On Covenanting with the Lord

Poor Wayfaring Man

The “Covenanting with the Lord” program, discussed in the previous post, is interesting to me because it puts to the test the promises of the Lord found in LDS scripture, and the beliefs of the mainstream LDS Church regarding those promises. It is anchored in the concept of testimony, relying on a person’s ability to discern the promptings of the Holy Ghost to come up with solutions to a given problem. Once a solution is found, especially if it requires divine intervention, it is presented to the Lord for ratification (and miracles).

A very popular LDS scriptural example of this process is found in the Book of Mormon, in the story of a man called “the brother of Jared”, who lived at the time the Tower of Babel was built, and who was commanded by God to build a fleet of submersible ships to cross the ocean. The problem was that no light could reach the inside of the ships, and windows couldn’t be installed. The brother of Jared climbed a mountain and talked to the Lord about it :

23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For 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.

25 …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?

See Book of Ether 2:23, 25

The brother of Jared then set out to answer the Lord’s question. His solution was to melt a rock (don’t ask me how) into 16 small stones that were as transparent as glass and ask the Lord to touch them and make them glow. The Lord obliged, and Jared had his solution to the problem :

2 For it came to pass after the Lord had prepared the stones which the brother of Jared had carried up into the mount, the brother of Jared came down out of the mount, and he did put forth the stones into the vessels which were prepared, one in each end thereof; and behold, they did give light unto the vessels.

3 And thus the Lord caused stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women, and children, that they might not cross the great waters in darkness.

See Ether 6:2-3

Among Mormons, the brother of Jared story is considered a classic example of working with the Lord–and invoking his divine power–to solve real-world problems that might normally impede a person from doing the Lord’s will. The Covenanting with the Lord concept applies that process to missionary work in a fairly straightforward way. It should have worked–and I had a testimony that it would work, and was right for me–but it didn’t.

My Covenanting with the Lord missionary experience is not unique; it has been implemented in many missions, with similar results. Despite its universally spotty success record, the principles behind it are solid, mainstream Mormon beliefs about God’s way of working with people, so it is very hard for Mormons to reject. See, for example, this By Common Consent blog post, in which the author acknowledges the general failure of the concept in LDS missionary work, yet blames only abusive and “destructive” implementation (rather than a problem with the underlying concepts) for the failure, and expresses the belief that “when done out of personal volition [the program] does work”.

I don’t know precisely what he means by “personal volition”, but when I covenanted with the Lord, I felt like I was trying the program of my own volition (despite there being obvious external pressure to get results). I think I employed as much of my own volition as the brother of Jared did when all of his friends’ and family’s futures depended on him solving their lighting problem. I was a willing participant in the process.

Several commenters to the BCC blog post go further than the original poster does in trying to marginalize the Covenanting with the Lord concept. Some dismiss the entire premise and attack (criticize!) the judgment of the mission presidents and General Authorities of the Church who allow the program to resurface from time to time. The general critique is that “you can’t tell the Lord what to do”. Another recent BCC blog post adopts the pejorative descriptor “manipulationist” for people who subscribe to this mainstream LDS concept. The critique, however, misapprehends how the concept works–at least as I experienced it. The idea is to confirm, through the Holy Ghost, what criteria the Lord would have you follow in order to bind him in a personal covenant. Thus, the Lord isn’t being told what to do, rather, he is dictating the terms in essentially the same way that he does through any other divine covenanting process found in Mormonism.

Covenanting with the Lord is not “manipulation” of God, it is a test of the Mormon concept of the Holy Ghost as the messenger of God, and a person’s ability to communicate with the Holy Ghost. It tests the LDS concept of personal communication with God. That is the most interesting part to me.


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