Almost everything about the Gospel plan is a process and not an event. There are events to be sure, but for most of us and for most of the time we are only working through the process.
A great deal of the scriptures have been written by those who have been through the process, and who are trying to give us instruction to repeat it in our own lives. “Events” which occur are in the scriptures, as well. But we will never arrive at the “events” unless we first realize there is a process and we begin to participate actively in that process.
The first chapter of Abraham, second and third verses, describes a lengthy process. It took decades to unfold. It was not merely that Abraham determined to do something and then it happened. He’s giving a recitation of the process whereby he became at last a “rightful heir” and a “prince of peace” who had “received instructions” and “held the right belonging to the fathers.”
His quest began in “the land of the Chaldeans.” His ordination would not occur until he was transplanted nearly a thousand miles to the place where Melchizedek would at last ordain and endow him. (D&C 84: 14.) Shem was the “great high priest” we know as “Melek” (king) and “Zadok” (priest) or in other words Melchizedek. (D&C 138: 41.)
[Bruce R. McConkie and President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that Shem was NOT Melchizedek. They reasoned that the meaning of words “through the lineage of the fathers, even till Noah” meant that there were generations between Noah and Melchizedek. And that since Noah was Shem’s father, there were no generations. I do not think the words refer to the “generations” after Noah, but to the generations before Noah. In other words, Noah received the priesthood through the generations going back to Adam, and then having that priesthood which began in the first generations, he conferred it upon Shem, whose new name was Melchizedek. It was this “great high priest” who conferred the priesthood on Abraham. You should be aware that I am differing from what McConkie and Smith have taught on this issue. I’m confident in my position and not persuaded by their reasoning, but you are free to believe who you choose.]
When we read the quick summary of Abraham in 1: 2-3, we can wrongly presume that this was a quick event, not a long process. It was lengthy. It did not unfold without decades of desiring, seeking, receiving promises and then having them fulfilled.
A great deal of what we read in the scriptures is quickly describing the process. They can be misleading in that respect. Nephi’s early account of his visionary experiences suggests instant clarity and understanding. However, Nephi took decades to unravel what he had been given. We are reading his third account. He first wrote it when it happened. Then he recorded it a second time on his large plates. It was not until he had received the commandment to prepare the small plates (on which he wrote the account we read in 1& 2 Nephi) that he finally gave us the third, refined, and completed account. This was decades later. He had “pondered continually upon the things which [he] had seen and heard” (2 Ne. 4: 16) during the intervening decades. The account we have reduces the decades of reflection into a single, cogent statement.
The Lord does no magic. He aids us in our growth. We have to grow and overcome. Nephi’s vision was something which, without decades of pondering, he could not state with clarity to a reader of his testimony. It is always required for us to conform to the Lord’s understanding and abandon our own.
The comment by Moses in Moses 1: 27-30 shows how despite the vision he could not understand. He had to ask, “tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” It would take great effort to be able to catch up with the things he witnessed.
The Lord lives in a timeless state. (D&C 130: 7; Alma 40: 8.) We live inside time. When the Lord shows things to prophets from His perspective, it takes a while for men to comprehend what they have been shown. It is a process. Our effort is also required.
Men are not perfected in an instant. We do not learn, even with a Perfect Teacher, without applying ourselves. It sometimes takes, as in the cases of Abraham and Nephi, decades of pondering in order for us to understand and finally receive what has been given to us. In the mean time, the Lord gives us experiences in life which will allow our minds to open to what He has done for us.
Joseph’s First Vision was originally his own conversion story. By the time of the third account (the one we have in the scriptures) it had changed into the opening of a dispensation for all mankind. It changed from Joseph’s conversion into the herald call from heaven to all mankind. The years from 1820 to 1838 were required for Joseph to understand the difference. Same vision. Much different understanding.
So it is with all sons of God.