“You will indeed see but never perceive.” –Matthew 13:14
In March (2008) Boyd K. Packer, president of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke via satellite to Latter-day Saints gathered for a stake conference in Bolivia. Speaking of his love for the Book of Mormon, Mr. Packer related the difficulty he had as a young man as he tried to read the book cover to cover. LDS Church News reports,
“He [Mr. Packer] would begin with the account of Nephi, but then struggle to read past the chapters on the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. [He said,] ‘I would read the Book of Mormon and then, in due time, I ran into Isaiah again. And I would lose interest and start over.’
“Later, as a seminary teacher, he realized that many young people struggle with the chapters on Isaiah… ‘I decided I was going to read the Book of Mormon if all I did was look at the words, whether I understood them or not. And that time I got through. …
“So if you start the Book of Mormon, you young people…and if the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah seem difficult to you, look at the words and turn the pages. If you think you’re not getting very much, maybe you’re not. But, in due time, you’ll move right on through and you’ll close the book and you have read the Book of Mormon.'” (Church News, week ending March 22, 2008, 3. First ellipsis in this quote is mine for brevity, subsequent ellipses are in the original report)
The Church News article doesn’t make it clear, but I wonder if this is the same advice Mr. Packer gave his seminary students. I find this approach to reading the Book of Mormon quite odd – and unfortunate. The “prophecies of Isaiah” contained in the Book of Mormon consist of whole chapters reproduced from the Bible (with some alterations). Eighteen out of 55 chapters in the first two books of the Book of Mormon (1 and 2 Nephi) are duplications of chapters from Isaiah in the Bible. It’s no small thing for Book of Mormon readers to skip over them.
Surely there is a better solution for young people (or any people) who are having difficulty understanding what they believe to be God’s Word. If they are in seminary classes, wouldn’t it be useful for them discuss their questions with their seminary teacher? Or perhaps ask their parents? Or their Bishop? Or maybe consult Church-produced student manuals? Or ask God for help?
Mr. Packer, an LDS apostle, provides no such practical guidance. He essentially tells Mormon kids that it’s more important to be able to say that they’ve read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover than it is to understand what the book actually teaches.
I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is scripture, but Mr. Packer and his LDS audience do. So the question naturally arises: What is the purpose of scripture? The biblical apostle John provides the answer:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Another question: What is the purpose of reading scripture? Psalm 119 explains,
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:15-16)
The psalmist talks about the power of God’s Word. He says it revives (v. 25), strengthens (v. 28), provides answers (v. 42), brings hope (v. 49), life (v. 50), comfort (v. 50), grace (v. 58), wisdom (v. 98), understanding (v. 104), joy (v. 111), truth (v. 142), peace (v. 165), and deliverance (v. 170). Why would anyone indifferently skip over a single word?
Mr. Packer places his emphasis on accomplishing a goal (completing the book) rather than on seeking to understand. I’m not sure just how to take Mr. Packer’s words to the LDS youth of Bolivia. Is it friendly counsel? Apostolic guidance? As one person told me, “Whatever it is, it’s bad advice.”