Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically. The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life. While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.
First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift. While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well. Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.
If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. The heart and the mind most both be engaged. The meanings received must be carefully weighed and considered, in light of whatever new you’ve learned, and in light of your past experience. Every interaction with God provides the opportunity for revelation, but are we willing to do what is necessary to recognize, understand, and apply it?
In the lesson in the Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, there is a whole section on how to caution people about personal revelation. There is always the chance that we are mistaking the secret desires of our hearts for the revelatory insight of the Father. I don’t know that there is an easy way to distinguish the two. Perhaps the prime criterion of judgment we face is what we have done and are willing to do in the name of the Lord. We take that name upon ourselves in baptism, renewing that covenant with sacrament regularly. We have only our own judgment to decide what thoughts and ideas merit God’s approval. It’s a frightening responsibility.
Perhaps, it would be better to focus on the purpose of revelation. The passages chosen this week include Doctrine and Covenants 11, the only section mentioned that isn’t a revelation to Oliver Cowdery. Instead, it was a revelation to Hyrum Smith, and the most famous element is the admonition to the Prophet’s brother to learn the doctrines of the Gospel before he started to teach them. Is it possible to learn the Gospel without experiencing revelation? I mean, someone might learn the written doctrines, but without the confirmation of the Spirit, is it the Gospel, or just another fairy tale? Does it matter?
That both sections 6 and 11 start with passages that we associate with mission work strikes me as important. Let me offer an example from my mission. I was a senior companion with the only greenie who was ever assigned to me, Elder Starley. We were out walking and I decided that I was going to experiment with the word. I sat on a bench, much to his bewilderment, and said a prayer asking us to be led to someone who was truly seeking the Gospel. I felt prompted to go on the subway, so we did. I felt prompted to get off at a certain spot, so we did. I felt prompted to go a certain direction. Eventually, I stopped getting promptings. I got a little irritated about it, actually. But I decided to go into the building that we were standing in front of. We went to the top floor and started knocking doors. We quickly found a woman who was interested. She told us that she had prayed every day for 15 years to find the true Gospel. She was open to us, willing to talk about religion, about as golden as can be. I thought at the time, what a remarkable experience with the Spirit. But, here’s the thing: we never saw her again.
We tried to drop by again, but she was never there and I don’t think we got her number. I’m pretty sure that my companion thought I was being crazy and, frankly, he didn’t understand what was going on. I had to explain to him what she’d said on the way home. There I was, in the thrall of the Spirit, and he’d felt pretty much nothing. And looking back, even though I do believe I was led, I’m not certain what the message was? Was I led to her? Was God trying to tell me something? Or her? Or Elder Starley (don’t agree to wander the city with no particular destination even though your comp is senior, perhaps?)? It’s always complicated and never clear. We may sometimes have a tendency to think less of Oliver because he wasn’t able to translate by revelation, but my own experiences have left me bewildered, even when clarity was given.
When I look back over my life, the message that has been most clearly, most consistently, and most necessarily revealed to me is that of God’s love. Perhaps this is because I’m needy, or because I’m sinful, but I think it is mostly because there isn’t anything more important to know. That love, that charity, is the source of faith and hope, humilty and boldness. It is the source of testimony and of revelation. God sent us His Son because He loved the world. I think whatever we have revealed to us beyond that is essentially gravy, an unnecessary but desirable addition to what we need to know about God. Because His love is sufficient. I am always particularly moved by the final passage in D&C section 6. It reads:
32 Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.
33 Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
34 Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
35 Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.
36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
The reality of God’s love is demonstrated by the sacrifice of His Son and that reality is only known through revelation. It is the anchor of the Gospel’s promise and it is offered to all who sincerely seek. There is no higher knowledge, promise, or revelation. And it too requires some work to comprehend.