Today is Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, commemorating the day when the apostles “were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” as Jesus had promised they would be. I’ve written about Whitsunday before, about how I’ve never, to my knowledge, experienced any comparable spiritual manifestation or revelation, and also about those small gifts of belief that I yet hope are mine nonetheless. This year (coincidentally?), I find myself thinking about many related matters–about how much I yearn for some sort of clear answer or witness or sign or confirmation regarding what my family and I should do about this major decision which stands before us, and about what it would mean to not–perhaps to never–receive one. We’ve collected every bit of data we can; we’ve pestered friends and family and colleagues for advice and insight; we’ve prayed and fasted. And yet there it remains: a choice between paths which are both characterized by far more unknowns than knowns. If a choice is to be made, it will have to made without guidance from above.
Well, we’ve made our decision: a change of job, a change of location, and perhaps, depending on how the next year works out, a change of our life direction entirely. It’s a big and frightening decision, and I continue to wonder if it is the right one. At the same time though, I find that I am without fear.
I read Acts 1 and 2 this morning, refreshing in my mind the story of Whitsunday. And an interpretation occurred to me, one that begins in Acts 1:6-8. The apostles, after having been taught by the resurrected Lord for 40 days, desire Him to tell them, before He ascends to heaven, why He doesn’t restore Israel’s kingdom at that time. Jesus responded by reminding them that it is not for them (or us!) to know “the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power.” But then He added the promise that they “shall receive power,” and moreover that they shall be His witnesses. How was Jesus’s response a full answer to their query? Perhaps because the desire to see the kingdom of Israel restored reflected not just an eschatological wish, but also something large and deep always connected to such wishes–namely, a hope for peace and security and comfort and consolation. A desire for a resolution, in other words: “restoration,” in all its meanings. And the Lord promised the Holy Ghost to His disciples, to sustain us until all times and seasons are fulfilled.
And then came the Day of Pentecost, and the arrival of the Holy Ghost as a “rushing mighty wind”, “with cloven tongues like fire”, bestowing gifts of the spirit. And what did the apostles do? They immediately went out to the people to preach, and they spoke to each person they met in their own tongue: Parthians and Cretans and Medians and Arabians and Romans and Libyans and more understood what the apostles were saying, and were all amazed. And then Peter–fearful, passionate Peter–stood up before them all, and condemned them and invited them, and testified that “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
A powerful story, to be sure. But also, I think, a sign of the sort of comfort and peace of mind which the apostles had perhaps implicitly sought from the Lord before. Peter quoted King David before the crowd (talk about guts!), and talked about God’s promise that He would be “always before [our] face,” and by so doing He would make known to us the “ways of life.” This morning, as I read these passages, it struck me that the world the apostles confronted was a confusing, frightening one, filled with unknown peoples and tongues. They were a small and simple group; how could they testify of Christ “unto the uttermost part of the earth”? Well, God didn’t tell them how they could do it. He provided no method, no answer, no key, no promise–that is, no promise of success or even insight; He only promised that He would be with them, wherever they went. The gifts of the spirit that came upon them that Sunday did not restore the world to its proper order, or even give them a solution to its disorder; they only allowed them to make their way through that disorder, speaking as they needed to speak, when they needed to speak, to whom they needed to speak. It often seems to me that we find nothing so frightening as the ambiguity and open-endedness, the insecurity and unpredictability, of life itself, filled as it is with so many people and so many tragedies and so many unknowns. How could God possibly restore us unto ourselves, and calm our fears, in the face of such a reality? Well, one thing He could do, and the one thing I so desperately wish He would do, is provide knowledge and instruction and guarantees; to reveal to me (via angels or still small voices; I don’t care which) which path my family and I should take, or at least warn us away from the one we shouldn’t. I believe He does do this for many people, because the scriptures say so, and because I have heard testimonies of such messages and moments or dreams of inspiration and guidance all my life. But that is not all He may do. Another thing He may do is manifest His power in every path we may take, in every face we may encounter. That is, He may grace our life in such a way that, while what we most deeply desire may not be “restored” to us, we may yet find, through being His witnesses, that His attendance and concern are before us nonetheless. That’s not an answer, not a resolution or revelation or explanation; not really. It may not take away our questions and doubts. But it may (as in reading this account I think may finally and truly have been the case for Peter) sustain us with courage as we act and choose, and thus take away our fear.
Paul said something similar, much later on. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” God’s power, given to those who desire to commit to Him and receive His spirit, may not be (except for those few, special souls like Nephi) the power to set all things right, or even the power to set anything in any particular way at all. But it may be enough to allow us see God’s righteous hand in all settings and all ways, perhaps even enough to, without fear, speak and act and choose and make our way through all those ways, and know that we will be sustained. That is a great enough gift, I think.