Here is an empirical claim for which I have no support, other than my own observations: many Mormons inappropriately mystify revelation.
In my view, members inappropriately mystify revelation when they invoke images of prophets and apostles meeting face-to-face on a regular basis with Jesus or with angels. Or receiving the words of God by dictation. Indeed, almost anytime leaders of the Church are portrayed as radio transmitters for the will of God, I get worried.
I see two reasons that such images are inappropriate (i.e., potentially harmful to members’ testimonies): (1) if the words of Church leaders are supposed to be the unadulterated words of God, then contradictions, changes, or clarifications that evidence human participation in the revelatory process may lead members to distrust Church leaders; and (2) if the process of revelation is really so spectacular, it is experienced only by a select few rather than by the great mass of members.
My image of Church leaders is more modest. I imagine them working through problems in much the same way that I work through problems. They gather information, ponder possible solutions in light of their own experiences and the principles of the Gospel, and seek guidance through prayer and fasting. Answers to those prayers may come in various ways, but usually consist of not much more than “feeling good” about a particular course of action. While exceptional tasks may require more dramatic divine confirmation, I suspect that this is a fairly decent description of most revelatory experiences. President Hinckley’s recent conversation with Larry King offers support for my view:
KING: You are the prophet, right?
KING: Does that mean that, according to the church canon, the Lord speaks through you?
HINCKLEY: I think he makes his will manifest, yes.
KING: So if you change things, that’s done by an edict given to you.
HINCKLEY: Yes, sir.
KING: How do you receive it?
HINCKLEY: Well, various ways. It isn’t necessarily a voice heard. Impressions come. The building of this very building I think is an evidence of that. There came an impression, a feeling, that we need to enlarge our facilities where we could hold our conferences. And it was a very bold measure. We had to tear down a big building here and put this building up at great cost. But goodness sakes, what a wonderful thing it’s proven to be. It is an answer to many, many needs. And I think it’s the result of inspiration.
KING: And that came from something higher than you.
HINCKLEY: I think so.
The idea of “revelation by impression” is mystical enough without the accoutrements of heavenly visitation or dictation, but it has two implications that I find simultaneously liberating and frightening: (1) “revelation by impression” seems to allow more room for human error because impressions must be decoded in a way that oral instructions (probably) do not; and (2) “revelation by impression” seems more accessible to ordinary members and thus more consistent with the idea of a lay church.