Gaining understanding of things the temple is trying to teach us takes some time and effort on our part. When it comes to the temple, at the onset in some ways, all of us are like Adam when he was commanded to offer sacrifices and did so for many days without understanding why (Moses 5:6). Eventually the Lord provided an explanation. As with so many things, timing is a crucial factor and we should trust in the Lord’s timing and purposes. Sometimes we are required to wait upon Him.
Having said that, however, other times our progress is stalled or slowed by our own actions or inaction. I believe there are at least 3 barriers to gaining full understanding of our temple endowment.
- Believing we aren’t meant to understand it here.
A few weeks ago, I was at a book signing. An older gentleman walked up to the table where I was seated, looked down at my book and read the title aloud: “Understanding Your Endowment”, he humphed disdainfully. He then proceeded to tell me that we just won’t understand the endowment in this life. I listened for a few minutes but then responded that I respectfully disagreed with him.
The temple endowment is given to us here, in this life. I believe it is meant to be understood here—not in some distant afterlife. While it may take some effort on our part to gain understanding, I don’t believe the Lord would have us remain in ignorance. If we will allow him, he will help us come to understanding.
As I expressed these thoughts, this man then asked if I worked in the temple. I responded affirmatively. He asked how long. I told him that I had been an ordinance worker for the past 8 years. He responded that he had been serving in the temple for 20 years. It seemed that in his mind his senior tenure settled the matter. He was right, and I was wrong.
Despite our differing views, he seemed a very good man and sincere in his belief. I don’t share this story to disparage him in any way, but simply to illustrate a belief that seems to be fairly widespread among church members. (To be honest, at one point in my life, I felt the same way.) Today, I completely reject such a notion. We are given the endowment in mortality. Why would it be given here if we weren’t meant to come to understand it while here in mortality? Don’t give up trying to get more out of your temple endowment with a shrug and the thought that it will all get explained in the hereafter. That attitude can deprive us of needed growth and experience that we could and should obtain here.
- Sometimes we think we know more than we actually do.
Another barrier to gaining knowledge is thinking that we understand more than we really do. We gain some insights. We learn a few things. And then pride creeps in. We may start to feel, “Yep, I’ve got things pretty much figured out.” Or “I sure understand this better than most others do.” Or, “I have the whole ceremony memorized.” Learning stops the minute this kind of spirit manifests in our lives. Pride prevents us from being teachable, and the search for greater light stops.
I sure don’t have all the answers. I am still learning from the endowment and appreciate times when someone shares an insight they’ve gained with me. They may see things differently or catch something that has eluded me. Many others have helped me along the way. I’m grateful for their sharing. At times I may disagree or reject their ideas but at least it causes me to reevaluate what I believe or know. I can testify that there are things the Lord can teach us through the endowment that four or five years ago I would never have even conceived of being contained there.
Five years ago, I was something of a spiritual plateau. I felt that I had obtained enough and just needed to press forward enduring. Fortunately, the Lord brought some things to my attention and brought a teacher into my life that helped me to learn more. Today, five years later my understanding has grown exponentially from where it was then. I started feeling pretty good about things again and then was told recently (a few months ago) by the Lord that “you still have a lot to learn”. I’m sure that is true. I still have many questions and things that I don’t yet understand.
The process of learning and growing is delicious and should be a lifelong pursuit for each of us no matter how much we have already gained. Though Abraham had great knowledge and understanding, he still desired even greater knowledge and to be a greater follow of righteousness (Abraham 1:2). The Lord is always willing to give us more. We need to remain open to receiving more.
The important thing is not capturing every little nuance of temple symbolism. (While an understanding of symbolism is helpful and even necessary, carried too far such things can become a distraction causing us to look beyond the mark and miss the point.) The important thing is actually implementing the endowment in our lives. As we go about seeking to do that, the Lord unfolds the meaning as we are prepared.
- We don’t ask good questions and then put in the effort to obtain answers.
The endowment ceremony concludes with us seeking further light and knowledge. That alone is or at least should be a testimony to each of us that the Lord intends to give us further light and knowledge. We should be seeking after it in our lives. One final barrier is that we don’t ask good questions. Generally the best questions for the Lord are those that really matter to each of us.
Children are naturally inquisitive with their endless questions. As adults we lose that and become more complacent. When it comes to the temple, we need to become as little children again and bring with us a sense of wonder and curiosity. Many of the future blog posts here will raise questions for you to consider.
James 1:5-6 applies to each one of us—not just Joseph Smith. We are all entitled to ask of God. The temple testifies of this truth as well. But we must also be willing, as was Joseph, to spend time studying, pondering and praying. Is it any wonder that the scriptures testify over and over: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.” (D&C 4:7)
If we will commit to the search and put in the effort, God will guide us and provide the answers we seek. We can and should (and I believe it is imperative upon each of us) come to truly understand the temple endowment.