This is a guest post by Lattertarian
The metaphors of Lehi’s dream are explicitly explained thanks to Nephi’s desire for clarification and willingness to write down what he learned. The plain and precious truths of that vision are of course only seriously taught within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but have clear lessons for all Christians (and every truth-seeker to some extent). All of us search for a path to happiness. Taking hold of the rod of iron that is the word of God puts us on a straight path to that happiness. But we are under constant pressure to step away and grope toward other voices, and wandering around in the dark is a dangerous proposition.
It’s also possible, and eminently reasonable, to read Lehi’s dream in an extremely broad quasi-secular way. We all have someplace we want to go, some destination we perceive as desirable. We also know there’s a way to get there, and that “path” has its own guidance “rod” of principles and actions we innately understand we need to adhere to in order to get us to our destination. But a variety of things can distract us from that, and it’s worth considering some of those things.
So what are we doing here? Largely unasked in Lehi’s dream are questions of why someone would let go of the rod once they held it. The mockery from the people in the great and spacious building is one thing, but there are some daily ground-level specifics we all encounter that are worth considering. To my mind, there are four obstacles we can run into as we walk the path and hold to the rod. In keeping with the structure of Lehi’s dream, they’re best explored through metaphor.
Rough Spots on the Rod
The Iron Rod is not smooth, metaphorically speaking. Or at least not entirely smooth. It has rough spots, with dings and edges on it in various places. Much of the time we can just run our hand along it as we walk. But when we hit those sharp spots we need to resist the urge to let go of the rod to lick a wound. Rather, we need to put the other hand on the rod, past the rough spot, and purposefully and carefully hand-over-hand our way past that spot until we can find another smooth length. What does this represent? Sometimes living the truths of the gospel can seem hard. Sometimes we hit a rough spot–a teaching with which we struggle, an interpersonal conflict within the congregation or our families, a sense that God has “allowed” some bad thing to happen to us, or some other thing we perceive as a problem going forward. We can sometimes feel like we need to “take a break” from the rod for a moment to “reorient” ourselves. But that’s a trap. Letting go of the rod always is. Don’t let go. You can slow down, and giving yourself permission to do that can be a valuable factor in your spiritual health, but letting go is extraordinarily dangerous.
This does mean, however, that progress along the rod does not happen at a constant pace. Each of us speeds up and slows down at seemingly random (to an observer, anyway) points along the path. Sadly and dangerously, many of the rough spots on the rod, the places on the path where many slow down, become places where we encounter two important kinds of people. The influence of either of these groups can halt your progress and maybe even detach you from the rod. This is made easier for them (and harder for you to resist) if you have let go of the rod to nurse a scrape.
Vigilante Speed Enforcers
For this, we swerve into a highway metaphor. Highways involve lots of individual drivers making decisions, particularly regarding speed. Have you ever come up behind someone on the highway who insisted on driving slower than the flow of traffic? Sometimes precisely the speed limit, sometimes just under, or sometimes (and most frustrating) close to the speed of traffic but just slow enough to create an inconvenience for everybody else? Or to look at it the other way, have you ever had somebody come up fast behind you and rather than go around they chose to tailgate, honk and gesture, or be otherwise pointlessly aggressive? We can encounter similar people as we walk the path while holding to the rod. These are the people who insist there is one way to walk the path and one way to hold to the rod, and if you’re doing it differently from them you’re doing it wrong. A subset of these people are the stubbornly dogmatic, demanding that everyone yield to their hard-charging and “correct” (and often myopic and unnecessarily hardline) doctrine/policy position, and they’re quite prepared to bully people about it.