Sacred Silence and the Mysteries of God

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by Steven Reed

(CC) Alice Popkorn

Occasionally I will hear the subject of mysteries brought up in a church class or in conversations with other church members like it is an off-limits subject: “Don’t go delving into those mysteries!” I often wonder if they know what mysteries are.

Then there are those not of the Latter-day Saint faith that are concerned about the so-called secrecy aspect of Latter-day Saint temples.

In an attempt to shed some light on a subject that ironically is meant to shed light in and of itself, perhaps something can be gained by understanding and pondering the word mystery.

First off, although there are limits set to receive mysteries, they are not off-limits. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi had “great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me.” In another place he also stated clearly that:

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round. (emphasis added)

What does the word mystery mean to you? Here is a modern definition of the word pulled right off of Google:

mys·ter·y / ˈmist(ə)rē / Noun: Something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.

That is pretty accurate in the secular sense but is perfectly wrong in a religious sense, and since a temple is a religious edifice we will need a religious context. Turning to the New Testament we find the word mystery mentioned 27 times. You’ll have to look up each of those verses on your own and ponder them after we discover more about what a mystery is.

One instance of the word mystery is found in 1 Corinthians 2:7, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (emphasis added). Here is the translation of mystery offered by Strong’s Concordance:

musthrion / musterion /moos-tay’-ree-onfrom a derivative of muo (to shut the mouth); a secret or “mystery” (through the idea of silence imposed by initiation into religious rites):–mystery. (Strong’s emphasis retained)

Understanding that silence can be imposed by initiation into religious rites can help the uninitiated understand why members of the LDS faith do not talk about some specifics of the temple outside of the temple – they don’t have the authority or the right to reveal them. The things of the temple belong to God and he has set the prerequisites for how, when, and in what context to reveal them.

The temple is a place of learning, but not in the world’s way of learning; for example, ponder these words of the Apostle Paul in the context of mysteries and temple worship (I will be referencing the Contemporary English Version of the Bible here for clarity):

We do use wisdom when speaking to people who are mature in their faith. But it isn’t the wisdom of this world or of its rulers, who will soon disappear. We speak of God’s hidden and mysterious wisdom that God decided to use for our glory long before the world began. The rulers of this world didn’t know anything about this wisdom. If they had known about it, they would not have nailed the glorious Lord to a cross.

But God has given us his Spirit. That’s why we don’t think the same way that the people of this world think. That’s also why we can recognize the blessings that God has given us. Every word we speak was taught to us by God’s Spirit, not by human wisdom. And this same Spirit helps us teach spiritual things to spiritual people. That’s why only someone who has God’s Spirit can understand spiritual blessings. Anyone who doesn’t have God’s Spirit thinks these blessings are foolish. (1 Cor 2:6-8,12-14 CEV, emphasis added)

According to Paul, the mysteries of God and his wisdom are foolishness to the uninitiated, but just being initiated isn’t enough. I doubt that the first time someone is baptized they realize the beautiful and profound symbolism associated with the ordinance.

In like manner, how can someone at first glance understand an ordinance that is hundreds of times more complex and rich in various nuances? I wonder how many of the initiated really understand what the ordinances of the temple are.

(CC) Michael Whiffen

As Latter-day Saints, we believe thatin the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (emphasis added). To receive an ordinance is to be initiated into a mystery; in other words, these essential ordinances open a gate to a path and there are experiences along that path if you do not stop at the gate.

The covenants made in ordinances are real in the sense that they represent literal promises and blessings. Every covenant is made through an ordinance and every ordinance is presented through ceremony. Some of these ceremonies are short and others are long but they are all symbolic and represent higher things, they are mysteries.

Baptism takes only seconds, but the ceremony is there. White clothes are worn, a person representing Christ enters the water along with the initiate. The person representing Christ, the baptizer, raises his right arm in token of his authority and speaks the words of the ordinance. The initiate makes the covenant by being immersed in water in likeness of Christ’s death and then raised out of the water in likeness of Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). At this point, the ceremony is over, the ordinance is complete and the covenant has been made.

This same pattern is true for any ordinance in the gospel. To witness a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting is to witness what I believe is the longest and most intricate ceremony outside of the temple. Usually the ceremonial part of any ordinance can draw so much of our focus that we do not realize what it really is.

The ceremony is meant to symbolically illustrate the blessings, promises and circumstances associated with the covenants being made. The ceremony is not the real thing, it is only a representation of the real thing. Consider the words of author Denver Snuffer:

The ceremony of the temple is not the real thing. It is a symbol of the real thing. The real thing is when a person actually obtains an audience with Jesus Christ, returns to His presence and gains the knowledge by which they are saved…If all you receive are ordinances, you have nothing of real value. They are dead without a living, personal connection with God. God alone can and will save you. (Passing the Heavenly Gift, p.53,55)

Latter-day Saint scholar Hugh Nibley had similar words to say concerning this:

The ordinances are mere forms. They do not exalt us; they merely prepare us to be ready in case we ever become eligible.” (The Meaning of the Temple,” CWHN 12:26)

In both secular and religious settings we discuss, debate, explore, and reason together; it plays an immensely important role in our purpose here on earth. Latter-day Saints recognize that there are places where we teach each other and places that God teaches us.

The temple is a place where individuals may come and practice a form of worship and engage in learning that is directly between them and God. It is highly personal and the sacred silence practiced by those who attend the temple is a manifestation of their reverence to God. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma taught:

…It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. (emphasis added)

Whether the mysteries of God are revealed to us inside or outside of the temple, there are rules according to what we can and cannot reveal. It is the heed and diligence we give to God that determines what we are able to know. This is one of the most basic teachings of the temple.

There were many times that Jesus Christ himself imposed sacred silence upon his followers. In Matthew 17, we read of a very temple-themed experience where Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to “a very high mountain.” Jesus is then transfigured before them and openly speaks with messengers Moses and Elijah along with a personal visit from God the Father who speaks from behind the veil of a overshadowing cloud!

As they are descending the mountain after this incredible experience, “Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death” (Matt. 17:9, CEV, emphasis added)

If you want to know the mysteries of God, then the ceremonies, ordinances, and covenants he has provided are the place to start. They teach us the necessary patterns that must be followed and offer us the covenants that must be made in order to receive such knowledge.

  • How has your life been enriched by an understanding of eternal patterns?
  • How have you transcended the rote aspect of ceremonies to be personally changed?

About Steven Reed

Steven Reed is the husband of a loving wife and father of three daughters. Raised in south Texas he now lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada. After returning from a wonderful experience in the Idaho Boise Mission, he earned a business degree while living the life of an entrepreneur pursuing a life in the world of graphic design. The study and application of art and design has led to a passion for the simple principles that undergird both beauty and truth. Following an inner desire to expand exploration into life and the mysteries of God while sharing practical insight along the way led to the creation of oneClimbs.com in July of 2010.

16 Responses to Sacred Silence and the Mysteries of God

  1. Christian says:

    “Don’t go delving into those mysteries!” Only spoken by those trying to mask their laziness and unwillingness to devote themselves to an intensive study of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks for this, Steven. One of the things I like about Alma is he recognizes when he does and when he does not understand certain things. He is not shy about telling Corianton, for instance, that he doesn’t know certain details about the resurrection, but he knows enough to find comfort in the truth of it.

    • oneclimbs says:

      Good point; if we are honest with ourselves we can discover that a “testimony” is not an all-encompassing blanket of truth. I have yet to meet anyone who knows everything about everything ;) Testimony to me is like stars appearing as the sun goes down. Each star is a different principle of truth. First there are only a few points of light in the sky, then you can make out constellations and clusters of stars and see how they intertwine. We long to be like the Brother of Jared who had the sun arise in his soul and fill the sky with light.

  3. Lisa says:

    When I think of the word mystery the second word that comes to mind is unfathomable. For instance, I know that God created the world, but I don’t understand how….It’s unfathomable. Likewise, with Christs atonement I know he suffered and bled for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, but his pain and how that happened is again, unfathomable. For me I don’t think there are any true mysteries as long as I have the Holy Ghost.

  4. Nick Galieti says:

    I really appreciate this article. While I tend to consider mysteries as not just simply lacking information or knowledge, but rather lacking the connection of how that knowledge works together with other knowledge to enlarge our understanding and increase our capacity to be like Jesus Christ. I feel like I have learned a mystery or “solved” a mystery, as I take knowledge and put in it a place that opens news doors to new understanding. For me the temple is a place conducive to this process for many reasons.

    I also love the term sacred silence. The implication that this is a reverence for the divine, not a threat to keep quiet really captures the REAL INTENT of the scriptures you quote (get it…real intent, ha ha).

  5. templegoer says:

    To tell you the truth, I really don’t have a clue about what is going on when I am in the temple. I’m not sufficiently knowledgable and I’ve never had the leisure in my life to pursue that knowledge. I can get hung up about that, or I can rejoice in covenants made and a life lived in endurance and service. I really have to make that choice in order not to obsess over it as I hate not understanding things,and in the past this has resulted in getting a migraine every time I go.

    I have to be convinced that this is enough, because the world is full of simple people like me.

    And anyhoo, my mother used to sit and snore throughout the whole thing, and she was a nice lady.

    • peter molyneux says:

      The next time you go to the Temple ask to see the temple the person in charge of the temple to explain it to you step by step.

      • Cheryl says:

        I agree! One time, in the SLC temple, some friends and I had a lot of time to spend in the Celestial room, and a temple worker spoke to us — even giving us a tour of sorts! –and expounded doctrine. It was incredible. If you want to know more about the Temple, ask about it in the Temple!

    • Ray says:

      or just let your mind go and think about whatever hits you while you are in the temple. I’ve learned lots of things about lots of things that weren’t related directly to what was happening in the ordinances.

    • oneClimbs says:

      The purpose of the temple ordinances is simple. From initiatory to the endowment to sealing, you have the fullness of the new and everlasting covenant. It isn’t just the process of salvation, it is the process of celestial coronation or exaltation. Christ’s atonement doesn’t just save, it exalts. The temple is the only place to obtain these covenants.

      What you talk about not understanding is probably related to the ceremony aspect of the temple. It is a framework that teaches many things. Perhaps your migrane comes from feeling overwhelmed wanting to understand it all, all at once? Relax. Prepare yourself, fast, meditate and come to the temple as an empty vessel. Put forth your hands and allow God to place in them whatever he thinks you are ready for. Be grateful for even the smallest of gestures from him. Gratitude is the path to greatness. Rejoice in simplicity because pure truth is simple.

      Revelation is a process of continual growth. Line upon line. The temple is not the culmination of things, it is a place of patterns. It is a great mold and the more you pour yourself into it, the more like it you will become.

      • templegoer says:

        Thankyou so much for your kind response, I’d love to be able to discuss these experiences with others. That’s the point at which the sacred mystery thing kicks in and the conversation ends. I’m one of those who finds out what I’m thinking by talking about it, so whilst I respect the intention of keeping sacred things sacred, it’s a problem for me.

        However, I do see that the temple has borne fruit in my life as a template, as you so usefully suggest.

        • oneclimbs says:

          One of the most convenient things about the temple is that it is filled with patterns so you can learn about it indirectly.

          I’ll tell you what, there’s fantastic book called “A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe” by Michael Schneider. It’s not about the temple, it’s not even an LDS book, but when you visit the temple after you read it, I promise that your experience will be quite different in very interesting ways. Pick one up on Amazon.com for $12, you’ll be glad you did ;)

          • oneclimbs says:

            I believe Gematria is briefly mentioned, but the book focuses chiefly on the archetypal meanings involving the numbers one through ten. He takes you on a journey through each number and shows how they build upon another and how each has special characteristics that flow through math, biology, science, art, religion the universe and pretty much everything.

            I’ve read tons of books about the temple and symbolism but this one is unique because it covers the basic archetypal building blocks of, well, the universe. It is composed like a school textbook and is full of sketches, design, art and things you can build or draw with a square and compass. Everyone I have recommended the book to loves it.

            If you’d like to explore archetypes in an LDS context right now, you can check out a site I created called LDSSymbols.com which is based off the research of Michael Schnieder and Val Brinkerhoff; it’s a work in progress. Just click on each symbol to explore more! Enjoy!

  6. Anne says:

    How sad to think of that warning, “Don’t go delving into those mysteries!” As my children and I have our daily scripture study together, I tell them that God is waiting to reveal his mysteries to them if they are willing to do the work it takes to receive them. We talk often of the mysteries of God and joyfully share testimony of how much He loves us and wants us to gain wisdom and knowledge. We recently memorized Proverbs 4:7 “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom; and in all thy getting, get understanding.” I pray my children will firmly believe the idea that Heavenly Father encourages faithful searching, pondering, and learning–and not the idea that mysteries are to be feared.

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