By Debra Woods
Another year of Gospel Doctrine study of the Book of Mormon in LDS Sunday School is well under way. So I reflect on my own experience with "the most correct of any book on earth."
I want to begin with a little background information. I joined the church at age 16, after an 8 year search for how to learn about and follow Jesus Christ. My conversion was based on how my very first missionary discussion taught me more about Jesus Christ than all my prior searching had provided. Whatever else went along with that information, I was willing to accept, though I hardly understood it.
It was not the Joseph Smith story that convinced me, but if that went with the true church of Jesus Christ, well, fine.
It was not the Book of Mormon that persuaded me – but, again, if that went with the true church of Jesus Christ, so be it.
In my prior searching, I had joined a born again Christian group at our high school and participated in Bible study with them. I wasn’t raised in a Bible reading home, nor did the church we went to teach from the Bible much, if at all. I had always been a bright student in school, but I never could wrap my mind around the Bible. I’d read the assignment, go to our study group, listen to the comments, and wonder how in the heck they got THAT message from THAT text. And frankly, to this day, I still struggle to grasp the Bible on my own. I have to rely on trusted Bible scholars to explain to me what is being said.
I suppose I read the Book of Mormon during my freshman year at BYU. It seemed pretty straight forward. But I don’t think I really appreciated it until President Benson so powerfully declared in 1986
Quoting the Lord himself:
And then he warned us:
“But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation” (D&C 20:15).
And many more things regarding the power and blessings it can bring to those who read it in faith.
And so I did.
Now I have read it many times. For the longest time, I couldn’t read it without the distinct impression that parts of it were not there before – I couldn’t keep track of the various groups of people it chronicles. I was always saying – “Where did these people come from? I don’t remember reading this before!”
The Mulekites always surprised me.
Well, I think I finally sort of get that part of it. But I still find that new things seem to float up to the surface that I have overlooked in the past, each time I read it. And I am left to conclude that it has the power to reach us wherever we are at the moment. It has the power to answer whatever it is we are seeking, and will reveal to us whatever we are prepared to receive.
I’ll give three examples of how differently the Lord spoke to me the last few times I’ve read the Book of Mormon.
A few years ago, it seemed to me that the focus was on individuals, starting with Nephi. It was like I was closely observing him and noticing all sorts of details about him I hadn’t seen before. For example:
And so it went, as I read that time, that the individuals really came to life for me and I could relate to them better than ever before.
In a more recent reading of the Book of Mormon something altogether different popped out at me. Instead of a close-up view of individuals, I was pulled way back to get a much broader view of how this little family fit into the grand scheme of things. How a father and his sons and daughters and wife and in-laws played a key role in the scattering and gathering of the House of Israel. At the time, I just found it so remarkable – I hadn’t ever picked up on that before, but that time, it was blaring like flashing neon lights as I read the story. And from this I realized that though the children of Israel and the Abrahamic Covenant refers to a large group of people throughout the ages, it boils down to individual lives – and if true of Lehi and his sons, so to it is true for me. I am a part of that grand story.
Now I come to my current reading of the Book of Mormon. This time I read all the preliminary text that comes before 1st Nephi Chapter One, Verse One. I don’t always do that. And this time, it wasn’t as an up close observer, nor was it a pulled back broad view of history, this time, it was like I was inside each person, seeing it from their point of view, feeling what they must have felt at the moment things unfolded. It took my breath away! I really noticed it when I read Joseph Smith’s account of meeting Moroni. It changed everything to see it through his eyes like it was happening to me.
In each of these instances, I did not seek to have these varied perceptions – they just occurred that way unsolicited. Just by being willing to READ, but I am certain that these views were just what I needed at the moment they occurred.
So herein my very own experience with this book, I am able to witness of it’s power, of it’s blessings.
For because of these things, it most certainly IS the rod of iron spoken of in Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. And I can reach for it and hold to it with confidence that it is firm, steady and reliable, that it will lead me to the Love of God and life in his presence as long as I hold fast to it. This in the very real mists of darkness that swirl about me in life. This with a filthy raging river running beside me. This with fingers of scorn pointing at me from a great and spacious building. If you have let go of the rod, if you have paused in your struggle to get out your handkerchief out and wipe away the sweat, and somehow have lost your way, reach for the rod of iron – read the Book of Mormon and regain your sense of direction. I am grateful for each reminder I receive to turn to the Book of Mormon and the blessings that come to me when I do.