For those of you who aren't from the United States and don't know what "I-15" is, I should explain the highway system here.
After WWII, President Dwight Eisenhower passed the Interstate Highways Act in 1956 which created freeways across America. These are federally-funded highways that don't have stop signs or stop lights. You just merge onto the Interstate and keep on driving.
Until, that is, you want to exit.
In America the primary arterial Interstates are assigned one-digit or two-digit numbers.
For example, the I-5 stretches from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific coast. The freeway near my home is the I-15, another north-south interstate spanning from southern California up through the Intermountain West all the way to Canada.
Pretend I am giving you directions to my home. You are from Afghanistan and don't know how the roads work in America. Driving your old jalopy, you call me for help.
"Just stay on I-15," I tell you.
Twelve hours later you call again. "I think I'm lost," you say.
"Just stay on I-15," I repeat.
Will you ever reach my home? No!
To the contrary, you will pass me by as you shoot along the interstate listening to Sarah McLachlan on the radio (even from Afghanistan you know she's a Canadian national treasure).
In other words, if we "stay on the path," we will invariably miss the mark.
What is at the End of the Covenant Path?
Do we find a pot of gold at the end of the Covenant Path? When do we get off this path?
Wouldn't "staying" on the path mean we never arrive at our destination? We might even reach the terminus and have to turn around and drive back the other way.
Isn't our messaging about "staying on the covenant path" just another way of saying, "Stay on the Hamster Wheel?"
"No!" someone shouts. "The Covenant Path describes a linear, sequential spiritual path marked at various points by specific covenants we enter into with God."
Okay. Let's take that idea to its logical conclusion. Let's start with our first "covenant" and keep making more and more covenants until . . . until what?
Where does the Covenant Path lead?
What is at the end of the Path?
The Second Anointing?
The Covenant Path needs to be defined, doesn't it?
It's a fun phrase, but what does it really mean? Well, it must be referring to the covenants we make:
a. Baptism b. Sacrament c. Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood d. Initiatory e. Endowment f. Sealing g. Second Anointing h. Second Comforter
Take a good look at those last two. Have I missed any?
Is this what President Nelson means when he says to "stay on the Covenant Path?"
Is President Nelson inviting us to seek our Second Anointing and the Second Comforter?
Covenant Path or "Strange Roads"?
I think the best way to understand the Covenant Path is to think of it in terms of Lehi's Dream.
In Lehi's Dream, there are lots of paths! We better beware.
1. Path from the head of the river of water to the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8:13-15) (this is the path that Nephi and Sariah take).
2. Path along the bank of the river leading to the Tree of Life that has an iron rod along it (1 Nephi 8:19-20).
3. Multiple paths that feed into Path No. 2 (1 Nephi 8:21).
4. "Forbidden" paths taken by those who have partaken of the Tree but were ashamed (1 Nephi 8:28)
5. Path taken by the multitude leading directly to the Great and Spacious Building, Do Not Pass Go, do not collect any Fruit (1 Nephi 8:31).
6. Paths that splinter off of Path No. 5 into "strange roads" (1 Nephi 8:32).
I think we can all agree that there are multiple paths and routes that (1) lead toward and(2) (here's the scary part) away from the Tree.
But there is only one "way."
That would be Jesus Christ. Isn't if funny how we can't spin a possum by its tail without bumping against the Covenant Path these days, when Lehi's Dream zeroes in on the fact that the straight and narrow way, the Iron Rod and the tree/fruit are all . . . Christ?
Straight and narrow way (who is Christ)
Iron Rod = Word of God (who is Christ)
Tree of Life and its Fruit = Love of God (who is Christ)
The whole Dream appears to show us that Christ is the way AND the car AND the destination.
Look! The only path that matters is the one we walk with, and beside, and in, Christ:
And I will be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you [and] . . . ye shall be led [where to?!] towards the promised land; [who will lead us there?!] and ye shall know that it is by ME that ye are led.
(1 Nephi 17:13)
I don't know why we call it the Covenant Path if it is Christ's Path.
Best Question Ever
In John 14 we read about Thomas asking Jesus one of the best questions ever.
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Let me be blunt. The danger of preaching the "Covenant Path" is it has the effect of making us comfortable with our "covenants" (like we've checked the boxes necessary for us to be saved) instead of centering salvation in Christ Himself.
"I object!" someone might argue. "The Covenant Path is all about coming unto Christ. It is effectively the same thing."
Is it, though?
A covenant relationship is between a Father and His child; so why do we make the Church the center focus?
Yes, the Church is in the business of getting us to make covenants, but isn't it interesting how the Church inserts itself into being the broker and mediator of those covenants?
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not [been endowed in thy temple?] and in thy name have [we not been sealed into the new and everlasting covenant?] and in thy name [made] many wonderful [covenants]?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me.
So why are we obsessed with outward ordinances and institutional covenants, when the terms of exaltation are crystal clear:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
. . . just sayin' . . .
The Covenant Path ends. We exit the Interstate and "enter into the rest of the Lord."
UPDATE TO POST // OCTOBER 19, 2022 4:26 P.M.
After I had posted this, Clark Burt commented and reminded me of Nephi's teaching on "the way." I want to include it here because my post was incomplete without accounting for Nephi's words.
Like you this idea of the covenant path has always bothered me, and I ask the same questions. And it bothers me because it is becoming just another slogan, which will be forgotten after President Nelson dies no matter how many general authorities repeat it in their talks.
As you said in another post and reinforced here, this is more religion than faith in Christ.
The I-15 analogy is terrific and comparing that to the Tree of Life and all the paths described therein shows how shallow the slogan is. Do we even make a covenant when baptized? I don't remember making one. I did, however, enter into His new and everlasting Covenant.
Nephi describes how we enter into the way and how we stay in the way--because of and by feasting upon His words.
MY REPLY: Clark, I am glad you mentioned Nephi's words because his magnum opus on "the way" completely escaped my mind as I wrote this. Thank you!
2 Nephi 31:19-21:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow PATH, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Interesting: no mention of covenants yet, but his focus is on "the word of Christ" and "faith" and relying solely on Him.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
Interesting: still no mention of covenants per se, but he repeats two themes which I hadn't noticed before: (1) the word of Christ and (2) instead of "unshaken" faith we have "steadfastness" [in Christ]. In addition he paves the path with love like asphalt: it is to be shown to "all men."
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the WAY [so here he changes PATH to WAY]; and there is none other WAY nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the DOCTRINE [okay, now the Path - Way has become Doctrine] of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.