If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.
In part one of this series, we discussed Christ’s knowledge, and that it is the source of His power to redeem us. Without Him, we are powerless to save ourselves in our current predicament.
In today’s installment, we’ll discuss the role of our own knowledge in our eventual salvation. I’ll begin with the following analogy:
My dad gave me one dollar bill
’Cause I'm his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
’Cause two is more then one!
And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes—I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!
Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ’cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!
And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!
And I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head—
Too proud of me to speak!
Where the Sidewalk Ends
This is the part where we need to come to grips with our own ignorance. Like the boy who values five pennies over one dollar, we foolishly tend to think we know something of value when, in fact, we know almost nothing of eternal value. In this world, we prize nearly everything else above the knowledge of God that will save us. We daily choose pennies over dollars.
Even the evil spirits who follow Satan know more than we do. Said Joseph:
“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (History of the Church, 4:588)
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)
Ignorance is our greatest sin, and in fact, leads to all other sins (a topic we’ll discuss further.) Our greatest impediment to overcoming our ignorance and learning what we need, is our foolish supposition that we already know something. The most unteachable person in the world is the one who assumes he already knows.
The Glory of God is intelligence, which is light and truth. (D&C 93:36) God wants to share His glory with us (John 17:22) by giving us light and truth. But we prevent it. Though Christ overcame all things by His knowledge, we seem hell-bent on remaining ignorant and overcoming nothing. Even God cannot give you what you do not want.
Wait, what? I thought God could do anything!
Not so. Though God technically CAN do anything, there are certain things He simply WILL NOT do. And forcing knowledge upon you is one of those things. Here’s why:
God is Just. This means He must do what He says He will do, and must allow you to experience the natural consequences of your actions. Because you will be judged according to the light and knowledge you possess, the more you know, the more accountable you become. If God imposes knowledge upon you that you do not desire, do not value, and will not obey, He simply makes you more accountable, to face a greater condemnation in the end.
But God is also merciful. Therefore, He mercifully withholds from you the knowledge you do not want and will not respect. The veil separating you from Him is actually for your protection. In your current condition, it is a mercy.
God will allow you to live and die, and spend your whole mortal existence in profound ignorance, because it will allow for the most merciful judgment possible. Though you cannot be saved in ignorance (D&C 131:6) and will therefore not ascend to where gods and angels dwell (D&C 76:101-102), you will at least be spared the more harsh condemnation required by justice, and reserved for those who have truth and choose to ignore it.
For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel. But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state! (2 Nephi 9:26-27 emphasis mine)
Ya Gotta Want It
But what if you actually WANT to be saved? What if you DESIRE the knowledge of God, and to understand the mysteries of God? (Alma 12:10) For that, there’s help. Let’s revisit Christ’s invitation and instructions, but this time from Joseph Smith’s inspired translation:
Go ye into the world, saying unto all, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you.
And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls unto swine, lest they trample them under their feet. For the world cannot receive that which ye, yourselves, are not able to bear; wherefore ye shall not give your pearls unto them, lest they turn again and rend you.
Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened. (JST, Matthew 7:9–13 emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? Christ told his disciples to go into the world and preach repentance, but NOT to teach the mysteries. He informed them that those who desire to know the mysteries should be instructed to ask of God directly, rather than seeking to learn them from other men.
This is because God, in his wisdom, justice, and mercy, knows exactly what to teach, how to teach it, and what to yet withhold until the learner is prepared. Men lack this ability, and are therefore commanded not to impart the mysteries they have received.
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. (Alma 12:9)
The key to receiving is to have a soft heart:
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:10)
A hard heart, on the other hand, leads to ignorance and captivity:
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:11)
And that’s exactly what Joseph Smith taught, about being brought into captivity by evil spirits who know more than you, in the quote I referenced above.
This is also the specific reason Christ taught in parables. Those who were prepared to receive knowledge would do so, while those who were unprepared would not. (Matthew 13:10-11)
And this brings us, finally, to begin our discussion of Christ’s invitation to ask, seek, and knock, which forms the too-cute acronym, A.S.K.
There’s a very specific reason you must ask God to teach you what you want to know. Here it is:
He needs your permission.
Remember, He cannot and will not force knowledge upon you that isn’t for your good. He respects your agency above all, even to the point that He will watch His family torn apart and countless souls destroyed before He will interfere with your agency. Eternal law dictates that agency must be preserved if progress is to be made. The removal of your agency will destroy you.
Therefore, God needs your permission to begin the work of teaching what will ultimately make you more accountable, and in its fulness, make you into a god or a devil. You give your permission by asking in sincerity for the knowledge you lack. When you ask, you start the process that allows God to intervene in your life in necessary ways to prepare you for the knowledge you’ve asked for.
This was the very thought that put the match to the fuse, touching off the explosion of light in Joseph Smith’s restoration.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
This is one of the most profound, powerful statements in scripture—and likely one of the most important to your salvation. You and I—we lack wisdom! It is impossible to be saved in ignorance. (D&C 131:6) Therefore, our only choices are to remain ignorant and damned, or ask questions and get answers.
In fact, I submit that THIS is the correct understanding of God “answering” prayers. Think about it: If someone asks you to do something or give them something, it’s not called an “answer” when you do or give what was requested. It’s only called an “answer” when it’s a response to a question. Answers convey information. God cannot answer unless you ask questions.
And yet, we have a whole culture of unbelief built up to teach us that the purpose of prayer is to ask FOR things, and that getting those things is an “answer” to prayer. Time to toss that notion.
Answer me NOW!
When you ask, the answer will often not be immediate. There’s almost always some preparation required before you can even understand or accept the answer. First and foremost, this is because we are all too ignorant to frame the question properly so the answer will have the right frame of reference.
Here’s an example:
Suppose a man named Jonah asks, “Lord, will I have fish for dinner?” The answer may be yes, but the fish Jonah receives may be rotting in a whale’s belly when Jonah arrives there. The answer was technically correct, but the question’s framing didn’t even come close to giving Jonah a full understanding. And the full answer to the question is likely something Jonah never even imagined possible.
The other reason preparation is required is because the telestial world has so twisted and confused eternal truths, your first instinct, lacking preparation, will be utter rejection of what God wants you to know.
For example, we withhold the terrible(?) truths of reproduction from our children because they are not prepared to receive them. It’s so much simpler, sweeter and easier to believe babies just magically grow in mommies’ tummies. And then they are born. It’s lovely.
When a child finally learns the actual process of conception, the first response might be horror. It’s gross, embarrassing, undignified, even violating to contemplate such behavior. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful and crowning of truths. The difference between beauty and horror, between acceptance and rejection, is maturity and preparation for the full answer. This takes time.
OK, so you’ve asked. Good start. But there’s more to be done.
If you’re serious about wanting the knowledge you’ve asked for, you have an obligation to do all you can to obtain it. The Lord explained this to Oliver Cowdery when he was trying to translate:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. (D&C 9:7)
The Lord explained that there’s more to be done. Oliver was directed to “study it out in [his] mind.”
To “seek” is to go in search or quest of; to look for; to search for by going from place to place; to inquire for; to ask for; to solicit; to endeavor to find or gain by any means. This implies much more than simply asking.
If you seek the truths of God, you must certainly search the scriptures. You may also be directed to search other sources, which will bring light to the subject. Perhaps you will ask others, or discuss the topic with those who know more than you. Certainly you will bring it up again and again in prayer, asking the Lord to guide your search and prepare your heart for the answer.
Seeking takes time. Perhaps minutes. Perhaps years. Either way, the eternal law that governs all blessings requires you to put forth some effort and sacrifice to obtain answers. (D&C 130:21-21)
And so, suppose you’ve asked, pondered, prayed, studied, discussed, sought, prayed some more, and you’ve simply reached the limit of what you can acquire through such means—yet the question remains. You’ve forged down the corridor clear to the end, and now you’ve encountered a locked door. What do you do?
You knock. You knock and knock and keep knocking until the door is finally opened a crack. For certain types of knowledge, that closed door is part of the preparation and testing that will ensure you are prepared for what lies beyond.
And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 9:42)
Knocking may involve pleading with the Lord, fasting, humbling yourself, making a sacrifice, and what is termed “wrestling” before God. In this process you will NECESSARILY both develop and exercise greater faith—which is what God was after in the first place!
This is why James 1:5 continues the thought with verses 6 and 7:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (James 1:5-7)
Asking in faith implies developing that faith through the process of asking, seeking and knocking. This is a progression.
“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. (History of the Church, 3:295–96)
And so, we arrive at a second key.
If the key to God’s power is his knowledge, as we discussed in Part 1, then the key to asking and receiving—is to ask for the knowledge you lack. Ask, seek, knock. This is the progression that leads to knowledge of God.
He is delighted when you are interested in knowing more about Him. It’s all over in the scriptures, and yet, sometimes the only information we require of God is to show us where we left the car keys. God clearly had greater things in mind:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42:61)
Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance. (Alma 26:22)
Why, it’s even right there in the very first verse of the whole Book of Mormon!
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. (1 Nephi 1:1)
How did Nephi obtain his “great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God?” He asked:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
It’s all through the scriptures. In fact, it’s really the point of the scriptural record. We are ignorant, and God wishes us not to be ignorant. So he has given us scripture to both inform us, and to provoke us to ask Him questions. If we do not ask, we will remain ignorant.
As we move on with this series, we’ll further discuss the sorts of knowledge we lack—and how to obtain answers.
For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
—1 Nephi 11:1