It the LDS Church today, we often hear the phrase, “Looking Beyond the Mark.” Those who read the scriptures know this comes from the book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon. This is a uniquely LDS phrase, not found in the Bible. Jacob was teaching the people about Christ, who, of course, is the mark in question. Keep that in mind. Christ is the mark, not the LDS Church.
Anything that causes you to look past Christ for salvation is looking beyond the mark. Anything that takes you away from coming unto Christ is looking beyond the mark. Anyone who stands in between you and your Savior can cause you to look beyond the mark. Anything, any system, any person or any church that purports to be able to save you is deflecting your view from the mark.
From this verse, sermons have been preached, lessons have been written, actions have been justified and individuals have been condemned. Ironically, when someone focuses on coming unto Christ, and doing all within their power to respond to the promptings of the spirit, others may perceive them as engaging in a gospel hobby, accusing them of looking beyond the mark.
Here is the verse in question:
“But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.” (Jacob 4:14)
Elder Cook spoke about this subject. He said, “Today there is a tendency among some of us to ‘look beyond the mark’ rather than to maintain a testimony of gospel basics. We do this when we substitute the philosophies of men for gospel truths, engage in gospel extremism, seek heroic gestures at the expense of daily consecration, or elevate rules over doctrine. Avoiding these behaviors will help us avoid the theological blindness and stumbling that Jacob described.”
Most Apostles Understand the Doctrine
Elder Cook got it … sort of. I like the phrase “maintain a testimony of gospel basics,” but I’m fairly certain he would not discount these words from Joseph when he said, “I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.” (TPJS, p 299)
Roy Doxy, when he was dean emeritus of Religious Instruction at Brigham Young University taught this important doctrine in the July 1976 Ensign. This one article alone answered so many questions for me back when I preparing for my mission. I have treasured it and wondered why we have not had more articles, talks or lessons like this in our correlated instructional material.
The reason I think Elder Cook understands this doctrine is because he clearly points out the mark is Christ. It is only the gospel of Christ, the doctrine of Christ that saves. Elder Cook concluded, “One of the great challenges of this life is to accept Christ for who He is: the resurrected Savior of the world, our Redeemer, our Lord and Master, our Advocate with the Father.
“When He is the foundation for all that we do and are, we avoid the theological blindness that results from looking beyond the mark, and we reap the glorious blessings He has promised us. ‘Come unto me, ye blessed,’ He tells those who follow Him; ‘there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father’ (Enos 1:27).”
The Doctrine Has Been Watered Down
Elder Dean Larson spoke on the same subject back in 1987. He used a sports analogy to describe the importance of staying within the circle, which he called the mark. Although He noted the importance of faith in the redeeming role of the Messiah, he said the mark was wisdom and prudence, equating it to a circle of fundamental gospel truths, providing a basis for that faith. I wish he had been as plain as Elder Cook in stating Christ is the mark to whom we should look.
For a good, although lengthy analysis of the phrase, Paul Y. Hoskisson, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, published an essay in 2007 that includes the classic symbolic themes and metaphors of gospel hobbies, sin, pride, wealth, and strengths that become weakness (see Elder Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” BYU, June 1992). In other words, anything that distracts from the target, or the mark of Christ, is to be avoided.
From Matthew Faulconer’s blog, “Feast Upon the Word,” we read:
“…looking beyond Christ could mean a number of things. It could imply that one is looking to be saved by actions, ordinances, or even associations with other people, rather than looking to the atonement of Jesus Christ for salvation. One reason it may be easy to look beyond the mark in this sense is that it is easier to gain an assurance of our salvation through a tangible feeling or action rather than a quiet voice or a small feeling that takes time to understand.”
Some Doctrines Take More Study and Thought
Elder Oaks offered the following in a BYU Idaho devotional 7 Nov 2006:
“My second subject of wisdom concerns looking beyond the mark. In the Book of Mormon the Prophet Jacob described a people who ‘despised the words of plainness, . . . and sought for things . . . they could not understand’ (Jacob 4:14). He said this caused them to fall because when persons are ‘looking beyond the mark,’ God takes away plainness and gives them what they sought–things they cannot understand.
“We see this today. For example, some persons write General Authorities asking when we will be returning to Missouri or how we should plan to build up the New Jerusalem. Others want to know details about the Celestial Kingdom, such as the position of a person who lives a good life but never ever marries.
“I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. What I do know is that persons worrying about such things are probably neglecting to seek a firmer understanding and a better practice of the basic principles of the gospel that have been given to them with words of plainness by the scriptures and by the servants of the Lord
“If we neglect the words of plainness and look beyond the mark, we are starting down a path that often leads to a loss of commitment and sometimes to a loss of faith. There is enough difficulty in following the words of plainness, without reaching out for things we have not been given and probably cannot understand.”
Seeking the Second Comforter IS the Mark
I think that’s enough detail from words of prophets, apostles, general authorities and scriptural commentary to make a point. I won’t get into the other common definition of the mark, as found in Ezekiel 9:4-6. It is the mark or anointing placed in the forehead of suffering saints who sigh and cry for the sins of those in their cities. The mark is placed there by their attending angels.
The point is this: Seeking to enter into the presence of the Lord in this mortal life is NOT looking beyond the mark. It is NOT a gospel hobby. It is NOT gospel extremism. Seeking to receive the Second Comforter is NOT something of which we need to repent. It is something we need to do. It is not spiritual blindness. It is having one’s eyes opened. The Lord is not saddened by our efforts in this area, even when they are misunderstood and result in being disciplined by others.
I suspect when scriptures or doctrines are understood differently by individuals, the tendency is to say the other person is suffering from “blindness [that] came from looking beyond the mark.” It’s a polite way of throwing one’s hands up in the air, saying, “You don’t get it, do you? Why can’t you see it the same way I do? Oh, I get it. You’re blinded. You refuse to see the truth.” With such thinking, they go on their way, feeling secure and justified in their own conclusions.
Discussion versus Contention
That’s a sad way of relating to others. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to try to understand the other’s point of view? I confess I have been guilty of impatience in relating to others, both in person and here on my blog. For that I apologize. I love discussion, but abhor contention. I am a witness that contention causes the spirit to withdraw. So does taking offense. I’m preaching to myself here.
Most of my readers know I have withdrawn my membership from the LDS Church. I’ve tried to share my reasons why. I’ve had my share of public and private dialogs and conversations about my decision. Most have tried to be understanding and kind. I appreciate that. I don’t endorse my path for anyone unless God tells you. I received that confirmation as the best for my situation.
If I come to regret my decision, feel I’ve made a mistake and desire to be readmitted by baptism to the LDS Church, I must receive approval of a representative of the First Presidency, this even though I was not placed under formal probation before I resigned. This is understandable. In my blog, I have been clear I felt the Lord sent a servant with a message from outside the hierarchy.
Concluding Thoughts Going Forward
I seek to come unto Christ. I made a decision to be baptized in a manner that is slightly different from the way it is done in the LDS Church today. I also decided to participate in the sacrament in a slightly different manner from the way it is administered in the LDS Church today. Finally, I practice an order of prayer learned in a sacred place that I feel brings more power into my life.
I like to think I have kept all the good things I had in the LDS Church. I have disagreements with the manner in which the church is trying to control those who blog as a way of learning things. I am certain of the path I have chosen. Much like Brigham Young, I studied it for years before I acted. I take that back. I acted the first night I read the message. I prayed and asked God about it.
I recognize what I have done is unusual, different, unorthodox and certainly not the path that is accepted by the LDS Church. Thus, I resigned, knowing I would eventually be excommunicated. Why? Because I will not, I cannot deny what I have learned through study and prayer. Many claim I have been deceived. Perhaps. We shall see. I thank you for your prayers in my behalf.