Understanding the Brother of Jared's Experience
Before examining the doctrinal truths taught in this divine encounter, it will be useful to note two seemingly problematic issues here, issues that seem to have reasonable and acceptable resolutions.
The first consideration rises from two questions the Lord asked the brother of Jared: "Why hast thou fallen?" and "Sawest thou more than this?" It is a basic premise of Latter-day Saint theology that God "knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." 15The scriptures, both ancient and modern, are replete with this assertion of omniscience. Nevertheless, God has frequently asked questions of mortals, usually as a way to test their faith, measure their honesty, or develop their knowledge.
For example, he called to Adam in the garden of Eden, "Where art thou?" and he later asked Eve, "What is this that thou hast done?" 16Yet an omniscient Parent clearly knew the answer to both questions, for he could see where Adam was, and he had watched what Eve had done. Obviously the questions were for the children's sake, giving Adam and Eve the responsibility to reply honestly.
Later, in trying Abraham's faith, God would repeatedly call out about Abraham's whereabouts, to which the faithful patriarch would answer, "Here am I." 17God's purpose was not to obtain information he already knew but to reaffirm Abraham's fixed faith in confronting the most difficult of all parental tests. Such questions are frequently used by God, particularly in assessing faith, honesty, and the full measure of agency, allowing his children the freedom and opportunity to express themselves as revealingly as they wish, even though God knows the answer to his own and all other questions.
The second issue that requires brief comment stems from the Lord's exclamation "Never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger." And later, "Never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." 18
The potential for confusion here comes with the realization that many (and perhaps all) of the major prophets living prior to the brother of Jared had seen God. How, then, do we account for the Lord's declaration? Adam's face-to-face conversations with God in the garden of Eden can be exempted because of the paradisiacal, pre-fallen state of that setting and relationship. Furthermore, other prophets' visions of God, such as those of Moses and Isaiah in the Bible, or Nephi and Jacob in the Book of Mormon, can also be answered because they came after this "never before" experience of the brother of Jared.
But before the time of the brother of Jared, the Lord did appear to Adam and "the residue of his posterity who were righteous" in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman three years before Adam's death. 19And we are left with Enoch, who said explicitly, "I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face." 20We assume that other prophets between the Fall and the Tower of Babel saw God in a similar manner, including Noah, who "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" and "walked with God," 21the same scriptural phrase used to describe Enoch's relationship with the Lord. 22
This issue has been much discussed by Latter-day Saint writers, and there are several possible explanations, any one—or all—of which may cast light upon the larger truth of this passage. Nevertheless, without additional revelation or commentary on the matter, any conjecture is only that and as such is inadequate and incomplete.
One possibility is that this is simply a comment made in the context of one dispensation and as such applies only to the people of Jared and Jaredite prophets—that Jehovah had never before revealed himself to one of their seers and revelators. Obviously this theory has severe limitations when measured against such phrases as "never before" and "never has man." Furthermore, we quickly realize that Jared and his brother are the fathers of their dispensation, the very first to whom God could have revealed himself in their era.
Another suggestion is that the reference to "man" is the key to this passage, suggesting that the Lord had never revealed himself to the unsanctified, to the nonbeliever, to temporal, earthy, natural man. The implication is that only those who have put off the natural man, only those who are untainted by the world—in short, the sanctified (such as Adam, Enoch, and now the brother of Jared)—are entitled to this privilege.
Some believe that the Lord meant he had never before revealed himself to man in that degree or to that extent. This theory suggests that divine appearances to earlier prophets had not been with the same "fulness," that never before had the veil been lifted to give such a complete revelation of Christ's nature and being.
A further possibility is that this is the first time Jehovah had appeared and identified himself as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with the interpretation of the passage being "never have I showed myself [as Jesus Christ] unto man whom I have created." That possibility is reinforced by one way of reading Moroni's later editorial comment: "Having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus." 23
Yet another interpretation of this passage is that the faith of the brother of Jared was so great he saw not only the spirit finger and body of the premortal Jesus (which presumably many other prophets had also seen) but also some distinctly more revealing aspect of Christ's body of flesh, blood, and bone. Exactly what insight into the temporal nature of Christ's future body the brother of Jared could have had is not clear, but Jehovah did say to him, "Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood," 24and Moroni said that Christ revealed himself in this instance "in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites." 25Some have taken that to mean literally "the same body" the Nephites would see—a body of flesh and bone. A stronger position would suggest it was only the spiritual likeness of that future body. In emphasizing that this was a spiritual body being revealed and not some special precursor simulating flesh and bone, Jehovah said, "This body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit . . . and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh." 26Moroni also affirmed this, saying, "Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit." 27
A final explanation—and in terms of the brother of Jared's faith the most persuasive one—is that Christ was saying to the brother of Jared, "Never have I showed myself unto man in this manner, without my volition, driven solely by the faith of the beholder." As a rule, prophets are invited into the presence of the Lord, are bidden to enter his presence by him and only with his sanction. The brother of Jared, on the other hand, seems to have thrust himself through the veil, not as an unwelcome guest but perhaps technically as an uninvited one. Said Jehovah, "Never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. . . . Never has man believed in me as thou hast." Obviously the Lord himself was linking unprecedented faith with this unprecedented vision. If the vision itself was not unique, then it had to be the faith and how the vision was obtained that was so unparalleled. The only way that faith could be so remarkable was its ability to take the prophet, uninvited, where others had been able to go only with God's bidding.
That appears to be Moroni's understanding of the circumstance when he later wrote, "Because of the knowledge [which came as a result of faith] of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil. . . . Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus." 28
This may be one of those provocative examples (except that here it is a real experience and not hypothetical) a theologian might cite in a debate about God's power. Students of religion sometimes ask, "Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?" or "Can God hide an item so skillfully that he cannot find it?" Far more movingly and importantly one may ask here, "Is it possible to have faith so great that even God cannot resist it?" At first one is inclined to say that surely God could block such an experience if he wished to. But the text suggests otherwise: "This man . . . could not be kept from beholding within the veil. . . . He could not be kept from within the veil."
This may be an unprecedented case of a mortal man's desire, will, and purity so closely approaching the heavenly standard that God could not but honor his devotion. What a remarkable doctrinal statement about the power of a mortal's faith! And not an ethereal, unreachable, select mortal, either. This was a man who once forgot to call upon the Lord, one whose best ideas were sometimes focused on rocks, and one who doesn't even have a traditional name in the book that has immortalized his unprecedented experience. Given such faith, we should not be surprised that the Lord would show this prophet much, show him visions that would be relevant to the mission of all the Book of Mormon prophets and to the events of the latter-day dispensation in which the book would be received.