Means and Lights in the Wilderness
Thank you for that beautiful music; thank you for that prayer; and thank you for being here today. I am honored and humbled. I express my appreciation to the LDS Business College for the invitation to speak to you today in this beautiful setting, in this historic Assembly Hall on the sacred grounds of Temple Square.
Thank you also, Brother Newman, for the introduction. As mentioned, I am an attorney working in the Office of the General Counsel at Brigham Young University, where I advise both BYU and the LDS Business College on legal matters. One thing all attorneys share in common is the responsibility to keep current with the constant changes in the laws in order to accurately and appropriately advise their clients. On occasion, as with the recent announcements from the U.S. Supreme Court, there are changes and shifts in the legal landscape of seismic proportions and ramifications. Lawyers and clients regularly counsel together on how to interpret and navigate such changes in the landscape and on how best to map a safe course going forward.
Apart from my dealings in the legal world and profession, I have had other, perhaps more direct, experiences related to the subject of landscapes and maps. In my prior life—that is, prior to my work in the Office of the General Counsel—I worked for several years in the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU. There I worked in the Special Collections with rare and early printed materials, including medieval manuscripts and, on occasion, medieval maps.
One of the first things you will notice about many of these old maps is that unlike most maps we are accustomed to in our times where everything points to the north, many old maps are oriented instead toward the East and the direction of the sun or source of light, specifically toward Jerusalem and often the temple at Jerusalem. In fact, the word orient means east. When we use the word “orient,” as in to orient oneself, it literally means to face or look toward the East. Webster’s Dictionary notes that the word “orient” can also mean, of all things, to build a temple with the longitudinal axis pointing eastward and the chief alter at the eastern end. More on this in a minute.
Well, you may wonder, what do these old maps have to do with anything? We have much better and more accurate maps today and live in a modern age of satellite geo-tracking and high resolution spectral imaging. Most of us have access to very sophisticated GPS technology as close as our cell phones.
I am not here today to talk about mapping legal landscapes, satellite tracking, or even to talk about medieval maps, as fascinating as that may be. Rather, I would like to focus my remarks on a somewhat related topic; namely, two specific types of guidance systems available in our lives for our individual journeys in what the scriptures symbolically refer to as “the wilderness.” The first is the gift of the Holy Ghost. The second is the temple.
The influences of both the Holy Spirit and the temple in our lives serve as sources of divine guidance and orientation. Each of these gifts has been restored to the earth in our times, each is associated with sacred priesthood ordinances, and each may be described as a “means” or a “light in the wilderness.” However, unlike old maps, GPS technology, or satellite tracking devices, these guidance systems will never be outdated or become obsolete.
We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that each of us is a traveler in this world, a “stranger and pilgrim on the earth” (D&C 45:13). The scriptures are replete with such language, referring to man in this earthly state as a “wanderer”, “traveler,” “stranger,” “pilgrim,” and “sojourner.” Ammon in the Book of Mormon even uses the unsettling phrase “wanderers in a strange land” (Alma 26:36). To make matters worse, what little we do see and understand in this world is, in the words of the apostle Paul, reflected and distorted “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12); thus, making our perception of reality and eternal truths all the more difficult, and making our reliance on faith and heavenly guidance all the more important.
Three major world religions and over half the earth’s population revere the prophet Abraham as a father of nations and as the heir by covenant to the land of Canaan. Yet, in one of the great ironies in all of scripture, Abraham never possessed the promised land. He wandered as a “stranger and sojourner” (Genesis 23:4), a nomad without permanent home to claim as his own. In fact, when Sarah died, he did not even own so much as a burial plot (see Genesis 23). The apostle Paul wrote to the Hebrews:
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [or tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11: 8-10)
As with Abraham, we are all travelers and pilgrims in this world. None of us will ever obtain the fullness of God’s promises in this life. Rather, we see them from afar off and the hope of obtaining becomes an anchor to our faith (Hebrews 11:13-16). By divine design our individual journeys similarly test our faith and our obedience. Along the way, we regularly encounter important decisions and questions: for example, Where am I going? What kind of career should I pursue? When should I start a family? and so forth. Some decisions, obviously, are of greater magnitude and importance at different times in our lives. Moreover, there are times when, like Abraham, we do not always know exactly where we are headed or what our next move should be. Thus, we occasionally find ourselves outside our comfort zones in what is referred to in old maps as, terra incognita, or unknown territory, where we may experience stress, uncertainty, and even disorientation at times.
Nearly 12 hundred years ago, an English monk by the name of the Venerable Bede wrote in his chronicles of English history an account of the conversion to Christianity by King Edwin of Northumberland. To illustrate the transient, confused, and sometimes chaotic nature of life’s journey, the missionaries teaching King Edwin described a sparrow which one day randomly flies into a great banquet hall. Imagine a bird seeking refuge from a storm which flies into your home. Usually when this happens there is immediate chaos, confusion, and panic. At last the bird finds the exit. Maybe some of you have experienced this before in real life.
In the Venerable Bede’s account, the missionary Paulinus explained to King Edwin:
Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banquet-hall where you are sitting at dinner on winter’s day with your thegns and counselors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing …
Bede’s account is meant to be an allegory of life’s journey. The story of the sparrow depicts our journey from the pre-mortal realm to our relatively brief sojourn here on earth. Eventually, as mysteriously as we come into this world, we exit to the infinite and glorious beyond.
Inspired by the Venerable Bede’s account, the poet William Wordsworth observed nearly a thousand years later in his Ecclesiastical Sonnets (no. XVI):
Man’s life is like a sparrow, mighty King!
That—while at banquet with your chiefs you sit
Housed near a blazing fire—is seen to flit
Safe from the wintry tempest. Fluttery,
Here did it enter; there, on hasty wing,
Flies out, and passes on from cold to cold;
But whence it came we know not, nor behold
Whither it goes. Even such, that transient Thing,
The human soul; not utterly unknown
While in the body lodged, her warm abode;
But from what world she came, what woe or weal
On her departure waits, no tongue hath shown;
This mystery if the Stranger can reveal,
His be a welcome cordially bestowed!
Indeed, the ultimate mystery for most mortals would be to know the answer to the questions contemplated by the Venerable Bede and Wordsworth. As Wordsworth was keenly aware, we desperately need maps and guides to show us the way, to help us understand whence came we and whither are we headed. If anyone can help us understand better what our next move should be and how best to navigate the many challenges and decisions along life’s journey, truly, “His be a welcome cordially bestowed!”
How grateful I am to a loving Savior and Heavenly Father, who have designed and prepared a glorious plan of salvation and happiness. They have not left us alone to “flutter” about aimlessly as Bede’s sparrow. They have given to us prophets, apostles, guides, and other means to help us know the way and find answers—not just to the big questions posed by Bede and Wordsworth, but also guides to the everyday questions that each of us will face as we wander in the wilderness of life.
Let me share a couple of examples of fellow sojourners and travelers, who, like us, wandered in the wilderness. In each instance, the Lord provided a “means” or a “light” to help them know the way—a means or light that is also available to each of us.
Nephi’s Journey in the Wilderness and Trip to Jerusalem
Nephi was a self-described sojourner who “sojourned in the wilderness for many years” (1 Nephi 17:4). Nephi makes a point, however, to note that the Lord did “provide means for us while we were in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:3; see also Mosiah 8:18). These “means” included among other things the brass plates, the Liahona, and specific direction on where to travel, where to hunt, where to find ore, and even on how to build a boat. Throughout his account, Nephi uses language reminiscent of Abraham—i.e., language which refers to being faithful and obedient, and of not always knowing what to do or where to go.
It is instructive that when Nephi journeyed with his brothers back to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates, they made various strategies and attempts to obtain the plates, including casting lots, reasoning with Laban, and even offering to purchase with gold and silver. In the end, however, Nephi learned the importance of trusting the whisperings of the Spirit and not relying on chance or on the arm of flesh. Ultimately, Nephi was successful when he “was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand what things [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). It was only when he relied on the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost that he was able to accomplish the object of his mission to Jerusalem. Indeed, the Lord provided a “means” or, as Nephi described a few verses later, a “light in the wilderness … [to] prepare the way” (I Nephi 17:13). Nephi is clear that this important “means” or light is the Holy Ghost: “the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world ... by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (1 Nephi 10:18-19)
The Savior’s Trip to Jerusalem at the End of His Mortal Ministry
Shortly before He concluded His mortal ministry, the Savior returned to Jerusalem one last time. There, as the Gospel of John records, He gathered His apostles in an upper room on the eve of His crucifixion. The Savior instructed the disciples concerning important events about to happen in both their lives and His. Knowing that He would soon depart from mortality, the Savior tried to prepare them and help them understand that He was about to leave—to go somewhere where they couldn’t come (as least not yet)—to return to the presence of the Father.John’s account of what happened in the upper room in Jerusalem is teeming with rich imagery and references to way stations, leaving behind, and moving forward in a journey toward God and the exalted regions that lie beyond. Understandably, as the record indicates, the disciples were a bit apprehensive, confused, and even afraid. The Savior imparted on that occasion sacred truths and priesthood ordinances. He also promised a sacred gift that would help them once He was gone. He would send the comforter or Holy Ghost to be a personal guide:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless … the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost … he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14: 16-26)There and Back Again: Travelers From “the Cold and Silent Grave”
My next example is an example from our day. Unlike the previous examples, this example does not involve a journey to Jerusalem. It does, however, involve travel and journey and even elements of there and back again. No, it is not a hobbit’s tale. Rather, this example pertains to the heavenly realms beyond, from which, in the words of Lehi, no traveler ever returns (2 Nephi 1:14). This example comes from the lives of the early prophets of our dispensation.
Several years after his death, the Prophet Joseph returned in a dream to Brigham Young. What was his message? Of all the glorious things he could convey or report on from the unseen world, what eternal truths and wondrous messages from the bosom of eternity did Joseph bring back? The message, which was of greatest importance both then and now, was to tell the saints to get the spirit in their lives!
Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of the lord they will go right.It is worth mentioning that Brigham Young, just a few years after his own death, appeared in like manner to Wilford Woodruff and delivered that very same message!
I have come to see you; I have come to watch over you, and to see what the people are doing. Then, said he, I want you to teach the people—and I want you to follow this counsel yourself—that they must labor and so live as to obtain the Holy Spirit, for without this you cannot build up the kingdom; without the Spirit of God you are in danger of walking in the dark, and in danger of failing to accomplish your calling as apostles and as elders in the church and kingdom of God.
What do these examples all have in common? Each teaches us clearly that the Lord has provided the Holy Ghost to be a guide in our lives, to teach us, and to help us know the way. In the words of Nephi, He has provided us a “means” and a “light in the wilderness” for our journeys. As both Joseph and Brigham communicated in their post-mortal visits, there is no more important message to the members of the Church than for us to have and retain the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives. The Lord has declared in our day in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Behold … the voice … crying in the wilderness … is my Spirit … and if it be in you it shall abound.” (D&C 88:66). He also stated that those who take “the Holy Spirit for their guide” we will not be deceived (D&C 45:57).
Brothers and sisters, may we do all in our power to remain worthy of this great gift, to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost and the promptings of the Spirit in our lives. May we learn to both recognize and to follow the whisperings of that voice while we are in the wilderness.
Look to the Temple
My final example involves a different type of “means” or “light” provided by the Lord for the saints while in the wilderness. One of the most important blessings ever bestowed on the Lord’s covenant people was, and is, the temple. During their journey in the wilderness, the Lord commanded Moses and the early Israelites to build a tabernacle (see D&C 124: 38-41). Among other things, this was critical for the Lord to reveal His will by shadow at day and by pillar of fire at night. The tabernacle or traveling temple was a means and a light by which they were guided in their journey and wanderings. That light was manifest by the visible presence of God (or the Shekinah) as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. The Children of Israel literally took their signal of when to move and where to move to according to the manifestations of either the cloud or the pillar of fire upon the tabernacle. We read in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament:
And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even[ing] there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.
So it was always[s]: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.
And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.
At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents.
And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not.
And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.
And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. (Numbers 9:15-21; see also Exodus 13:21)
For the ancient Children of Israel the tabernacle or temple in the wilderness clearly served both as a figurative and as a literal source for guidance and direction. So it is in our times. Let me explain.
Elder John A. Widtsoe, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave what is probably the most frequently quoted talk (and what many consider to be the seminal talk) on the subject of temple work in the Church. That address, entitled “Temple Worship” and later published by the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, was delivered from this very pulpit in the Assembly Hall nearly 95 years ago. Elder Widtsoe spoke of the “wonderful pedagogy of the temple” when referring to what occurs within the temple and the specific manner in which we are taught through the use of symbolism in the endowment and physical movement and progression within the temple itself. Like a map to guide us in our journey, “[t]he temple is built so as to represent … a model, a presentation in figurative terms, of the pattern and journey of life on earth.”
Perhaps more important than the symbolism and figurative representation of the journey of life, the temple is a place of revelation where the Holy Ghost may speak to us and provide guidance in our lives. As with the Tabernacle in ancient Israel, the light of Heaven rests upon the temples in our day and distills light and direction to the souls of those who worship therein. In other words, it is not just a place where we learn about the eternal conditions and ordinances of salvation; it is also, as Elder Widtsoe stated, a place where revelation may be expected:
I believe that the busy person on the farm, in the shop, in the office, or in the household, who has his worries and troubles, can solve his problems better and more quickly in the house of the Lord than anywhere else. If he will leave his problems behind and in the temple work for himself and for his dead, he will confer a mighty blessing upon those who have gone before, and quite as large a blessing will come to him, for at the most unexpected moments, in or out of the temple will come to him, as a revelation, the solution of the problems that vex his life. That is the gift that comes to those who enter the temple properly, because it is a place where revelations may be expected. I bear my personal testimony that this is so.
The late President Boyd K. Packer has likewise written that when members of the Church are troubled or when crucial decisions weigh heavily upon our minds, it is appropriate to take our cares and troubles to the temple.
Sometimes our minds are so beset with problems, and there are so many things clamoring for attention at once that we just cannot think clearly and see clearly. At the temple the dust of distraction seems to settle out, the fog and the haze seem to lift, and we can “see” things that we were not able to see before and find a way through our troubles that we had not previously known.
In the words of President Ezra Taft Benson, "Prayers are answered, revelation occurs, and instruction by the Spirit takes place in the holy temples of the Lord."
Just a few months before the Prophet Joseph was martyred, the completion of the Nauvoo Temple and the preparation of the Saints weighed heavily on his mind. He met with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at that time and solemnly declared: “We need the temple more than anything else.” Let me repeat that: We need the temple more than anything else!
Elder Kent F. Richards recently told the students at Brigham Young University, “you [students] need the temple perhaps more now than at any other time in your mortal life.” Then, quoting Elder Widtsoe, Elder Richards stated:
Temple work is … of as much benefit to the young and the active, as it is the aged, who have laid behind them many of the burdens of life. The young man [and young woman] needs his place in the temple even more than his father and his grandfather, who are steadied by a life of experience; and the young girl just entering life, needs the spirit, influence and direction that come from participation in the temple ordinances.
It is no accident that each CES school has a temple close by. Have you ever noticed that LDSBC, BYU, BYU-Hawaii, and BYU-Idaho all have temples immediately adjacent to their campuses. We are admonished in the scriptures to “… seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). CES students are in environments where they are surrounded by temples of learning and temples of God. We are promised that spiritual power and inspiration will come to each of us when we regularly come to the temple. There will be no greater compliment to your college studies, preparation for a career, and preparation for life, than to go regularly to the House of the Lord.
Like many of you, my wife and I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend the open house of the Payson Temple. On that occasion, we learned among other things about the apple blossom and quilting motifs which are incorporated into the beautiful design of that temple. We also learned a bit about the history of the town of Payson. It turns out that Payson was originally founded by Brigham Young to serve as a way station for the Saints and others who made their long journey from the Salt Lake valley to southern Utah. A way station is a place where weary travelers check in from time to time. How appropriate that once again Payson (and every other temple that dots the earth) is a way station, a sacred place for weary travelers and pilgrims on their earthly sojourn, seeking rest, orientation, and heavenly direction in their lives.
More than two and a half millennia ago, the Prophet Isaiah saw in vision our day and prophesied of the great events of the Restoration and the gathering again of the House of Israel in the latter days in preparation for the return of the Savior and His millennial reign. Knowing the importance of the temple to the saints living in this dark and troubled world (a world without bearing or direction), Isaiah extends a direct invitation—an invitation down through the corridors of time—to each of us:
Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths … come ye and let us walk in the light. (Isaiah 2:3, 5)
Indeed, Brothers and Sisters, it is my prayer that we will regularly go to the temple and walk in its light! Like those medieval maps which are oriented to the East and the source of light, to Jerusalem and the temple, let us orient our lives by looking to the source of heavenly light and to the temple. As we regularly worship in the House of the Lord, we orient our lives on matters of eternal importance and partake of the spiritual light and revelation available there.
We all need heavenly guidance, and occasional way stations for rest and reorientation. Similar to the sparrow in King Edwin’s story, our journey in life will have moments of stress and confusion, and times where we do not always know where we are headed. Our Father in Heaven, however, has prepared guides, maps, and other “means” and “lights” to help us while here in this wilderness.
I testify that the Holy Ghost is available to each one of us during our journey through mortality. As we take “the Holy Spirit for [our] guide” we will not be deceived (D&C 45:57). In addition, we have holy temples which grace the earth as sacred places of worship—holy sanctuaries where revelation and divine guidance may be expected.
I testify that the Lord has prepared means and has provided lights in the wilderness, and that as we keep his commandments we are led in our individual journeys toward the promised land (1 Nephi 17:13). The Lord does not only lead great prophets like Abraham, Nephi, or Joseph Smith. I bear my witness that as ordinary members trying our best, He will lead us as well. As we turn to the Lord, exercise faith, and are obedient, we too will be led in the wilderness. The Holy Ghost and the temple are sacred gifts which will bless our lives and which are specifically designed to be a means and light to help us navigate the important decisions in each of our lives. I so testify.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Introduction: Scott Newman
I’ve known Brother Angerhofer now for a number of years, and can honestly say that he is one of the many attorneys that I enjoy. That is a true statement. He joined the BYU Office of the General Counsel in 2001. He is a graduate—now listen to this—of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, so he says he keeps that quiet down there in Provo. While he was at the University of Utah law school, he was a William H. Leary Scholar. He also holds master’s degree—Sister Robbins, you will like this—in business administration and library information science, and dual bachelor’s degrees in classics with a Latin emphasis and German, from Brigham Young University. So very diverse. In his day job, he advises BYU and LDS Business College on general legal issues. In addition, his legal practice focuses heavily on intellectual property, data privacy, cyber security, export control laws, and the licensing of university-developed technologies.
Prior to doing what he does now, he was a senior librarian at the Harold B. Lee Library on the BYU campus, where he worked with rare books and early printed materials. I tried to get something out of his wife, a bit more personal on what he likes to do, and he does like the outdoors and backpacking. He is heading out next week to the high Uintas with three of his children. He served a mission in Zurich, Switzerland. He also serves as a counselor in his ward bishopric.
He is married to the former Rebecca Bateman. They live in Highland and have eight children. We are excited to have him with us today and I’m sure his message will be of great import to all of us.