Feast upon the Word Blog

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D&C Lesson 13: ““This Generation Shall Have My Word through You”

Posted by Robert C. on March 29, 2009

I’m going to be focusing on D&C 84:19ff in this lesson, on the idea of mysteries. Feel free, however, to raise any questions regarding this lesson on this thread. For other notes on this lesson see:

* Jim F.’s notes here
* The manual online edition here
* ldsgospeldoctrine.net links here

Turning to D&C 84:19-26, we read:

19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his danger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;
26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;

First, a general question that this passage raises for me:

Seeking the face of God: What are we to make of the recurring references (often injunctions) to seek “the face of God”? Joseph Smith often seemed to write as though the privelege of beholding the face of God was something that was the privelege of every faithful saint. Was this simply his belief because he had such an experience, and that as time went on his belief about the uniqueness of this event grew, commensurate with references to this injunction fading? If not (and I believe this is a bad way to think about it), how should we think about this? Are we under condemnation and enjoying God’s wrath by not having these experiences (or at least their relative infrequency)? This would seem a more faithful view, but it doesn’t seem particularly in harmony with “the Brethren” right now. Rather, it seems that the Brethren have effectively replaced these injunctions to seek the face of God with injunctions to seek out “personal revelation.” Is this because of we live in a different (and “secular”) age than Joseph Smith did, or because we are merely living “the preparatory gospel”?

Power, authority and mysteries Next, what are we to make of the interplay of power, authority and mysteries here? I will flesh out some more questions and thoughts regarding this below. For now, however, notice how these words recur in verses 20 and 21.

Keys: The imagery of keys as used here is rich. Doorways have great significance in ancient literature, representing thresholds between different worlds or different orders of things. Of course doorways are significant in the temple, esp. as it relates to the veil, and of course the locked notion being played on in these verses referencing keys is analogous to that which is veiled. In our day and age, keys might be thought of as a kind of magical technology or code (and, indeed, in magical world views, keys are . . . well, key in that the possessor of the key has magical powers…). However, I think D&C 121 challenges this idea, at least as it applies to the idea of priesthood keys. There it seems we learn that priesthood authority is in some sense related to the way in which it is yielded.

This relates, by the way, to many hotly-debated issues in business ethics which I have been studying. For example, should it matter how or where a particular commodity was produced when it is bought or consumed? Typically, we are ignorant of these things regarding most goods. There is a danger here, and it is closely linked (on my view…) to the current financial crisis where things like mortgage-backed securities were bought and sold without a good understanding of “where” or “how” the underlying securities/mortgages originated. In contrast to this kind of commodification are face-to-face encounters where handshakes and looking people in the eyes takes on both ritualistic and practical significance, where responsibility is locally generated, practiced, and engaged in. The family, then, might be conceived as a kind of counter-symbol to larger, more impersonal, and more “institutionalized” corporations and governments where it is harder to generate trust because of what are referred to by academics as “principal-agent problems” (which is fancy way to describe problems of trust). Localized settings, such as within families, friendships or wards, are the best place to practice the righteous exercise of priesthood keys.

“Mysteries of the kingdom” (v. 19): The phrase is parallel to “knowledge of God” in verse 19 which is interesting. In what sense are mysteries like knowledge? I think this will prove a bit awkward unless we think in terms of sacred knowledge. That is, knowing in the Biblical sense tends to imply a kind of familiarity and experience that modern conceptions of mental-only knowledge does not. Like priesthood keys that depend on the righteousness of the bearer thereof, knowledge of God and his mysteries is not something that can simply be articulated through propositional claims about God. Rather, to obtain knowledge of God and his mysteries entails an experiential form of knowledge. And it must be experienced in a particular way. In other words, knowledge of God is subjective (in the sense that it depends on the subject). We cannot obtain knowledge of God unless we are, as is put in the next verse, sanctified.

“Sanctify” (v. 23): In Hebrew, the word “sanctify” and “consecrate” both come from the same word, qadash. For us to be sanctified then, is tantamount to being consecrated. I’ve recently been reading a bit about the difference between simply having a job and having a vocation (John Tanner, for example, has mused about this recently): to have a vocation is to have a sense of a higher purpose to what you are doing, whereas to have a job is to simply work for your paycheck. Similarly, to live a prosaic life is, we might surmise, to live simply “for the moment” or to live in the pursuit of pleasure. In contrast, to be consecrated or sanctified is to live according to a higher purpose. Rather than surfing channels or websites in search of something that bemuses, the consecrated/sanctified soul will seek that which is of most worth in order to serve a higher purpose (i.e., God, which is, Benjamin tells us, to serve others). To obtain a knowledge of God, then, and his mysteries, requires that we live in such a way that we are dedicated to God’s purposes.

“Hardened their hearts” (v. 24): I’m running out of time, so I’ll keep this brief: to harden one’s heart is the opposite of being easily entreated. Rather than being wrapped up in one’s own concerns with a heart that is not easily moved, the soft- or open-hearted disciple is open to the kind of higher purposes described above. This requires that one be responsive to others’ needs, esp. the needs of orphans and widows, the poor and downtrodden, the sad and the lonely, the meek and despised of men. It is to be open to ideas that are not powerful, in perhaps the ways that science and technology are popular nowdays, or the way that blockbuster movies are popular. Rather, it is to take what is easily overlooked—scriptures, for example, that might seem trite or hackneyed—and to give them time and place, to ponder and meditate, to serve and to listen to. To harden our hearts is, as Isaiah tells us (6:9-10), to have eyes and not see, to have ears and not hear (or hear but not listen, we might say in a more modern idiom).

The key, then, is to understand that power is had only by not seeking for it, and authority is to be had only in the search for ways to serve others. This idea, that the servant is the chief, underlies the great secret to unlocking the mysteries and revelations of God.

3 Responses to “D&C Lesson 13: ““This Generation Shall Have My Word through You””

  1. Cherylem said

    Robert – just a quibble – you need to retitle this lesson D&C (!)

  2. Robert C. said

    Thanks, Cheryl—good catch….

  3. Fantastic page:) Will definitely come back soon!

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