Is Strait and Narrow Confining?
by H. Wallace Goddard
Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life -Matthew 7:14
The scriptural observation that the way is strait and narrow is not very encouraging for people who love to roam and explore the mortal landscape. I wonder if God would endorse a re-write for the latter-day frontiersmen: “The possibilities are many and the gates are varied. Have a great time wherever you go.”? Strait and narrow just seems so confining.
Possibly most people have a few scriptures that they would be glad to excise from sacred writ. When I was a college student, I was quite irritated by King Benjamin’s dated view of human nature: less than the dust of the earth, worthless, fallen, enemy to God, carnal . . .. Why didn’t the Lord teach him about self-esteem and its central role in human well-being? Why did the Lord allow such nonsense to be included in the Book of Mormon?
It is amazing how a few decades of experience combined with some earnest study of a subject can modify a person’s notions. When I first started reading the solid, negative research about self-esteem (dating back to 1983), I was surprised. Later I discovered the Lord’s remarkable program of gifts (D&C 46). Now that I have found great strength in humble dependence, I have a very different view of the whole matter. I now celebrate King Benjamin’s insight. I cherish his wisdom and inspiration. In fact I have carved one of his phrases in oak and hung it on our wall: “Are we not all beggars?”
So what is to be done with the strait and narrow? Should it be set aside as provincial? My life course has seemed to be painfully different from the paths of some people I revere the most: David O. McKay, Jae R. Baliff, Andy Gardner, Irvin Haws, Orson Goddard. My life is not like theirs, therefore I must be off the Path.
A few years ago it occurred to me that the strait and narrow may not be a single path that is the same for all disciples; the path could be strait and narrow but still be customized for each of us. It makes sense that the individualized curriculum would be tailored to fit each unique disciple.
The scriptural words “strait” and “narrow” mean approximately the same thing: constricted, or tight. (See “Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.3, “Strait and narrow.”) Yet the “strait and narrow” does not have to be any more confining that a carefully-tailored suit or a warm and heavenly embrace.
An important step in my understanding of the strait path came on a recent 165 mile journey to the Memphis Temple. I’m not a guy who automatically thinks it is fun to drive three hours, sit for two, then drive another three hours to come home and do chores. I have been blessed many times by temple attendance. Yet I also go because something inside of me says it is right.
So, going to the temple with Nancy and two missionaries from our area, it suddenly seemed clear, so clear that I wondered how I ever missed it.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. (2 Nephi 31:19, emphasis added)
On the road to Memphis it seem clear that the gate is nothing more than turning our lives over to Christ. Maybe the strait and narrow path is that customized, personalized, and divinely-designed curriculum that He has developed for each person who is serious about being stretched to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. To go through the gate onto the path entails a commitment to be piloted by Christ.
What could be more breathtaking than touring mortality in company with He Who created heavens, earth, and all the inhabitants thereof? What could be a greater adventure than searching truth with Alpha and Omega? What could be sweeter than being filled with the charity that comes from Him whose name is Love? Who could we better trust with our hours and eternities than He who coordinates the orbits of electrons, planets and galaxies in beautiful harmony?
When we think about finding our way along the path, we naturally think of the iron rod. Yet for those of us who are more attracted by the loops and jerks of a roller coaster, the iron rod does not sound like the right guide for an adventure trail. We are in for a ferrous surprise. Nephi tells us that the iron rod is the word of God (1 Nephi 11:25). In our earliest days of spiritual discovery, the “word of God” may mean the scriptures. What a blessing! Where would we be without those blessed words?
Yet even for Laman and Lemuel the word of God had a broader meaning which included all instruction from a perfect and loving Father (1 Nephi 15:24). Consider the rich load of truth delivered by heavenly messengers to earthlings since Adam and Eve stepped across the threshold into mortality. “Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven”? (Job 38:37).
There is yet another sacred meaning for the word of God. (It is just like God to provide a sacred truth with multiple layers of discovery fitted to our maturity!)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1, 4)
When Nephi teaches that the iron rod is the word of God, my favorite interpretation is that the word of God is Jesus who is the only true guide for getting us to truth, glory, happiness, and home. He is the Way. He is as solid and reliable as iron. To keep company with Him is as breathtakingly exciting as designing and creating worlds.
Alma provides confirming counsel about depending on God even as he provides another physical symbol.
Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. (Alma 37:36)
After giving this instruction, Alma turns naturally to illustrating his point by telling about the Liahona, that remarkable brass ball of curious workmanship that guided them in the wilderness.
For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. (Alma 37:44, emphasis added)
I wonder if straight should here be understood in a way different from an unvarying and tedious highway across Nevada; maybe straight means direct. Maybe God will not waste a minute of our lives if we are willing to take Jesus as our guide. Maybe every twist and turn in the strait and narrow will minister to our eternal well-being. In inviting us to travel the strait and narrow, God is not mandating a single, uniform, standard personal history; He is inviting a single-minded covenant.
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:67)
It is truly cause to rejoice that the God of the universe would reach across eternity both to guide and to sanctify our experience. Should we be surprised that the greatest mystery of all time is also the simplest truth? He aims to redeem us. He will do it if we will turn our lives over to Him. To fail to take Him as our guide is to miss the only journey with a heavenly view.
For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. (D&C 132:22, emphasis added)
When He invites each of us to relinquish our stranglehold on our puny lives, may we turn to Him in earnest if fearful resolve. Only He can get us to the arms of Heaven.
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked–
And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Helaman 3:29-30)
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