Rocks, Light, and the Calling of a Prophet
One of my favorite stories from the Book of Mormon is when the brother of Jared asks God for light in the ships that the Jaredites use to cross the ocean. The brother of Jared is a righteous man and has been obedient, but his request for light (a need directly created by the style of boat that God directed to be made) is turned back on him. God basically responds, “Yeah, you’ve got a real problem there. What do you think you should do?” Instead of just giving an answer, God lets the brother of Jared work it out and gives divine blessing to the solution the brother of Jared finds.
I’ve been thinking about this story over the past couple of weeks as I’ve pondered the calling of a new prophet. The Mormon process seems to be both magical and bureaucratic: God chooses the new prophet, but it also happens to always be the man who has been an apostle the longest. Claiming both of things creates some theologically difficult questions: Does God kill off people to get his chosen man in place? When did something so mystical become so procedural? Is bureaucracy God’s real method of moving through our world?
I’ve been diving in deep with these questions, trying to see the divine that lies underneath the traditional answer. What emerges? My answer, for now, is that I think God doesn’t really care who becomes prophet, as long as it’s someone who is earnestly trying to serve. Our own Bible Dictionary tells us that “a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost,” a remarkably democratic definition of a spiritual leader. The story of the brother of Jared teaches us that sometimes God lets us work out our own answer and then simply accepts whatever we come up with. I suspect that as humans struggled to find an answer for how to choose a new prophet, they came up with a bureaucratic system that is simple and clear in a moment when the people need simpleness and clarity and God said, “Okay, that works for me if it works for you.” I think it could have been different. There could have been another right answer. We could have ended up with someone else.
This doesn’t mean, by any means, that it’s not divine. In fact, for me, it makes me more grateful than ever for a God who bestows grace on broken, flawed humans. Because the idea that God would accept our offering of a prophet, would be willing to receive a human answer to a question and give divine blessing on it, that idea is powerful. That’s where I see an expansive, loving, intelligent being emerge from our human structures. God touches that bit of bureaucracy and makes it give light, allowing us comfort and help as we make our voyage.
We see through the glass darkly. In our search for God, we create rules and policies and procedures. Sometimes, as we fumble around, God smiles upon us and accepts our offering. When that happens, we assume that it came directly from God and that the system or policy is in itself divine. With just a few omissions to the story, the brother of Jared’s rocks could look very different: without the knowledge that God sends the brother of Jared away the first time to figure out the answer himself, the use of rocks could look like God just clearly and directly choosing The One Single Right Way to Light the Ships. I love that we know differently. We know that the miracle isn’t that God spelled out exactly how to do it, but that God takes Jared’s simple rocks and makes them holy. It’s an act of love to so graciously accept a flawed gift. And sometimes, in that moment of God turning stones into light, we see the finger of the divine.