I was looking a little more closely at the Title Page of The Book of Mormon this week.
Moroni outlined in this title page the who, what, where, and when of his compilation, which are interesting facts. But what I believe is most noteworthy to us, the readers, are the why AND the how!
We usually talk about the purposes of the Book of Mormon (the why) outlined in the second paragraph of the title page:
"To show unto the remnant of the house of Israel [the Lamanites and those adopted in to the house of Israel by covenant] what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers, and that they may know the covenants of the Lord... and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile [most of us] that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.
Maybe it's just me, but we seem to just pass right on by what appears to be the primary purpose/why AND the how in the first paragraph:
"...To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof...The interpretation thereof by the gift of God."
In other words, the purpose of the coming forth of The Book of Mormon is for the readers to interpret the book by the gift and power of God.
Joseph Smith did plenty of interpreting, but his role is actually indicated at the bottom of the title page: 'Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.' So he did interpret in order to translate the record, but OUR role is to interpret for ourselves and find how the record applies in our individual circumstances.
To interpret is to find and give meaning.
And to interpret by the gift of God - not to find and give meaning in a scholarly way or a logical way or to support your current paradigm of understanding. Though we can use scholarly insights, logic, and start where we are in our current understanding... but those are not to be the end nor the means.
Instead, we are invited to become 'spiritually minded,' and to find and give meaning to the Book of Mormon by accessing and utilizing the gift and power of God.
Elder Holland just counseled in October:
"May we strive to see Christ at the center of our lives, of our faith, and of our service. That is where true meaning lies."
So our role is to find Christ in The Book of Mormon and to come to really know with spiritual depth that we can access Him by making and keeping covenants.
And the greater point is that we have to do that by seeking the gift and power of God.
I find it interesting that it doesn't say gifts of God (plural). It says gift (singular) and it says it twice. Since it is singular, it is my interpretation (ha!) that this means the greatest of all the gifts of God:
If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. -D&C 14:7
President Eyring clarified what this means in April 2008:
"Rising to the possibilities of the oath and covenant brings the greatest of all the gifts of God: eternal life. That is a purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Through keeping the covenants as we receive the priesthood and renewing them in the temple ceremonies, we are promised by an oath made by our Heavenly Father, Elohim, that we will gain the fulness of His glory and live as He lives. We will have the blessing of being sealed in a family forever with the promise of eternal increase."
It seems to me that a mistake we make too often is to try to box eternal life into our concept of time... to think along the lines of 'someday, in heaven, I'll get to have eternal life.' I've written about this before, and have thought for a long time that if we can rise above our confines and peer into eternity, with faith in Jesus Christ and His certain promises, having a personal relationship with Him, we can step into the reality of our current eternal life... not someday, but now. Today. Because we simply believe! And because we act on that belief (act in faith). It's that simple! Hearts change. Paradigms shatter. Our focus shifts. All things become possible or at least endurable and received with thanks. To truly live an eternal life is to experience the manifestation of the doctrine of Christ in each moment, with each breath. President Nelson taught this in the 2018 Christmas devotional:
I invite you, as King Benjamin did for Saints in his day, to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” That blessing is for us here and now... a gift from our Savior is actually a promise—a promise of life everlasting. This does not mean simply living for a really, really, really long time. Everyone will live forever after death, regardless of the kingdom or glory for which they may qualify. Everyone will be resurrected and experience immortality. But eternal life is so much more than a designation of time. Eternal life is the kind and quality of life that Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son live. When the Father offers us everlasting life, He is saying in essence, “If you choose to follow my Son—if your desire is really to become more like Him—then in time you may live as we live.
Nephi describes this way of life as having a perfect brightness of hope. This is walking through life with sure footing on the covenant path.
It is my belief that the title page of the Book of Mormon is inviting us to attune to this potential or reality, depending on where we are in relation to covenant making and keeping (which covenants include increasing our focus and deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ). His restored gospel and His living church offer the priesthood, which enables this covenant relationship. In other words, His church gives access to abide IN His divine LOVE.
One moment in the Book of Mormon highlights this succinctly. Lehi, even as he was dwelling in a tent in the wilderness said: "I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice." -1 Nephi 5:5
It was already done. He trusted, nothing doubting, that God keeps His promises, so even in the earthly, wilderness journey, he was receiving the heavenly gift.
Where else is this shown or taught in the Book of Mormon? Or what can we learn from the examples that fall a little or a lot short of this type of faith and trust? And what does that mean to you the day you find that insight... how does it change the way you respond to the challenges of the day/week/year? How does it change the way you spend your time? How does it change how you treat others? How does it change the way you feel about Jesus Christ and how you approach Heavenly Father as you seek to commune with Him in prayer?
How do we read the Book of Mormon with the ability to interpret the contents with this gift and this power?
I think there are some hints given in the introductory pages, most specifically in the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who President Nelson has pointed to and invited us to follow his example... to form our own questions and ask of God. Not generally, not someday, but now. Here are a few things that stood out to me during this reading, like invitations to act in faith in response to this example:
I lay musing
I marveled greatly at what had been told to me
In the midst of my meditation
I lay overwhelmed in astonishment
I was again left to ponder
I looked up
Accordingly, as I had been commanded, I went
From the Introduction:
We invite all men everywhere to ponder in their hearts the message [this book] contains
Gain a divine witness from the Holy Spirit
It seems to stand out to me that living a contemplative, spiritually-minded, pondering life is the type of life where we can begin to understand and experience a deep understanding of these things. It seems this type of life would have many moments of stillness or rest from being inundated with worldly distractions built in to our habits, our way of life. I see how simply attending church weekly, having daily family study and family prayer, and attending the temple helps to build in these moments. Of course there's personal prayer, couple prayer, and whatever other holy habits we might choose to cultivate.
Of course, this is just my personal interpretation of these things, as of today. Certainly the message and meaning will be distinct for each individual and likely change as time passes. Regardless, covenant women have been invited to expound the scriptures and I am striving to 'go and do' that here and through other means. Regardless of whether my interpretation is meaningful to whoever might be reading this, I hope it at least inspires a line of thinking or sparks an idea or cultivates thoughts already planted by the spirit.
I hope we all take the invitation to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon seriously. Joseph Smith certainly had an important role in the coming forth of the book, but make no mistake about it, you have an important role too, and the book will help you in that role. In fact, it is essential.
I pray we will make God's work our work. I pray for Zion to increase on both sides of the veil as individuals come unto Jesus Christ and walk on the covenant path. I have complete confidence in Jesus the Christ and testify of His love and divine influence when we endear our hearts to Him. I know we have loving Heavenly Parents who live an eternal life and are eager to help Their children do the same. As we seek to find their love and counsel in the scriptures, in quiet contemplation and pondering, and in moments of holiness, we will find it in abundance. I pray for all my brothers and sisters to seek that holy relationship and wisdom, which infinite love will guide them safely to the eternal realities that have the potential to change everything.