Sunday, July 1, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 1)

In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, readers are presented with a dream wherein is depicted a "large and spacious field". Within this field, there is a "straight and narrow" path leading to a tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy". Multitudes would begin to walk on the path, but invariably an "exceeding great mist of darkness" would arise, so that many of those walking on the path would wander off and get lost.

However, there was also a "rod of iron" that led to the tree. In fact, the description says the path "came along by the rod of iron".

How would you describe an iron rod like the one in this dream?

I might use adjectives like: strong, firm, steadfast, unerring, and unwavering. To someone walking on a path, but impeded by mists of darkness and the confusion of the masses, I would think a rod of iron would be a welcome sight. It would be something you could lean upon and trust to guide you. In the dream, there were multitudes who "caught hold" of the rod of iron, and by "clinging" to it or "continually holding fast" to it, they were able to arrive at the tree, despite the mists of darkness that covered the path. It appears that it was only those who attempted to walk on the path without holding on to the iron rod who wandered off and got lost. All those who held to the rod and allowed it to guide them arrived at the tree.

This dream uses powerful symbols to show the spiritual path upon which everyone alive is walking, whether they know it or not. Later in the Book of Mormon, we are given an interpretation of these elements:

the tree = "the love of God" (1 Nephi 11:21-22)
the mists of darkness =  "the temptations of the devil" (1 Nephi 12:17)
the rod of iron = "the word of God" (1 Nephi 11:25)

The tree is the obvious focal point of the scene in the dream. Many multitudes are laboring to arrive at the tree and partake of the fruit. Lehi desired that his whole family would come to the tree and partake. Yet, getting there is not easy. There are so many obstacles along the way, including other paths leading to unknown destinations, mists of darkness that cause you to get lost, a fountain and river of water where many are drowned, and a great and spacious building filled with people mocking, deriding, and attempting to mislead those on the path.

Imagine being an individual in the multitude and being subject to the uncertainty caused by the cacophony of voices and the darkness. Wouldn’t this be a frightening place to be?

Amidst all of this, the one thing that stands out to me is the iron rod. Despite all the chaos, it is the one thing that appears to be solid, grounded, firm, and steadfast. It doesn’t yield to criticism, get confused, or change course. It will not discriminate against those who hold onto it. It can be trusted.

So, in our time, place, and culture, how do we identify the iron rod? What is it? How do we lay hold upon it? Where does one go to find the word of God? It may seem obvious at first, but my experiences have shown me it is not. In fact, this is a topic that has troubled me for a long time. I want to share what I have recently learned that has changed the way I look at this dream and my life.

Until recently, my understanding was that there were two places where one could find the word of God (and thus, lay hold on the iron rod).
  1. In the scriptures or standard works, or
  2. From revelation (either personal or through an accepted source, such as a prophet)
In future posts, I would like to examine these two candidates and see whether they do indeed provide the same unwavering and reliable support to humble followers of the path as would naturally occur with an iron rod.

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