Lord is giving the Saints, they’re not immune from responsibility. And there are things to do here. There are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Is this a rebuke or is there something theologically going on here?
Jim Faulconer: I think it’s a rebuke of the Saints or of the leadership. I think it’s a rebuke of Joseph. If we read it in the context of just section 121, Joseph begins by saying, “I want to exercise authority over these people. I want you to take care of my enemies.” And the Lord says, “Well, why don’t we learn how that works. Let’s learn about how priesthood power works. And it’s important to remember that priesthood power is inseparably connected to the powers of heaven and that that’s the connection you need to be more concerned about.” It’s a mild rebuke. It’s not a condemnation of any sort, but yeah it’s to say, “You don’t really understand what you’re doing and what you’re asking and so you need to think about how to ask for these things. “
Joseph Stuart: Yeah, I think about it in a similar way, and in fact growing up and going to seminary (this is a scripture mastery scripture back when that existed––it’s now doctrinal mastery). But I remember reading section 121:33-39 I believe it was, and thinking, “Oh, well when the Lord needs to rebuke people I totally understand it.” Completely disconnecting it from the fact that I would need to be rebuked at times. And I remember reading these verses as a Latter-Day Saint missionary and just that weight of bricks falling on me like “Oh, oh dear. I am not doing what I need to do to have the full power of the priesthood and access to the Spirit possible.” I was blaming other people for not following through on commitments, or for not doing what they were supposed to as companionships, and I recognized that blaming others is never the Lord’s way of doing things. He says, “This is what you need to do to have access to my power.” And it was a powerful lesson to me that day. Rebukes aren’t always about someone else. Sometimes they’re about us too.
Janiece Johnson: I think that whenever we are given a little bit of power or authority this is really useful for us to be introspective and to think about this. Are we claiming authority because we have been appointed into a position, because we’ve been set apart and placed in that position? Or because we are handling things in the Lord’s manner? Do we actually have the powers of heaven with us? And figuring out how the Lord works by kindness, pure knowledge, persuasion, a skill that many of us have lost in the modern day world. We raise our voice and think that that claims authority rather than doing the hard work of actually trying to persuade.
Jim Faulconer: With verse 39 we are reminded that “almost all of us” and so, “almost all…” it’s hard for me to say, “well, that’s everybody but me.” Almost all people are such that they get a little authority and they exercise unrighteous dominion and that means I probably do that. I probably have done that, and probably am still doing it. So this part of the section from 34 on is something that I really do have to think about to your point, Janience, that I really do have to think about, “have I tried to be persuasive? Have I been long-suffering and gentle and meek?” And I think that’s a question I have to keep asking myself whenever I have any kind of authority.
Janiece Johnson: Part of me wants to read 39, and say, “Well yes, that’s how men are.” But if I am honest, I know that this is probably one of those instances when this is the 19th century usage of men and this applies to all of us. When we get a little bit of authority we have got to be careful. And we have to check ourselves. Now there will be times when reproof is necessary, and the Lord gives us a pattern for reproof. “Reproving betimes with sharpness when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” Well how do you guys think about sharpness? What is sharpness?
Jim Faulconer: Well I think usually we think about it as a kind of anger but I think that in context it’s probably something more like accuracy. Just really get it right.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah I think about a surgeon with a dull knife versus a surgeon with a precise instrument. You’re going to accomplish it much faster and more directly and get at the heart of the problem and not do a lot of damage around the outside.
Joseph Stuart: I really like Jim’s definition better than mine. Mine is more urgent, that’s how I think about sharpness. Maybe this is just because immediately the “reproving betimes with sharpness” came to me in thinking about something that happened this past weekend when my four year old ran into a crosswalk without looking and I just had to shout, “hey” and pull her back and she landed on her rear end and she wasn’t very happy about it. But that was something that I needed to do because of the urgency of the situation but not because I was upset with her but because she needed to know you can’t run across the street without looking.
Jim Faulconer: That’s where the word “betimes” comes in because betimes means early.
Janiece Johnson: And President Hinckley talked about “betimes” and said the timing has to be right. You don’t want to do it in the heat of the moment when you’re all worked up unless that’s necessary and pulling a kid out of a crosswalk is certainly necessary. But, you know, if we’re in the middle of an argument with someone then that’s not the time for reproof. Maybe we need to cool off and then think through, “Ok is this necessary or am I doing this just because I want to be right?”
Jim Faulconer: Using your image Janiece, I think it’s right to say if we are in the middle of an argument it’s almost impossible for what we say to be sharp, to be sharp like a surgeon’s knife, like a scalpel. We are going to over exaggerate, we’re going to bring up irrelevant things because that’s what we think of. When we are in the middle of an argument and we are angry we say things that on reflection we think, well I probably shouldn’t have done that. Well then this point is: reflect before rather than afterwards.
Janiece Johnson: And I also think that if we’re in the middle of an argument we are not going to be able to follow through with the next step. There is no way that we are going to be able to be showing forth an increase of love towards this person and that is always essential––that we have to be able to do. If we can not show that increase of love I’m not sure that we should reprove.
Jim Faulconer: Yeah, well in fact it seems to me that’s what the last clause suggests, ..”.lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.” If you’re involved with this other person and you leave her angry with you, now you’ve made an enemy and you’ve accomplished nothing and you don’t want the other person to think that you are their enemy even in a less violent sense than the saints were facing.
Janiece Johnson: And then we move to this charitable orientation for a larger aspect of people’s lives. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” I think about this a lot. Virtue is one of those things that we misinterpret. It just becomes a synonym for women’s chastity rather than this larger sense of divine power. If we look at the Greek’s it’s translated to virtue. All of the definitions revolve around divine power, divinely imbued power, that is available to all of us. ..”.that thy confidence shall wax strong in the presence of God.” What does that mean to you guys?
Jim Faulconer: Well, I just want to back up a little bit. One more thing that we misinterpret is garnish. In the 19th century, garnish meant to supply, to fortify, right? We would garnish the fort, right, or supply it. So let virtue supply your thoughts unceasingly. I think that is a much better way of thinking of it than you know, “one of the extra things your thoughts should have is this little extra dab of virtue.”
Janiece Johnson: Parsley is hideous to me. Curly parsley is the most useless thing I can think of but this idea of virtue is not just the green, curly afterthought on the plate.
Joseph Stuart: I really like that. I also really like the idea of confidence waxing strong in the presence of God. That to me connotes a sort of internal confidence rather than focusing on external sources of confidence. Again this doesn’t always feel great in the moment but knowing that you’re doing the right thing––that can be something that sustains us even when it’s painful, even when it’s not the easiest decision and when it affects others especially. It’s important for us to keep our eyes on the prize so to speak in thinking about what our connection to our Heavenly Parents is.
Janiece Johnson: We so often spend so much time trying to get external validation when really I think this is the only validation that we should be worried about, having self-esteem because we feel confident in the presence of God. That should be our goal.
Jim Faulconer: I think that’s right. I even take this back to the beginning of this section. I mean, what we see of Joseph is that he’s fearful, he’s not confident––I think Joey pointed out the ways in which he asked these questions––and I think the Lord’s response is, “You know, there is a different kind of confidence you can have, a confidence before God. Then your lack of confidence before other people wouldn’t matter.”
Janiece Johnson: I think about the brother of Jared whose never the spokesperson. He’s not the one with the eloquent words but yet when the Lord says, when he’s proposing that the Lord touch the stones and he sees the finger of the Lord, the Lord says, “Seest thou more than this,” and he says, “Nay,” and then commands the Lord, “Show thyself unto me.” That kind of confidence is something really extraordinary. To think about having that kind of relationship with the Lord; that one might, not in hubris, but in that kind of confidence to say, “Show thyself unto me.” That’s a really beautiful thing.
Joseph Stuart:Yeah, and again just to remember, thinking about the confidence that we can have through doing what the Lord has asked us to. In section 122 verse 7 it says, “All these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.” Verse 8, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all.” And especially in thinking about how B. H. Roberts, the Latter-day Saint historian and general authority, called Joseph Smith’s experience in Liberty Jail: the experience of being in a prison temple. And thinking about how he could not escape and yet it became a holy space for Joseph and for the rest of us as we read these revelations. And frankly this speaks to me as being a little bit harsh. I don’t love to hear, “Well what you’re going through doesn’t really matter because Jesus has been through way worse.” It’s like, “yeah, but he’s Jesus, and I’m not.” But I think that actually in verse 7 it says it better, ..”.but these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.” I wonder if the experience of suffering or the experience of going through negative things, while we wouldn’t choose to go through them, gives us opportunities to better show the love that God has for each of us to each of his children on the earth.That because we’ve been through a hard time, we can do our best to mitigate other’s negative experiences through our own.
Janiece Johnson: Yeah. If I think about that, Elder Maxwell talked about the wintery doctrines of the gospel. That if we hope to become consecrated individuals, we are going to go through difficult things. Here, experience has a function theologically in how we proceed in mortality, that experience is central to our time here. How do you think about that, Jim, as a theologian? What is the function of experience in theology?
Jim Faulconer: I’m a little bit insulted you would call me a theologian but I’ll live with that.
Janiece Johnson; We are all theologians, right?
Jim Faulconer: Okay, then in that case then I’m all right. I think that for me the important thing to remember is the word “experience” and the word “experiment” are really closely related to one another, right? And so “experience” has to do with trying things out, particularly things that have to do with the senses. How do we learn how to deal with, or have, or live in (I’m not sure what the right verb is there), but how do we learn to be embodied people? That is only by experience and by trying out the things that bodies can do, embodies––not just as physical things, but mental, spiritual, the whole entity that we are––that requires our work. It requires that we have experience, experiments, on us, with us, in us.
Janiece Johnson: It turns me to think about Alma 7 and his description of Christ’s suffering, that it’s pains, afflictions, and temptations. It’s interesting. He doesn’t just know these things in the abstract. He has experienced them according to the flesh. For him to be able to take on our pains, afflictions, and temptations Christ has to have experienced these things according to the flesh.
Jim Faulconer: I think it’s especially appropriate here because to succor his people, to give them comfort, he has to have done this. So he’s saying to Joseph, even that seemingly harsh verse, he’s saying, “I have experienced it, I know what you’re talking about. I’m not just thinking about these in general terms. I’ve had this experience, I understand it. And it will end up being better for you.”
Janiece Johnson: And part of my atonement is transforming. Transforming that pain and that experience into something glorious. I think that’s a beautiful promise. I know thee, I know how long you’re going to be here. You’re okay. It’s a beautiful promise. “Fear not for what man can do for God shall be with you forever and ever.”
Joseph Stuart: I think that’s a wonderful place for us to end this week. We are going to close with the words from Jeffrey R. Holland from his sermon, The Lessons Of Liberty Jail. Have a blessed week y’all.
Jeffery R. Holland: “Most of us, most of the time, speak of the facility at Liberty as a jail or a prison, and certainly it was that. But Elder Brigham H. Roberts in recording the history of the church spoke of the facility as a temple, or more accurately a prison temple. Elder Neal A. Maxwell used the same phrasing in some of his writings. Certainly it lacked the purity, the beauty, the comfort, and cleanliness of this kind of temple, our true temples, our dedicated temples. The speech and behavior of the guards and criminals who came there was anything but temple-like. In fact the restricting brutality and injustice of this experience at Liberty would make it seem the very antithesis of the liberating, merciful spirit of our temples and the ordinances that are performed in them. So in what sense could Liberty Jail be called a temple? Or at least, a kind of temple? In the development of Joseph Smith personally and in his role as a prophet, what does such a title tell us about God’s love and teachings including where and when that love and those teachings are made manifest? As we think on these things does it strike us that spiritual experience, revelatory experience, sacred experience, can come to every one of us in all the many and varied stages and circumstances in our lives if we want it. If we hold on and pray on, if we keep our faith strong through our difficulties. We love and cherish our dedicated temples and the essential, exalting ordinances that are performed there. We thank heaven and the presiding brethren that more and more of them are being built giving more and more of us greater access to them. They are truly the holiest, most sacred structures in the kingdom of God to which we all ought to go as worthily and as often as possible. But tonight’s message is that when you have to you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed let me say that even a little stronger, you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life, in the worst settings while enduring the most painful injustices when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.”
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“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)