Anyway, one of my favorite things was when I first got to work. I would climb up the back stairs of the Church History Library, reach the third floor, open the door, and turn left.
And there, on the far left wall, was one of my favorite paintings of the First Vision.
by Walter Rane
I love this picture for many reasons. I think what I love the most is the look in Joseph's face. That look of surprise, relief, and awe that is evident in his eyes. He had no idea what his question would bring. But I love how he looks straight up and is bathed in light--an answer after months and years of seeking. He looks up in wonder, never expecting that the greatest theophany since the New Testament would happen to him. He had faith that God would answer him, but Joseph did not know that Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, would appear to him to answer his heartfelt question and soothe his fears.
In Ukraine, there was a dear investigator who also loved this painting of the First Vision. "That's how I feel," he said. "I feel like that boy. Looking up, asking, but confused. Not sure what's going to happen next. But asking."
I think that's beautiful. Because when it comes down to it, the story and experience of the First Vision is our own. I'm not saying that each of us will--or that we even need to--see the Father and the Son in this lifetime. But I do believe that we have to find out for ourselves that God lives and that He loves us. We have to seek His face, because if we do not comprehend God, we cannot comprehend ourselves.
And in order to gain that light and knowledge, we have to seek. We have to seek, ask, and knock, and be willing to receive.
As a student of history, and especially as a student of Church history, I think a lot about the connections between faith and history. Some people think that it's not possible to combine faith, reason, and history--that no true historian can bring faith into her studies, and that history is godless and undermining to faith and testimony.
My study of history has strengthened my faith. Not because I blindly believe what I am taught or that I refuse to accept historical facts. Because it is important to be thoughtful when learning by study and by faith. But in all areas of study, it is important that we do not come from a place of assumption. To assume from a place of belief or disbelief is dangerous because the assumption of "Oh, I already know that," or, "There's no way that could have happened--it just doesn't work that way," leads to intellectual and spiritual pitfalls.
The body and spirit, heart and mind need to go together. To place one over the other leads to neglect and makes it so we miss out on beautiful insights. Assuming closes us off to finding truth, and it closes our hearts to empathy and understanding.
In matters of faith, reason, and history, it is important to seek rather to assume. Seeking requires action. It requires humility and going outside of your intellectual and spiritual comfort zone to ask questions . . . and to realize that there are some things that you might not ever understand. Not because the answers aren't there, but because our understanding or tools we have at the moment are inadequate. But we keep looking and keep seeking. Someday the answers will come.
A willing, seeking mind is the first step to receiving revelation from God. It is also the first step in learning--whether academically or spiritually. Just as Joseph Smith would not have received increased light and knowledge if he had not prepared himself to seek answers to his questions, we close ourselves off to more light, knowledge, and truth if we choose not to seek.
Seeking and faith go hand-in-hand. And something I have learned as I have tried to be a seeker of truth is the power of mercy and redemption. History is messy. It just is. It's not pretty. Church history is not pristine, either. Because history--any kind of history--deals with people. Imperfect, vain, clueless, scared, trying people. But, just because history is messy does not take away from those things that I have learned for myself to be true. Most importantly, I have learned about the absolute need for a Savior. We all need saving. We are a people in need of a Savior. His Atonement is real, and His work will go forth.
But we have to find that out for ourselves. It is an individual journey into the Sacred Grove. But the answers are there.
The question is whether or not we will choose to seek them.