Today’s post comes from The Teacher. Section 8 of the Doctrine & Covenants refers to “another gift” Olivery Cowdery had, called at different times “the gift of Aaron” or “the rod of nature.” Several commentators recognize this gift as related to Oliver’s use of a divining rod.
If you interpret Oliver’s “gift of Aaron” in Section 8 as a divining rod, it makes for some interesting reading. Oliver’s gift has told him many things (verse 6). The gift only works for Oliver because of the power of God (verse 7). If he has faith in his gift, he will use it to do marvelous things (verse 8). Oliver’s gift is the work of God (id.).
When I first learned of what “the gift of Aaron” might be, my initial reaction was that it was, well, odd. I mean, a divining rod? I knew about Joseph Smith and folk magic, but I sort of put the idea aside. Then, I read the heading for Section 11 which says, “This revelation was received through the Urim and Thummim in answer to Joseph’s supplication and inquiry.” And I thought, “Whoa.”
Faithful Mormons accpet that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. He used the Urim and Thummim to receive revelations that became scriptural passages of the Doctrine & Covenants. Is a divining rod any stranger than a Urim and Thummim? At least I have seen a divining rod. I have heard people talk about divining rods. I have never seen a Urim and Thummim. And that got me thinking about revelation.
Divining rods and seer stones and interpreters are certainly outside our daily experience, and it is easy to think them odd. But weren’t they just aids that Joseph (and perhaps Oliver) used for a while in seeking inspiration and revelation from God? Don’t we all use tangible objects to help us believe and seek God’s guidance?
I have long thought that part of the power of ordinances is their tangibility. You know precisely when you were immersed in water, and that meant something to you. You know when hands are placed upon your head. When you eat the bread and drink the water, it is a signal to your soul (the tangible and the intangible part) that you are seeking for God’s spirit. When I think about it, I see lots of examples of tangibility as an aid to revelation and faith.
Easton, a commenter at Gospel Doctrine Underground, raised a couple of interesting ideas. He referred to a talk by Dallin Oaks who said that reading the scriptures can be like a Urim and Thummim. By that, Elder Oads meant that we can receive revelation through scripture study, not just on the topic we are reading about, but on any topic. Easton also referred to a statement by Brigham Young that Joseph Smith had taught that everyone could and should have their own seer stone. I don’t know if Joseph was speaking literally, but I think we all use tangible things to seek revelation. The temple might be the ultimate example. Among other things, don’t lots of people who really need revelation and guidance go to the temple because they believe being in a sacred place, a building, will help them find it?
I guess it is natural to think that things outside our experience, like the Urim and Thummim and seer stones, are kind of strange. But we have a wealth of tangibility that Joseph and Oliver did not have: sacrament emblems blessed by the priesthood, the laying on of hands, celestial rooms. All these things help us find inspiration and direction from God. Maybe God just finds ways to work through the tools we have.
What do you think? Can tangible things help us get revelation? Do you have a “seer stone”? What is it?