November 5, 2009

I see through a glass darkly and I kinda like it

It's the old dilemma about following imperfect prophets:

Is prophetic revelation a messy, imperfect process where doctrines and practices change and evolve over time and even prophets see through a glass darkly (like the rest of us)? Or do prophets and apostles really have the kind of clear, direct pipeline to God that merits unquestioning obedience? It seems like most members and leaders of the church like having it both ways.

The slippery slope goes like this: "If leaders in the past made mistakes (potentially the priesthood ban or something like it) then what about now?" I personally see the problem as part of a direct invitation to take more personal responsibility for our relationship to God. Sort of like when Nephi took things straight to God even though his dad had visions and so forth, and later when his dad "spoke as a man" leaving it up to Nephi to get some personal revelation on where to find some grub.

But what if you take some personal responsibility and you take an issue up with God and arrive at a different conclusion than the prophets? It seems that Mormon culture encourages questioning/asking, but always with the assumption that we will, of course, arrive at "the right answer."

I think the hope is there that we arrive at the "right answer," but in my own experience it hasn't always worked out that way. There have been times when my own answer differed or I didn't feel I received an answer at all either way. Granted this is not a common occurrence and it generally makes things a lot more difficult of course. But at the same time I recognize that I received my answer, not a charge to spread it as far and wide as I can.

Sure, go ahead--ask. But then you will get the right answer and it will be in agreement with whatever the prophet has told us. So what if it doesn't? Does that mean he's not a prophet? Or does that mean we are wrong? It seems like are the only two logical conclusions.

First, I don't know how often a prophet or president of the Church would be in direct communication with God face to face. I believe revelation from God more usually comes, even to our leaders, through the Spirit and is conditioned on the circumstances and capacities of the recipient.

Second, there's an old quote from Brigham Young I've thought a lot about. The crux of Brigham's argument is that we're responsible for ourselves. I know we often hear about the importance of following the counsel of the prophets and I believe that's good advice. I can certainly understand why leaders don't constantly say "but I may be, or probably am, wrong, so take it for what it is worth." I imagine they take their position very seriously and do the best they can. But at the same time, I have to be willing to live with a certain uncertainty in these matters. For me, that's all part of our little test down here:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually....

Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye. (Brigham Young, 12 January 1862, Journal of Discourses 9:150.)
This approach can make things more interesting. I see through a glass darkly and I kinda like it.


Jeremy said...

Two points:

1) "I don't know how often a prophet or president of the Church would be in direct communication with God face to face." Before leaving for the mission field, my father was privileged to sit in the SLC temple with other Elders and a few GA's to ask "any" question on their mind. One Elder asked when the then-current prophet had last received a direct revelation from the Lord. The GA thought about it, and then answered, "just yesterday."

I think our Prophet talks to the Lord on a daily basis and guides as as he sees fit. However, the Lord probably does not reveal ALL things to the Prophet as he is required to live by faith also.

2) "But what if you take some personal responsibility and you take an issue up with God and arrive at a different conclusion than the prophets?" This was the scenario with a friend of mine in Arizona with the equivalent of Prop 8 being pushed there. Elder Packer visited my friend's Stake and encouraged the membership to vote to maintain traditional marriage.

My friend, who is also an attorney, studied the legal question out in his mind and felt that what Elder Packer was encouraging the membership to do was incorrect. He was visibly torn between his faith and his conscience. Although he ended up voting as Elder Packer had encouraged, he clearly did so begrudgingly.

BHodges said...

Jeremy, Pres. Hinckley was pretty straight-forward in explaining that much of the day-to-day revelation he received for the Church came through the Holy Ghost and not through an encounter with God directly. For example, he made a large distinction between the revelation on lifting the priesthood ban versus the revelation to make a less-drastic procedural change. My .02

Stephen said...

I liked this, though and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear seems to reflect on going forward in the trust of the Lord and in influencing our leaders.

BHodges said...

Agreed Stephen.

Aleca said...

Awesome topic. I have never receieved what I would call "revelation" typically. But i do however have moments where I can not deny what my spirit resonate with in. That is between me and the Lord, and what pertains to my particular situation, thoughts, feelings. I havent read much on Brigham Young, but I enjoyed that passage. thanks.

BHodges said...

Al, revelation comes that way for me most often as well.

Jared said...

When church leaders venture into the political arena is where members are most frequently challenged.

Prop 8, and a number of other political issues through the years have proved to be problematic for some members.

As I have observed this, I've noticed that those who are well versed in the scriptures generally find it easy to agree with our leaders positions.

For example, having a son or daughter who is gay can create a dilemma. Among those I know who are in this situation I've observed that those who are well versed in the scriptures, though torn, have lined up with church leaders on prop 8.

Of course, my observations are dearrived from a small sample, but I think the counsel to study the scriptures puts those who do in a better position to understand the mind and will of God. This is accomplished at two levels, 1) when we consistently study the scriptures with an eye of faith we intellectually become like those who wrote them, 2)scripture reading invites personal revelation.

I've experienced this many times, even as recently as last week. I'd prayed about a fear I have and while reading from the BoM felt the impression of the Spirit reconfirm something I already knew, but needed to relearn via the Spirit so that my fear could be calmed. Sometimes knowing something intellectually does not allow one to exercise sufficient faith until they learn, or relearn it via the Spirit.

DMI Dave said...

Nice discussion, Blair. Patience is a virtue, and sometimes one needs decades of it. That may be decades for the Church to come around to a different way of doing things. Or it might be decades for us to come around and see that the Church was doing it right all along.

cinepro said...

Great post, LOAP. It should find a wide readership, since people who follow false prophets (i.e. all the non-LDS) deal with those same issues as well.

BHodges said...

Poor cinepro. Needed an infallible prophet and was sorely disappointed. ;)

Dan Ripple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Ripple said...

I enjoyed this article. It reminded me of a talk I read recently by Wilford Woodruff about the revelation topic. He spoke about the challenge members of the church had in relation to the manefesto that was revealed about polygamy. I would recommend a read through some time.

One of my favorite things he states is "The Latter-day Saints should not get the idea that the Lord has forsaken his people, or that He does not reveal His mind and will; because such an idea is not true. The Lord is with us, and has been with us from the beginning. This Church has never been led a day except by revelation. And He will never leave it. It matters not who lives or who dies, or who is called to lead this Church, they have got to lead it by the inspiration of Almighty God. If they do not do it that way, they cannot do it at all. The Lord will not fail in these last days, and He will fulfill all that He has promised through His Prophets and Apostles, until Zion arises in its glory, and the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, is prepared for the coming of the great Bridegroom."

BHodges said...

thanks dan, do you know the ref for that quote?

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