Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What is that "marvelous work and a wonder"?

I have grown up hearing that phrase "a marvelous work and a wonder" and I always wondered what it meant. I would hear some people interpret it as missionary work. I heard others say that it referred to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in general, because the church is an amazing institution all around. I would concede internally that in a certain sense they were correct. But somehow I felt that there was a more specific interpretation in there that I wasn't quite getting.

The phrase comes from the Book of Isaiah and is quoted by Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
(Isaiah 29:13-14)
I sensed that I had to have some sort of experience or series of experiences that would make this plain. And I did.

Occasionally I'd find myself in Bible bashing sessions with members of other faiths and no matter how many scriptures I quoted, they wouldn't be convinced. I'd try to be perfectly logical and reasonable, and it never seemed to do much good.

I'd hear talks in conference that taught that it is the Spirit that converts. I heard challenges to bear testimony and let the Spirit do the work.

The final thing that seemed to bring it all together for me was actually an English class that I took which focused on writing effective arguments. The teacher, who was a Latter-day Saint, showed us that there were three main types of arguments that people use to persuade.
  1. Ethos - has to do with authority and credibility (the sports star that recommends a certain shoe)
  2. Logos - has to do with logic and reason (the mathematician using axioms to prove a new postulate)
  3. Pathos - has to do with feeling and emotional appeal (a newspaper picture of a huddled family watching their house burn to the ground)
My teacher, Vernon Dickson, told us that those ancient greeks who defined these types believed that the most effective type of argument was one that was all Logos, and that they scorned Pathos, even though they recognized its power.

I remember when I heard this I sort of laughed to myself, How silly of the philosophers to dismiss something so effective as emotions and feelings as unworthy of being used to convince!

Well the next time I ran across the scripture in Isaiah (or 2 Nephi), I was trying once again to understand what that marvelous work and a wonder was that could cause the wisdom of the wise men to perish, when I immediately remembered what the teacher said about the power of Pathos and how emotion and feelings can galvanize people to action. It suddenly clicked into place. The marvelous work and the wonder is the power of the Spirit of God that works upon the mind and heart of a listener. It speaks to the emotions and feelings at the same time as the doctrine speaks to the mind, but then it adds a certain extra *oomph* that brings a FEELING of CERTAINTY more thrilling and potent and joyful than being convinced by logic.

This is the most amazing thing! When you try to convince someone of something by logic, you have to overcome all their oppositional arguments with facts and reasons in your favor and even then, usually some doubt remains at the back of their minds and they only tentatively agree. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. But for someone to learn doctrine and then be given a FEELING of CERTAINTY from the Lord just throws everything else into the shade.

What's also amazing is what we do to bring this feeling of certainty to people: share a testimony, a simple statement that you know that a doctrine is true. Not arguments, not logic. But expressing that feeling of certainty inside. In effect it is like lighting a candle with another. The Spirit that is with us will come to them.

So what do we do to bring this marvelous work and wonder to our discussions about the gospel with our friends? All you have to do is once you’ve told someone about anything gospel related, say, “I know this is true.” Don’t let yourself think too hard about whether to say it or not. Just say it.

When I realized “a marvelous work and a wonder” was talking about the Spirit’s power to convert and give a feeling of certainty, I thought, “A-HAH! I will be the greatest missionary ever! All I have to do is bear my testimony after a sharing something and the Spirit will do the work, and everyone I talk to will join the church!”

I had some intense discussions with people and did a lot of bearing testimony and felt the Spirit very strongly and I knew that they felt it too, but I saw very few (like only one) who responded. (And even then, it wasn’t even to me, but to the missionaries who did the teaching past the one appointment that my husband and I went to with them)

So what do I do now? It didn't work! No, it did work, but the people didn't. There’s one thing I had to learn. That is that people still have their choice of what they will do. I keep trying and keep testifying, because the Lord gives people multiple chances to accept the gospel and tries different methods and uses multiple people as instruments.

I know all of this is true. You can know it too.


In The Doghouse said...

I loved these insights. The only power we have at all to teach is the power of the spirit. This is definitely something that has set us apart as a "living" church, and has given our scriptures life as well. The spirit is a "marvelous work and a wonder" in my book too! Thanks.