Literary Lorenzo Snow #11: Father! Lead Me Out of Darkness

June 2, 2013 | 16 comments
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JohnAWidtsoeOne of the most difficult concepts for many (perhaps even most) Church members in U.S. culture today is the idea that we should let the Lord direct our lives. Part of the difficulty lies in our desires, which may be righteous, but also may not be what the Lord would have us do. How often do we ask what he wants us to do?

Another source of doubt about this concept is knowing what the Lord would have us do, even if we have asked. We sometimes feel like we are asking and not getting an answer (although I suspect this is usually our own fault somehow). Not knowing the answer leads us to a choice: either do nothing or do what we think best instead.

In the following poem, John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle from 1921 to 1952, echoes the pleas for guidance that we all feel or should feel.

Widtsoe is another of those Mormon poets who are best known for something else by most Mormons. He is widely thought of as a scientist, founder of BYU’s College of Biology and Agriculture, and as one of the first few Apostles to hold a Ph.D. He is also known as a theologian, author of A Rational Theology as Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, as well as several other books on Mormon doctrine and theology. But Widtsoe also wrote a handful of hymns, including How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True (126) and the following hymn, which appeared as #380 in the 1927 hymnal:

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Father! Lead Me Out of Darkness

By John A. Widstoe

Father! lead me out of darkness by the Gospel’s holy call.
Lead me into life eternal – grant me ready strength for all:
Sinful longing and life’s trial, may they meet an armored heart;
Let Thy promise rest upon me, so that mine, the better part.

 

Father! blinded by the earth-light, do I cry for higher aid.
All I know that Thou art Father, in Thy hand my life is laid.
Greater light I seek, my Father, in the man-made chaos here.
I will meet the heat of battle, but, oh, Father, be Thou near.

 

Father! bless Thy drifting children, they who see not with their eyes;
They who seek for truth unchanging, pass the source, yet do despise;
May all evil, fiercely raging, lose its boasted pow’r on earth;
That the creature rise not higher than the God who gave it birth.

 

Father! all my heart I give Thee; all my service shall be Thine.
Guide me as I search in weakness, let Thy living light be mine.
Hear me as I pray in meekness, let my strength be as the day.
Give me faith: the greater knowledge, Father! bless me as I pray.

 

Hymns #380, 1927
(h.t. Ardis Parshall, Keepapitchinin, 24 April 2012)

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Widtsoe’s poem adds some unusual imagery and perhaps even doctrinal questions. I like his term “sinful longing” (line 5), but I wonder if all longing that is not for what the Lord would have us do is sinful, or only longing for that which is evil? Of course Alma 29:3 answers that question, but I suppose only if we know what the Lord would have us do?

I agree with Widtsoe that we are “blinded by earth-light,” i.e., the dazzling array of both temptation and testing that distracts us from our God-defined purposes. And his description of the human condition—”Man made chaos”; “drifting children”—gives, I think, an accurate idea of what we face and why we need the Lord’s guidance.

I am confused, however, about the doctrine behind this:

May all evil, fiercely raging, lose its boasted pow’r on earth;
That the creature rise not higher than the God who gave it birth.

Is God really so threatened by humanity that loosing evil is the antidote? That doesn’t seem like a particularly Mormon view, at least not today.

Nevertheless, Widtsoe’s poem expresses, I think, what we all should be praying, “Guide me as I search in weakness.”

Amen to that.

16 Responses to Literary Lorenzo Snow #11: Father! Lead Me Out of Darkness

  1. queuno on June 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Love this.

  2. James Olsen on June 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I love “How Long O Lord” – I love the tune, but just as much I love how uniquely Mormon the words are and the way it thrusts us into a perspective that none of us experience firsthand.

    As always, thank you for these reflections.

  3. whizzbang on June 2, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    I am kind of that quandry myself. I have been praying and working at getting a career going but nothing has worked out, yet my Patriarchal Blessing has me having this wonderful career, blessed to know what it is, blessed to provide for my family. I haven’t or can’t do any of those ting, I just don’t even know what is going on and like I can’t wait forever for God to direct my life, it’s like you need to believe in him but don’t expect anything from him despite all these promises. I don’t know

  4. Allen Lambert on June 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    It is my understanding that the first three doctorates in science earned by Mormons became apostles: Talmage, Widstoe, and Joseph Merrill.

    One current apostle with equivalent of doctorate in nuclear engineering is Elder Scott. We have several doctorates (PhD, DBA, EdD) in social science among current apostles: Eyring, Bednar, Holland, and Packer. Also an MD = Nelson. Not to mention JD = Oaks.

    And several with doctorates have served in 1st and 2nd Q. of 70s.

  5. Kent Larsen on June 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Whizzbang, I hope Elder Widtsoe’s words give you some comfort. You are not alone. Hang in there…

    Allen, I’m not sure what who has a Ph.D. has to do with this poem, but I appreciate the information.

  6. whizzbang on June 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    @Thank you!

  7. whizzbang on June 2, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    whoops! @5-Thank you!

  8. Amy T on June 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Recently my family has been listening to the Histories of the Hymns from the Mormon Channel. (Lots of time in the car.) The podcast on Alexander Schreiner told how this poem was altered into “Lead Me Into Life Eternal.” (Hymn 45 in the current hymnbook.) I’m looking now and see they got the story from Karen Lynn Davidson’s “Our Latter Day Hymns.” It’s a charming little story, but a little too long to type in here.

    And on the question from the first paragraph, I was just reading the autobiography of Rose Ellen Bywater Valentine, the first woman dentist in Utah and the wife of the President of the Swiss-German Mission during World War I. She noted at the end of her autobiography:

    “For me life has been a great gift which I have enjoyed and appreciated to the fullest. The most interesting facet of life has been the joy of meeting and working with people of all ages on the physical plane, through my dental practice, on the mental plane, through my teaching experience, and on the spiritual plane, through my Church assignments. I have…felt the guiding hand of the Lord through all my work, and I attribute that feeling to always asking God’s help and guidance before attempting to carry out an important project.”

  9. A.Nother Jared on June 3, 2013 at 4:08 am

    Whizzbang. It will happen. I was in the wilderness career-wise for years, even though I was quite well educated. I had a few more lessons to learn though before I had a career breakthrough – though I had a few false starts. My suggestion is, fast regularly and meet with your stake employment specialist. I used mine as a sounding board and as an independent person to discuss my plans and progress with – knowing I was meeting every week with someone helped me to keep to my commitments with regard to job searches, I did not want to turn up and tell someone that I had slacked that week, so it kept me motivated when I might have otherwise procrastinated in fits of despair. I could not do that with anyone else, especially family as the pressure was such that speaking rationally with my spouse would have been difficult. Perhaps that’s just me and my set up. I think things also got better when I kind of let go and told myself that Jesus was born in a stable, so regardless of Partiachal Blessing promises with regard to prosperity and career, I needed to nurture my relationship with God and accept that, success as I expected might never happen for me. To cut a long story short I got a job that paid twice as much as I expected and puts me in the top 10% of earners, doing a job that I had designated as my ‘dream job’. I do not say that to boast, just to let you know, you’re not alone in your experience, and things can turn around. I hope this helps.

  10. whizzbang on June 3, 2013 at 8:46 am

    @9-that’s awesome! Thank you for sharing!!!

  11. Ken on June 4, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    I’m in a similar situation, Whizzbang, and quite bewildered as to what to do. My Patriarchal Blessing says I’ll grow to manhood and fulfill an honorable work for which I was foreordained in the premortal life. I’ve had a lot of interesting (and frustrating, frankly) twists and turns in my tortured path to try to find out to what the Lord was referring. I’ve often wondered if I’ve screwed up “His ‘Plan A’” and, if so, whether He has a “Plan B.” I’ve felt what I thought at the time was inspiration at various junctures regarding how to proceed and possibly fulfill that promise in my Patriarchal Blessing. I’m not sure what the Lord’s idea of “manhood” is, but I’m tempted to think I passed it ten or fifteen years ago (or more), and am rapidly careening toward middle age. I’ve got a professional degree, but no license. Career prospects in my field of study are bleak even for those who are licensed, and who have much better graduate academic credentials than do I.

    Not to worry. I get $808 in SSDI every month. If all else fails, I’ll just spend the rest of my life sucking on the government teat. (As long as Obama and/or the Democrats are in charge, they’ll keep those checks coming: they think my piddly little $808 a month stimulates the economy. Whatever! (It won’t be terribly easy paying back considerable loans while I do that, but I suppose I have to take what I can get.) ;D (There are people with my degree who have 2-3 times the student loan debt that I do, and who have other mouths to feed besides their own [that's the ONE good thing about being ignored by the female of the species!] so I guess things could always be worse …)

  12. whizzbang on June 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    @Ken-I’ve had the same thoughts, like if I did everything I was “supposed” to do then yeah these blessings will come to fruition but life never turned out like that yet I tried to make the best decisions I could given the situation but nothing has worked out. I am at a loss as to what to do. At times I have given up on God and figured if he isn’t interested in answering these big time prayers that he promised to answer then like if it isn’t important to him then it isn’t important to me. I look back on life and I just don’t know what to think. yes! things could always be worse though! I am grateful for what I do have!

  13. Cameron N on June 5, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Ken,

    Thought from an online stranger: it may have nothing to do with your career. Remember, the Lord’s thoughts are not are thoughts. We often make incorrect assumptions about the subject of his guidance.

  14. Ken on June 5, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Cameron N. #13: Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, that has occurred to me. The reason why I interpret my blessing the way I do is because other sections of it talk about “things spiritual,” so I’ve always applied this particular section to “things temporal.” I certainly could be wrong (It’s happened before … once or twice! ;D) (Of course, God doesn’t use that same dichotomy, as I’m sure you know: “All things unto me are spiritual …”)

    If anything, I’ve always had to fight the tendency to say, “Bah, this is just one of those ‘temporal’ things: God doesn’t care about it, why should you?” Elder Bednar gave a talk when he was president of BYU-I in which he talks about the saving power of the Atonement and the enabling power of the Atonement, and says we often forget about the latter. When I read it, I thought, “Bah, of course the Atonement is only concerned with ‘things spiritual.’” But one of the examples he uses to illustrate its enabling power is when one of the rescue parties sent after the Martin-Willie Saints ran out of food. They were down to a few animal hides and wondering how they could possibly eat this stuff. Daniel Jones (?) (I believe) got a revelation about how to prepare the hide so it would be edible, and they prayed, not that they could find something different to eat, but rather that their systems could adapt to what they had (like King Limhi’s people prayed that they would be able to bear their burdens rather than that their burdens would be removed).

    When I heard that, my thought was, “Well, there you go: that’s the most temporal of all temporal matters … simple survival … so why wouldn’t the Lord help you, even with your piddly little temporal matters?”

  15. Ken on June 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    #12, Whizzbang: Hey, if you discover the secret, you be sure to let me know, and if I discover the secret, I’ll be sure to let you know! ;D It’s not as though God seemed been silent, or standoffish, or uncaring when it comes to other aspects of my life. I can’t deny that His hand has blessed me in some very obvious ways at some very critical junctures. In a way, that makes the fact that His involvement in this situation has been more “opaque” all the more frustrating. I can only shrug my shoulders and say, along with Nephi: “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that God loveth His children.”

    I wish you well!

  16. Ken on June 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Allen Lambert #4: One current apostle with equivalent of [a] doctorate in nuclear engineering is Elder Scott. We have several doctorates (PhD, DBA, EdD) in social science among current apostles: Eyring, Bednar, Holland, and Packer. Also an MD = Nelson. Not to mention JD = Oaks.

    Not to mention JDs Christofferson and Cook in the Twelve!

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