My favorite part of the Joseph Smith story has always been this passage:
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act, I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know…(JS-H 1:11-12).
I love this passage because it describes an experience I have had over and over with the scriptures, and also because I hope and yearn for the generous and comprehensive God James promises, a God who gives to all, who desires us to seek Him, who does not rebuke me for my ignorance. When I take the time to approach the scriptures with an open heart, sometimes a passage I’ve heard or read many times in boredom or distraction pierces me to the very core of my being, speaking to me at a level of understanding that involves and yet exceeds both the intellectual and the emotional. I could not explain what it is about such scriptures that alters me, suddenly deepening my understanding of their words in a way that is beyond words and unmistakably summoning me to a better life.
The experience Joseph describes of being so profoundly spoken to by a scripture that he returns to it again and again, of being called to a deep and self-implicative reflection that radiates from the words into his life and calls him into a deeper communion with God is at the very heart of my experience of the gospel. I think of really reading the New Testament for the first time as a college freshman, of being newly stunned by the ethical power and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and knowing, knowing on that level beneath the mind and even the emotions, that they were divine, of knowing This is how I must live my life. I think of Abinadi rebuking the priests of King Noah because he perceives that the commandments of God “are not written in [their] hearts” (Moisah 13:11). And of the Old Testament, speaking of the law: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (Deuteronomy 6:9). And of Isaiah, where God addresses the people “in whose heart is my law” (Isaiah 51:7). And of Jeremiah’s experience of the word of God as an irresistible fire: “his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20:9). And of the promise in Ezekiel: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). And of the description in Hebrews: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God discerns me, searches me and tries me, as the Psalmist says (Psalm 139:23), and teaches me to confess and forsake my sins (Doctrine and Covenants 58:43): “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
In the gospel of John, the chief priests and Pharisees ask the officers why they haven’t brought Jesus, and they answer, “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:45). With them I say that although there are many writers I adore, never has anyone spoken to me as God has. Nothing calls to the very depths of my soul like the scriptures. Nothing.
Perhaps one way to view the labor of this life is, through the grace of God, to bring my body and soul to conform to His words as Christ, the perfect example and Savior, was the word made flesh (John 1:14), to write and write my stony heart into a heart of flesh that loves the ordinances of God–or, more accurately, to open my heart to God, that in His grace and generosity He may write and write upon it, that with Enos I might “declare…the truth which is in Christ all my days, and…rejoice…in it above that of the world” (Enos 1:26).
What scriptures speak most deeply to you?
- 19 January 2006