Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Feast upon the Words of Christ

Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31: 20)
These words from Nephi's discussion of "the Doctrine of Christ" are frequently quoted in Sacrament Meeting as a proof text for the importance of studying the scriptures.  And certainly, the "word of Christ" as defined in this text is inclusive of the scriptures.  But to stop there is not nearly as radical as what Nephi is actually saying here.

Continuing from the discussion of the Doctrine of Christ in chapter 31, Nephi begins chapter 32 by posing a question he believes will naturally occur to his readers.  "I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way" (v. 1).  So I've entered into the way of Christ.  So I am a Christian.  Now what do I do?

Nephi answers his own question by reminding readers of what he had earlier said about the gifts of the Spirit that are bestowed upon those who have entered into the way.  "Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?" (v. 2)  OK, so Nephi here stresses: You have received the Holy Ghost.  You can now speak with the tongue of angels.  You.

So now comes one of the most shocking statements made in all of scripture: "Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (v. 3)  OK, so follow the logic here.  You can speak with the tongue of angels.  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, wherefore they speak the words of Christ.  If you can speak with the tongue of angels, then you too can speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore feast upon the words of Christ, for behold the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

So Nephi is not here telling us that we need to get our answers out of a book.  Nor do we need someone else to tell us "what we should do."  We have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit.  That is all we need in order to know what to do.

Nephi continues to stress this radical concept of spiritual self-reliance in verse 4: "Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark."  In other words, if you don't know what to do, it's because you haven't bothered to ask.  You have entered into the way of Christ, so you are entitled to the gifts of the Spirit and you have a responsibility to learn Christ's word to you individually.  And when you've learned it, it will be no less scripture to you than any other word of Christ.

Nephi restates it again, as plainly as it is possible to state it (since he "delights in plainness!"): "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do" (v. 5).  All things what ye should do!

Following Nephi's conclusion of this discussion of the Doctrine of Christ, Nephi "mourns" because of the "unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men": "for they will not seek knowledge" (v. 7).  The Holy Spirit, he continues, "teacheth a man to pray" (v. 8).  Only the evil spirit will teach a man not to pray, not to turn directly to God for wisdom.  "Pray always, and not faint," Nephi concludes (v. 9).

This is radical, powerful stuff.  We enter into the way of Christ by opening our hearts to God, and with real intent, committing ourselves to turn away from sin.  No one but God is the judge of our hearts, so there is no one who can ultimately know if we have entered into the way of Christ but ourselves and God.  But if our intent is to do right, if our true desire is to align ourselves with God, that is all we need.  And that intent, that desire, unlocks the riches of the Spirit, literally the word of Christ upon which we can feast, in order to know what we need to do in life, how best to move forward.

Is there a gospel that is better tailored to the anguish and heart-break that gay Latter-day Saints face than this?  Isn't our central problem that our fellow Saints judge us, without knowing our pain, without having any idea what our life experience and desires and needs are, without knowing our hearts?  But God knows, and Nephi teaches that God is the only one who needs to know.  Opening our hearts to God is the only gate.

And faced with the anguish of judgment and exclusion, our most painful dilemma is no different from that of any believer in the world, paraphrased by Nephi here as the problem of "what do we do?"  Where do we go from here?  Again, Nephi says, if we have entered in by the gate, if we have bared our souls to God, we have a right to turn to God for solace and help and wisdom, and we can and will learn "all things" that we should do.

We should be restless in our determination to get the answers we need.  We can't afford to wait for others to "get it."  We can't afford to wait for a General Authority to give us some revelation that will help us move forward.  If we do, Nephi says, we "must perish in the dark" (v. 4).  We would perish in any event because already we have failed to understand that the word of Christ comes to us not from outside of us, not as a result of the work that someone else does for us, but only as a result of the work that we must do for ourselves, for our own lives and our own salvation.  If we will not search for knowledge, we are already in darkness that we cannot be saved from, no matter what revelations are received by anybody else on our behalf.

If there's anybody in the world who needs this gospel today, it is we gay Saints.


FTE said...

Love your essays about the doctrine of Christ. You make it all sound so do-able.

J G-W said...

Heh! That's a funny way to put it.

Maybe that's what Nephi meant when he said he "delights in plainness"! I don't think I'm the one who makes it sound do-able... I'm just paraphrasing Nephi.

The Gospel is simplicity itself. I love Micah's quote: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Of course living it is more complicated because we bring to it all our, hm, complexities...

It usually takes a life-time for us to learn how to become "as little children..."