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Sunday, October 12, 2014

07. Walking and Talking with God, Part 6: The Perfect Timing

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the sixth examining the phrase "obeyeth my voice".

In 1855, the large backlog of needy LDS converts awaiting passage from Europe and reduced tithing receipts at home persuaded Brigham Young to instruct that the "poor saints" sailing from Liverpool to New York to take the train to Iowa City, then "walk and draw their luggage" overland to Utah (link).

Many of these LDS converts came from factory towns in Great Britain and Scandinavia.  Because they were too poor to purchase wagons and oxen, they piled their belongings onto handcarts and pushed them across the prairies.  Unfortunately, these emigrations were handicapped from the start:

  • Most people were not used to the strenuous work required to propel a loaded cart over hundreds of miles.
  • Carts were made of green wood, which easily split and broke as the pioneers pushed them across prairies and mountains. 
  • In the case of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, information (to Salt Lake City) that they were on their way either was never sent, never arrived or was misinterpreted.  Promised resupplies never materialized on the assumption that "whatever more emigrants there might be would be detained in the East until the next season -- a matter that President Young later made clear." (Howard A. Christy, "Weather Disaster And Responsibility -- An Essay On The Willie and Martin Handcart Story", BYU Studies, Vol. 37 No 1, 1997-98, p. 26;

In 1856, five such handcart companies were organized to make the 1,300-mile trip on foot from the western railroad terminus at Iowa City to Salt Lake City (link):

The first two companies (totaling 486 immigrants pulling 96 handcarts) arrived safely in Salt Lake City on September 26, 1856. They accomplished the trek in under sixteen weeks.  The third company, and presumably the last of the season (320 persons pulling 64 handcarts), arrived on October 2.

The two remaining companies started dangerously late.  James G. Willie's left Iowa City on July 15, crossed Iowa to Florence (Omaha), Nebraska, then, after a week in Florence, headed out onto the plains.  Edward Martin's company departed Florence on August 25.

As we well know, leaving this late was an ill-fated decision for both companies.  They were caught in brutal Wyoming and Utah mountain blizzards. The results: The Willie Company started with 404 people; about 68 (17%) died by the time the rescue parties arrived.  The Martin Company started with 576 people; over 145 (25%) died in their company before the rescue.

In my opinion, these tragic results didn't need to occur.  Melvin L. Bashore, a senior librarian in the Church History Library, found that among all Mormon handcart companies:

Why did those two companies incur such heavy losses?  In my opinion, they left too late. Brigham Young and the other members of the First Presidency had consistently pointed out that departure from what is now Omaha, Nebraska needed to happen by the end of May to safely make the journey. (Howard A. Christy, "Handcart Companies" in Daniel H. Ludlow, "Encyclopedia of Mormonism", Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 571–573; "Weather, Disaster and Responsibility" (see link above)).

In James Willie's case, right before his company's fateful departure, he promised that God would be with his company.  He scolded those who believed they were leaving too late in the year and felt that many would die along the way if they left that late.  He said they lacked faith, and put the late departure to a vote.  Most of the group responded in the affirmative.

"Time and Experience and Careful and Ponderous and Solemn Thoughts"

This post isn't about the decisions made by church or handcart leaders.  In the final analysis, every family had a choice to proceed to Utah late in the season or stay in Omaha (where most immigrants had no money, supplies or shelter).

Instead, it's a stark reminder of letting zeal and over-enthusiasm override common sense.

I don't think many of us have faced a situation where we had to cross 1,300 miles to safety.  However, in these last days, we are practically forced to discern and make increasingly complex doctrinal decisions.

Almost five months into his miserable and legally unjustifiable detention in the Liberty Jail, Joseph Smith penned a poignant letter to the Saints.  After counseling them to avoid pride and trifling conversations, he burst beyond the jail's walls with these expansive words:
"A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination be aware of be cause the things of God Are of deep import and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. thy mind O Man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search in to and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and Expand upon the broad considerations of Eternal Expanse, he must commune with God. how much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart, none but fools, will trifle, with the souls of men" (TPJS p. 137;
President Spencer W. Kimball echoed these thoughts when he said,
"Any intelligent man may learn what he wants to learn. He may acquire knowledge in any field, though it requires much thought and effort. It takes more than a decade to get a high school diploma; it takes an additional four years for most people to get a college degree; it takes nearly a quarter-century to become a great physician. Why, oh, why do people think they can fathom the most complex spiritual depths without the necessary experimental and laboratory work accompanied by compliance with the laws that govern it?" (Brigham Young University, September 6, 1977).

It's One Of The Virtues

As one friend stated,

"If you want to know all the mysteries of God, He is willing to reveal them. Not to the impatient, demanding and immature. But to those who develop a firm mind in every form of godliness, including patience, persistence, faith and sacrifice. (Moroni 7:30.)  These things are not won cheaply.  But they are won."

Hence, the Lord's counsel for us to "be still and know that I am God" (D&C 101:16) is more than just an admonition to shut up.  It is a millennia-proven strategy that instills patience, which in turn is an exercise in faith in the Lord's timing.

  • Joseph Smith received the First Vision.
  • Joseph F. Smith saw the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.
  • Nephi saw the Lord in vision.
  • Nephi (the son of Helaman) received his calling and election.
  • Abraham was promised children.
  • Anna and Simeon were promised they would behold the Lord's Messiah.

The common denominators?  These were not emergency situations, where a snap judgment was required.  The participants were careful, sober and solemn.  They deeply pondered and meditated on the things of God...not just for a few minutes, hours or a couple of days.  They unwaveringly waited on God.

Even Christ (who was "more intelligent than them all"; Abraham 3:19) learned and exercised patience (Heb. 5:8).  How are we qualified to know, better than the Lord, when a blessing should come?  How much would we learn if the Lord always responded to our self-absorbed timing and impatience?  What makes you think you are entitled to rush ahead without paying a similar price to develop the necessary patience in waiting on the Lord?

Timing always has been and always will be the domain of God.  Although there are many times when we may know what we must do, it is the Lord alone who decides when an assignment or task is to be performed, or a truth or mystery revealed.

We ask.  We seek.  We knock.  Then having done so, we put the concept, teaching or doctrine on a shelf, and wait for Him to lower it, if at all.  This is active waiting.  It is enduring well.

If He waited, how much more should we?
"I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.
And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord." (Psalms 40:1-3).