When Mormon decided to insert 142 pages of unabridged text into his book (1 Nephi through Omni), he knew it was a strange editorial decision. He explained to his future readers that he was doing this “for a wise purpose,” even though he did not know what that purpose was. “I do not know all things,” he wrote; “but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:7).
In 1890, when Wilford Woodruff authored an official document halting the practice of plural marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he used similar language to explain his actions: “When the hour came,” he wrote, “it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write.” Although he could not answer every question regarding the change, he assured members of the church, “The Lord is at work with us” (Official Declaration 1, Doctrine and Covenants).
George Q. Cannon, President Woodruff’s first counselor at the time, had been an impassioned defender of plural marriage, at great personal sacrifice: He was expelled from the United States House of Representatives for the practice, and he later served a five month prison term in a Utah penitentiary. (See “The Messenger and the Manifesto,” Revelations in Context.)
Yet immediately after the official declaration was read to church members, Cannon delivered a sermon defending the new policy. Here is how he explained his change of heart.
The Presidency of the Church have to walk just as you walk. They have to take steps just as you take steps. They have to depend upon the revelations of God as they come to them. They cannot see the end from the beginning, as the Lord does…. All that we can do is to seek the mind and will of God, and when that comes to us, though it may come in contact with every feeling that we have previously entertained, we have no option but to take the step that God points out, and to trust to Him.George Q. Cannon, Oct. 5, 1890, in Collected Discourses: Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, Brian H. Stuy, comp., 5 vols. (Burbank, CA: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–92), 2:115–16, quoted in “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” Gospel Topics Essays, italics added
It’s hard to follow guidance from the Lord when we lack context. It can be hard to explain our decisions to other people when we feel that we are doing right but have very little evidence. Perhaps, then, we can offer some grace to other people, including church leaders, who likewise seek and receive guidance from God without knowing “the end from the beginning.”
Today, I will be grateful that God can work with us even when our understanding is limited. I will move forward in faith, trusting the guidance that I receive from Him. I will also support others in following the guidance they receive from Him.