For about four years now I have been teaching the Priest Quorum in my ward here in Oregon. It is a calling I have thoroughly enjoyed. During that time in a young man’s life, they start to really grapple with things. They no longer are willing to believe things solely because an adult authority figure has told them. They debate and argue. It is this push and pull, this give and take that has made the calling so wonderful.
One of the men I was able to teach was Kylan Rice. He is majoring in English at BYU and is a very interesting person to speak with. Kylan will be leaving for the Paris, France Mission soon; entering the MTC this Wednesday. Since he has been home from BYU, I have been able to sit down with him on two occasions and have had amazing discussions with him. His insight into language, his love of poetry and metaphor makes him one of the most thought-provoking men I have known. My life has been enriched because of my association with him.
Kylan gave his mission-farewell address this past Sunday in our ward. He agreed to let us post it on our blog. I hope his talk will be enjoyed by all of you as much as it was by me. Here is a little flavor of Elder Rice:
THERE IS NO END TO LIGHT
Kylan Rice 2012
As a pre-teen, I half-entertained the notion that the scriptures could be treated as a spectacular, ancient magic 8-ball. At some point, I’d been taught that we can find real, tangible answers to personal questions in the scriptures, and I mistook serendipity for the oracular by flipping through the pages and stopping at random with my finger on a verse as if it were a country on a spun globe. More times than not, though, I landed in a war chapter, or on a verse calling sinners to repentance, so results were mixed, to say the least. Of course, there are many problems here. God’s word isn’t a carnival trick, and I don’t think we’ll necessarily ever stumble across a verse answering a money problem or giving specific relationship advice. Rather, I think that through the scriptures, through the word of God, we might obtain the peace and state of mind necessary to receive revelation.
The primary song Search, Ponder and Pray, lays out what my strategy should have been as a thirteen year old. Scripture study is all well and good, but scripture search raises the stakes, implying real intent, real focus. Thought and prayer in the aftermath situate us to receive inspiration, revelation, insight and comfort. Scripture study is a process. Isaiah suggests that knowledge is obtained “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little”, stating clearly that isolated or infrequent scripture study sessions won’t deliver the kind of knowledge promised to us, and that process is key. Process implies continuum and progress. Finding an answer—especially to eternal questions—isn’t an open-and-shut affair, but rather involves a good deal (even a lifetime) of search. Continually studying the scriptures is essential for mortal progress, increasing and fortifying hard-won faith.
As evident from the church’s emphasis on missionary work, it’s safe to say that we are not an isolationist organization. Article of Faith #13 states that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things”—which is a remarkably inclusive idea. Indeed, DC 90:15 states that we are assigned to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues and people”. Continual learning, or perpetual education, is essential in both temporal and post-mortal contexts. Much is said in the scriptures concerning principles of intelligence, which intelligence involves knowledge, wisdom, personality and raw information. DC 130:18-19 reads that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come”. So while Egyptian pharaohs were buried in great chambers of treasure, we know that the only thing that we can take with us personally is our knowledge, our intelligence, our experiences. Instead of rubies and scepters, we should be filling our post-mortal pyramids with troves of learning—both of and not of this world, both secular and spiritual. As we see from DC 88:118, the scripture-motto of the Harold B Lee library on the BYU campus which reads “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith”, it is evident that we shouldn’t only limit our knowledge to that pertaining to the spirit. We should learn about literature and mathematics and geography. To know is to appreciate. To know that there is more to know is to be given an eternal, righteous thirst for progression, which is the driving doctrine behind this gospel.
As the word of God given through the mouths of the prophets, the scriptures offer us deep insight into the nature and being of God. Commandments exist as implications of God’s will, which in turn provide throughlines to him as a father, a person, and a thinking, feeling creator. Just as we are able to grow closer to God through scriptures and holy words, we are also able to learn more about and grow closer to Jesus Christ. Indeed, as stated in Acts 10:43, “to him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins”, which is to say that all scripture testifies of Christ and his atonement—a powerful idea that places huge emphasis on the necessity of apprehending the word. I’ve always been interested in the first chapter of
John, which reads, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. We learn in the chapter heading prefacing this verse that Christ is the Word of God. Setting aside all the philosophical consequences of this metaphor, I think it’s no accident that God classifies his son Jesus Christ as His Word—His message, His good tidings, His emissary. We come unto God via His word—whether it is manifested scripturally in a quad or triple combination, or physically in the body of Christ. The word operates as a conduit to the divine.
Language is much less specific than we sometimes hope, I think. The word Cat is not actually a Cat—instead, it is a symbol standing in for the physical thing. Language, then, is a way of symbolizing something, referring to it in relatable terms, allowing us to talk and teach about it to someone who hasn’t seen whatever the subject is. If we draw parallels between the linguistic word and Christ as the Word, some interesting connections can be made. As the German philosopher Kierkegaard notes, even Jesus Christ is an “indirect communication”. Jesus Christ, the great mediator of all things, allows us to relate to God. He is the word that stands between us and the great I AM. Through Christ we are able to know more about God, the will of God, the shape of God, who is an inherently unknowable being. And it is likewise through the words of the scriptures that we come to know Christ.
In my personal study of the scriptures lately, I’ve been reading a lot in 3rd Nephi, struck particularly by the arrival of Christ in the Americas. One thing I’ve noticed cropping up again and again is how often record keepers and writers of scripture were forbidden from describing an event or taking down a particularly glorious teaching. Sometimes, they were even physically unable to record what they had seen and heard, as in 3 Nephi 28:13-14 where it states, “and behold, the heavens were opened, and they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things. And it was forbidden them that they should utter; neither was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard”. The reason this notion is so striking to me is because it suggests there are many more truths and facets of doctrine that exist, but which have yet been revealed to us. This is a testament to me that it is impossible for us to ever study enough to where we no longer have need of more insight. There is always more to learn, in other words.
A great scripture that lays this out in a surprising and pointed fashion is in DC 11:22, where it states, “study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto.” It’s that last part that really delights me. God commands us here to learn everything. But even if and after we learn everything, he will continue to provide more, and add more for us to learn. There is no cap to the eternal knowledge we might receive. As we sing in the hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, “there is no end to wisdom; there is no end to light”. DC 88:40 is another scripture that addresses God’s promise to add upon all things and says, “for intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light.”
In biology, there is a term known as capillary action. Capillary action describes the upward movement of water, whether in a redwood tree, or up a piece of cardboard. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you place the very end of a piece of thin paper in a little water, the water will climb up the paper, against gravity. This is accomplished due to attractive bonds between the hydrogen molecules that make up the water, so that as one molecule ascends, it tugs along all of the molecules after it through capillary action. In a similar way, we receive knowledge, light and wisdom. By obtaining one precept, we open ourselves to another. Thus, continual scripture study not only brings greater knowledge, but it also allows us to receive insights that we wouldn’t have been able to obtain any other way.
When we study the scriptures continually, we can keep Joseph Smith’s story in mind—how it could be argued that he found an entire millennium’s-worth of revelation within a single scripture. The prompting given in James 1:8 set in motion a series of events that led to the restoration of the complete gospel on the earth today. Thus we see that the scriptures are a prime source of inspiration and personal revelation. In a talk entitled “How to Build Faith in God Through Scripture”, Elder D. Todd Christofferson teaches us that
Because they expound the doctrine of Christ, the scriptures are accompanied by the Holy Spirit, whose role it is to bear witness of the Father and the Son. Therefore, being in the scriptures is one way we receive the Holy Ghost. Of course, scripture is given through the Holy Ghost in the first place, and that same Spirit can attest its truth to you and me. Study the scriptures carefully, deliberately. Ponder and pray over them. Scriptures are revelation, and they will bring added revelation.
If we wish to have the holy spirit as a fixture in our life, bringing us increased understanding, and, more importantly, increased faith, we should “feast upon the words of Christ”, as it says in 2 Nephi 32:3.
Man is a changeable being. Physically and spiritually, we are made up of shifting cells and moments and experiences. Just as we constantly recycle tissue, and come in and out of health, we move in and out of the light of understanding. Life fluctuates between moments of doubt and moments of great spiritual clarity. In Ephesians 4:14, we can explore this concept further, in perhaps graver terms as we exhorted to “henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive”.
When we do not continually study the scriptures, we avail ourselves to winds of doctrine, with an extreme example being the people of Mulek, who brought no scriptures with them to the promised land and perished with no faith and a corrupted language. A more modern example is found in the dissemination of the bible, which we believe insofar as it has been translated correctly. As the words of the bible were translated out of the original Greek and Hebrew into Latin, German, English and any number of other languages, certain simple truths were either lost, left out, or purposefully altered. When holy texts are left in the hands of misguided, let alone evil, men, God’s word devolves in a catastrophic game of telephone. Being driven by winds of doctrine is easily avoided by continual study of the scriptures as handed down from prophet to prophet, providing an anchor for us to return to.
About scripture study Preach My Gospel says,
The Lord has said, Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. To teach effectively, you need to obtain spiritual knowledge. For you to grow in the gospel and stay on the path that leads to eternal life, you need to develop a habit of gospel study. The study habits you develop…will bless you personally and help those you teach grow in their faith in the Savior.
It goes on to describe scripture study as an act of faith. Brothers and Sisters, I would like to invite all of you to immerse yourselves in Christ by immersing yourself in the word of God. I invite you to exercise faith through study, in order to have your faith expanded and cultivated and given good hope. It is no coincidence that the keystone of this church is a work of scripture; rather, it is a testament to the comprehensive spiritual wealth that can be found within the pages of our holy, God-given texts, which open further and further as we continue to study, gaining and putting away great treasures of knowledge that will aid us invaluably in our lives to come.