The gospel doctrine teacher had an object lesson in mind, and I was to be the object. He called me to the front of the class and held up a piece of paper.
“Brother Johnston, can you create a piece of paper like this one, right now?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“I don’t have the faith,” I said.
I think that was the right answer, but it wasn’t completely true.
I did have enough faith to create a piece of paper, just not “right now.” I had enough faith to teach myself paper-making, buy the materials, put in the time and — in a day or so — produce a sheet of paper.
The lesson the teacher was teaching had to do with our puniness in the face of God's omniscience and omnipotence.
I got that lesson.
But I also got this one:
God will sometimes step in to perform miracles, but only after we’ve exhausted all our own resources. It’s one reason, I think, that he tends to show up at the 11th hour, as author Michael Wilcox has said.
The teacher’s example of a creating paper called to mind another group of Mormon paper-makers: those early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who printed the famous “flight issues” of the Deseret News.
When General Johnston (sorry, no relation) brought his army to Utah, the gutsy editors at the Deseret News began printing stories against him. Johnston sent soldiers to find the presses. But, being ingenious and resourceful (as Deseret News editors are wont to be), they loaded the presses on wagons and hauled them to Fillmore, where the paper continued to produce copy.
That is, until the Deseret News ran out of paper.
Some of them, I'm sure, remembered the miracle of the seagulls and the crickets and hoped God would leave rolls of newsprint on their doorsteps.
But it wasn’t yet the 11th hour.
So, filled with faith and determination, the editors set out to make their own paper. Requests were sent to subscribers to send rags and old bed sheets to Fillmore. The cloth was turned into fibers and the fibers were turned into paper.
Soon the presses were humming with editorial pieces against Johnston again, printed on the whitest paper in history. Today, those issues — the "flight issues" — are collector’s items. And because they were printed on cotton, they are still as white as sheets of snow.
Just retelling that story makes me want to head to the kitchen right now and start making paper for that Sunday School teacher.
You see, I’d tell him, I do have enough faith to create a piece of paper. In his wisdom, God gave me the faith to help myself.
Oh, he may step in once we’ve reached the end of our rope.
But most of the time, he gives us the gumption to braid more rope.
And that kind of miracle is the type that usually helps us the most.