In Luke chapter 24, it chronicles the events that take place shortly after the resurrection of the Savior. Starting in verse 13 we have the story of two of his apostles walking “to a village called Emmaus”. Let’s remember that they are apparently making this journey almost immediately (“that same day”) after hearing the news that the Savior was no longer in the tomb. During this journey, these two disciples “talked together of all these things which had happened”, and while they did that Jesus himself “drew near, and went with them”. Now, we know that their eyes were “holden” during this journey, and through the night while the Lord speaks with them, expounds the scriptures to them, until finally as “he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them” their eyes were opened, “and they knew him”.
In John chapter 20, we read that Mary is “weeping” at the empty sepulchre, only to see with her own eyes the Lord himself and hear him ask “Woman, why weepest thou”? We learn that Mary, in her grief or in her pain or in her state of distress “saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus” and was “supposing him to be the gardener”. Then, only after the Lord calls her by name, she “turned herself” and recognized him.
The story (hymn 29) of the poor wayfaring man of grief details six entire verses of good works that the narrator was anxiously engaged in. He loves this stranger, shares his meal with him, he quenches his thirst, he clothed him and provided rest to him, he nurses him back to health and revives his spirit, and finally honors him amid scorn from others before stating that “in a moment to my view the stranger started from disguise” allowing him to recognize the Savior.
The point of these three stories, and certainly my point in highlighting them in this way is that the Lord does indeed come to us, but he often comes in disguise.
Nevermind that the two apostles on the road to Emmaus, Mary at the tomb, and the unnamed man in the hymn were not only pondering the events that were happening around them, but they were thinking of the Lord, and expressing sincere gratitude at their blessings, trying to piece together the reality of what was happening and what it meant to them, and they were acting and serving in faith while. Each of them were doing the very things that we are encouraged to do to invite the Lord into our lives – and he did come – yet he still appeared to them in disguise.
Even further, 3 Ne. 9:20 teaches us that there were people who – because of their faith (which is a principle of action, likely indicating that they were acting in way very similar to these individuals listed above) were “baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” All these examples help me to understand that not only that it is possible to experience something spiritually wonderful, or incredibly important and not even know it, but also that it is pretty common, and for most of us, we feel like we are giving 100% effort in doing the right things, yet have a difficult time recognizing the Lord and hearing his voice clearly.
Why is it this way? Why doesn’t he just make himself and his hand totally and unmistakably obvious to everyone? Why do things have to be hidden or disguised at all? What purpose does that serve?
There are likely several reasons, but remember that the Lord taught in parables, which means he still does teach in parables. And that a parable conveys to the hearer religious truth exactly in proportion to his faith and intelligence; to the dull and uninspired it is a mere story, “seeing they see not,” while to the instructed and spiritual it reveals the mysteries or secrets of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is that only he who seeks finds.
I like to think that the examples above were used because in each case, the people involved had the mystery revealed and they received a wonderful treasure and the end of their wrestle. The apostles had their eyes opened “and they knew him”. Mary and the hymn writer were able to recognize, speak with and have an experience with Him because of their good works. Joseph Smith wrote that “the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out.” (History of the Church 3:295-96). But he didn’t say we’d find them out immediately.
Now, before we get too far down the road in thinking that everything is disguised or hidden so well that we cannot find it. Let’s remember that it’s only hidden in proportion to our faith and intelligence, and that if we seek we will find, and the more faith and intelligence we gain, the more we will find.
When I was 16 or 17 and a senior in High School, I thought it was incredibly important to have chewing gum on my person at almost all times. This meant that I bought gum with my own money, and since I didn’t want my younger siblings tasting the fruits of my labor, or dipping into my secret stash of gum I kept it from them by hiding it. And, because I really wanted it to be safe, I put the unopened gum, and any partially opened packs of gum in my underwear drawer – and not just in my underwear, like underneath and all around my actual underwear. In other words, I hid it so that it would not be found. This shouldn’t be a hard concept for us to understand since really anytime we hide something, I think it’s assumed that it is not meant to be found (except maybe by us) right? After all, the very meaning of hidden is “to conceal from sight, or to prevent from being seen, or to keep secret”.
But the Lord hides things differently than we do. As odd as it may seem. He hides things so that they will be found.
Take the plates of Ether for example. The Lord knew how important the record of the Jaredites would be not only to the Nephites, but to all of us, so after Ether finished recording their history, he “hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them” (Ether 15:33). How many of us think to hide things in a manner that they will be found? Probably none of us, but I think this phrase indicates exactly how and why the Lord hides things. Both the Lord and Ether desperately wanted the record to be found, so he “hides” it so that the looker will know that they should search and the finder will know that they actually found something. I’m sure the people of Limhi left plenty of stuff untouched when they found the Jaredite civilization, but they somehow knew what to find. This idea could be used for the Gold plates as well.
The Lord has prepared a wonderland of lessons for us all to learn here on earth. People, places, things, and especially our own experiences as we struggle through the mundane provide the Lord with the hiding places, and he inserts hidden and disguised treasures in a manner that we will find them.