Monday, September 9, 2013

It's All Revelation

The following is from a talk I gave in church yesterday:

It's All Revelation
Christian Asplund, September 2013

In April, 1829, during the translation of the Book of Mormon, Olivery Cowdery, who was serving as scribe asked Joseph Smith if they could switch roles.  In D&C 8, the Lord approved this experiment instructing Oliver, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.  Now, behod, this is the spirit of revelation.”  After unsuccessful attempts at translating, Joseph Smith received a revelation directed at Oliver that became section 9 of the D&C, in which the Lord explains why Oliver was not able to translate: “You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.  But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.  But if it be not right you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”

This scripture rightly has a very special place among the Latter-day Saints.  I dare say it, and others like it, sets us clearly apart, certainly from our modern Euro-American  culture.  This is the culture that has described and harnessed the physical world in such spectacular ways but is equally distinguished in its inability to describe and harness the spiritual world or, indeed, even acknowledge its existence.  This scripture goes far beyond attesting to the existence of a spiritual realm.  It gives instructive and specific details as to how to access information from divine sources while living in the physical world.

I don’t believe Oliver was being told that he should have figured it out all on his own.  I don’t believe anyone has to figure anything out without any divine aid, and in fact, I don’t think it’s possible.  Oliver’s situation, moreover, was an extreme one, as he was faced with the task of translating a language the knowledge of which had been completely lost to the world.  Oliver couldn’t translate by himself.  Nonetheless, the Lord gave the instruction to study “it” out in his mind.  What exactly was Oliver to study out as he looked at an unfamiliar script?  I believe that God was directing Oliver to a different, perhaps more subtle kind of revelation, the revelation that comes from reflection, listening, mental exertion applied to a problem or a paradox.  I think it points to the idea that revelation comes in many forms, tailored to the needs at hand.  I think it also illustrates a microcosm of our pursuit of truth, or really anything of value.  We have to work, to apply ourselves actively.  Certainly we need to apply the powers of our senses and of our brain’s ability to reason, to make associations, and to interpret sense data.  In fact, scientists attempting to map it suggest that the human brain is by far the most complex thing in the universe, perhaps more complex than the universe itself.  But ultimately everything we have, including our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, is a gift.  The Lord said at the end of this lesson to Oliver that “you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”   As Hugh Nibley said, “Work we must, but the lunch is free”. 
Through Oliver’s experience and instruction, the Lord is telling us that intelligence, or light and truth, is all around us and in us.  It has already been placed in our minds, in fact, it’s been there eternally.  It is also available to any person who is willing to study, to meditate, to ponder and to take advantage of the myriad means of accessing light and truth.

We need a much more expansive view of revelation.  We are divine beings.  That part of us that is spiritual has existed for much longer than that part of us which is physical.  Our physicality is a fairly new addition.  We think of the spiritual realm as the anomaly, when, in fact, the physical is more new and anomalous, an add-on, an appendage, an accessory to our eternal spiritual existence. 

Brigham Young had a lot to say on this subject.   For instance, he said, posing a question often addressed to him:

Have you had revelations 7 " Yes, I have them  all the time, I live constantly by the principle of revelation.

To Brigham Young, revelation was a natural part of everyday thought and action.  He also said that:

The Spirit of the Lord enlightens every man that comes into the world.

at another time he said

I do not believe for one moment that there has been a man or woman upon the face of the earth, from the days of Adam to this day, who has not been enlightened, instructed, and taught by the revelations of Jesus Christ.

As a composer, I am lucky or unlucky depending on how you look at it, in that I depend on what I believe is divine inspiration to be able to compose.  I believe that anybody involved in creation or discovery depends on divine inspiration, whether they are aware of it or not.  To quote Brigham Young again:

There are men [and women] of talent, of thought, of reflection, and  knowledge in all cunning mechanism, they are expert…, though they do not know from whence they receive their intelligence… it reveals unto them, instructs them, teaches them, and guides them even in… how to construct rail-roads and all manner of machinery, they understand cun-ning workmanship, etc. ; but that is all revealed to them by the Spirit of the Lord, though they know it not

The flash of inspiration, the sense that something is right or whole, these are essential to mathematicians, scientists, scholars and artists.  I believe they are also a kind of revelation and come from a divine source. 

President Young goes further by saying that:

No person receives knowledge only upon the principle of revelation

OPTIONAL MATERIAL:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

President Young goes yet a step further, stating that real, lasting knowledge is only obtainable through spiritual faculties:

how do you know anything? Can you be deceived by  the eye ? You can, you have proved this; you all know  that there are men who can deceive the sight of the eye,  no matter how closely you observe their movements. Can  you be deceived in hearing ? Yes; you may hear sounds but  not understand their import or whence they come. Can  you be deceived by the touch of the finger ? You can The  nervous system will not detect everything. What will?  The revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of truth will detect everything, and enable all who possess it to understand truth from error, light from darkness, the things of God from the things not of God It is the only thing that will enable us to understand the Gospel of the Son of God, the will of God, and how we can be saved.

He goes even further by saying:

Instead of considering that there is nothing known and  understood, only as we know and understand things naturally, I take the other side of the question, and believe  positively that there is nothing known except by the rev-  elation of the Lord Jesus Christ, whether in theology, science, or art. 12 :207.

This is why Latter-day Saints, in a way that can be annoying to some, can bear testimony that they “know” certain things that are unprovable, or even preposterous according to conventional perceptions. 


Returning to section 9, the process the Lord describes to Olievr integrates thought and feelings in a holistic way.  The mental flash of inspiration, followed by the burning feeling of rightness are thus dual witnesses.  The Lord then tells Oliver that there were two reasons for his failure.  First that he was ignorant of this process.  Second, that he feared.  After this, he assures Oliver that he is not condemned in the least for his failure.  There is so much that we can learn from this.  We need not fear the pursuit of revelation.  We are under no condemnation for seeking guidance, truth, or confirmation from the Lord.  And we should learn from scripture and the examples of others how to obtain revelation and apply it persistently, to experiment, as Alma says.  The search for revelation can become a creative act in which all of our faculties are brought to bear.  Moreover, everything we do can become inspired or informed by revelation.