Looking back on the answers I've laid out to many questions that I've asked in the past, I see gaps and holes in thoughts I started but never finished. One particular instance I want to emphasize in this post is on the parable of the Ten Virgins.
I remember reading the parable of the Ten Virgins for one of the first talks I ever prepared. It instilled the fear of God in me like teachers and lesson manuals never really could when I was a teenage convert. The thought of Christ standing before me in a doorway and saying "I know you not," then shutting it in my face--it causes me great distress to think of it even now. It was terrifying and sobering, and it made a lasting impression on me.
I could never give the Savior a reason to do that to me--not EVER. That was my sentiment, and the way in which I've tried to live up to it has brought me both repentance and regret.
On my jounal page for this parable, I absentmindedly doodled 10 young women during a Sacrament Meeting. I then assigned them virtues, and I thought about those virtues as being virgins. In the last days, many virtues and standards would fall, and it wasn't just a matter of principle. When principles die, young ladies perish--and I don't know that my doodles fully developed that thought for me.
But this parable illustrates my fear--making one foolish assumption based on inexperience, and living in darkness as a disappointment because of it. This thought goes beyond sobriety. I've experienced a lot of pain and anxiety because of these four words, four fears: "I know you not."
When I arrived at this page in my purple book, I knew something was missing. Something was wrong. I wasn't sure what, so I began to investigate everything the scriptures had to teach about the parable of the Ten Virgins. It wasn't long before I came across this verse:
And now, behold, I say unto you, it shall not be given unto you to know any further concerning this chapter, until the New Testament be translated, and in it all these things shall be made known.
D&C 45: 60
This verse directly followed some brief comments from the Prophet Joseph Smith on the parable of the Ten Virgins, so I followed the breadcrumb trail to my copy of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible.
What I found made my breath catch in my throat, and tears burn in my eyes.
Joseph Smith only changed one verse, which then changes the meaning of the whole story.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, Ye know me not.
JST Matthew 25: 11
Reading this now, I see years of unnecessary heartbreak I have experienced because I believed a contradiction instead of the truth. I didn't understand the lesson of this scripture because the truth wasn't there to be found.
The foolish virgins were not women of sincere faith who honestly do try, and through delays, setbacks, and honest mistakes show up at the door, late, with an empty lamp--perhaps because they spilled it in their haste to get to the Bridegroom. I think we sometimes picture the wise virgins as being perfectly poised, problemless women who look absolutely stunning, without so much of a hair out of place. Surely they must show up early and have no impediments at all, and we pale in comparison as we struggle to be like that.
I'm learning not to believe this. Like many women, I am a recovering perfectionist. I have to give myself permission to fail, trusting that the weight of my world is not entirely on my shoulders. The light by which I'm led does not depend entirely on the lamp in my hand.
That thought is liberating to my soul. I praise God for that truth, seeing how the Restoration continues to make all the difference in my life.
The foolish virgins are the ones who show up at the marriage of the Lamb, see Him at the door, and do not recognize Him at all. They're the ones who cared more about the wedding than the reason for the wedding. I can almost see them looking over His shoulder or under His arm, wondering when this doorkeeper will step out of their way. They smell the food, they hear the laughter, and their own pleasure and joy is the only thing on their mind.
Meanwhile, they're ignoring the great Bridegroom--the one who has cared for them and loved them all of their lives. The one who watched over them and blessed them so carefully, drop by drop coming from His sacrifice, His pain. He did everything He could to bring them to His wedding. He told them where to go and what to bring--even a lamp, as an indicator that His Coming would be in the nighttime.
But even beyond that temporal usefulness, He was trying to help them understand His role in their lives. Every illuminating experience is provided for by the Atonement, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The lamp represents the state of their repentance--the ultimate measure of their dedication to the gospel. These were those who, at the end of the day, did not come to know Christ with all their effort.
They had not endured to the End--for who or what else is our end, if not Christ?
Their hair might be perfect. Their clothes might be clean and very expensive. All their friends, family, and neighbors may be inside. They might be hungry and afraid of the dark. But in the end, necessity and effort to be clean had not made them good. Preparation had not led to worship, which left them unprepared to meet the Holy One of Israel.
The wise virgins, however, find their joy in the Lord. Their personal interaction with Christ is what makes them wise, and prepares them for the day of judgment. If we love God, truly cherish Him with all our hearts, our weaknesses and imperfections cannot keep us from His presence. In Christ's own words:
41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
D&C 50: 41-42
These teachings work together to be one of the most liberating realizations in my experience as a Christian. From the moment I discovered the parable of the Ten Virgins, I've been afraid that I would do something that would require Christ to act as if He had never known me, to shut the door to me forever. But in the inspired corrections Joseph Smith made through the Holy Spirit, I have learned the truth. I've come to a greater understanding of what Christ is actually like.
Being reassured that He is merciful and compassionate, I have found relief from fear. Believing that He seeks for my well-being more than my punishment, I can approach Him more personally, and not a figment of someone else's imagination.
Latter-day Saints spend a lot of time talking about Restoration--that Jesus Christ gave power and authority to Joseph Smith to perform many marvelous works. The Restoration includes the bestowal of the priesthood, the translation of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, the founding of the Church itself, and the return of the ancient temple. But the Restoration wasn't just a series of events that took place in the 19th century, then ended. The Restoration continues in the lives of Saints everywhere who seek the truth instead of tradition, communion with Christ over sect and denomination.
This experience I've had with the Joseph Smith translation is not the first I've ever had--just the most recent. My ability to rely on that translation to bring me to Christ is a testimony to its truth and divinity--its role in that continuing Restoration. I would not have obtained the truth without the influence on the Prophet Joseph Smith. His critics can defame his name all they like--but doing so does not discredit or explain the powerful influence for good his life has been to millions of people. I would not have my faith in Almighty God if it weren't for the Prophet Joseph Smith. His example, his teachings, his contributions, as well as his genuine benevolence--these invited me to the path of discipleship. Remove his influence, and the transformation which has possessed me from the time of my conversion to Jesus Christ is undone.
Joseph Smith is not forgotten because his contribution is unforgettable. His goodness is attested in the faith of every person who came to Christ because of him. I am one of these--one soul who looked to Brother Joseph and found a teacher and a friend. His life is a rich story, which the empathy of my soul cleaves to, finding charity and benevolence which prove to me forever that he was a prophet.
Everything I am today, I owe to Jesus Christ. But I did not feel the roaring flame of the Spirit ignite until I discovered Joseph Smith and the Church he restored. I'm grateful to the Lord for the chance to make my stand, to keep my lamp burning brightly until my day of judgment comes. And if I am found wise, able to bow low before my Lord for the redemption of my life, I can never deny that Joseph Smith had a hand in it. Indeed, my faith in Christ depends on Joseph Smith being the prophet of the Restoration.
One of the most significant tests for the men and women living in the latter days is whether or not they will receive a witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Restoration he bore has been prophesied of all throughout the Bible, and many are kept from entering into that Restoration because they would not recognize it if they saw it. Even when we tell other people about it, they still may not recognize the importance of what we share.
Knowing the gospel is only the first step for members of the Church. May we be willing to recognize the value and power of what the Lord has given us. May we be willing to share the gospel--not just the Church--with people in such a way that they can recognize what it is and why it matters. As we do so, we will be blessed with a great ability to come to the Savior, recognizing Him and the great love He has for us. Our lives will be inspired, and our influence will change the world for the better for generations to come.
I bear that witness, nothing doubting, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.