Leading to Water- 2 Kings 2:8-14

And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

COMMENTARY

Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee.

In this passage we read how Elijah was willing to give what he could to his protégé, but Elisha’s specific request was one that Elijah did not have the ability to fulfill. It was a request that Elisha was going to have to take up with the Lord directly.

And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and they parted hither and thither
And so, after Elisha witnessed the departure of his master he took up the mantle, tested his authority, and found that God had indeed granted his request. Elisha had received what Elijah already had but which only God could give.
It is important for each of us to recognize that while our worldly mentors can give us much, they cannot give us all. We might go to school and gain a full education, but the pure love of learning is something that no teacher can impart. And we can learn manners from others, and how to speak kindly too, but no human can put genuine consideration for our fellow man in our hearts. And we can let others convince us of the importance of commandments and spiritual rituals, but no person will ever make God come alive in our hearts for us. These greater things can only come from above.

Leading to Water- Question

Doing this blog has been very helpful for me. I began it because I needed to have a more regular practice for studying the gospel, a place to preserve the things that I have learned, and the social motivation to be consistent.

I also hoped that this blog would be a positive resource for you, the reader. Ideally it would be a way to raise questions of your own and lead you to some important self-realizations. And I intend to keep this blog public in the hope that it can have some impact for good.

But at the same time, the greatest value in research comes when we conduct it ourselves, not when we merely read of it from others. And while I am grateful for many mentors who taught me many true things, the fullest conversion has always come when I relearn those same lessons on my own. It is good for us to share and to teach, but one of the most important lessons to convey is the need to find out for oneself.

With this study I would like to consider how we do this. Where is the line between supporting a friend in their first steps versus becoming their crutch? When is it better to not answer a question so that one can find things out themselves? How do we start relying on our own spiritual study instead of taking other’s beliefs as our own?

As always, I would be very curious to hear about your own experiences with this, too. Can you pick out the moment where you began to stand on your own, personal testimony? What was it that convinced you depending on someone else’s foundation wouldn’t cut it anymore? What was the difference between believing what another told you versus having learned it for yourself?

For Our Own Good- Summary

There is a natural aversion to rules that we don’t understand. In our fallen world there are countless examples of laws and rules given to suppress and oppress, to maintain power for tyrants, to be followed without question, no matter how they destroyed the very people that obeyed them. Even if a rule doesn’t seem intended to harm, we still want to know the reasons why we should exert effort to follow it.
And I would say that our need to understand the rules that we follow is actually a good thing, even God-given. Yes, there is a need for following by faith alone, but also God intends for us to dig into the gospel and find answers. He gave us a hunger so that we would work to satiate it with understanding.
But even as we seek understanding, there will necessarily be a period of time before we have received it. From my study I believe there are a few principles which can help us through that intermediary time.

A Healthy View For Ignorance

One of the hardest things can be to admit that we don’t know something. Each of us has been through that unpleasant experience of being spoken to us as if we already understood, when really we did not. It might be in an education or training setting, or someone disclosing their personal feelings, or during a philosophical discussion. It isn’t that we don’t wish to understand, but that we simply don’t. In fact, many times, we don’t even know what it is that we don’t know, or how to put together the question whose answer would unlock our ability to comprehend.
And while the gospel can speak directly to our soul in such a way that no words are necessary, there are still elements of it that are difficult to fully grasp. We are divided beings, after all, one part spiritual and the other part carnal. And that carnal part just “doesn’t get” certain commandments and principles.
Instead of feeling shame for our lack of knowledge, and instead of pretending to understand more than we do, we need to be able to accept that we are ignorant, that all are ignorant in some way or another, and that this is a perfectly acceptable platform to begin our spiritual journey from. But we also need to know and accept that we can learn. Our lack of understanding is not proof that we cannot understand. Perhaps the words don’t click with us now, but one day the feelings will.
2 Nephi 28:30- For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
1 Corinthians 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

An Environment for Learning

As mentioned above, we have both a spiritual and a carnal part to us, and the carnal (or natural, as Paul called it) cannot understand that which is spiritual. As a result, the capacity for one to understand the principles of the gospel will be directly tied to how far one dips into a spiritual lifestyle or a carnal one.
The more we surround ourselves with worldly messages, the more we indulge in carnal pleasures, the more we identify ourselves by the flesh, the harder time we are going to have perceiving and comprehending the spiritual. Our understanding will be more and more limited only to carnal understanding. On the other hand, the more we seek messages of spiritual enlightenment, the more we do the things that satiate our conscience, the more we identify ourselves by the entire soul, the more we will accumulate spiritual understanding instead.
Much of being educated is in just putting oneself in an environment of learning. If you wish to develop your sense of music, you should surround yourself with music and those that live in it. If you wish to grow more analytical, you should surround yourself with algorithms and those that solve problems by them. You find a place where you can breathe in its atmosphere, you find mentors, you look for sources that can answer your questions, and you learn by pure osmosis. It is no different with developing a fluency with the soul.
Galatians 3:24-Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Ruth 1:16- And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

The Blessing of Learning

Finally, let us make clear that this natural ignorance and this difficulty of acquiring knowledge is not a mistake. The fact that we have to work for this understanding is by design. For while it is important for us to learn things, it is even more important for us to simply learn how to learn.
God did not send us here to know everything right from the start. He did not send us here to be perfect from the outset. Rather He sent us broken, flawed, and confused. The reason being that if we already possessed all, we would never develop the wisdom and quality of character that can only come by walking the journey. We would be stagnant, and would not develop ourselves as individuals.
God gave us the blank slate that we start off with, but also the desire to change that state. We feel in our hearts that it is better to know than to not know, and so we chase and pursue, we study and we discover, we invent and we explore. The greatest things we make and do, we make and do because God made us both flawed and self-aware of that flaw. These two qualities are both the fuel and the spark, the power and the catalyst of our great journey. They drive us into defining and becoming who we are and will be. Where they will take us we get to choose, but it will be far.
Ether 12:27-And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

For Our Own Good- 2 Nephi 28:30, Luke 2:52

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

COMMENTARY

I will give line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man

When it comes to commandments that we do not understand the reasons for, it is important to know that there is nothing wrong in our ignorance. There is no shame in saying “I do not understand why this matters.” As we see in these verses, it is the natural and expected course for us to learn one step at a time, which implies that we have not attained all knowledge yet. Even Jesus followed this pattern. Though he showed great wisdom in his youth, that does not mean he came to earth knowing absolutely everything. In fact the record showed that he learned and grew, just like the rest of us.
Consider, also, the example of a small child that has yet to learn addition. Yes, they need to learn that skill, it is important, but there is no shame that they have not attained it yet. For now, mastering counting is sufficient for them.

For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have
What would be concerning, though, is the child that refuses to learn to count, and by extension refuses to learn every higher form of mathematics. It is okay to not know all things, but it is not okay to stop learning.
It can be tempting to take what commandments we do understand and say “I’ll just keep these ones and not worry about the rest,” but that would be limiting ourselves. Neither should we look at the commandments that we do not understand and say “I feel deeply ashamed for my ignorance,” that would be abusive. As with so many things, the middle path is the right way forward. We can accept that we are ignorant, without shame, and also strive to grow past it.

Individual Trials- Question

A word that we commonly use in Christianity is “trials.” By this we mean the times that we are tested to see if we will remain faithful or not. This word typically has a negative connotation, being used to express an unpleasant, yet necessary process.

Trials are different from consequences, in that they are actively put on us by another, not because we did something wrong and are just reaping the natural result of that. Usually those that mention trials are discussing some form of illness, persecution, doubt, or even death.

But I do believe that the tests we are subjected to in Earth life are much broader than just that one category of “affliction.” Trials can take the form of inherent weaknesses and personality traits. Trials can take the form of being given a choice, where we are tempted by that which is easy but wrong. Trials can even take the form of receiving a blessing.

I would like to examine all these different ways of experiencing a trial, how each tests us in its own manner, and how each is meant to help us develop into the person we were born to be. In the meantime I am curious to hear how you have been able to gain a healthy appreciation for trials in your own life. In what ways have they reassured you that your life is following a plan? In what ways have you come to know yourself better through them?

The Way That Things Are- Personal Example

I first thought of conducting this study after a recent experience with our newborn daughter in the hospital. She was still trying to get the hang of nursing, and it was a difficult task for her. She wanted to nurse, but she kept going about it the wrong way. She would bite, when she needed to suck. She would push away, when she need to pull in. She would lay idly, when she needed to work for it.

And through all this she became very frustrated. She needed nourishment, but she wanted it to come in particular ways, which ways were not in harmony with the ways of nature. At this point she had a choice. She could adapt to the way that things are, or she could try to force the world to work the way that she wanted.

Like most infants, she adapted. We are each born with a wonderful ability to recognize when we are being ineffective, and to learn from our mistakes. We feel resistance and we naturally align with the proper flow of things.

Imagine if my daughter had not done this though. What if she had thought to herself “biting, and pushing, and laying idly doesn’t give me the stream of nourishment I need…so therefore the stream of nourishment must simply not exist.” She could deny the existence of mother’s milk, she could even deny the existence of a loving mother. She could mistake the earnest efforts of that mother to correct her as being mean and punitive, refusing to meet her on her own terms.

Sadly, this sounds like a very familiar state of mind. Though we are born with the tendency to adapt and learn from our mistakes, as we get older we learn how to be more stubborn. We lean into our follies, even as they continually fail to provide us any gratification. And when our way does not work, we then deny that any right way exists at all. We claim that God must be a myth, or else He is a cruel being for not working the way that we want Him to work.

But the reality would remain what it was even so. If my daughter had chosen to deny milk, a mother, and parental love, all those elements would have existed even so. And if we choose to deny righteousness, God, and divine love, all those elements exist even so. They exist in the way that they do, and they are set in their nature. Thus it is up to us to adapt to their terms, not the other way around.

Divided from God- Summary

My previous study was about needing to make time for God. As I was writing it though, I wanted to address the times where I have wished that that process was simpler. Because at the outset, coming to God often does not appear to be very straightforward. It is understandable to get frustrated by this perceived divide.

One of my reasons for writing this blog is to not only explore spiritual epiphanies, but also the spiritual frustrations that precede them. I think we are mistakenly afraid of being blasphemous if we admit that following God was, at times, aggravating.

But saying that something is aggravating is not the same as saying that it isn’t worth it. All relationships come with friction and frustration, but in them we also derive the greatest joy. And that includes our relationship with God. Do I wish that things were easier…a part of me wants to say yes, but a part of me knows it just couldn’t work that way.

We Are Twice Divided From God

When we are in the womb we maintain a direct connection with our nurturing mother. No effort is required for us to maintain sustenance, we acquire it freely. After birth, the mother’s body continues to provide nutrition for us, but the direct tether to her is severed. We can still be nourished, but now, and forever after, we’re going to have to work for it.
I do not believe that there is any coincidence for how well this reflects the separation from God brought about by the fall, and the effort now required of us to now reconnect with Him. It is our common lot as humankind.
But that only accounts for one of our separations. The second is that which we bring upon our own selves. Guilt and shame that have nothing to do with what Adam or Eve did, but rather what sins we, ourselves, have chosen to commit.
Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death
Alma 42:9- Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.

There are Reasons and Wisdom Behind This Divide

Going back to the example of the newborn, the only way for an infant to remain tethered to its mother would be by stunting its growth forever. It could never grow to the full measure of a man or a woman while remaining so linked.
Character is defined by the things that we do when we do not feel another’s eyes peering over our shoulder. Character growth occurs when we do good things because of our own volition. In this way it is wise for God to allow enough separation for us to act and grow on our own.
Also, our separation from God ebbs and flows. Sometimes His presence is nearer and sometimes it is farther, depending on our own actions. This ingenious state of change provides an essential feedback loop for measuring our own behavior. When I sin, I feel more withdrawn from God, and that unpleasantness motivates me towards better choices. These, in turn, draw me nearer to Him.
2 Nephi 2:24- But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

The Divide Can Be Closed

If we were to directly see God in our daily lives, there would surely be far greater feelings of fulfillment in our hearts and far less evil performed in the world. But also we would be stunted children, just as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden.
God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden to allow for the reality of today. It was a gift. Now we truly and independently act. We make choices, feel God’s presence grow nearer or farther, and by that steer ourselves as we see fit. And if we choose to steer ourselves back to God, then regaining His presence will really mean something. It won’t just some default state that was premortally chosen for us. It will be the destiny that we have chosen for ourselves.
Mother birds have been known to push their young out of the nest. But they do not this so that the child will never return to the trees, rather so that when it does it will do so upon magnificent wings!
2 Timothy 4:7- I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.