“The Scriptures: My Rod and My Strength,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 11
I’m told that no one can create something out of nothing. How powerfully I realized that truth the day I had a visit from a member of our stake presidency. His call to expect him had sent my mind racing with questions as to the purpose of his visit. But all my questions failed to prepare me for the challenge he brought. He came to ask me to write a regional production to be presented in connection with the U.S. bicentennial celebration. He stressed that they wanted quality—the kind of quality that would make the production suitable for a major attractions center in our city—to which the nonmember public could be invited. And then he left.
But he left behind him a great burden. Because the expectations of my priesthood leaders were so high and my reservoir of experience so low, anxiety settled over me. The fearful thought occurred to me that those knots that had settled in my stomach and my legs might not depart until after the performance.
How could I possibly live up to the expectations of my stake presidency? I had never done the kind of thing they wanted. I felt almost oppressed by a terrible cloud of “formlessness.” I had not even one idea. Nearly everything I had written before had been written because I had ideas to express, some basic form with which to begin. But where does one begin when there is no beginning? Where does one go for shape, for pattern, for meaning? When I retired to bed that night, all my mind could see was this oppressive “formlessness.”
When I arose in the morning there was form.
How could stones with which to build be found in the dark of night? The stones came from a deep and precious cache—the scriptures. They were there for the taking because I had recently mined them—had stored precious treasures from them in my heart and mind. And now was a choice opportunity to tap those treasures.
One week later I was able to present to the stake leaders a rough draft of the first half of our production, a production that in final form exceeded our hopes and had a beneficial impact on many nonmember visitors.
This whole experience added more girders to an already expanding testimony of the value of the scriptures. Just prior to the beginning of the Church’s eight-year program of scripture study, I had completed independently what to me was an intense, thorough, and highly rewarding study of all the standard works of the Church—a search that left my working Bible with the paper nearly cut through from underlinings and the binding barely hanging on the back. As a result, the scriptures had provided the basic form with which to help me fulfill my assignment to build a spiritually successful presentation. But even more important, I could not help but see a comparison and realize how much more vital they are as stones with which to build our testimonies, our character, and our eternal lives.
There are many sources of counsel regarding the value of scriptural study. It seems, though, that too often women view that counsel as primarily to their husbands—priesthood holders. Of course, not all women hold that view. I am aware of choice examples of women who know the scriptures very well. But I am also aware that far too many women in teaching roles neglect thorough personal study of the scriptures. I have heard too many women indicate that the source of this or that information had been their husbands, rather than their scriptures. And although I know of women who teach good doctrinal classes, I have also seen Sunday School classes where almost no women commented regarding scriptural content.
I remember, for example, attending a Gospel Doctrine class in one ward when they were studying the book of Revelation. Other than myself, not one woman commented during the whole lesson. The next week I attended the Family Relations class in the same ward. There was a great contrast. There the women spoke freely and frequently.
Why would this be so? Does the Lord require that women’s knowledge of the scriptures be inferior? Or is it our own lack of interest or understanding of our responsibilities that has tended to place women in a secondary position with regard to a solid knowledge of the scriptures?
I know of more than one woman, widowed, who expressed the strong feeling, born of the Spirit, that what the Lord expected of them before they left mortality was to read the scriptures—books they had never read! Perhaps it was partially the loss of their husbands, upon whom they had previously relied for knowledge, that awakened the realization that knowledge and testimony must be self-obtained. Indeed the prophets themselves have warned that we cannot endure on borrowed light; if we do not have self-light, we will not stand. (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)
In his vision of the tree of life, Lehi portrays those who cling to the iron rod (the “word of God”—1 Ne. 15:23–24) as opposed to those who are drawn to the great and spacious building. How does that vision relate to woman? What are the special lures that the great and spacious building offers the woman of today? Is it only priesthood holders who must cling to the rod? How can a woman “cling” to that which she does not know? Or how can she delineate clearly the distinction between rod and mist unless she thoroughly knows the circumference of the rod?
If my study of the scriptures has done no other thing for me, it has made me painfully conscious that God’s people have often tended to fall into a slumber of security (the mist)—believing their present state of being to be the right one, possessing Christ’s name and his teachings—but all the while drifting slowly into the ways of the world. Lehi’s vision is pertinent—in our day! Its powerful message of the need to cling to the iron rod (a solid, thoroughly known iron rod) is true—in our day! That rod is for man—and also for woman.
Women in the Church are constantly receiving counsel regarding things we ought to do to improve ourselves in different areas. We are encouraged to improve in cultural accomplishments, homemaking skills, physical capacities, etc. All such counsel is of worth. Yet we must not forget that there are greater and lesser counsels. The scriptures themselves teach this. The most pointed example is the incident of Mary and Martha.
Martha, in the traditional role of woman, became very busy in caring for the needs of her guests. Mary, on the other hand, chose to seat herself at the feet of the Savior, hungering for the truths he possessed. We know the Savior’s judgment: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41–42.)
None of us can sit physically at the feet of the Savior, but we can still hunger for his truths, just as did Mary. Yet we too are often “troubled about many things” and choose them to the exclusion of the most needful part.
I have witnessed over and over again the necessity of us, as women, having firm knowledge as the basis for our testimonies, and I have deeply regretted that I personally lacked certain knowledge at times.
For example, I once had the opportunity to have several good religious discussions with a Lutheran minister’s wife. Much of the discussion centered on the relationship of faith and works to salvation. I had a strong testimony of the need for works, and I even had scriptural support; yet I was not able to effectively deal with the unshakable trust she had in those scriptures that speak boldly of the need for faith alone. Now, after my own deeper study of the scriptures, I realize that the passages that had become a stumbling block to her had been written by apostles trying to awaken Jews to the fact that the elaborate ceremonial observances and sacrifices commanded of their ancestors could not bring them salvation. Those works had been given only to foreshadow Christ’s atonement and were not of themselves necessary for eternal life; in this sense, they were “dead works.” But because my testimony had then lacked this knowledge, I was unable to break through the barrier hindering her from accepting the gospel.
The path to my better understanding of the scriptures began in belated obedience. The auxiliary in which I was then working was assigned a scriptural course of study. That counsel reminded me that I had not yet read the book assigned the year before. My regret was sufficient to arouse the determination that I would read both of them—the Book of Mormon and the New Testament—the same year, back to back.
I could not then foresee that that repentant beginning would lead me into an intense search through every page of all the standard works. For there came a moment when obedience turned to thirst and hunger. That moment came when I read this statement by Nephi early in the Book of Mormon: “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for … all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.” (2 Ne. 11:4.)
I had read that scripture on other occasions, but it had never before had any special impact. However, I had since come to a better understanding of what was meant by a “type.” Was Nephi truly saying that all things given by God unto man were in some way a witness of Christ? This was the whetting of what became a large appetite. As I continued to read the Book of Mormon, I discovered many references to this special kind of witness, called a “type” or “shadow,” including King Benjamin’s “and many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he [the Lord] unto them [Israel], concerning his coming.” (Mosiah 3:15; italics added.)
Completion of the Book of Mormon propelled me into the New Testament. Here I found substantiation of the idea that there had been many typological witnesses given of Christ. The Savior himself reminded me that the sending of manna had been a similitude of his coming as the true “bread of life” sent from heaven. (See John 6.) Paul taught me that the rock which was broken open in the wilderness and from which came life-giving waters witnessed that Christ, the Stone of Israel, would be broken, that through his blood we could have life. (See Ex. 17:3–6; 1 Cor. 10:4.)
Many other scriptural evidences added to my belief that the witnesses given of the Savior were far greater in number than I had ever dreamed before—and that all we have to do is look if we want to see them.
As I continued reading all these scriptures, my desire to see for myself how “all things given of God unto men are the typifying of him” grew in intensity. And I have been rewarded. The Old Testament, which before was as much a trouble as a strength to my faith, has become as powerful a witness of the Savior as any other collection of scripture. Furthermore, as I continued my search into the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, I found additional references to these same things. Indeed, all the standard works verify the usage of types or foreshadowings or similitudes as witnessing of Christ.
While the momentum of my search carried me through all the standard works, it did not end there. It has been in rereading and cross-reading that I have been the most rewarded. The Old Testament sheds light on the New and the New Testament sheds light on the Old, and so it is with all the scriptures.
The experiences I have had with the scriptures have taught me many things about scriptural study itself. Among other things, I regained confidence in the ability of the individual member to comprehend the scriptures. There is no question that the world’s scholars have given us a great deal of insight into the scriptures, but surely the Lord meant for his word to be understood by “ordinary” people as well—for his word was given to them. My faith that the Spirit is still the best guide through the scriptures was also enlarged. And I realized that a companion key is what the scriptures say about each other, their unity and consistency, the repetition of patterns. These are there for any member whose intent is sincere and who has the will to see for himself and know.
I found that my previous methods of studying the scriptures had serious drawbacks. I had, for example, tried to study the scriptures through a prescribed time allotment—the fifteen-minute-a-day approach. Although that method works well for many people, I found that it tended to give me a disjointed picture of the word of the Lord.
For most of us, our experience with the scriptures has always been disjointed. We have heard over and over many beautiful parts until we have subconsciously come to think of them as disconnected thoughts. Frequently, when I found myself reading them in this manner, I would force myself to reread them as they were given—as a flow of ideas with logic and conclusion—and it always proved very fruitful.
The best example was my experience with the parable of the unjust steward. Though I had heard and read discourses on this parable, my questions regarding it had never been fully resolved. By forcing myself to go back several chapters and trying to understand the flow of logic behind the Savior’s teachings, and by putting the parable in perspective with all his teachings, the problems were finally resolved for me.
The Savior had given a series of examples of faithful stewardship. Then he told the story of the unjust steward who wasted all his goods so that the stewardship was taken from him, “… for thou mayest be no longer steward.” (Luke 16:2.) It occurred to me that perhaps this, in complement with other interpretations, was one of the points of the story. The steward lost his stewardship, and regardless of the fact that, seeing his loss, he cleverly made a place for himself elsewhere, he lost his stewardship and it was never returned. Christ’s message, therefore, seemed to me to be a warning to the Jewish leaders of that day (to whom he was speaking) that their stewardship over the Lord’s kingdom had been taken from them, and that they were therefore left to make other provisions for themselves.
I find that the more I search the scriptures for their consistency of teachings, the more bastions of my own confusion fall before me.
My personal studies have convinced me of the value of searching the scriptures with a definite purpose in mind. It is interesting that in other aspects of the gospel we are taught that there are ways of doing things slothfully, or rewardingly. We know we should say our prayers with purpose, not perfunctorily, that we should fast with purpose, not aimlessly. And so it is with scripture study. If we read the scriptures without purpose, our reading will not be as rewarding as it might be. But if we read with good, strong purpose, our drive to continue will be greater and the spiritual rewards will also be more bountiful.
Searching for a greater testimony of Christ ought to be the major purpose in any scriptural study. But there are other good purposes. A General Authority once related in a stake conference how a particular problem had driven him to search the scriptures to learn how to increase the power of prayer. Other purposes might be: searching to understand the nature of faith and how to grow in faith; searching to increase humility; searching to develop greater willingness to sacrifice. The best place a woman might begin is to search her own heart and mind first to determine her most pressing needs, and then to search the scriptures to answer those needs.
My experiences with the scriptures have filled many of my needs.
Living away from the center of the Church has given me the opportunity in life to associate with all kinds of people. In some ways I sense a kinship with Joseph and Daniel, who were put in worldly situations. Like them, I feel constant need to draw upon some inner source of strength. Part of that source of strength has been the scriptures. Out of them comes the power of testimony and spirit borne over and over again that Christ’s ways are true ways. Out of them comes the witness that I am a child of God. That quiet knowledge gives a dignity and self-respect that quashes any desire to mimic those who too often have sought “dignity” in elaborate hairdressing or makeup, expensive or low-cut gowns, furs, cigarette holders or cocktails.
I guess what I am trying to describe is the value of trying to hold to the iron rod in my own personal reenactment of Lehi’s vision. It really does work!
The scriptures possess a power that can enable us to confront any situation. I have been intrigued at how popular books concerning food storage for survival have become. I do have a testimony of this kind of preparedness, but is that the extent of our responsibilities, and of wisdom? Is preparation physical only? Or is it spiritual as well? Stored in our caches should be not only physical food, but also precious scriptures that speak of tried faith, of endurance, of the sometime need to lose this life for a greater one. Upon this cache we can also draw when necessary.
My testimony of scriptural study would never be complete without an attempt to express the joy I have found in reading them. The story of Adam, who offered animal sacrifice knowing only that the Lord had commanded him to do so, is often given as a great example of simple obedience. But of course it was not the desire of the Lord that Adam should continue forever uninformed, for an angel was sent to help him “see”—to explain to him that animal sacrifice was a similitude of the offering of Christ, that it witnessed of Christ’s mortality, of his death, and of the shedding of his blood to wash away the sins of man. How much sweeter this ordinance must then have become to Adam! And how much more spiritually edifying and joyous, and therefore more pleasing to the Lord.
The difference is that in “seeing,” the exercise of greater faith becomes possible; a significant change can take place in the heart as offerings are made. Can we comprehend the powerful feelings of humility, of gratitude, of love, of joy, of greater faith that must have been Adam’s as he made sacrifices with understanding?
Adam’s experience of increased understanding can be ours if we choose to make it ours. I feel that it has been mine in reading the scriptures. I have known the joy of finding scales fall off my eyes—of being blind, then seeing. As with Adam, the more I see, the more spiritually edifying, the more joyful have become my offerings—both of labor and of ordinance. And, therefore, my faith assures me, the more pleasing are those offerings unto the Lord.