Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 45

Rending the Veil of Unbelief

The Brother of Jared

One of the greatest prophets in the Book of Mormon goes unnamed in the record that documents his remarkable life. He is identified only as "the brother of Jared." Yet the revelation that unfolded before his eyes was so extraordinary that his life and legacy have become synonymous with bold, consummate, perfect faith.

In the dispersion from the Tower of Babel, the people of Jared arrived at "that great sea which divideth the lands," where they pitched their tents, awaiting further revelation about crossing the mighty ocean. For four years they awaited divine direction, but apparently they waited too casually, without supplication and exertion. Then came this remarkable encounter: "The Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord."

It is difficult to imagine what a three-hour rebuke from the Lord might be like, but the brother of Jared endured it. With immediate repentance and prayer, this prophet again sought guidance for the journey they had been assigned and those who were to pursue it. God accepted his repentance and lovingly gave further direction for their crucial mission.

For their oceanic crossing, these families and their flocks would need seaworthy crafts similar to the barges they had constructed for earlier water travel—small, light, dish-shaped vessels identical in design above and beneath so they were capable of staying afloat even if overturned by the waves. These "exceedingly tight" crafts were obviously of unprecedented design and capability, made under the direction of him who rules the seas and the winds to the end that the vessels might travel with the "lightness of a fowl upon the water."

As miraculously designed and meticulously constructed as they were, these ships had one major, seemingly insoluble limitation. Such a tight, seaworthy design provided no way to admit light for the seafarers.

"The brother of Jared . . . cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"

Then came an extraordinary and unexpected response from the creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are, he who boldly declared to Abraham, "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?"

"And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?" Then, as if such a disarming inquiry from omnipotent Deity were not enough, the Lord proceeded to articulate the very problems that the brother of Jared knew only too well. He said, "Behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.

"For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. . . .

"Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?"

Clearly the brother of Jared was being tested. God had done his part. Unique, resolutely seaworthy ships for crossing the ocean had been provided. The brilliant engineering had been done. The hard part of the construction project was over. Now the Lord wanted to know what the brother of Jared would do about incidentals.

After what was undoubtedly a great deal of soul-searching, the brother of Jared came before the Lord—perhaps hesitantly but not empty-handed. In a clearly apologetic tone, he said, "Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; . . . O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock."

Things. The brother of Jared hardly knew what to call them. Rocks undoubtedly did not sound very inspiring. Here, standing next to the Lord's magnificent handiwork, the impeccably designed and marvelously unique seagoing barges, the brother of Jared offered for his contribution rocks. As he eyed the sleek ships the Lord had provided, it was a moment of genuine humility.

He hurried on: "And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.

"Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men."

For all of his self-abasement, the faith of the brother of Jared was immediately apparent—in fact, we might better say transparent in light of the purpose for which the stones would be used. Obviously Jehovah found something striking in the childlike innocence and fervor of this man's faith. "Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this." In a sense there may be no more powerful expression of faith spoken in scripture. It is almost as if the brother of Jared was encouraging God, emboldening him, reassuring him. Not "Behold, O Lord, I am sure thou canst do this." Not "Behold, O Lord, thou hast done many greater things than this." However uncertain the prophet was about his own ability, he had no uncertainty about God's power. This was nothing but a single, assertive declaration with no hint of vacillation. It was encouragement to him who needs no encouragement but who surely must have been touched by it. "Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this."

What happened next ranks among the greatest moments in recorded history, surely among the greatest moments in recorded faith. It established the brother of Jared among the greatest of God's prophets forever. As the Lord reached forth to touch the stones one by one with his finger—an action coming in undeniable response to the commanding faith of this man—"the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear."

The Lord, seeing the brother of Jared fall to the earth, commanded him to rise and asked, "Why hast thou fallen?" The reply: "I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood."

Then came this marvelous declaration from the Lord: "Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and 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. Sawest thou more than this?"

The brother of Jared answered, "Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me." Following this remarkable exchange and prior to the full revelation to come, the Lord confronted the brother of Jared's faith one more time with a most intriguing question: "Believest thou the words which I shall speak?" he asked him. Not "Believest thou the words which I have already spoken" but a much more rigorous request: "Believest thou the words which I shall speak?"

Preparatory faith is formed by experiences in the past—by the known, which provides a basis for belief. But redemptive faith must often be exercised toward experiences in the future—the unknown, which provides an opportunity for the miraculous. Exacting faith, mountain-moving faith, faith like that of the brother of Jared, precedes the miracle and the knowledge. He had to believe before God spoke. He had to act before the ability to complete that action was apparent. He had to commit to the complete experience in advance of even the first segment of its realization. Faith is to agree unconditionally—and in advance— to whatever conditions God may require in both the near and distant future.

The brother of Jared's faith was complete. Committing to the words God would yet speak, he answered, "Yea, Lord."

Then the Lord removed the veil from the eyes of the brother of Jared and came into full view of this incomparably faithful man.

"Behold," he said, "I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.

"And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after my own image.

"Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after 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."

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." The 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?" Yet 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." God'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."

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. And 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." We 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," the same scriptural phrase used to describe Enoch's relationship with the Lord.

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."

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," and Moroni said that Christ revealed himself in this instance "in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites." Some 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." Moroni also affirmed this, saying, "Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit."

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."

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.

Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, 13-396.

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