"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" (Alma 12:9).
Last month, I encountered the Mentinah Archives, a collection of apocryphal writings that claim to be the records of Hagoth (Alma 63:5) and his people. I was told (third hand) that the record was found in some caverns in Utah by some Native Americans who happen to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; that they are being translated and that the translations corroborate the Book of Mormon and reveal some of the precious truths that are hidden in the sealed sections of the Golden Plates. The story is that the people who kept this record were more righteous than the Nephites of the Book of Mormon and were therefore acquainted with higher truths. It is claimed that, while the Church is not involved in the translation of the record, there is a copy in the Church archives.
I was curious. Was this something like the Dead Sea Scrolls? So I did some research, starting at FAIR, where I also learned about The Sealed Book of Mormon, then checked out the websites of their publishers and even read the entire Book of Hagoth (which had some significant inconsistencies with the Book of Mormon). Both the Mentirah Archives and The Sealed Book of Mormon claim to be ancient records. Both were translated by then members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have since established churches of their own. They gather believers in the Book of Mormon, affirming that they confirm its truthfulness while promising higher truths that were held back until we were ready to receive them. And then, they insinuate or state outright that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is in apostasy.
It's disappointing but not surprising. Looking at my own heart, I think that the longing to become acquainted with mysteries, to be one of a few in the know about something spectacular, creates a frequently-exploited avenue for deception.
I was a teenager when it occurred to me that I could qualify to see the mysteries that John the Revelator and Nephi (1 Nephi 14:24-26), Moses (Moses 1:4,8,28-31), Enoch (Moses 7:67), and the Brother of Jared (Ether 3:25-27) saw in vision. The promise was right there in the Book of Mormon:
"And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ" (Ether 4:7).
My testimony was shiny-new, untried, and its weak spots were not yet apparent. I had no idea that I was spiritually immature, was being carried by the Spirit and had barely begun to learn to walk. When wise people around me tried to encourage me to temper my expectations of extraordinary experiences, to remind me that I was young, I would reply that Joseph Smith was just 14 when he had the First Vision. So, I thought, why not me?
I am grateful that the Lord was patient with my naïveté and my ego, and that He lovingly redirected me. I prayed about my longing to be acquainted with the mysteries and I got an answer that has continued to guide me ever since. Here's the poem I wrote those many years ago about the experience:
As a child, I sat at a table large
And gazed at the food in awe.
It looked so enticing my appetite grew
And I wanted to eat all I saw.
But my mother, guessing my young desire
And seeing the food I sought,
Said, "Darling, you know you can always have more,
But first, handle what you've got."
Now as a teen, I walk on in life
And gaze at the knowledge in store.
It looks so enticing my appetite grows
And I ask my dear Father for more.
But He, smiling down on my young desire
Answers my prayer with this thought:
"My Child, all that I have is thine,
But first, handle what you've got."
What I didn't understand then was that my goal was wonky. I wanted to exercise faith and to become perfectly obedient as a means to the end of being admitted into the secrets. That's not to say that it was all about me. I felt the love of God and I longed for Him too. But I didn't understand that what I needed to be focusing on was simply coming unto Christ because I didn't know how far from Him I was. I thought I was nearly there, and when I managed to rend the veil, that would prove that I was sanctified.
Instead of pouring out the hidden treasures of knowledge I sought, the Lord gave me a much better opportunity. He prompted me to pray for a trial and then He withdrew a little. For two years, I wandered through a spiritual desert, remembering the witness of His love that felt like it had penetrated to my marrow, but no longer feeling it. I struggled with unrelenting doubts, critical feelings, and temptations. And I learned that I was a long way from sanctified.
I am deeply grateful for that experience for many reasons. One is that it moderated my tendency toward spiritual arrogance. I think that, without it, I would have been ready to welcome a visitation by a deceiving spirit disguised as an angel of light. And if such a spirit gave me a commission that was outside of the appropriate channels, my gratification at being singled out for spectacular service could easily have blinded my eyes to the red flags that signaled deception.
So, if seeking after the mysteries is spiritually perilous, why does God promise that they will be revealed to those whose faith has matured unto sanctification?
I believe the answer to that lies in the reason that God has mysteries. I don't think He withholds truths as a carrot to keep us moving toward Him. He Himself needs to be the motive for us to be moving toward Him. So the mysteries are held in store for a better reason.
Jesus' counsel to "cast ye [not] your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6) comes to mind. Swine cannot appreciate pearls. They're interested in food and mud, but are without capacity to value a precious gem. To them, a pearl is nothing more than a shiny pebble to tread upon. And if, after scattering our pearls in a pigpen and watching them get trampled underfoot, we kneel in the mud to try and reclaim them, then we too become endangered of being trampled.
Similarly, if God's pearls of precious truth are cast before the spiritually unprepared, they will be abused instead of treasured. How can someone who is preoccupied with the material world and the appetites of the flesh appreciate the value of, for example, temple ordinances? Those spiritual pearls will appear to them as worthy of ridicule.
Becoming capable of prizing spiritual pearls starts with learning to appreciate spiritual pennies -- gospel principles that are freely taught to all. In order to do so, I have to cultivate a mindset that is focused on the things of the Spirit. Otherwise, if I'm preoccupied with the material world and the things of this life, I can worry that the commandments are an invasive effort to control people's most intimate decisions. I think that's how Korihor saw it when he said,
"Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be" (Alma 30:28).
For me, I learn to value the pennies as I conform my life to them even, and especially, when it costs me something. I tend to value principles more when I pay something for them -- whether that something is effort or persistent prayers or repentance and the sacrifice of my pride, etc. Every ounce of heed and diligence I pay to the spiritual pennies teaches me to value them more, to recognize their beauty and goodness. And the more I value them, the more God can share with me, until at last I can be entrusted with His pearls.
One more thought. While there are many mysteries that the Lord has promised to answer, there is only one that seems vitally important for me to discover now. At His coming, the Lord says He will reveal,
"Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof—
Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven" (D&C 101:33-34).
All of those details will be exciting to learn, but I don't need to know them now. The one pearl that I feel I need to be able to contemplate and that I can safely seek after is the mystery of God's goodness. I am learning that I cannot fathom the depths of His kindness, mercy and grace.
Nephi records that he "had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God“ (1 Nephi 1:1). In truth, I believe those two concepts are one. And in the end of the world, when all things are revealed, and the entire tapestry of all human experience is unfolded to our view, we will at last perceive the golden threads of His love forming the warp to which our stumbling efforts to achieve happiness are the weft. I believe that it is then, as that mystery is unfolded, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His love.