As we seek to understand the Old Testament this year, there is no shortage of angst. Yes, the scriptures may be gateways to living water, but the Old Testament is deep water—with a lurking Leviathan no less! Deep learning, like consecrated discipleship, sounds like an all-or-nothing thing. Apparently, dabbling in doctrine or prancing through principles won’t cut it. This isn’t to say the Lord does not take us where we are, but to go further up and further in, we need everything on the table.
The Prophet Joseph Smith did not endorse the half-hearted and lackluster. On the contrary, in seeking truth and knowing God, Joseph wrote, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart!”[i] Yes, give us this divine dignity and nobility!
Additionally, as a second witness, Elder Kim B. Clark taught, “If you really desire to learn deeply, if your heart and your mind are open to learning, and if you act on that desire, the Lord will bless you. When you do your part—pray in faith, prepare, study, engage actively, and do your very best—the Holy Ghost will teach you, magnify your capacity to act on what you learn, and help you become what the Lord wants you to become.”[ii] Yes, it seems the advice for knowing and becoming is precisely the same as the advice from my Little League Baseball coach: “yagottawanna!” No half-measures are any good.[iii]
Then we have Jesus saying things like, “no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Or, harsher still, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38). Lastly, almost like the proverbial nail in a coffin, the Lord flatly declared, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33). We could go on with other passages, but you get the gist. The Lord wants us—all of us, collectively and individually, inside and out. Gratefully, the Lord’s resurrection will one day make coffins and their nails obsolete, but until that day, it’s a daunting task handing over everything, including the kitchen sink.
But we knew that already. None of that above was new news to the Lord’s good news. Consecrated discipleship, scripture study, and covenantal relationships have only been fruitful when everything is offered. However, what we see happening these days is a bit of virtue-signaling in being “open-minded” when the Lord needs us to close on something. We need to be closers. We need to choose, decide, and go forth with faith. Apparently, the key to consecrated service is the same as concentrated study: “with all your heart, might, mind and strength” and we can’t do that when we are constantly “halt between two opinions”—let alone three, four, or thirty-four.[iv]
G. K. Chesterton wrote, The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”[v] “An open mind,” Chesterton wrote elsewhere, “is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut.”[vi] At some point, we have got to shut the mouth, chew, digest, and swallow. So it is with the mind. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes taught, “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We open our minds to close them on something solid. Like the mouth, eventually we have to decide. Yes, we are to “prove all things,” but we are also told in the same expression to “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This requires judging right from wrong, good from evil, or simply, reasonable from asinine. God is the standard for judgment. There is no virtue in elevating the ephemeral over the eternal.
Nothing is more solid than Reality Himself. Nothing illuminates our lives to see things as they really are than the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Nothing tastes sweeter, rings clearer, and sounds holier than the voice of God speaking through living prophets and apostles. I am grateful for the peace and perspicuity that comes through the Lord’s authorized servants. Truth, in one sense, is not reality; it is what we think about reality when we think accurately about it. The Lord’s servants offer “pure truth”[vii] that, if lived, enables us to see “things as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
The Oxford Word of the Year for 2016 was “post-truth.” Accordingly, post-truth is “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’”[viii] Like it or not, good or bad, we live in a culture of perpetually open minds with no signs they will shut on anything solid. We have to choose; we have to decide; and, dare I say, we have to judge, with the mandate to “judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 7:2).
The Old Testament can be a means of expanding our minds and deepening our hearts, but the “initiating particle of desire which ignites the spark of resolve must be our own.”[ix] Jesus demonstrated to two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophesies and points to Him (see Luke 24:25-28). Likewise, Nephi’s brother Jacob testified those in the Old Testament “believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name” (Jacob 4:5). So then, we must pay the price of understanding as we wade through strange prophecies and stories of Jacob’s wives, Moses’ wafers, Isaiah’s wimples, and Ezekiel’s whelps. To experience deep learning in the mayhem of modern living, we have to take the Lord’s invitation seriously to “learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). May the Lord bless us as we do.
[i] Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 267.
[ii] “Learning for the Whole Soul,” Liahona, Aug. 2017, 27.
[iii] See also Jack H. Goaslind, “Yagottawanna,” General Conference, May 1991.
[iv] See Doctrine and Covenants 4:2; 1 Kings 18:21; James 1:8.
[v] The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton, (Rare Treasures, 2020), 149.
[vii] President Russell M. Nelson, “Pure Truth, Pure Doctrine, and Pure Revelation,” General Conference, October 2021.
[ix] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts,” General Conference, October 1996.