The Second Spindle
by Autumn Dickson
I learned something this week about the Liahona that kinda blew my mind. I want to share what I learned, and then let’s take some principles from it.
In a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Robert L. Bunker describes an engineering phenomenon that I was completely unaware of. He talks about a concept that was invented by man in the 1940’s known as fault tolerant systems. Essentially, you build a computer that does the same processing twice (or more sometimes). If the processing comes back the same, then the computer can continue on because it is “correct.” If the processing comes back different, then something failed and the computer can know about it. Thus, it is fault tolerant. The computer can detect if it’s having its own issues.
Maybe I’m way behind on figuring this out, but the Lord built a fault tolerant system in the Liahona. It didn’t even register in my mind that the Liahona had two spindles until I was an adult. Even then, I couldn’t figure out why it had two spindles until I googled it and found this article from Robert L. Bunker. This verse is not in this week’s reading, but it does give us insight into the Liahona which we’re studying this week.
Alma 37:40 And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.
Spindles. Plural. Both were pointing. If the Liahona only had one spindle, how was Lehi’s family supposed to know whether it was “working?” They could have waned in their faith and diligence, but the one arrow was still going to be pointing somewhere. There was no way they could have known that it was pointing “wrong.” Maybe this is completely obvious to anyone with any kind of predilection for engineering, but this totally blew my mind.
First of all, the idea that Joseph Smith, with all three years of his formal schooling, could have come up with that would have been impressive to say the least. This kind of fault finding system wasn’t formally invented until the 1940’s, but Joseph kinda just threw it out there while interpreting The Book of Mormon in three months. If it hadn’t been in there, I’m sure I could have found the faith to just assume the Lord had a way of letting the family know, but I still think it’s super cool that it was included.
Anyway, I obviously do not claim to have figured this out on my own, as made apparent by surprise. However, I do want to try and take this a step further. It makes sense that the Lord would provide a way for the family to know if their Liahona was in working order; He was planning on using it as a tool to teach them about faith, diligence, and being led along. He didn’t just give it to them, and they were done. The Lord is purposeful and wanted them to practice living the gospel principles in a continuous manner.
Though the second arrow has very obvious implications for Lehi’s family, I believe there are spiritual implications for us. After all, The Book of Mormon was written for our day so that we could learn about the Lord’s dealings with His children. So what do we learn from this fault tolerant, second spindle?
The words of the prophets
One of the fail-safe systems the Lord has provided are dual pathways for revelation. Like much of the world, we believe that the Lord can speak to us directly. This pathway of revelation is critical to our exaltation. It requires us to stretch and reach and dig for ourselves. When we have to seek out personal revelation, we are able to gain that personal relationship with Christ which is ultimately what saves and exalts us. It also allows us to be guided in our personal lives so that the prophet doesn’t have to tell me whether studying elementary education in college is a good idea. Personal revelation is crucial.
The world is also a great example of what happens when you don’t have that second pathway; President Oaks has coined this pathway the “priesthood line.” The priesthood line is how we received the scriptures in the past, and it’s how we receive His guidance today. As a missionary, I remember coming across a group of Christians who had a table up on campus. They were of all different Christian faiths, working together to spread the word. It was admirable. We tried talking to them, but they quickly denounced us as non-Christians. When I pointed out that they weren’t completely similar in their own beliefs of Christ, they quickly responded that they were similar in all of the important things. I found this extremely fascinating since some of them believed that baptism was essential to salvation and some of them did not believe this. You would think that this particular aspect would be classified as “important” since it was determining credentials for salvation, but I digress. Even within the same denomination, you can wander from congregation to congregation and find different beliefs.
This second spindle, this priesthood line, helps us know what the doctrine is. Yes, we do have random quotes from random priesthood leaders that are questionable, but true, canonized doctrine is repeated again and again and again and again. It is not hidden; we know what we believe. These two lines of communication help with the concept of fault tolerance.
Now the fail safe of a priesthood line can be very helpful in finding out the doctrine of the kingdom. The personal line is still necessary; there are some revelations that only come from the Lord, and we all still have to receive our witness. However, the priesthood line can take us pretty far in establishing the stage.
But what about the personal decisions for which there is no doctrine? There is no “right” answer for what people should choose as careers. There isn’t any kind of doctrine about where we should live or how many kids we should have or who we should marry. There are guiding principles, but guiding principles aren’t always enough. I can be righteous as an accountant or as a fashion designer, but is there a specific direction I need to take? Maybe there isn’t a specific direction, but if there is, I definitely want to know about it.
So what are the fail safes for personal decisions? The priesthood line and personal line can help us with doctrine, but is there a fault tolerant system for our personal decisions? How do we know we’re on the right path if there is a “right” path for us to take? There are plenty of times when there isn’t necessarily a “right” option and we’ll be fine either way, but I’ve also lived long enough and been guided often enough to know He has specific instructions sometimes. What is my second spindle?
I kinda have two answers for this.
First, the Lord helped me understand a simple way to practice receiving revelation. I practiced it with the FSY kids I taught last summer. At FSY, we were given this incredible opportunity where the Lord wanted to speak to us and guide us and teach us. Not to mention, they were all given a journal to carry around anyway. That week, I challenged the kids to write down everything that even barely registered as a potential prompting. I told them that if a thought popped into their heads, they should write it down. They didn’t necessarily need to question whether it was a prompting. They should simply write it down. Was everything they wrote down going to be revelation? No. Would writing everything down help them establish the pattern? Absolutely. If you want to understand whether the Lord is speaking to you, you need a second spindle with which to compare it. Writing down everything could help you start to puzzle out those feelings very consciously and start to recognize the pattern of the Lord’s voice in your own life.
I can’t tell you what your second spindle looks like; it may take time to determine that. However, I can testify of a second spindle. If we learn nothing else from this fault tolerant system of the Lord, learn this: the Lord is capable of helping you know so have faith. When you have a big decision to make and you’re worried out of your mind about whether you’re doing the right thing in your life or whether you’re doing the right thing for your family, set your worry aside and trust the Lord’s ability to speak to you in a way that you can understand. If you don’t feel His voice, don’t fret. If you are regularly turning to Him, He will make His will clear to you if there is a will. Perhaps He will simply close a door that you were planning on taking, or He will open a different one. Perhaps He will guide your desires without you even knowing it, or perhaps you will get a big “warning” feeling that only goes away when you turn around. No matter how He chooses to answer you in any given circumstance, have faith and rejoice that the Lord has a second spindle that works very well. You can trust it.
And if all else absolutely fails, I testify of a third spindle. It’s called the atonement of Jesus Christ, and it makes up for mistakes. It turns all bad into good for those who are trying their hardest to follow the Lord. When I was getting ready to marry Conner and I desperately wanted an answer, I finally gave up and said, “If everything goes wrong and we get divorced and things go totally crazy, the Lord can’t be mad at me because I couldn’t have possibly tried harder to follow Him.” I don’t recommend getting married that way, and I have also learned a lot about marriage since then, but the key is this: you cannot truly fail when you remain close to the Lord. In the end, He can turn everything into a triumph. That third spindle is not fault safe; it is fault proof. It does not fail when we turn it on.
I testify of a Savior who revealed The Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. I testify that He included the coolest, smallest details that can give us so much insight. I testify that He saw all ahead of time and created systems with which to protect us (but not at the expense of our growth), and I testify that He did that because He loves us.
Autumn Dickson was born and raised in a small town in Texas. She served a mission in the Indianapolis Indiana mission. She studied elementary education but has found a particular passion in teaching the gospel. Her desire for her content is to inspire people to feel confident, peaceful, and joyful about their relationship with Jesus Christ and to allow that relationship to touch every aspect of their lives.