'Letters from loving father to his children'

This month I will watch my 19-year-old daughter board a plane and fly to Russia. She will remain there for six months or longer to teach English to Russian children.

As parents, my wife and I will experience peculiar emotions as we ponder the experiences she will have there. We have been told the mail service between the United States and Russia is sporadic, and the possibility exists that she may go months without receiving letters from us.I have tried to discern all the challenges she might meet, and have written a number of letters to send with her to open from time to time as her needs arise. There is a letter for loneliness, one for homesickness, one for discouragement, and one on compassion and service. I hope they will be sufficient to strengthen and encourage her and enable us, as parents, to share in this wonderful growing experience with her even though the communication lines will be difficult. I hope I have foreseen all her needs and provided the proper letters.

As I have done this, I have sensed anew the wonder of the scriptures. They are letters from a loving Father to His children while they are away from Him experiencing the marvelous but challenging adventures of life.

This is what I perceive the Doctrine and Covenants to be - each section a letter containing the communication we need to be successful in life. The difference between my letters and His, however, is vast. I guessed at what my daughter's needs might be, but the Lord in His infinite wisdom knew what ours would be and provided the necessary instructions.

In Section 1, which is the Lord's preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, He said: "I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith Jun., and spake unto him from heaven and gave him commandments; . . ." (D&C 1:17.)

Later in the same section He told us what those commandments would do for us: "These commandments . . . were given unto my servants . . . that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; and inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; and inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened that they might repent; and inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong and blessed from on high and receive knowledge from time to time." (D&C 1:24-28.)

When I was young, I used to wonder why God did not speak to me more in my prayers. I seemed to do all the talking and His role was that of a listener. I wanted Him to speak more to me. It took me a while and some spiritual maturity before I realized I could hear His voice any time I wanted. He had already foreseen my questions and concerns and recorded His counsels, encouragements and wisdom. In short, His voice, for me, was in the pages of His scriptures. During prayer, He listened while I talked. In the scriptures, the roles were reversed and I listened while He talked. This is true of all His scriptures, but in an especial way in the Doctrine and Covenants, for it is our generation's book of scripture.

Life is so short and its outcome so critical that you would think we would want all the help and counsel we could receive, but often in our busy schedules the scriptures - the Lord's letters - go unread. To help us understand how important they are the Lord has used many different images to describe the value and need of the scriptures in our lives.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the scriptures are a sword and we are going into battle. But I need not fear, for my sword is "quick and powerful." I need only to arm myself. I can hear the Lord whisper to me: "Don't go into battle with the adversary and the world unarmed, you will be defeated."

The scriptures are an iron rod running by the side of a deep and filthy river in flood stage. The rod is there to lead me to the Tree of Life, but it is also a barrier to keep me from being swept away by the deceptions of my generation. Once again, I hear the Lord whisper: "Don't walk along the edge of that river without a good grip on the iron rod, you will drown."

The scriptures are a compass, my own Liahona, and I must cross a wilderness. The needles will point the way and keep me on a true course. Again, the still small voice teaches me: "Don't try to cross the wilderness of mortality without a compass to guide you, you will be lost."

The scriptures are a lamp in a world that is slipping into greater and greater darkness. I must see the path lest I stumble. The Lord directs: "Don't feel your way through the darkness; take my lamp, or you will wander and stray."

The scriptures are manna, bread from heaven; they are living water pouring from the rock and I am in a desert. "Eat and drink," the Lord invites. "Satisfy your hungers and your thirsts. Why will you perish?"

The scriptures are a precious seed plucked from the Tree of Life. I am invited to plant that seed in my heart and grow my own tree of life. I realize this is the great work of my life as the Lord whispers: "Plant the seed; help it grow that you may feast on its fruit throughout all eternity."

This year, as we study the Doctrine and Covenants, somehow in our busy schedules we simply must find the time to learn how to wield the sword. We must have a firm grip on the rod and keep our direction true to the spindles of the compass. We must hold the lamp high, feast on the Lord's manna and give diligent care to that precious seed we've been given. And we must believe that the Lord would not make His letters so difficult to read that the most humble of all His children could not understand them.

After Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received their baptism, Joseph wrote: "We were filled with the Holy Ghost and rejoiced in the God of our salvation. Our minds being now enlightened we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of."

Herein lies the secret to understanding and teaching the scriptures. Sometimes we rely too much on commentaries, books, tapes and other published materials to teach us the scriptures. But we have all been given the gift of the Holy Ghost. We have been instructed to let this gift be the guiding force in our studies of the scriptures.

President Gordon B. Hinckley taught this great truth about his own study of the scriptures: "I do not claim distinction as a scholar of the scriptures. The reading of our scriptures, for me, is not the pursuit of scholarship. Rather, it is a love affair with the word of the Lord and that of His prophets." (Church News, March 17, 1985, p. 3.)

I echo these sentiments. I have found the scriptures reveal their truths much easier under the gentle eyes of love, pondering, reflection, and the whisperings of the Spirit, than the sometimes blunt objectivity of scholarship.

I respect scholarship, but have found other tools with sharper edges. You do not need to be a great master of the scriptures to discover worlds of meaning in God's holy books, but you must love them and allow the Spirit to speak through that love. May this year's study of the Doctrine and Covenants be a wonder-filled year of discovery for every member of the Lord's kingdom that we may come a little closer to building the Zion described in this volume of scripture and, thereby, be ready to receive its King, our Savior and Lord.

S Michael Wilcox is an instructor at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, adjacent to the University of Utah. A member of the Hidden Valley 1st Ward, Sandy Utah Hidden Valley Stake, he is a high councilor and an ordinance worker in the Jordan River Temple.

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