*Okay, here’s the scoop. I’m back. I’ve had an angry infection that wouldn’t quit and my husband and I have attended three funerals in two weeks. So I’ve allowed myself to rest. But I’ve dusted off the ole computer and I’m ready to get this going again. Thanks for sticking with me, I love your face.*
So, three funerals. Two were from suicide and one was from cancer, all were too young. It has been heartbreaking. So, first off, if you (or someone you know) struggle with suicidal thoughts, please get help. Right now. The wife of the friend who died from suicide put it this way, “You are loved and these irrational decisions can’t be taken back. Stay with the people you love and let them love you. Believe what they say. YOU ARE IRREPLACEABLE. 💕”
In the past few weeks, I’ve had my dress soaked in tears by someone desperately heartbroken. I’ve watched another display their emotions with anger and fists in the air. I’ve seen others bewildered, unsure what to do with the incredible load of grief and sorrow suddenly upon their shoulders. Emotions have surfaced from the stage 4 cancer diagnosis that my husband received not even 2 years ago (he is now cancer free).
So I’ve thought a lot about what I can do to help. When hard things happen to people you love, you wish you could take the pain away from them. But the reality is that there is only one person that can do that and that is the Savior. But we should certainly help.
Elder Holland’s talk left me absolutely reeling last night after conference. The picture above was on my mind as he spoke. Elder Holland pleaded:
“We are to remember, in as personal a way as possible, that Christ died from a heart broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows of the human family … There’s no shortage of suffering in this world, inside the church and out. So look in any direction and you’ll find someone whose pain is seeming too heavy to bear and whose heartache seems never apparently to end. One way to always remember Him would be to join the Great Physician in His never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught … May we bring to the sacramental altar more tears for His sorrow and more pain at His grief.”
We talk so much about the suffering of Jesus while in mortality which is, of course, appropriate. I feel silly to admit that I have never truly considered how much He suffers continually by the incomprehensible burden of the human family. The pictures of yoked oxen from our perspective is a beautiful symbolic representation of what the Savior does for us by sharing our individual burdens. And He absolutely does. But I’m realizing that from His perspective, the picture would probably be more accurate if billions of oxen were yoked to Him.
So the question is what I can offer as part of my own personal sacrifice to the Savior to help ease His “never-ending task of lifting the load from those who are burdened and relieving the pain of those who are distraught?”
My degree is in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, with an emphasis in Hebrew Studies and a minor in English. While I often wonder and joke about why I couldn’t have gotten a degree in nursing (or anything marketable to the job world), I will always consider my time at BYU studying under some of the most brilliant Bible scholars, historians, and Hebraists as one of the great privileges of my life. I’ve been trained well in literature, ancient history, and how to read ancient scripture. I can at least offer some of what I’ve learned to the world and hopefully it can help someone, somewhere find the scriptures less intimidating.
I was not born a “scriptorian” nor did I even know much about the Bible other than the Old Testament was written Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. I have spent years learning and will continue to learn, pray, and seek the inspiration of the Spirit to educate me. I’m here to tell you that consistent, diligent effort in studying the scriptures is worthwhile, life-changing, and exciting.
So I’m going to take a detour from Come, Follow Me for a minute. I want to talk about some concepts that have changed how I read and appreciate the scriptures now, rather than wait to try to work them into a Come, Follow Me lesson. The subjects below are not yet complete, but I will keep updating. You can find the subjects here once they are all completed.
If symbolism isn’t something that is regularly on your mind as you read the scriptures or attend the temple, it absolutely should be. Learning more about symbolism is probably THE BIGGEST thing that has changed my understanding about the scriptures, Heavenly Father, and the Savior.
The following are quotes and scriptures to help with this concept:
Elder Orson F. Whitney: “The Universe is built on symbols, lifting our thoughts from man to God, from earth to heaven, from time to eternity . . . God teaches with symbols; it is His favorite way of teaching.” (“Latter-day Saint Ideals and Institutions,” Improvement Era 30 [August 1927] 861).
Moses 6:63: “And behold, all things have their likeness and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
2 Nephi 11:4: “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.“
“We can’t comprehend the things of God by ourselves. We need His Spirit to teach us. Symbols help with this spiritual communication. Through symbols, the Lord forges a link with us by using the things of this earth to represent the things of heaven. He has given us revelations, prophecies, teachings, ordinances, and ceremonies filled with symbols that can give us spiritual insights if we are prepared to receive them.” David A. Edwards, New Era, February 2007, 10.
The Lord through His prophets used a great number of symbols, types, and shadows to provide insight into the atonement. The prophets drew on the natural world, including things in the heavens, geographical sites, and the plant and animal kingdom; everyday clothing and sacred vestments; civil and religious positions; building and architectural components; common women and men, as well as prophets, priests, and kings; ordinances both ancient and modern; historical events; cities; such ordinary things as colors, liquids, numbers, and foods; and many other things … Why are the types and symbols of the atonement ever present? Because the Father wanted to manifest His Son’s atonement clearly and time and again to His children who seek to know Him.” Symbols & Shadows: Unlocking a Deeper Understanding of the Atonement by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry
Gerald N. Lund: “It is our privilege and blessing to learn to understand the similitudes and images, the symbols and metaphors designed by a wise and loving Father to more effectively teach his children. The imagery of the prophets was meant to be understood by the faithful and those who search his word with diligence. If we pay the necessary price, the writings that were so filled with life and power when first uttered by these inspired men can and will once again be filled with life and enter with great power into our minds and hearts.”
“Much of the teaching relating to the deeper spiritual things in the Church, particularly in the temple, is symbolic.” (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 82; emphasis added).
“Each temple is a house of learning. There we are taught in the master’s way. His way differs from modes of others. His way is ancient and rich with symbolism. We can learn much by pondering the reality for which each symbol stands. The teachings of the temple are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. They are understood by the humble, yet they can excite the intellect of the brightest minds. … The basis for every temple ordinance and covenant—the heart of the plan of salvation—is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Every activity, every lesson, all we do in the Church, point to the Lord and His holy house. Our efforts to proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead all lead to the temple” (Russell M. Nelson, “Personal Preparation for Temple Blessings,” Ensign May 2001, 33; emphasis added)
“Before going to the temple for the first time, or even after many times, it may help you to realize that the teaching of the temples is done in symbolic fashion. The Lord, the Master Teacher, gave much of His instruction in this way . . . Have you ever wondered why it is that many patrons of the temple can go session after session, week after week, month after month, year after year, and never become bored or tired or resistant? At the end of that time they are quite as anxious to go as they were in their beginning days. That is a testimony indeed. By that time, you might imagine, they could have the entire endowment memorized. Yes, they could, and I suppose some of them do, particularly those who are temple workers. How, then, could they continue to learn? The answer to that lies in the fact that the teaching of the temple is symbolic. As we grow and mature and learn from all of the experiences in life, the truths demonstrated in the temple in symbolic fashion take on a renewed meaning. The veil is drawn back a little more. Our knowledge and vision of the eternities expands. It is always refreshing . . . If you will go to the temple and remember that the teaching is symbolic you will never go in the proper spirit without coming away with your vision extended, feeling a little more exalted, with your knowledge increased as to things that are spiritual. The teaching plan is superb. It is inspired” (Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 38–39, 41; emphasis added).
SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE IN THE SCRIPTURES
As you read, look for the following literary devices. These methods are all signals to you from the author that there is a deeper, symbolic meaning to what you are reading.
*Note* As you seek to decipher meaning, here is a good rule of thumb: If you can interpret the section as teaching you about the Savior, then you’re on the right track. Your interpretation needs to be in line with what you already know about the Savior. If it doesn’t feel right, then pay attention to that and try again. (Sometimes the scriptures are weird. If you can’t render a meaning out of it, then let it just be weird and move along.) The meaning is most often to shed enlightenment on a characteristic or trait of the Savior. I had a professor teach about interpretation, “The answer is always Jesus.” And he’s right.
- Allegory – A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral one.
- Metaphor – Explains how one thing represents another. 3 Nephi 15:24: “Ye are my sheep”
- Similes – Explains how one thing is like another. Notice key words or phrases such as like, likened, as, as it were, and like unto. Mosiah 14:2 “Ye shall grow up as a tender plant”
- Figurative expressions
Additional resources on symbolism:
Symbols and Shadows: Unlocking a Deeper Understanding of the Atonement by Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry
Understanding Scriptural Symbols by Gerald N. Lund
All Things Testify of Him: Understanding Symbolism in the Scriptures by Janet Hadley Read