“…Wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men…”
Many years ago I was contemplating my habit of lying about numbers. For some reason I often found myself saying something happened three times when it only happened twice, etc. My introspection resulted in the observation that I often lacked the eloquence to convey both the facts and the feel of the experience; exaggerationSometimes exaggeration is just plain old pride. was a choice to let the facts suffer and convey the mood instead.
In the years that have followed I have both learned to convey mood more honestly and have learned that sometimes even a totally honest but emotively effective communication will be misinterpreted by an audience. Consider, for example, this snippet from Alma 3:14: “from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent”. The factual message is clear: there is one, and only one, out from the condition imposed. The emotive message is also clear, with a sense of finality and inescapably. Except, of course, that the condition (in this case being visually distinct from Nephites) has a clear and open escape path: repent. Yet somehow the serious mood of “henceforth and forever” makes the simple escape not feel like an escape. The mood and the facts don’t mesh in my mind, even when logically I agree with both.
Now, perhaps that’s not a good example for you. But I expect there is another that is. God himself pointed out one to Joseph Smith in D&C 19: “Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written ‘endless torment’. Again, it is written ‘eternal damnation’; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.” Or, putting it in more modern and secular language, “I told you you were going to ‘the land of endless winter’ instead of ‘Antarctica’ because I wanted you to sense how inescapably cold it would be. But I didn’t say I was sending you there endlessly…”.
One of the things I find over and over again when I teach is that many questions I cannot possibly answer in full because the questioner doesn’t understand the background in which the question needs to be understood. We’ve all seen this in microcosm; most of the times I hear questions like “why are you angry” the answer I hear is “I’m not angry”—or, in other words, “wrong question. You misinterpret my actions.” When you ask a question that assumes a falsehood it’s called a “loaded question”; when you do it accidentally, it’s just ordinary poor communication.
Imagine, if you can, what it must be like for God. How many of the questions we ask Him even make sense? How hard it must be to say anything that isn’t misinterpreted! Hell isn’t “beating with a few stripes” nor is it “torment with no end”. What it is then? It’s “suffering [that] caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—” and you expect me to be able to describe it to you? It’s worse than the worst thing you can possibly imagine, and not much like that worst imagining either.
As I mature, I become more and more respectful of the quiet type of wisdom. While I myself find it very difficult to avoid at least attempting to answer even when I know no answer will convey the correct understanding, I have growing respect for those who chose their words carefully to be both literally true and “more express, that it might work upon the heart.” I wonder if I will ever attain that level of practical wisdom.