In Joseph’s prophetic expansion on the story of Abraham’s life, the Lord lays his hands upon Abraham’s eyes and he can see all of creation clearly. (Abraham 3:12) Just as the Lord showed Moses “all the workmanship” of God’s hands (Moses 1:4) and Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, these theophanies allowed the recipients to see clearly. These visions or visits from God helped them to understand their place in the cosmos, particularly their relationship to God, and prepare them for their mission in mortality.
In the Restored gospel, such theophanies are not just the jurisdiction of prophets. Joseph was adamant that they are available to all of us that we too might understand our place in the cosmos and that we might be prepared for our own missions in mortality. Though scripture may not provide numerous stories of women receiving visits from God, we must remember no scripture is perfectly complete—all are created by mortals who sometimes perpetuate the “mistakes of men.” (Title Page, Book of Mormon) Our theophanies may not come as dramatically, but the hands of God can be placed on our own eyes so we can see clearly.
Once Abraham could see, he saw “many of the noble and great ones.” (Abraham 4:22) As Abraham saw these great spirits, the Lord revealed that he belonged with them—“thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” Here we learn how it is that God measures the noble and great—these are the chosen. Another synonym for chosen is the elect. Christians have long debated chosen-ness or election. Does God choose at the beginning or at the end? Is God a mercurial God that will change his mind at the last minute? Do our actions change the outcome?
Latter-day Saints favor the term foreordination generally dismissing John Calvin’s predestination –or at least a caricature of Calvin’s zealous disciples’ version of predestination. For Latter-day Saints it is the primacy of agency that we want to acknowledge with this difference. We might be chosen by God, we might be amongst the “noble and the Great” initially, but we still get to choose. In the Restoration we learn that God will choose us—give us the opportunity, but we only truly become chosen when we listen and act—“mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.” (D&C 29:7)
Though not included in this lesson, I think that Alma 13 is important to think about the relationship of foreordination and covenants and agency. Yet in the introduction to Alma 13 we meet a difficulty—“men are called as high priests.” With that we read men in the following verses differently than just an antiquated way of referring to all. However, the introduction is not canon, it is not a singular right way to interpret scripture. Organizing the Relief Society of Nauvoo was an essential part of Joseph’s main goal, to create a kingdom of priests and priestesses as in Paul’s day. The priesthood ordinances in the temple would create that possibility. In the words of Alma many of those were “called and prepared from the foundation of the world.” Those who were foreordained are now “called with a holy calling” in mortality. Will we accept it? (If you need a couple examples of support, consider Elaine Dalton and President Nelson including women in the vision and promises of Alma 13 here and here.)
Joseph Fielding Smith’s vision of the Spirit World began to name a list of men he saw in the Spirit World, until he saw “our glorious Mother Eve.” While seeing Eve and labeling her as “glorious’ is significant (we’ll get to talk about her in the next lesson), I am struck by the fact that Joseph F. Smith doesn’t see his own mother, Mary Fielding Smith. If I ever get a vision of the spirit world, I want to see Mary Fielding Smith there with the rest of my spiritual foremothers. I don’t know why he doesn’t see her, perhaps he is too focused on priesthood leadership. Whatever the reason, as Abraham, he “could not see the end” of all. The noble and great were not limited to those that they could see or even those that they recognized as “noble and great.” God is not bounded by habits or culture which at times binds us and impedes our view.
All of us in the covenant have something to do—a mission to perform in mortality. The point of mortality is to be “proved” and tested and tried—“to see if [we] will do those all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25) Do we know what our mission or missions in mortality are? Are there some tasks that apply to all of us? What commands or missions do you have from the Lord that are just for you? What things stop you or women more generally from recognizing and fulfilling their mission? The Old Testament gives us many stories of women, who, if we read closely, at times are given unexpected missions from God (I’m not going to urge anyone to sneak into Boaz’s tent), but how can I feel God’s hands on my eyes, see my own mission, and help others to see their foreordained mission more clearly?