06 September 2007

Spiritual Things Can't Be Communicated Person-to-Person because God Wants to Tell Us Personally

Boyd K. Packer related a personal experience in his talk "Candle of the Lord." He described a conversation that he and a fellow flight passenger had about faith. The man insisted that because President Packer couldn't describe his spiritual feelings, then they weren't real. President Packer shrewdly asked the man whether or not he had ever tasted salt...

"Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, 'Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.'

'Of course I do,' was his reply.

'When did you taste salt last?'

'I just had dinner on the plane.'

'You just think you know what salt tastes like,' I said.

He insisted, 'I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.'

'If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?'

'Now you are getting juvenile,' was his reply. 'Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.'

'Then,' I said, 'assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.'

After some thought, he ventured, 'Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.'

'You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.'

After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, 'I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!'"

...So are our spiritual convictions, President Packer explained; one must experience them to understand them for a verbal explanation doesn't suffice.

I've often wondered at the fact that, with as resilient to linguistic gaps as our world's languages are, our millennia of existence have not been enough time for us to devise a mechanism for verbally conveying spiritual convictions. Think about the changes that have overcome our society in just the past hundred years, and I believe that you will find that our language has consistently kept up with changing concepts, technologies, etc. without missing a beat. So, then, why haven't we even come close with spiritual things after 1000s of years of trying?

Well, I have a theory, and it lies encoded in 2 Nephi 9:41. It says of the gates of heaven: "...and the Lord of Hosts standeth at the gate, and he employeth no servant there...". Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a nifty interpretation (I need to find the talk) of this when he said that a reason that the Lord is there in person at the gate, and no one else, is because he wants to be the one to greet us personally into heaven and personally show us the mansion he has prepared for us. I think that this is a magnificent interpretation from an inspired individual with regards to the relationship that the Lord would like to have with us in general.

In general, then, I believe that there are certain times where the Lord employs no servant at all because he wants to be the one to introduce us. One of these times is spiritual experiences. We notice time and time again in the scriptures (see D&C 76:114-116 3 Nephi 17:15-17, etc.) that the partakers of the experience they had with Jesus could not be described. I like the verse in 3 Nephi where it says that "neither ear that heard not eye hat seen." I believe that it says these because what they experienced cannot be heard nor seen; it can only be felt.

Does it not follow, then, that the reason for this is because there are certain things that the Lord wants to introduce to us himself? He has hampered my ability to explain these things because He wants to be the one to tell you, and He will not be employing me to do that kind of work for Him.

Can we see, as a side-note, why it is so offensive to the Lord when we try and force spiritual things? That's not what we has hired us for. In fact, that is the one thing that he has disabled us from doing so that he can do it himself.

I had a brother at Church explain his convictions by saying that pure truth isn't found in words or in anything else regarding the five senses, but instead is only communicated heart to heart. This makes a lot of sense to me considering the thoughts above that he employeth no servant, including the five senses to communicate true conviction.

This perspective is truly testimony-building for me because I can see the Lord's hand in the molding of our everyday language.