Distilling Knowledge

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by Paul

Michaela’s recent post on learning from the scriptures got me thinking about how I learn.

The truths of the gospel rarely come to me in bright beams of light or accompanied by trumpeting angels.  Instead, they “distil upon [my] soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).  Or, as Isaiah writes, “like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”   They come gently and quietly.  Often I do not see them approach, but rather sense them only once they are there in my mind and in my heart.

An example:

One of my first memories of learning from the scriptures came while sitting on my older sister’s bed.  She had just come home from participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant the year she graduated from high school and we were talking about some of the things she did and learned there.  She turned to 3 Nephi 17 and read:

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.  Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.

She pointed out the compassion that the Savior felt: He understood His people well enough to know that they had reached their limit of learning, and, out of His love and concern for them, He tried to send them home to rest and prepare for another day of learning.

She continued then with verses five and six, which are the verses I hear most quoted regarding the Savior’s love for the Nephite people:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.  And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.

He then invites them to be healed and blessed by Him.

The truth that distilled upon me in that setting was the love the Savior felt for me.  Until that time I had a sense of Jesus’ love for His people — all people — but not me personally. Since that conversation, the importance of that truth has had increasing resonance and importance in my life.

Another example:

As a BYU freshman, I had a roommate whose dad was a disaffected member of the church.  My friend had plenty of questions about church history, many of which I’d never considered.  As a child convert, I had enough of my own spiritual witness as our family joined the church that I was far less concerned about apparent inconsistencies and “shocking” truths of church history.

My roommate’s questions did not cause me to doubt my faith, but I did travel down the road of inquiry with him.  Many issues we investigated and resolved; some we investigated but did not resolve.  Despite my faith in God, my belief in the restoration, my testimony of the Book of Mormon, and the spiritual confirmation I had felt when receiving ordinances of the gospel, I still struggled with aspects of Joseph’s role as prophet.

I didn’t worry about Joseph’s polygamy (I’m not sure I knew much about that issue at the time) or Masonic roots of temple worship (I did know about that), or even his presidential bid (which bothered my roommate considerably).  It was much more basic to me.  I wondered how I could be sure that what Joseph said the Lord had said was, in fact, what the Lord had said.

I knew the Book of Mormon was true, but I also knew the Book of Mormon preceded most of Joseph’s published revelations.  And I knew the ordinances I’d received were accompanied by the spirit, so I accepted them as true and valid, but the priesthood authority was restored before most of his published revelations.  I also knew that in the end, the only way I would resolve this for myself was through confirmation of the Spirit, not just through my own study.

About the same time, I heard Sister Kimball’s “put it on a shelf” talk at BYU (this Ensign article predates the talk I heard, but sums up her philosophy well), and I vowed to put my question about Joseph on the shelf.

Nearly fifteen years later and half a world away from BYU, I was preparing a gospel doctrine lesson for Sunday School.  As I read a passage in the Doctrine and Covenants that I had surely read dozens of times before, I felt that question on my mind’s shelf being resolved.  Although I can no longer remember the passage, I clearly remember feeling distinctly that I no longer needed to worry about that question, and that I could trust that Joseph was, indeed, God’s prophet of the restoration throughout his life.

This was not a bolt of lightning.  It was not the cartoonist’s hammer on my head.  There were no bells or whistles, no angelic choir.  It was simply a still small voice – a voice felt more than heard, as Elder Packer has described it – simply speaking peace, confirming truth, offering reassurance.

Here’s the thing:

Just as the dew arrives on the morning lawn imperceptibly, so came my understanding of the Savior’s love for me.  It was simply there as my sister opened the scriptures to me.

In my garden tiny shoots of plants appear from one day to the next, then blossoms appear without warning overnight, and finally beans and peas are ready to pick where they weren’t the day before.  I see them by looking repeatedly over time in the same place.  Similarly, the answer to my long standing question about the prophet Joseph came quietly, but suddenly, without warning, as I was studying a passage I had studied before.

  • How do you learn gospel truth?
  • How do you perceive knowledge that distils like the dew from heaven?
  • How have you been surprised by new knowledge you have gained while studying the scriptures?

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

3 Responses to Distilling Knowledge

  1. lhamer says:

    Learning for me is not necessarily of the mind but of the Spirit. I don’t always understand things scripturally or historically, but if the Spirit testifies to me, then all is well.

    • Paul says:

      You’ve illustrated well why it’s so important for us to learn how the Spirit speaks to us individually. Thanks for reading!

  2. Bonnie says:

    A few years ago I became fascinated by the visits Joseph Smith made to leaders after his death. Most of them contained an exhortation for that leader to help the people to get the spirit. It makes sense, since so much of his particular dispensation to the church was to lead by a continual flow of personal revelation. I think it’s one of the dangers of a growing institutional church that we cease being renewed from within by this spirit. I especially think this is a danger for boys, who move from one office of the Aaronic Priesthood to another by virtue of their age without understanding the different stewardship or the blessings that office proffered. It’s often, in my experience, in the operation of our stewardship that both questions and answers come. Nice post.

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