Saturday, July 1, 2017

Elder Orson F. Whitney on being honest seekers of truth

Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855-1931), a journalist, teacher, poet, and historian, was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1906 and served until his death in 1931 at age 75.
"I had a conversation with another would-be censor of our sacred books. He accosted me on the street with the question: 'Bishop Whitney, do you believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God?' 'I certainly do,’ said I. 'Well, can't God speak grammatically?' 'Of course he can.' 'Then why was this grammatical error left in the Book of Mormon?'—and he quoted it. 'Do you really want to know?' 'Yes,' he said. 'Well, I think that was left mere just to keep you out of the Church.'
"He seemed surprised: 'Doesn't God want me in his Church?' 'No,' I said; 'he only wants honest seekers after truth; and if you think more of a grammatical error than you do of your soul's salvation you are not fit for the kingdom of heaven, and the Lord doesn't want you.
"He was astonished. It was something he hadn't thought of. He felt much as Goliath did when the stone sank into his forehead—such a thing had never entered his head before."
- Orson F. Whitney, CR, April 4, 1926, pp. 34-5

I enjoyed this anecdote from Elder Whitney. I'm not sure what instance of "grammatical error" the man might have been referring to. Of course, there were many other answers that could have been given to the inquiry, related to the process of translation, the setting of the languages, and so on. But in his somewhat "cheeky" response Elder Whitney taught a lesson about sincerity and humility.

I have heard other speakers use the Goliath and stone reference in that way also. I wonder if Elder Whitney originated it, or if it had existed before? In any case, it's fun to see a 70-year-old apostle inject some good-natured humor into his remarks, but still teach an important lesson on the importance of our attitudes as we approach sacred things.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

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