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Two words, “mystery” and “symbol” elicit a whole range of feelings and attitudes.  When asked, “who likes symbols/parables/metaphors?” my classes would be fairly evenly divided between love and hate/frustration.  When asked to describe “mystery” most talked of things unknown, or unknowable.  A few spoke of things needing discovery by searching and following clues.  Many, today, simply set them aside, deeming them complexities of religion which they assume should be simple, logical, and easily understood.  Recent surveys indicate that Millennials have taken a “lukewarm” approach to religion due to this conflict between their expectation and their encounter with religion that either seems illogical or that which demands a continual learning investment.1

Even Christ’s apostles balked at His use of metaphor. “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” Matthew 13:10 

Adam’s response to God’s offer to forgive him on condition of baptism, asked, “Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water?” Moses 6:53 This profound and essential symbol may have seemed simply as a dunking in water.  

Isaiah was called specifically to speak to the less than faithful Israel, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9-10 This was not to be a pleasant task, to teach in a way that most would not understand. Only those few making an effort and spiritually in tune could understand, so he asked, “Then said I, Lord, how long?”  

Much like Christ’s explanation to His apostles citing Isaiah, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias…For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed…” Matthew 13:10-17

So, it would seem that symbols, parables, allegories, types and all other kinds of metaphor are used by God to both conceal and reveal.  Conceal from those who don’t have ears to hear, i.e. those who would be hurt by the responsibilities that additional knowledge carries.  And, reveal to those ready and desiring to know more, know deeper, know how to apply, etc.  God delights in sharing with those ready and seeking.2

“The mysteries of the Kingdom” are always shrouded in metaphor but revealed in ordinances to any and all who are ready, willing, and invested. A mystery is not something secret but sacred.  They are given unto MANY to know with the caveat to allow others to get their knowledge first hand, instead of unlawfully, illegally, and watered down through human attempts to explain!

“The mysteries of his kingdom … surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which …are not lawful for man to utter; neither is man capable to make them known.” DC 76:114-116

“It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” Alma 12:9

 “This greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; DC 84:19-21

“Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject. … I assure the Saints that truth … can and may be known through the revelations of God in the way of His ordinances, and in answer to prayer.” Joseph Smith 3

So, what of those of us confused by metaphor, or simply repelled by complexity. There is much good that comes from simplicity and just being a good person, but even Thomas Payne recognized the importance of “earning our learning.” 

“What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods.”4

Perhaps the greater danger is becoming satisfied with a terrestrial understanding and resultant lifestyle! However, the stress associated with feeling compelled or “needing to understand” need not exist or separate us from the great adventure of discovery.  God is patient and has given us our whole lives.  He even makes the journey as precious as the ultimate divine destination of “knowing all things.”  The reception of divine light that facilitates incremental inspired discovery creates a singular emotional experience called, “JOY” and a sense of growth.5  The divine grace that accompanies this willingness to “pay the price” is part of what many call the “enabling power of the Atonement of Christ.”

This comes, not just from the increased understanding but also from the learning companion given us as a gift, “they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves” DC 76:116-117

And all that, not just so we can “know” more “stuff”, but through our willing, diligent, and daily submission in subjecting ourselves to the process, He prepares us, changes our inner natures:

“That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory. DC 76:118

We already know from Moses’ encounter with God that we cannot bear His presence in our current condition.6

As struggling mortals, it is gratifying to read of the initial struggle even the prophets had in learning to earn their learning. The process God used to teach Adam and then later, Joseph Smith, the skills of celestial communication included use of His divine interfaces.  Today, much testing is used to craft our “interfaces” whether on computer screens, websites, or in advertising, so that they do more than just inform.  When Adam and Eve humbly repented of their sin of worshiping a false god,7 Father did more than just forgive.  He gave them an interface by which He could change the cause of the sin within them.  Let’s follow that sequence:

“And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence. And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.”

Though they didn’t understand why, they had been taught how to sacrifice in the garden, when “the Lord God, made coats of skins, and clothed them” (Moses 4:27) before sending them out to “till the ground.” That skin certainly came from the first animal death on the newly fallen world. How appropriate that the first animal sacrifice would have been performed by He would would serve as the Lamb of God. The record then says that it was after they were grandparents and “many days had passed,” that the angel came to help them understand the purpose and meaning of their years of slitting throats, draining blood and burning animals on an altar.8 The visiting angel said, 

“Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. And then the angel spake, saying: “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.” Moses 5:6-8

Now, I don’t know about Adam and Eve, but somehow that didn’t seem completely clarifying to me. If the specificity given to Moses is instructive in how Adam was taught, then I would have been left to wonder about innocent male lambs, firstlings, blood, no broken bones, death, and the directive to do everything, not in my own name, but in the name of Christ from then on, etc.  To them it only meant albeit, significantly, “because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Moses 5:10-11

Significantly the next verse after the angel tutor’s simple but still metaphorical explanation for sacrifice, the text notes:And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam” Moses 5:8

In addition to the immediate applicational level of understanding, imparted by the revelatory experience, the instructive connection between Christ’s atonement and sacrificing on an altar would come through the Holy Ghost during the performance of the ordinance and in quiet pondering and prayer as with all ordinances.  This is not, however the first couple’s first encounter with symbols as noted above when instructed on baptism.  Fortunately, Jehovah continued His explanation on symbol-use to help Adam understand, not only the rebirth metaphor of baptism and confirmation but also its value in teaching his growing posterity. He not only admonishes Adam and Eve to teach the necessity of rebirth to their children but teaches them how to teach it…using symbols and metaphor:

Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory. For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; Moses 6:58-60

And, like Adam’s family, our children will need that divine gift to enable them to understand:

“Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.” Moses 6:61

It is this companionship, this comfort and direction with divine spirit communication through the heart and mind, directly from our omnipotent Godhead, that our children need before they are sent out to serve Him and endure to the end. More than almost anything they will learn, they need to be facile with the experience of knowing, understanding, and trusting the voice of the spirit.

We might miss that when He says, “This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.” Moses 6:62 That the plan of salvation is not just “The Atonement,” or “Rebirth,” but additionally it includes teaching our children to teach their children, by the Spirit, using symbols!

If not convinced, note the next verse that expands the mind and helps us awaken to how we live our lives completely awash in symbols!

“All things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.” Moses 6:63

What percentage is “all?”  So, here is the challenge as we accept the prophetic call to change our family culture into a parent guided, church assisted scripture searching, pondering, living people. Together, this week, find meaning for newly recognized symbols.  If it was created by the Great Jehovah, then it is a symbol “created and made to bear record of” Him.  You might set the example by pondering…say, a palm tree or a spruce tree.  Try a mountain, a cloud, etc.

Here is some fun with things that have characteristics that bear record of Him as noted by mathematical theologian, Bonnie Gaunt.9

It is a mathematical fingerprint, left us by the very creator, of his identity and creator role linking the babe of Bethlehem to the Great Jehovah. 

It seems evident that the more one understands the nature of the thing used as a symbol, the more the Spirit can guide our minds in the discovery of the applicational analogues resident in the object.  Even after what would seem like abject failure to most parents with the death of their faithful child at the hand of an older sibling, Adam and Eve, like Abraham were given confirmation and guiding revelation through the symbols of the ordinances God had given them.

What additional revelatory life-difference could we, with our children, discover in the divine treasure chest of symbols and ordinances with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a submissive heart?  Happy sleuthing!


  1. Six Reasons Young People Leave the Church, Barna President David Kinnaman Isolationism , Shallowness , Anti-science, Sex, Exclusivity.
  2. DC 76: 5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. 6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. 7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries , yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. 8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. 9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. 10 For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
  3. History of the Church, 6:50–51; paragraph divisions altered; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Oct. 9, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and Times and Seasons,Sept. 15, 1843, p. 331; this issue of the Times and Seasons was published late.
  4. Thomas Payne, The Crisis ; December 23, 1776.
  5. Alma 19:6 …the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul… DC 50:21-24 he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
  6. Moses 1:10-11 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.
  7. DC 20:18 And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them; 19 And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom they should worship. 20 But by the transgression of these holy laws man became sensual and devilish, and became fallen man. DC:29:40 Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam, and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation.
  8. Moses 5:2-3 And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth. And from that time forth, the sons and daughters of Adam began to divide two and two in the land, and to till the land, and to tend flocks, and they also begat sons and daughters.
  9. All Books by Bonnie Gaunt. Beginnings, The Sacred Design was used as the reference here
  10. Moses 5:59 And thus all things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance, and the Gospel preached, and a decree sent forth, that it should be in the world, until the end thereof.​See also Genesis 15 for Abraham’s story. Also a previous article: