If He could have taught what He wanted us to know more easily, He would have.
I have developed a modest reputation amongst those I see often as a bit of a scriptorian, particularly with regards to the old testament. This is at least as much because I know how to talk as because I know how to read, but either way it does cause people to ask me questions.
I like to be asked questions. There are few more valuable gifts possible to receive than the very climax of another’s thoughts. Questions are what’s left when you spend the thought to sort through all the easy stuff. Being asked questions can save months, even years, of working through all those pieces yourself.
But I am often disappointed to be asked questions about what some passage of scripture “means”. Sometimes I can help them with their questions, sometimes I can’t, but I am often disappointed to be asked. Disappointed because there is an assumption under the question: an assumption that I can teach them better than God can.
Now, don’t get me wrong. God teaches us through everyone, and there is no wrong in treating me as one of those resources. But the text He chose to preserve and advise as a daily curriculum is not me, nor any other single soul.
I was asked recently to comment on the Red Heifer, discussed in Numbers chapter 19. This was to happen in a quasi-formal setting as I was to lead a conversation in a meeting of the Charlottesville Institute of Religion, sponsored by the Latter-Day Saint Student Association at UVa. So I spent some time putting together some of the lessons I have learned by considering the Water of Separation and its origin, as well as from several other forms of biblical blood sacrifice. However, when I stood in front of the class and began to teach it was clear to me that I was not to share most of those insights.
My earliest intimation that sharing insights is not always best came several years ago while participating in an ordinance, known colloquially as “an endowment”, in the Provo, Utah temple. When I first attended a temple my father shared with me several insights he had found as he had pondered his temple visits over two decades of worship. That day in the Provo temple, dozens of endowments later, I came to see one of the things he had shared years before. I would probably describe it with the same words he used. And yet, when I had been taught it it was just words. When I realized it independently it had life, it had truth, it glowed.
God is really smart. He is also really nice. He wants us to understand Everything. But understanding, true eternal understanding, is not words. It is not motor memory or experience or any of those things we mortals do to teach. It is a part of becoming like God. If there was an easier way, He would have given us that too.
There is a kind of understanding that involves the soul and comes, in my experience, only comes as one works with God to understand His scripture.
What have I learned about the Red Heifer?
I have learned a little bit about God.
You can too.