Walls of the Mind


Howard W. Hunter

Much attention of late has been devoted to the Berlin Wall. Of course, we are all pleased to see that wall come down, representing as it does newfound freedoms. Although the greatest peacetime concentration of military forces the world has ever known, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, confronted each other in Germany, it was not weapons of mass destruction, nor political machinations, nor powerful armies, nor even glasnost that brought that wall down.

It reminds me of another wall that I have had occasion to visit, located in the Holy Land. I refer to the ancient wall of Jericho. I have stood on the ruins of that ancient wall and pondered its meaning. This experience has caused me to wonder if perhaps there is a “type and a shadow” in what happened in ancient Jericho and what is happening in the world around us.

When Joshua led the children of Israel over the Jordan River, the first city they confronted was Jericho. Spies were sent out, and a council of war was held. Joshua’s generals undoubtedly set forth arguments as to the kind of weapons, armaments, and tactics that would be needed if they were to breach the wall successfully and destroy the city. Traditionally, it would have meant a lengthy siege. In the meantime, the reputation of the Israelites had preceded them, for the gates of walled Jericho were already closed. The biblical account reads: “Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.” (Josh. 6:1.)

In fact, the military planning was so far advanced that according to Joshua, “about forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.” (Josh. 4:13.)

But the Lord had a better way: “And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.” (Josh. 6:2.)

Yes, Jehovah has a better plan. Jericho would fall, but in the Lord’s way. Instead of being armed with swords and spears, they were armed with rams’ horns. Instead of taking a battering ram, they were to take the sacred ark. They were led not by generals, but by priests; they wore not armor, but priestly garments. And in place of a battle cry, there was perhaps a hosanna shout. Instead of setting them to a long, devastating military siege, the Lord promised that after only seven days “the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.” (Josh. 6:5.)

The Apostle Paul, commenting on this rather unusual procedure, explains it all in one simple sentence: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” (Heb. 11:30.)

Elder James E. Talmage concurred when he wrote, “With full confidence in the instructions and promises of God, Joshua and his intrepid followers laid [spiritual] siege to Jericho; and the walls of that city of sin fell before the faith of the besiegers without the use of battering rams or other engines of war.” (Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, pp. 93–94.)

President Kimball, in addressing the issue of “walls,” asked: “Why must men rely on physical fortification and armaments when the God of heaven yearns to bless them? One stroke of his omnipotent hand could make powerless all nations who oppose, and save a world even when in its death throes. Yet men shun God and put their trust in weapons of war, or in the ‘arm of flesh.’” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. 318.)

President Kimball’s theme brought me to consider some of the greatest walls in recorded history that eventually ceased to provide the protection for which they were designed.

History—or perhaps it is more legend—records a war in the twelfth century B.C. between the Greeks and the Trojans in which a ten-year siege by the Greeks couldn’t break down the walls of Troy, but superstition and a wooden horse did.

In my travels, I have had the opportunity to walk on the ruins of what were once the majestic walls of Babylon. There I reminisced about the historian’s description of seemingly impenetrable walls that were so high and so thick and so well constructed that neither the machines of war nor the passing of time could destroy them. To this day, over 2,500 years later, those walls continue to stand as a monument to their indestructibility. But still, the city was conquered. The defenders, lulled into complacency by the strength of their fortifications, would not believe that the Persians under Cyrus could turn the Euphrates River out of its course and gain access to the city through a dry river bed beneath its walls.

I have stood on the Great Wall of China, with its 4,000 miles of 25-foot-high impenetrable walls, said to be the largest man-made project in the history of the world. But history teaches us that this formidable barrier could not hold back the Mongol leader Genghis Khan.

On many occasions, I have had the opportunity to climb the ramparts of the walled city of Old Jerusalem and reflect on the battles that were fought there. Those walls withstood the combined might of Rome for a time until internal dissensions, political intrigue, and worse from within accomplished what armed might could not do from without.

The Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, who witnessed the destruction, describes the besieged, demoralized population who had entrusted their safety to those physical walls in such graphic terms it leads one to the conclusion that, in the end, Jerusalem was the victim of self-destruction.

I have viewed the now-infamous Maginot Line between France and Germany—a formidable, thick, reinforced concrete wall of fortified bunkers and heavy gun emplacements. It was never assaulted. The enemy simply went around it through Belgium, and the battles took place in the rearward areas, rendering the wall useless.

As I pondered on the failure of all those ancient walls, I considered once again the divine counsel not to put one’s trust in the arm of flesh. Just as there was no security in those ancient man-made walls, neither is there any security in modern-day walls outside the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord said on a number of occasions, “I will be your shield.”

King David, the psalmist-turned-warrior, understood this principle perhaps better than most when he wrote:

“The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; …

“In him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; [who] savest me from violence.

“I will call on the Lord, … so shall I be saved from mine enemies.” (2 Sam. 22:2–4.)

As we try to understand the spirit of reconciliation sweeping the globe and to give it meaning within the gospel context, we have to ask ourselves: Could this not be the hand of the Lord removing political barriers and opening breaches in heretofore unassailable walls for the teaching of the gospel, all in accord with a divine plan and a divine timetable? Surely taking the gospel to every kindred, tongue, and people is the single greatest responsibility we have in mortality. In 1974, President Spencer W. Kimball, speaking on this theme, said: “I can see no good reason why the Lord would open doors that we are not prepared to enter.” He concluded by saying that the doors to nations would open “when we are ready for them.” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, p. 7.)

As the walls in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Africa, China, India, South America, and many other parts of the world come tumbling down, the corresponding need for more missionaries to fulfill the divine commission to take the gospel to all the earth will certainly go up! Are we ready to meet that contingency?

To satisfy the new demands being made upon us in this great missionary work of the last days, perhaps some of us (particularly the older generation whose families are raised) need to take stock to determine whether “walls” that we have built in our own minds need to come down.

For example, how about the “comfort wall” that seems to prevent many couples and singles from going on a mission? How about the “financial wall” of debt that interferes with some members’ ability to go, or the “grandchildren wall,” or the “health wall,” or the “lack of self-confidence wall,” or the “self-satisfied wall,” or the “transgression wall,” or the walls of fear, doubt, or complacency? Does anyone really doubt for a minute that with the help of the Lord he or she could bring those walls crashing down?

We have been privileged to be born in these last days, as opposed to some earlier dispensation, to help take the gospel to all the earth. There is no greater calling in this life. If we are content to hide behind self-made walls, we willingly forgo the blessings that are otherwise ours. The Lord in modern-day revelation explains the great need:

“For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.” (D&C 4:4.)

The Lord goes on to explain in that same revelation the qualifications that we need to be good missionaries. Knowing full well of our weaknesses and of our reservations as we stand before the huge gate of our self-made wall, he reassures us that divine help to overcome all obstacles will be forthcoming if we will only do our part, with the simple promise: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (D&C 4:7.)

May the Lord bless us that the walls of our minds may not obstruct us from the blessings that can be ours.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mark Robison