Thursday, October 28, 2010

Iron Rod and Liahona as Symbols of Saints

In 1967 (the year I was baptized), Richard D. Poll delivered a sermon in the Palo Alto ward in which he coined the terms Iron Rod Saint and Liahona Saint. The sermon was reprinted in Dialogue and the Saints' Herald, and was also later published in the essay anthology A Thoughtful Faith (1986, Philip Barlow, ed.). What follows is the third of a few entries on the iron rod, the liahona, and impressions about Brother Poll's essay.

Poll's essay does a great service by giving voice to a difference which exists among faithful Latter-day Saints. Critical to Brother Poll's view is that both types of Saints are faithful, contributing members; one is not meant to be seen as better than the other. This notion that we can be different and still be faithful is reinforced for me in the writings of Paul:

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-10).

Of course the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants also teach of the diversity of spiritual gifts.

Paul continues, however, and makes the point again with a different metaphor:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

The point is, the church is made up by many types of members, and together we strengthen and love one another. We are not, necessarily, meant to be the same.

I'd like to look at the symbols Poll chose to mark his two groups, the iron rod and the liahona.

I recognize that often for illustrative purposes we take existing elements and relate them to whatever point we are trying to make. Elder Packer spoke of the Savior's teaching that something was "like unto" something else. So I understand that the terms, while not a perfect fit to their symbols, can still have value.

Brother Poll suggests for the Iron Rod Saint that the way, though not easy, is clear. I agree he is correct, as far as the iron rod reaches. But in Lehi's dream, even those who arrived at the tree were lured away. So although the way is clear, the Iron Rod is not sufficient to guarantee safety, only safety along the way. Now Brother Poll may have accurately described members' view of the Iron Rod, but I don't think it accurately describes the rod in our lives. Clinging to the word of God will, in fact, allow us to feel God's love in our life, to know His condescension as Nephi describes. But even once we know that love, we are at risk of forgetting it, being ashamed of it, or simply wandering away through our own negligence. The answer is not going back to the path to hold on to the rod. It is to stay at the tree!

In writing this, I don't suggest Brother Poll is incorrect to characterize some members in the way he does, but to suggest those members who believe that holding onto the iron rod is all they need to do may not understand the nuance of Lehi's dream.

Brother Poll characterizes the liahona as a compass which functions differently depending on the circumstances of the user. My reading is that when the user was faithful and diligent, the compass functioned; when he was not, it did not. It is not as if it gave one answer to one and a different answer to another. Further, Brother Poll suggests that it pointed the way, but did not mark a clear path. Fair enough, but when followed it provided enough information to guide its faithful and diligent user to the desired end. If the compass was not infallible, as Brother Poll writes, it is not because of the compass.

As I stated in my first part of this series, I view the iron rod and the liahona as two manifestations of the same thing. As we heed God's teachings, as we are faithful and diligent, we draw nearer to Him, to His direction in our lives. As we follow His direction, we, in turn will be drawn ever closer to Him. As we ignore his teachings, we either let go of the iron rod, or we suffer loss of connection with the liahona, and we are left to wander on our own. But the atoning sacrifice of the Savior helps to restore the connection, to place us back on the path.

Well, Brother Poll selected the labels he did, and those labels served if nothing else to generate discussion. My view is that the labels work to a point, but if we reduce our understanding of those scriptural symbols to the labels, then we will misunderstand the scriptural symbols. But if we use those symbols to foster understanding and acceptance of one another, then perhaps they will have served well.

Next: Reaction to the Labels


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Administrator--could you let me know what the problem with my comment was?

  3. Kristine,

    Not sure what you mean. I did not do anything with a comment from you. I did delete CJ's comment and explained why I did to her.

  4. huh--sorry.

    Just because everyone's not out to get you doesn't mean you shouldn't be paranoid :)

  5. No issue Kristine. BTW, you did have a comment on the second post in the series that is still intact.