To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Auguries of Innocence, William Blake
True insight comes of pursuing a question or an idea beyond the first impression or answer. It requires earnest searching on one’s part, looking deeper than the surface, where most stop, and probing further to discover more than most will see.
Learning means asking questions.
Too often in life, as in the classroom, we are satisfied with an immediate response to a question or the most evident outcome of an inquiry. Our curiosity almost never extends beyond what we see on the surface. We almost never pause to look beyond that first blush of information or results, yet it is in just such a probing inquiry that the most valuable wisdom is often found.
This is nowhere more true than in our gospel study. Joseph Smith noted that the most profound revelations of this dispensation, if not all of them, came as answers to questions he took to the Lord.
Perhaps the most explicit example of the profound value in inquiring beyond the superficial is found in the story of Enos from the Book of Mormon. After praying at length for forgiveness, his petition was granted. “And there came a voice unto me saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:5.)
This would be a remarkable moment in anyone’s life. In Enos’ place, most of us would have been more than satisfied with that answer. After all, what more could we want than to have our slate wiped clean? We would leap to our feet, shout for joy and head for home, satisfied that our prayer had been answered.
But not so with Enos; he had an inquiring mind. “And I said: Lord, how is it done?”
This was someone whose curiosity was not easily satisfied. He asked the golden question: How? How is it that such a thing can be done? How does the Lord accomplish such a miracle? The result was that he gained further insight and a blessing that he might never have had otherwise.
This is a model for our own inquiries into the restored gospel.
For example, most of us are content to read how Moses led the Israelites out of bondage through miraculous means without looking further. After all, who could ask for more than to be saved from one’s enemies and certain death by safe passage through the Red Sea? Had we been there, we would have dropped to our knees, kissed the ground, thanked the Lord and went happily on our way.
But that should not be enough. Like the prophets, we ought to ask how it was done, how this or that is possible? Isn’t there more to be known by looking beyond the moment or the miracle, as Blake wrote in the poem quoted above?
Elder James E. Talmage, an early apostle and recognized doctrinal authority in the church wrote, “Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized.” (Jesus the Christ, p. 148.) This truth means that there is nothing mysterious in miracles or in the gospel. We can rightfully look beyond the miraculous as well as the mundane in order to understand the mechanisms or methodologies underlying it.
But which of us does so?
Who among us takes the time to understand why Joseph Smith wanted to obtain those Egyptian papyri so he could study them? Which of us has sought to understand the meaning of his explanations of them as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price? We regard them as mere curiosities, novelties that once captured the interest of a prophet. They seem to hold little of spiritual value, so we pass them by without inquiring further.
Do the symbols on the Nauvoo or Salt Lake temples hold your interest, except to notice that they are oddities, seemingly not found elsewhere in the gospel? Do you inquire further as to their possible meaning? Or, do you suppose that the architects placed them there as mere decorative features? Do you ever stop long enough to ask how these relate to the restored gospel?
Even more fundamentally, do you take the scriptures at face value? Do you “search” them and scrutinize them as we have been counseled to do? When asked recently by the Brethren to re-read your Book of Mormon, did your reading raise questions in your mind? If you have Enos’ mindset, it did. If not, you may have missed a glorious opportunity to learn.
It would behoove each of us as believing Latter-day Saints to be more discriminating and inquisitive where the gospel is concerned, to ask questions and seek answers to much of what we take for granted.
If we were to do so, like Enos, we would certainly receive more than the simple blessings for which we typically ask.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2006