3 Nephi 19:30-33 — LeGrand Baker — The Thoughts of the Heart

3 Nephi 19:30-33
30 And when Jesus had spoken these words he came again unto his disciples; and behold they did pray steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him; and he did smile upon them again; and behold they were white, even as Jesus.
31 And it came to pass that he went again a little way off and prayed unto the Father;
32 And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.
33 And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed.

In this extraordinary account, we seem to be watching multiple conversations going on at the same time —but not with the confusion or noise that would be evident if human voices were part of those conversations. The Twelve were praying “steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him; and he did smile upon them again.” If that were performed on the stage there wouldn’t be much action shown, but Jesus’s part of the conversation, which is described here simply as a smile, caused each of the Twelve to glow—“they were white, even as Jesus.” This describes an interaction between Jesus and each member of the quorum individually.

Without interrupting what was happening between him and his disciples, Jesus began to speak to his Father. The multitude heard and understood the words Jesus spoke, but the account suggests that what they heard was a stream of ideas rather than actual words. Mormon tells us:

32 And tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.
33 And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed.

This kind of communication can also be seen elsewhere in the scriptures. For example there was a conversation between Amulek, Alma and Zeezrom that noone else was privy to. Whatever was happening between the lawyer and the prophets, it convinced Zeezrom “that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy (Alma 12:7).”

Spoken words are cumbersome and often not explicit. They convey to the hearer his own understanding of their meaning rather than the understanding of the speaker. If the hearer and the speaker have the same or similar understandings, then there is useful communications. If not there can be hurt feelings where none was intended, promises to be broken when no promise was made, even encouragement when none was given. However, when words are spoken, and true communication happens because their meaning is transmitted to the listener by the power of the Holy Ghost, then there can be no such misunderstandings (D&C 50:22).

Communicating misinformation is a major shortcoming of spoken words, but perhaps a grater disadvantage is that spoken words get in the way of thought because they take so much time to express. But communication with or through the medium of the Spirit can happen with the speed of thought. (Well, probably not. I suspect that most humans’ thought processes are mighty slow compared to the speed with which ideas were conveyed to the people as is described in our verses of 3 Nephi. But the phrase “speed of thought” suggests the right idea, anyway.)

Consequently, descriptions of prophets’ visions sometimes suggest rich understanding without words. For example, Enoch begins the account of his vision by saying,

Enoch a righteous man, whose eyes were opened by God, saw the vision of the Holy One in the heavens, which the angels showed me, and from them I heard everything, and from them I understood as I saw…. (Enoch 1:1). {1}

Nephi expresses the same concept of enlightened understanding associated with a vision when he tells us about his father’s sode experience. He says his father “thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God (1 Nephi 1:8).” Here is a good example of the problem with spoken and written language. We often read “he thought he saw” to suggest he wasn’t sure what he saw. But “thought” is the past tense of “to think” — which means to actively contemplate. To suggest that Lehi had a sode experience but did not know what was going on, makes no sense. But to suggest that, like Enoch, Lehi “thought” that is he “understood as he saw” teaches us a great deal about the nature of his vision and the powers of communication as he experienced it. Lehi not only understood his vision of God, he also understood the meaning of the praise expressed in the songs sung by the members of the Council in Heaven.

Communicating with thoughts rather than words is the prerogative of the Gods and the prophets. In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph we learn:

16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart (D&C 6:16).

This fact is encouraging because it guarantees that we will be judged righteously, as the Psalm says:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart:
try me, and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:1-24).

But it is also a warning, as Paul says:

12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12-13).

If it is only God who knows the thoughts of one’s heart, and only the power of God that enables people to communicate with the speed of thought, that presents another challenging proposition, as Zeezrom learned to his amazement and as the people of 3 Nephi learned to their delight. It is a gift that God gives the prophets to sometimes have the power to know the thoughts of others. Therefore, only a fool would try to lie to a prophet of God.

{1} The Book of Enoch, In The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, 2 vols. Translated and edited by R. H. Charles. 2: 188-277. Oxford: Clarendon, 1976.


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