Demystifying Prophetic Counsel

December 27, 2004 | 106 comments
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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?

HINCKLEY: 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.

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106 Responses to Demystifying Prophetic Counsel

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  2. Julie in Austin on December 27, 2004 at 10:49 pm

    Gordon–

    I am very sympathetic to what you write. I do have one question: Why doesn’t God speak more clearly, more obviously, to us?

  3. Gordon Smith on December 27, 2004 at 11:06 pm

    Julie,

    Good question. Here is my quick take, probably simplistic: God is pretty clear when He wants to be, but the search for His will is part of the perfection process. That search is a process of discovery in which we are active participants. As we make discoveries — that is, as we receive revelations — our spirits learn the will of God in a way that, in my experience, does not happen when someone simply tells me the answer before I have put in the hard work required by the search.

  4. David King Landrith on December 27, 2004 at 11:20 pm

    I think you make a very good point about revelation. I think it dovetails with what Leonard J. Arrington called the marionette theory of church leadership. People tend to think that the primary job of church leaders is to get revelation and act on it, but they neglect the fact that our leaders are moral agents who are chosen because of their judgment and talents–not just because of their obedience.

    The model for revelation that seems most meaningful to me is shown in the actions of the Brother of Jared. He has a problem to solve, and God leaves it up to him how to solve it. So the Brother of Jared finds some rocks, and comes up with the idea that if God touches them, they’ll glow. This may otherwise seem like a harebrained scheme, but apparently God thinks that its good enough and gives it his endorsement. But all the while, the burden to come up with and execute a solution rests on the shoulders of the Brother of Jared.

  5. obi-wan on December 27, 2004 at 11:42 pm

    I think that I probably had a tendency to mystify revelation, much as Gordon describes, until an experience I had a while ago. I had long wondered, as I think most of us do, what it would be like to be a fly on the wall in a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve/First Presidency. And then one day in the middle of a High Council meeting it struck me: It’s exactly like this! Fifteen men of varied accomplishment and ability, trying their best to work through the problems that beset their stewardship, hopefully under the inspiration of the Spirit, and probably — no, certainly — making a whole lot of mistakes.

    I’ve seen plenty of revelation and inspiration happen at the ward and stake level. I’ve also seen plenty of really boneheaded decisions made where inspiration was completely absent. And I’m pretty certain that the way revelation works for the rest of us is the same way that it works at any level of the Church — precisely as President Hinkley described it to Larry King. In one way that’s comforting; any of us is entitled to the same access to divine guidance in our stewardships as any apostle. In another sense, it’s a bit scary, since I know all the screw-ups that I’ve personally witnessed on a local level . . .

  6. Matt Evans on December 27, 2004 at 11:46 pm

    Gordon,

    It seems to me that there are still two kinds of revelation, the radio-transmitter variety and the kind Hinckley explained to Larry King. The examples of inspiration Hinckley has given of the Conference Center and of the “mini-temples” are hard to distinguish from the strategic challenges leaders of all large organizations face. (Should Disney branch into theme parks? IBM abandon the PC market? Gateway open retail stores? GM start a GEO or Saturn division? Ford jettison the popular Escort model? Comcast provide broadband internet access? McDonalds acquire Chipotle? All of those decisions involved far, far more risk than did tearing down the Deseret Gym to build a bigger conference center.)

    If someone investigating the church were to ask us why it’s so important to have a living prophet, we wouldn’t say it’s because only a true prophet would know that a bigger church needs a bigger conference facility, or because only a prophet would realize that a small number of highly concentrated temples couldn’t serve a global church.

    What investigators and church members want and hope for are prophets that are more than CEOs. For that reason members cling to the revelatory archetypes of Moses and Joseph Smith, even if members wrongly assume all revelation happens that way. It’s the way real revelation happens — real revelation being revelation that makes prophets more than merely gifted managers.

  7. Matt Evans on December 27, 2004 at 11:59 pm

    David King Landrith,

    I think the Brother of Jared example actually points in the other direction — toward mystical revelation. Having someone touch stones and make them glow is impossible to our understanding — only God could do such a miraculous thing.

    The difference with President Hinckley’s examples is that he solved problems in a way that makes it hard to see the Lord’s hand. If we had asked a business school professor how to make the temple available to more people, he would likely have come up with a solution like we have now (increase quantity and distribution of temples by scaling down and removing non-essentials). If Hinckley had asked God to touch some small temple replicas and grow them into life-size, functioning temples, that would have been indisputably miraculous. Members cling to the mystical because they want to believe in miracles — miracles like stones that glow from being touched.

  8. Jack N on December 28, 2004 at 12:21 am

    I’ve always enjoyed the 138th section of D&C. How many times do you think Pres. Smith read the verses he was pondering? It this case it was an amplification of already existing scripture. A friend described that he was working on a physics problem for a space probe and as he waited at a stop light he saw the formula on a train trestle in front of him. I have sat many times at the same location and wondered about that formula. Even if it were shown to me, I wouldn’t understand.
    If you could quantify the amount of time you receive inspiration/revelation how much time would it be? Seconds, minutes? Abraham was able to look into the heavens. I wonder how much he saw and understood. Is a prophet allowed a little more time than the rest of us and therefore is better able to recognize what is being given-hence he is the prophet.

  9. Larry on December 28, 2004 at 1:24 am

    Boyd K. Packer gave a talk to religion and institute instructors back in the late 80′s where he made the point that we ought to live so that we could cross the veil almost at will. Why would he talk in such terms?
    I apologize in advance if my rhetoric seems a little stern, (and this is aimed at no one in particular), but I find it difficult to understand why we try to water down the Gospel and it’s authority to appease part-time believers.
    If we have not had the experience of “the call” or had the “mantle” of an apostle placed on our shoulders, how in the world could we possibly surmise that revelation doesn’t come to each prophet or apostle precisely in a “mystical way” at specific points in their ministry, or on a regular basis because of personal inquiry.
    The examples in the scriptures are not the exception, they are the rule.
    As obi-wan stated, there are decisions that require their wisdom and experience, their disagreements and their compromises, but each one is called for a specific reason and each has gifts that he brings. Because of those gifts, a member of the Quorum may receive more specific revelation than others on a specific subject and then have the task of convincing the rest of the Brethern. That fact does not deny the reality of “mystical revelation”.
    When the prophet holds the keys, those keys are active not dormant.
    When he speaks on Larry King about how he came to the decision regarding the Conference Center, he is not going to give details that open it to public ridicule. He was spending a great deal of the Lord’s money. The nature of the inspiration (or dare I say, revelation) he received would not be forthcoming on that show.
    Even the details of the revelation regarding the giving of the priesthood to all worthy male members was never fully disclosed.
    From time to time various of the Brethern have shared personal experiences, but in the main they are very reluctant to do so.
    Perhaps it is our lack of faith, and appreciation for the sacredness of those experiences, that causes them to seal their lips.
    So when they describe the events that move the Church along, they do so in very muted and mortal terms so that the event becomes important and not the process, lest it be mocked.

  10. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 1:33 am

    Matt,

    I think you’re missing DKL’s point with regard to the brother of Jared. Yes the whole thing culminated in something truely miraculous, but the real beauty of the story is that we are able to read about some of the detail that led up to the miracle. We learn that the miracle didn’t happen upon the brother of Jared like a bolt out of the blue, but rather it was the result of some of the things Gordon has been writing about. i.e., “working through problems… gather[ing] information, ponder[ing] possible solutions in light of [our] own experiences and the principles of the Gospel, and seek[ing] guidance through prayer and fasting…” etc. Whether the end result of seeking divine guidance culminates in the parting of the veil or merely a “good feeling” the process leading up to that result will most likely be somewhat the same.

  11. Ben H on December 28, 2004 at 3:21 am

    The wonderful, mind-blowing thing about the Brother of Jared’s story is that it was BOTH! It was like a bolt out of the blue — hello! Christ came in a cloud, touched the stones with his finger, causing them to glow, and then showed himself more fully, with an exposition on his work to come! But it was also very subtle. The epiphany was a response to the Brother of Jared’s request and deliberation and labor to help his people, and the bolt came in a way that the Brother of Jared requested! plus more.

  12. Ben H on December 28, 2004 at 3:34 am

    It seems quite clear that Pres. Hinckley meant his audience to understand that much revelation does come in a subtle way, as impressions, and that this is much of what a prophet’s job is. This does not change the fact that some revelation comes in much more dramatic fashion. So, which sort of revelation implies the prophet is more special and wonderful? I submit that it says more about a person if (s)he is able to recognize and carry out the Lord’s will, given just a subtle prompting. It suggests the person is already almost there, already thinking and choosing in a way much like the Lord. Isn’t that a better reflection on the person than if (s)he had to be told in a voice to shake the earth, like Alma the younger, for example? or Laman and Lemuel when they were beating Nephi? Funny how that works. Good friends can sometimes communicate more with a few words than strangers communicate in an hour’s conversation. More dramatic manifestations often are a sign that we are pretty out of touch with what God has in mind.

  13. Julien on December 28, 2004 at 4:14 am

    Anybody know where I can find the transcript of the interview?

  14. John Mansfield on December 28, 2004 at 7:55 am

    The apostles are the special witnesses of Christ, so if they have particular encounters with Christ that they don’t speak of, I am not going to do it for them. President Hinckley and others in his office have described revelation before in terms like that in the Larry King interview that have left the idea that the way they are guided is not qualitatively different from what all the saints experience.

    And yet. We consider it important to have living today men who stand in the same place as those who saw Christ transfigured and resurrected. We consider Gordon Hinckley as successor of another prophet who saw Jesus, was visited by angels, and had page after page of scripture poured out of his mouth. It isn’t hard to see where people are coming from if they are looking for something more than strong impressions to the mind and soul. New Testament passages come to mind where Jesus told witnesses of miracles to keep what they saw to themselves or commented on those “who have ears to hear,” and so we strain for clues that there is something gloriously divine happening just out of sight.

  15. Pink Floyd on December 28, 2004 at 8:02 am

    No one has mentioned the other Brother of Jared example: He was worried there was going to be no air in his barges. He prayed for an answer and the Lord gave him one on the spot: “Cut holes in the bottom and the top so you can open which ever one is up.” He didn’t say, “Go and think about it and come back with suggestions.” I don’t think that was “inappropriately mystif(ied) revelation.”

    Revelation comes to prophets in all sorts of ways.

  16. Marc D. on December 28, 2004 at 8:46 am

    Anybody know where I can find the transcript of the interview?

    Comment by Julien — 12/28/2004 @ 4:14 am

    You can find it on http://www.cnn.com
    go to what’s on TV and then transcripts

  17. David King Landrith on December 28, 2004 at 9:14 am

    Jack is right about what I intended with the Brother of Jared example, which was to emphasize the work that he had to do rather than the culmination. I tend to view Joseph Smith’s revealing of the temple ceremony as a manifestation of the same kind of process. In fact, I tend to think that much of what makes up the requirements for a dispensation or a generation are dependent upon what the Prophet says, because God has given him the responsibility and the authority to say so (within certain parameters), and not necessarily because God demands that everything happens in such-and-such a way.

  18. danithew on December 28, 2004 at 9:51 am

    At first I thought President Hinckley seemed a bit tentative about expressing that he is a prophet and that he receives revelation directly from the Lord. I wasn’t sure if viewers would really be able to sense his prophethood from the miracle and inspiration that goes into building a spacious conference center. That last sentence might have a sarcastic ring to it, but that is not the intention. I’m just trying to say in a straightforward manner one of my concerns, my guesses as to how non-LDS folks might have felt as they viewed the interview.

    At the same time, for a number of reasons, I’m sure Larry King Live is not really the place that President Hinckley should describe dramatic personal revelations.

    Most of all I just want to wish President Hinckley well. It’s simply amazing how at his age he can be such an amazing presence and representative for the Church. I feel sad that his wife has passed on and I hope he’s blessed in any moments of sadness or loneliness that he feels after all his years of partnership with her. What a tremendous example he is. I will never forget the tender way he spoke of his wife in this last General Conference. That line about how “she once again has become the girl of my dreams” was one of the sweetest descriptions I’ve ever heard of a wife.

  19. John Mansfield on December 28, 2004 at 9:55 am

    One reason Brother Gordon gives that prophetic counsel should be demystifed is so there won’t be a distinction between the experiences of a small elite group and those of the mass of ordinary saints. An alternative route to that end is for the saints to live up to and expect more transcendent spiritual manifestations.

    I have a first person account of the life of one of my ancestors, Helena Ericksson Rosberg, who was baptized in Sweden and traveled to Utah with the Rowley handcart company. She described a number of visions and other divine manifestations from her midnight baptism on. I can understand if someone else is more skeptical, but I trust her account and take it at face value. Taken as a whole, it seemed she was able to have such experiences because she accepted that she could and didn’t have a barrier to them.

    Maybe I am just a sign seeker, but there seems to be something lacking in my faith that limits my openness to the divine encounters my ancestor was blessed with. It may even be that as a Church we are only open now to receiving the type of revelation that Hinckley and Kimball have given us, and so that is all we are given.

  20. Charles on December 28, 2004 at 10:52 am

    I’ve really enjoyed this post and its comments. I would agree that it is more important for members to remember that inspiration is available to all of us and will usually take the form of an impression of what we should do. Hopefully, we are living close enough to the spirit to hear these impressions and we are well practiced in making good decisions that we can act on them appropriately.

    Revelatory inspiration or inspired revelation, however you want to phrase it, is still common to some extent. I understand when the first presidency as a whole endores something, say the proclamaition on the family or the firm stance on gay marriage, it is something that is carefully prayed about and the wording is explicit. Its not just a memo that someone punches up and everyone says “yup lets sign that bad boy!”

    KDL’s example of the stones is a good one that points out that in prayer we must do all we can first. He must have felt inspired to think that the stones would shed light if God touched them. It was also an excersise in his faith that should God touch the stones that they would see.

    Perhaps another reason direct revelation not being as common is that it was more necessary when the church was in its infancy. Now we have a pretty well drawn out set of instruction to rely on. Its not necessary for God to speak through the prophet every single time. Like DKL said,

    “…our leaders are moral agents who are chosen because of their judgment and talents–not just because of their obedience.”

  21. Blake on December 28, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Thanks for sharing John – such experiences are valuable teachers to the “Saints”. In the Smoot hearings, President Joseph F. Smith stated that he had not received any revelation that all other members of the Church were not also entitled to receive — although these comments were before his vision of the Redemption of the Dead now in D&C 138. Wilford Woodruff commented throughout his Presidecy that he had as great manifestations as a member of he Aaronic Priesthood (and some even before his baptism) as he had as Prophet.

    It seems to me that the LDS view countenances members having great revelations and visions — for themselves, their families and their stewardship. The difference for the Prophet is that he is entitled to receive revelation to be given to the Church as a whole. Pres. Hinckley trusts the impressions that he receives as being inspired — and by recognizing and trustig these impressios he is open to revelation. It is the same with us. Faith in Christ is true faith. It is universally valid for all persons (LDS and non-LDS) and it is always the same (even for those before Christ).

    We still have the eyes of the spirit that we had before this life — we simply don’t see with them (at least not often) because they have been overwhelmed by the bodily senses such that we trust only our bodily senses and not what we see with our spiritual eyes. Once we know to trust our spiritual eyes, we see through them because we have always seen through them (we just didn’t trust what we saw). So visions and revelations are the lot of the Saints and of all of those who trust in God. It is the same with our hearts. Our open hearts already know. When we trust them, then we receive the impressions and revelations that are always present.

  22. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 11:04 am

    Pink Floyd,

    I love how the Lord responds in two completely different ways to two different problems. I agree that the Lord can, for his own purposes, respond in any way He likes. But, in regards to allowing air to flow into the vessels, I like to think that the solution that He offered didn’t really require a leap of faith on the part of the bro. of Jared. I also fancy that the bro. of Jared may have already considered such a solution and therefore may have received a “confirmation” of a proposed course of action.

  23. Charles on December 28, 2004 at 11:17 am

    Another thing that may play into President Hinkley’s acknowlegement of inspiration in somethng as the conference center is his humility. Perhaps he sees the great good the new center has done for the church and belives that it is because of the Lord in his life that he was able to identify the need for it before it was created. I don’t know what hand the first presidency had in engineering or design but I’m sure they set standards that most engineers would have never agreed to.

    In this sense President Hinkley accepts that without the Lord the center would not have been completed as efficiently as it was. Such a thing he gives credit to the Lord rather than accpeting it for himself. This is a good example to all of us because we should always seek to give the Lord credit and try to be humble enough to not take it for ourselves.

  24. Pink Floyd on December 28, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Jack,
    Some assuming going on in your thoughts. Jared, like Nephi was not a ship builder. He may have also been very clueless on how to build his submarines. “Not that it matters…” There are plenty of other examples in scripture of prophets receiving direct revelations “out of the blue” in answer to questions.

    Suppose President Hinckley receives direct “inappropriate mystif(ing) revelation” on a regular basis. What would be the reaction of the world if he announced on Larry King Live that he had a meeting with the Savior in the Temple every Tuesday at 10:00 am?

  25. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 11:36 am

    Ben H.,

    I suppose revelation may be like a bolt out of the blue because we never really know the full extent of what we’re getting ourselves into. There’s always a little more on the Lord’s agenda than we’re aware of. It’s interesting that the bro. of Jared asks the Lord to touch the stones and then is shocked to his foundations by seeing His finger touch the stones. The bro. of Jared mistakenly assumes the Lord to have a body of flesh – which misconception the Lord corrects by ultimately revealing himself en total to the bro. of Jared. (of course, this happens with the BoJ’s asking the right questions – he is always a faithful participant) I like to think that the bro. of Jared, after much deliberation, was left with the only solution that made sense to him – which was to follow Noah’s example who (as some theorize) had glowing stones to light the ark. So, while the idea may not have originated with the bro. of Jared it still required a leap of faith for him to bring his request to the Lord.

  26. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 11:58 am

    Pink Floyd,

    Yes, I’m making assumptions. That’s why I use words like “fancy” and the like…

    You are right that they were probably clueless when it came to building ships and I whole heartedly agree that the Lord is able to intruct his children on any subject – in any way He sees fit. I guess I find myself trying to infuse the scriptures with modern counsel on the subject of revelation. (which IMO is the only way to make sense of some of it) It rings true to me to think of Nephi pondering the situation for a long time before the Lord says “get the into the mountain”. Again, I know that I’m making assumptions. However, I seriously doubt that he wasn’t concerned about what their next move should be. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he warmed up to the idea of having to cross the ocean before the Lord told him how to do it.

  27. Gordon Smith on December 28, 2004 at 12:37 pm

    Great comments all around. Thanks for your insights. Here are a few thoughts.

    No one accused me of denying the existence of mystical revelation completely, but I want to make it clear that I believe such experiences happen. Like obi-wan, however, I imagine that (almost all) meetings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve play out much like meetings of Stake Presidencies and High Councils. The issues may be different, but I suspect that the meetings have much the same feel to them.

    Several people have noted that President Hinckley would be unlikely to share his most profound experiences on Larry King Live. I agree. Prophets and apostles may be reluctant to discuss their experiences, either because those experiences are private (not for the direct benefit of the Church as a whole) or because they do not wish to open themselves or the Church to public ridicule. All of that makes sense to me, and I do not deny the wisdom of such an approach.

    There is also the matter of how we describe the spiritual experiences that we wish to share. With respect to the Conference Center, President Hinckley once said in General Conference: “The building of this structure has been a bold undertaking. We worried about it. We prayed about it. We listened for the whisperings of the Spirit concerning it. And only when we felt the confirming voice of the Lord did we determine to go forward.â€? I suspect some members of the Church heard the words “confirming voice of the Lord” and immediately imagined a face-to-face meeting between Jesus and President Hinckley. Maybe that happened, but I doubt it. I doubt it because I have also heard the confirming voice of the Lord on many issues, though never with my physical ears.

    Finally, I should disclose that my views are greatly affected by my own experience as a young convert with 18-month missions. You can read about that here if you are so inclined. I simply cannot imagine the Lord appearing to the Prophet in 1982 and saying, “Change the missions to 18 months,” then appearing two years later and saying, “Now, back to 24 months!”

  28. Randy on December 28, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    During my grandfather’s three year mission in southwest-US-northern-Mexico area in the Depression Era, he had a vision of the spirit world while preaching to a small group of Spanish speakers at a “cottage meeting”. He described in Spanish what he saw to the small congregation, and his “greenie” companion had the gift of the interpretation of tongues and understood what he was saying.

    This event is well known among my family as my grandfather (as far as I know) never hesitated to describe the experience when asked about it. At least one LDS with whom I’ve shared this experience felt that it was a quaint (possibly embellished) story. I was hurt at the time because my grandfather is one of the finest men of integrity I have personally known…I can’t imagine that he would embellish, let alone lie about the experience. It was often said of him by his wife and children that there would never be another Daddy as good as him because after him they broke the mold. At any rate, I’m confident that the experience, as I understand it, is an accurate recollection of an extraordinary revelatory experience my grandfather had about 80 years ago. However, as far as I know, he never had another experience like it…not as a father, bishop or other of his many missions or callings he served. So was he somehow worthy to have a temple recommend (which he and his wife always had and used their whole life) and serve as bishop, missionary or temple worker, etc, but not worthy or have enough faith to receive such extraordinary revelatory experiences later in life? I don’t think so.

    Now with that said, I’m inclined to believe that President Hinckley has never had as an extraordinary revelatory experience like my grandfather and I would go so far as to say probably most of the Brethren have not either. My primary proof for that is that most have never suggested otherwise…and why should it matter? A prophet and an apostle do not need to have such extraordinary experiences to qualify to be “special witnesses” or carry the mantle of authority that they hold. The naivety leading some LDS to mystify the prophetic role among LDS annoys me…as if the Brethren would seem lesser in our eyes or in the eyes of the world if some of them had not had visions or heard a voice, etc.

    Give one GOOD/persuasive reason why an apostle would not at least indicate that he had (an) extraordinary revelation(s) even if he was commanded not to disclose the contents of the revelation? That these sort of experiences are not shared more publicly because generally they are sacred or private is so much horse puckey. Joseph Smith eagerly told of his miraculous revelations…were these somehow less sacred? There are certain instances throughout time (Joseph not excepted) where the revelations are sacred or personal and are not disclosed, but these are the exception, not the rule…and usually it is just PART of a revelation that is not to be disclosed.

    Oh dear, now I probably shook someone’s faith that maybe President Packard, her bishop and her stake president can look right through her eyes into her soul and discern her spiritual (un)worthiness at any time.

  29. Matt Evans on December 28, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    I’ve never understood why the story of the Brother of Jared is a good example of God expecting people to work out a solution on their own. The Brother of Jared’s solution was to ask God to perform a miracle. It’s as if Brigham Young were trying to figure out how to make the desert blossom as a rose and decided to ask God to touch a cloud to stay over the valley and provide rain every Tuesday. Instead, Brigham designed some of the first irrigation systems. To me that is a far better illustration of God’s expecting us to do what we can. Thinking of miracles that God could do is easy (touch stones, touch clouds).

    If I point out to my son that his new job will require a car, and I send him to find a solution, I will be less-than-impressed if he comes back saying he’s done a lot of thinking and researching and, voila, he’s found one of my assets I could sell to buy him a car. My son would have used the Brother of Jared story perfectly, and for that reason I don’t see the story as an example of God expecting us to find our own solutions.

  30. lyle on December 28, 2004 at 1:23 pm

    Perhaps I beat a dead horse, but apparently there are various methods for the receipt/transmission of revelation. The BoM is about 15% God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost actually talking in “spoken” word/i.e. radio transmitter. In contrast, we have the example given in the CNN interview which is “unspoken impression.” Also, as to “why” a living prophet…what about simply having someone who can tell us what existing scripture means? I’d be glad to have a prophet even if the only thing he could do is give me correct interpretations of past revelations/re-interpret them for the current age.

  31. Gordon Smith on December 28, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    Randy, Given the way you started that post, the ending certainly was a surprise! Your grandfather’s experience sounds truly remarkable, and that is just the point of all of this: such experiences are remarkable because they are rare. If we think of revelation as happening only in such contexts, we miss a lot.

    Also, I agree with this: “A prophet and an apostle do not need to have such extraordinary experiences to qualify to be ‘special witnesses’ or carry the mantle of authority that they hold.”

    But I am less convinced on your arguments about sharing revelations publicly. We live in a different time than Joseph Smith, so it doesn’t surprise me that the method of discussing revelation would have changed.

  32. Matt Evans on December 28, 2004 at 1:30 pm

    Randy,

    I agree with your conclusion — I don’t think dramatic revelation happens as often as many members believe. We forget that the scriptures are a highlight reel of the past, with long gaps between dramatic episodes. During the Book of Mormon, for example, there are several hundred-year periods without a significant revelation. Most of the time the prophets are teaching truths from earlier revelations, preaching faith and repentance. Though some members long to live in a perpetual state of Joseph-Moses-Nephi-Smith level of revelation, those periods have been the exception and not the rule.

  33. Randy B. on December 28, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    It’s funny to think that growing up I only ever met one other Randy. The bloggernacle is not that large a place but other Randys seem to be coming out of the woodwork. Who knew there were so many of us? I started doing this some time ago but got out of the habit for some reason. I think it’s time for me to go back to Randy B. Welcome to the Randy in comment 27.

  34. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Matt,

    The Lord didn’t tell the brother of Jared how to get a miracle out of him. He didn’t tell him to molten the stones. He didn’t tell him to climb to the top of Mt. Shelem. (which must have been arduous) He didn’t tell him to search the records and find clues as to how others may have approached Him with the same problem.

    What the Lord *did* tell the brother of Jared was what he could *not* do – there by channeling him in a particular direction from the outset as he sought a solution. And it was there brother of Jared’s solution.

  35. clark on December 28, 2004 at 1:53 pm

    Going way back to #13 and the comment by John, in his biography, Pres. Hinkley stated that he’d never had a direct encounter with Jesus, the way many prophets claimed in the 19th century. I don’t think that has any effect on being a prophet or apostle. But at the time (mid-90′s) it was very controversial among some members precisely because they thought he should have met Jesus in the Holy of Holies or the like.

    I think there are some unfortunate assumptions regarding prophets and that they ought somehow all directly know Christ in some physical sense. While I think that does happen for some, mainly leaders of dispensations, (Moses, Joseph Smith, etc.) I’ve long thought that the example of Elijah and the still small voice is quite pertinent. (Of course I taught that lesson in Priesthood this month from the manual – so I’m somewhat biased)

    I guess what I’m saying is that Pres. Hinkley undoubtedly has had some amazing spiritual experiences – as many of us have. But those experiences aren’t necessarily related to his position. We want to assume that every prophet is like Joseph Smith. But I don’t think that the case and I think we’ll end up in trouble if we assume that. I’d simply note that Pres. Hinkley has been fairly upfront about this as well. Perhaps the next President will have a need for more significant revelatory experiences. But they will be on that basis.

  36. Matt Sommer on December 28, 2004 at 2:11 pm

    Randy,

    I have heard an Apostle indicate that he had an extraordinary revelation. At a mission conference, we had an Apostle visit and declare his knowledge of the existence of the Savior. He said he knew and no longer relied on faith. Now, he didn’t give any other details but the implication that this man has seen the Savior was clear to all in attendance.

    General Conference is a carefully staged event these days. Members and General Authorities tend to be very careful with their words. Mission and leadership conferences are where the leaders tend to relax and share personal information. My own experience listening to these conferences leads me to believe that many have had specific extraordinary revelations.

    Now, I’m not claiming that every member of the 12 has seen God. I would enjoy getting more hints of divine experiences but maybe they are trying to help members understand that the type Gordon explained is what we should look for and learn to receive as it is common and powerful in its own way.

  37. Weston C on December 28, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    “”Still, when they scatter, there is left on earth
    No one alive who knew (consider this!)
    –Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
    That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
    How will it be when none more saith ‘I saw’?”

    Robert Browning A Death in the Desert.

    Excellent discussion. I’ve been thinking about some questions posed in the thread for a while and I appreciate some of the answers.

  38. clark on December 28, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    Just to second Matt’s comments, I’ve heard apostles make that claim before as well. I just note that at the time of his biography at least, Pres. Hinkley not only didn’t make such a claim but claimed never to have had such an experience.

    I should note though that Pres. Hinkley clear has had many experiences. Further he clearly knows a lot of doctrine that he doesn’t speak of publicly or even downplays. A lot of people bring up his old Time magazine interview, for example. Yet at the same time people who’ve heard him speak in more intimate occasions tell of wonderful talks. In my mission when he visited he spoke for several hours on having ones calling and election made sure. I’ve heard that he’s given talks on that and higher ordinances in various solemn assemblies as well.

    So I think there is a middle ground. Clearl there is more known and experienced than is shared before the world. But I think that for many there is also far less than many members like to assume.

  39. Matt Peterson on December 28, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    To me, one of the best suggestions that Apostles have extraordinary revelations is Elder McConkie’s final testimony (given in April 1985 conference) just before his death. The whole talk is definitely worth reading, but here’s the key part to me:

    “And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person. I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

  40. Gordon Smith on December 28, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Clark. I didn’t know that about President Hinckley’s biography, but it doesn’t surprise me. He seems to have gone out of his way to make clear that his decision making is not based on such spectacular events.

    This makes me wonder: to what extent are these experiences dependent on the disposition of the prophet or apostle? You suggest that the next prophet may have more need of such experiences, and I understood you to be saying that the need is external (i.e., really important changes might require heavenly visitations). But is it possible that the need is internal or tied to the person? Might some prophets or apostles need such experiences more than others?

  41. John Mansfield on December 28, 2004 at 2:48 pm

    Clark, your comment #37 stirs up memories of the late 80′s when so many Seventies were being called and giving their inaugural testimonies in conference. They would testify of President Benson and tell how wonderful it was to know him. I would remember the recurring letters telling people like me to not bother the General Authorities and think, “It must be nice.” That probably wasn’t the effect the Seventies were aiming for.

    Hearing about special, cosy gatherings where the real gospel is finally shared makes the hundreds of hours attending conference sound pointless.

  42. Gilgamesh on December 28, 2004 at 4:01 pm

    Figure I’ll weigh in a bit.

    I think revelation does come to different folks in different ways as Randy noted. Do I believe in the mystical? Yes. Do I believe that once you are made an apostle you instantly have one on one conversations with the Savior? No, because if they all had that type of surety, there would be no difference of opinion within the group. The Savior would always provide instant answers with no disagreement and readiong the history of the church, it is pretty clear there have been times of strong disagreement.

    That said, I find great comfort that President Hinkley discusses, both on Larry King and in conferences, that his revelations come more as impressions or feelings. That is how the spirit works in my life. Members of my family have dreams and “visions”, I don’t. At times I am jealous but I realize that maybve the Lord can communicate with me better in another way so I ponder and wait for a feeling or impression to guide me. I think the difference between myself and President Hinkley is that I regularly doubt my impressions whereas he has learned to embrace his as witnesses of the spirit. His being upfront about that gives me hope that I will someday be able to trust my feelings as much as he does.

    Julie asked earlier “Why doesn’t God speak more clearly, more obviously, to us? ”

    I think the answer is that we are training to become like God ourselves. Just like I let my kids to learn to think on their own, I think God does the same with us. If we are to become like God then we need to learn to trust our own thoughts and feelings until we know for a surety what our abilities are. We need to learn to rely on our faith – not knowledge – because God works through faith as well. As the Lecture on Faith note -

    [Lec 1:16a] Had it not been for the principle of faith, the worlds would never have been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust.

    [Lec 1:16b] It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal, as well as eternal things.

    [Lec 1:16c] Take this principle or attribute (for it is an attribute) from the Deity, and he would cease to exist.

    [Lec 1:17a] Who cannot see that if God framed the worlds by faith, that it is by faith that he exercises power over them, and that faith is the principle of power?

  43. Clark on December 28, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    John, I share your view of conference, especially now that I’m old enough to notice how many talks seem mirror images of earlier talks. However when I was younger they really did have a dramatic effect on me. I still recall Elder McConkie’s final talk or several of Pres. Benson’s talk. I recall powerful talks at BYU Stake Conferences by Elder Ashton and others. So I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling this “wasted time.” Further I think that conference, like many meetings, do have an effect, if only to help us discern when we are in tune.

    Still, I can relate to the frustration that there are opportunities afforded some that don’t appear to be open to all. Sadly that’s been the case for some time, simply because of the size of the church. It must have been nice living in the late 19th century when seeing say Wilford Woodruff was not at all uncommon.

  44. Charles on December 28, 2004 at 5:01 pm

    I hardly feel that conference is wasted time. Conference is the only time that all members, worldwide, have the opprotunity to hear from the first presidency and apostles. Sure there is a curiculum created but its up to individual members and local leaders to determine how certain talks are held. What’s the point of having a prophet who is responsible for us in our current times if we don’t hear from him.

    Does it occur to anyone that we continue to hear similar messages because we, as a whole, are not doing everything we need in those areas of our lives? Some of these personal talks or firesides may well have carried a greater spirit, but it may also be due to the fact that he was talking to someone about thier specific needs, which may have been vastly different from the greater whole at that time.

    I’m also reminded of a time that we were to hear from an apostle in a general conference. People expected to hear some great things, instead we heard some similar faith building stories a great experience but not quite what was expected. It was later told to us by some people in the know that the apostle scrapped his original talk and changed his message because thats what he was impressed the area was ready for. (this occured before I became a member and was relayed to me by someone that I have a great respect for and consider the information valid for what its worth)

    When we are ready for the next step I’m sure it will be presented to us.

  45. diogenes on December 28, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    I simply cannot imagine the Lord appearing to the Prophet in 1982 and saying, “Change the missions to 18 months,� then appearing two years later and saying, “Now, back to 24 months!�

    But of course he did! This is because the more valiant spirits from pre-mortality were sent to Earth between 1962 and 1965, and didn’t have to be tried for a whole 24 months.

  46. Jeremiah J. on December 28, 2004 at 6:41 pm

    There are unanswered questions about the appropriate LDS view of revelation. That is why this post is a good one. But I’m not sure that anyone on thread has given us good reasons for concluding that a common LDS mystification (if there is one) of revelation is inappropriate. Indeed it seems quite sensible to me, given the amount of confidence that LDS teaching places in the president of the church and the fact that belief in the exclusivity of prophetic calling of the president of the church is a requirement for entering the temple.

    On the other hand, church presidents, I think to their credit, have given modest accounts of their prophetic calling for the past 100 years or so. It has puzzled some members that the most modest accounts have come when presidents of the church are talking to non-members. But the idea of “receiving a revelation”, defined as a determinate text given by God to the prophet, is a notion taught by the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve up until at least very recently, if not currently. The example that comes to mind is then-Elder Faust’s (I think) account of the events leading to the 1978 proclamation.

    At times it seems like our view of revelation is like a wall that begins to grow old, at which time we start painting over it and putting up bracers, which end up making the wall look bigger and more ostentatious but do nothing about the underlying structure. We know that continuing revelation is something unique to Mormonism, so we don’t want to say that the inspiration that Pres. Hinckley receives is not much different from the inspiration of Columbus or the American founding fathers, who were not only living in apostasy but neither had nor claimed any prophetic calling. But we have a hard time finding a way to *say* that it is different besides saying that Pres. Hinckley has seen Christ, talked to him in a conventional way, etc. These ways of saying how Pres. Hinckley is different leave questions unanswered, but they’re better than nothing. It makes more sense to me than simply “demystifying” everything (assuming that concrete visions and voices are more mystical or mysterious that vaguely described “inspiration”).

    Without making the early church the standard of everything, it is worth mentioning that early members, had, shall we say, a more immediate view of revelation. While the faithful ones seemed to accept that the kingdom is a house of order, they frequently had revelations about other people and future events and they told other people about them. And they connected Joseph’s leadership in the church with revelations to a high degree. On a few occasions members asked him to back up his counsel to them with a revelation (meaning a revealed text from the Lord). I’m not suggesting that we start doing this last thing, and we should remember that these members apostatized more often than members do today (depending on your definition of apostasy). Still, these members seemed to think of prophetic revelation as a greater, more authoritative portion of what happened to them all the time, rather than some 19th century kind of thing that goes on almost exclusively in the Salt Lake Temple, and almost exclusively for a very small group of people.

    I definitely don’t think that general conference is a waste of time, but I also disagree with the idea that “When we are ready for the next step I’m sure it will be presented to us.” I can’t think of a time in the history of God’s people when faithful saints who might have liked revelations and other spiritual gifts saw a lack of gifts as evidence that they weren’t worthy. It seems more likely that we don’t get them because we look beyond the mark and don’t seek after them. It also would seem strange to interpret “seek ye earnestly after the best gifts” as a call to “keep the commandments, but if you don’t get gifts then you don’t deserve them.” Of course we should just as little interpret a lack of gifts or prophetic counsel as a sign that God or the prophets are not faithful; but the point is that prophecy like all other gifts are not merely “presented” but sought after and requested.

  47. George on December 28, 2004 at 7:14 pm

    Clark wrote:Going way back to #13 and the comment by John, in his biography, Pres. Hinkley stated that he’d never had a direct encounter with Jesus, the way many prophets claimed in the 19th century.

    I’ve read his biography. I don’t remember reading this. Can you give me a page number?

  48. David King Landrith on December 28, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    Matt Evans: I’ve never understood why the story of the Brother of Jared is a good example of God expecting people to work out a solution on their own.

    I think that you’re still missing the point. It was left up to the Brother of Jared to choose a solution, and once he chose one God gave it his endorsement. I would argue that he could have chosen an indefinite number of alternatives and God would have endorsed those, too. This means that God basically gave the Brother of Jared the responsibility and the authority to choose the how to light the vessels. It just so happens that it included God touching the stones, but that’s purely accidental. He could have invented light-bulbs, lamps, and batteries right then and there, and the outcome would have been the same.

    I speculate (and it is purely speculation) that something similar happened with Joseph Smith and the temple ceremony. Again, this is purely speculation, but it is plausible to me that God told Smith that he wanted the saints to make certain covenants and such, Smith came up with the temple ceremony, and God gave it his endorsement. And I do not believe that such a scenario makes the temple ceremony any less inspired. I consider this to be an instance of the same type of revelation that we see in the Brother of Jared story.

  49. Jack on December 28, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    I like applying the exodus pattern to what’s happening today in the church. Invariably, at the outset of the exodus we experience an out pouring of grand miracles which serve to bolster our faith as we tear ourselves away from the world. Once we’ve entered the wilderness we experience a more steady kind of plodding along with small miracles to help us along the way. I think this may be another reason why the “miraculous” isn’t quite as visible today as it was in the early days of the church. Why do we need the fireworks if we can do without them?

  50. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 7:00 am

    It concerns me that President Hinckley didn’t testify of more concrete revelation. Of similar concern to me is the oft-repeated teaching (by Joseph Fielding Smith, and repeated by Spencer W. Kimball in the Miracle of Forgiveness) that no witness is more powerful than the Holy Ghost. That seems to be the kind of thing we would tell ourselves to feel better about not having more direct experiences. I think it’s a pretty good indication that the more concrete revelation we all assume should be happening to prophets and apostles may well not be happening.

    Could the Holy Ghost really be more a more powerful experience than, say, the 3 Nephi 11 experience? That’s a stretch for me.

    Throughout the centuries it covers, the Book of Mormon is full of appearances of angels and “Thus saith the Lord” dictation-style revelation. These things were not limited to the founding generation, nor witheld from unbelieving audiences because they were “too sacred” or “too personal.”

    Moroni 7:29-37 seems to indicate that angelic visitations—at least to prophets and apostles (“chosen vessels”)—should be ongoing, not limited to the first generation (v. 36-37). And if this is happening it should be testified of, because the very purpose of the visits is to make people aware of the reality of the spiritual world, so that they can have a basis for belief (v. 31-32).

    We have “concrete” revelation (1) In the few years of Joseph Smith and his early associates, and (2) through hundreds of years of Book of Mormon history. One could hardly blame a skeptic for thinking that both could be a product of Joseph Smith’s mind—that there really weren’t those hundreds of years of concrete revelation depicted in the Book of Mormon.

    If President Hinckley has had more concrete revelation, he missed a great opportunity to fulfill the purpose expressed in Moroni 7:31-32, to witness to millions of people that there have been experiences sufficiently clear to assure that we’re not just imagining some other spiritual reality out there, “that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts.”

  51. Marc D. on December 29, 2004 at 7:43 am

    D&C 107:91-92: And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.

    Doesn’t this scripture say that the president of the Church receives more than just some whispering of the spirit?

  52. Marc D. on December 29, 2004 at 7:54 am

    Christian said:

    ‘It concerns me that President Hinckley didn’t testify of more concrete revelation.’

    I have the same feeling. What really surprises me is that President Hinckley doesn’t answer the questions about prayer with ‘yes’ but with ‘I think so’
    It sounds like he is not sure about the answers he gets.

  53. Charles on December 29, 2004 at 10:12 am

    Christian said:

    ‘It concerns me that President Hinckley didn’t testify of more concrete revelation.’

    I can understand this, but let us not forget he was talking to Larry King and although they were in the conference center this was a recoreded, and most likely edited, interview for the world not just the LDS population. Don’t forget the counsel of milk before meat. Most of the world is probably not ready for such certain revelations or declarations thereof. We may see Pres. Hinkley as the worlds prophet but we are the only ones who recognize him as such.

    I also would point out the revelation that President Hinkley gave in general conference that is commonly thought of as his prophet of doom speech. A big gearing up for food storage, preparedness, references to to the 7 years of fat and famine. That time has come and gone for us to be prepared and we are now entering a period with war and natural disasters. More of them on our own soil (as Americans) and more of them with a direct impact on us and the world community. That may be a pretty significant revelation, but a Larry King interview may not have been the best place to bring it up.

  54. Jack on December 29, 2004 at 10:55 am

    I agree with Charles. When Pres. Hinckley says “I think so” he is expressing his conviction in such a way so as to lead the world along without coercion. If he had said “thus sayeth the Lord” then it would be like the schmoe who tells his girl friend that he’s received a revelation that they should be married. That kind of silliness works on others like a spiritual blackmail of sorts. That said, I’m willing to believe that there are exceptions to this kind of forth-rightness, however I don’t think the Larry King show is a the place for it.

  55. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 11:09 am

    Marc: Thanks for pointing out another good scripture that shapes our expectations of continuing “big” revelation. I too have wondered at President Hinckley’s frankness about the unspectacular nature (and perhaps even ambiguousness) of the revelation he receives. As Clark noted in comment 34, President Hinckley seems to have been consistently “upfront” about this.

    This both gratifies and frustrates me. It gratifies me that he is refreshingly upfront and honest about the nature of “the mantle”. (I am a little tired of the “hint dropping” approach, where members are left to infer “big” experiences from seemingly momentous statements that don’t spell out specifics ocassionally dribbled out in small meetings.) It frustrates me that we’re not offered anything more concrete to go on, to know if there is any “spiritual reality” out there.

    Does that make me a sign seeker? Maybe in part, but not exactly, because I don’t ask that the concrete physical revelation happen to me—just to someone (in our generation) I can trust. Having read and listened to the leaders a long time, I believe they’re sincere and good men, and it would go a long way with me if they offered specifics of concrete experiences. As it stands, with the “Holy Ghost is the best there is” idea floating around, seemingly confirmed by Pres. Hinckley’s repeated frankness, I’m left to wonder if even the Brethren aren’t just tricked by their own feelings, believing what they want to believe.

  56. SFW on December 29, 2004 at 11:33 am

    In response to Charles and Jack: We regularly tell the world that the Church is led by a man who is at once a Prophet, Seer and Revelator. We also regularly teach that ours is the true church and that people can be saved only through ordinances administered in our temples. We don’t shy away from these and other significant positions, so why would Pres. Hinckley need to take a softer approach on Larry King Live?

  57. Pink Floyd on December 29, 2004 at 11:42 am

    Humility

  58. Jack on December 29, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    “We also regularly teach that ours is the true church and that people can be saved only through ordinances administered in our temples.”

    This is true. However, we don’t reveal the details of the Temple ceremony – that would be destructive. In the same light, God has chosen to reveal himself to the world through his servants. This, to me, is an indicator of His sensitivity toward the agency of His children. He will not force himself upon them. Likewise, His servants IMO must learn the same sensitivity in order to be trustworthy in their positions.

    Pink Floyd,

    Right on.

  59. The Only True and Living Nathan on December 29, 2004 at 1:06 pm

    For all those who express frustration at the apparent difference between the “old” style of receiving revelation, and the subtler “new” one, I offer D&C 8:2-3:

    Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

    Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.

    Is seems to me that a living prophet who seeks to follow the prompting of the Spirit as his main revelatory avenue IS following in the footsteps of the “great” prophets like Moses.

  60. clark on December 29, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    George (#46), I don’t have a copy of the biography, unfortunately. I remember going to the bookstore and verifying the claim way back when the debate was raging. Further, I’d also add that he may well have had such an appearance since, in the last 5 – 10 years since whenever that was published.

  61. clark on December 29, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Just a note, while it is a controversial source, Quinn in Extensions of Power says the following of Heber J. Grant.

    “By the time he became church president [in 1918],
    Heber J. Grant had overcome the guilt he had felt as an apostle for not
    having had a vision. ‘I have never prayed to see the Savoior,’ he told a
    tabernacle meeting in 1942. ‘I have seen so many men fall because of some
    great manifestations to them.’ He came to deny knowledge of such experiences
    for his colleagues: ‘I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to
    an individual since His appearance to the prophet Joseph Smith.’ In fact,
    rather than qualifying a man as a special witness and apostle, visions made
    one vulnerable to apostasy in Grant’s view.” (3-4)

    Having said that though it must also be admitted that many of the current Apostles strongly insinuate that they’ve had these sorts of encounters.

    I’ll try to find my notes, since perhaps the quote in the biography of Hinkley was more ambiguous than I’m remembering – since the controversay was in the late 90′s.

  62. David King Landrith on December 29, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    For those of you who are concerned with how emphatically President Hinckley expressed his views on CNN, I’d advise you to watch the next general conference. (Or if your impatient, you can get tapes of past ones at any distribution center.)

    Rest assured, the Prophet does not appear on Larry King Live to speak to the concerns of the Saints. I suppose he could have shown up in sackcloth shouting Jeremiads, but you’ll just have to forgive him for trying to proclaim the gospel in the manner he believes is most likely to appeal to non-Mormons.

    For my part, I am quite glad that his manner and appearance were such as to make it possible and easy for me to talk constructively to my non-Mormon friends about Mormonism.

  63. garnet on December 29, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    It may still fall into the “ancient� Church, but let us not forget the visitation of the Savior to President Snow in 1898.

  64. SFW on December 29, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    I appreciate that the Prophet should be a humble servant who is sensitive to the agency of individuals who are not members of the Church. And I’m not suggesting that Pres. Hinckley boisterously proclaim his revelatory powers. IMO, however, it is important that the Prophet unambiguously define his role and importance to members and nonmembers alike. Pres. Hinckley, for better or worse, sounded equivocal when he said “And I think it’s the result of inspiration,” and “I think so,” when asked whether the Lord speaks to him. The Prophet either receives revelation or he does not. As a missionary, I resoundingly taught that he does. The Hinckley interview might leave a lot of people doubting.

  65. Tom on December 29, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    Why does the method of communication between God and his prophet matter? Why even bother using the word mystify? What is important is to know that He does lead and guide the church through a real living prophet! If one has a testimony of that communication, why seek or need to know the details? Are you limiting God because of your own feeble human understanding. Yes God does use the natural chain of events to gently guide the church but he also is very capable of Heavenly Manifestations. What are you questioning His leading the church or your ability to believe that he can and does?

  66. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Jack (53 and 57), I don’t see why prophets testifying of concrete experiences would constitute “coercion” or an affront to our agency in the least. We would still be free to choose our response. Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, and this didn’t coerce them into righteousness. The people in early 3 Nephi were shown many irrefutable signs, and still they ended up in unbelief and unrighteousness. To give a more mundane example, my children sometimes disobey me even though they don’t have to wonder whether I really exist.

    Related to this last example—why should the ability to discern truth through the Spirit be so necessary to this mortal probation? How is that skill relevant to us being able to create and populate worlds in eternity? It seems to me the attributes needed for that (charity, etc.) could be developed and tested just fine even if we had more open access to God (or even if we just had a memory of the premortal life).

    Nathan (58), good point about DC 8:2-3. But it brings to mind another notion bandied about lately, that the early experiences we consider “concrete” (first vision, Moroni, plates) perhaps were actually more “spiritual” in nature (spiritual eyes—maybe even spiritual “hefting”?) Perhaps we with our modern scientific worldview and and standards of evidence are projecting a concreteness back onto those experiences that those who had them might not have demanded in their “magical” world view. Hence the importance, in my view, of renewing such experiences in every generation, in accordance with Moroni 7:31-32, 38-39.

    Clark (60), thanks for the material on Heber J. Grant. I have to say that for me, the idea that great manifestations are “dangerous” falls into the category of something we tell ourselves to make us feel better about not having such experiences—like the notion of the Holy Ghost being the best possible evidence. Again, I find Pres. Grant’s reported attitude in conflict with Moroni 7. As for putative apostolic strong insinuations, I worry we read into those more than may be warranted because we desperately want to believe, and that there may be an “urban myth” phenomenon at play.

    David (61): Will soft-pedaling testimony really bring more people to the truth? With the advance of science giving more and more people reasons not to believe in God—and with those who do believe in something so fragmented in their beliefs—isn’t testimony of concrete experiences what is needed to make room in people’s hearts to begin to believe through the Holy Ghost? (I’m sure this is getting tiresome, but I point again to Moroni 7:31-32.)

    Garnet (62): This is an interesting example, but as I recall it comes through a daughter or granddaughter, not from President Snow himself. In addition to resulting questions of authenticity and accuracy, there is the fact that by only telling a relative in private it probably wasn’t meant for the Church or public at large. Why?

  67. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Tom (64): “If one has a testimony of that communication, why seek or need to know the details?”

    If one’s testimony is weak or nonexistent, one wants to know details as a basis for getting at the truth.

    Tom (64): “What are you questioning His leading the church or your ability to believe that he can and does?”

    I’m wondering about both.

  68. Tom on December 29, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Christian, It all goes back to the promise in Moroni 10:3-5. If one reads the Book of Mormon, sincerely prays and then recieves the confirmation of its truth, that person truly understands the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. That same promise of study it out in your own mind, ponder and pray applies to gaining a testimony of the role of the Lord’s Prophet. It is natural to wonder as one seeks the truth. A testimony of personal revelation and a testimony of profetic revelation can be obtained the same way. I suspect you already know all of this, I find that at those time when I feel my testimony faultering a bit. I go back to the basics to remind myself of those things I already know to be true. Usually it is when the path has not changed but when I have wandered off it on my own. Best wishes!

  69. clark on December 29, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Regarding Heber J. Grant’s comments, it is important to take them in the context of the times in which there were many apostate groups. Quite a few apostles even went apostate. The apostasy was often over certain key doctrines that had been removed by Wilford Woodruff. Those going apostate often claimed new visions to justify the movements. (Many still existing in southern Utah) So I’d not read too much into his comments beyond the fact that the devil can often do good impersonations, as Moses found in Moses 1. It is important to come to recognize and identify the spirit and follow that. Sometimes wanting huge dramatic events can lead us astray. To return to the Elijah example, God isn’t in the thunders or earthquakes but the still small voice. That’s not to deny those bigger manifestations. But I think that our desire to experience exactly what Joseph experienced sometimes can be used by the adversary to lead us astray.

  70. Blake on December 29, 2004 at 4:32 pm

    Clark: D&C 88 urges us to seek the face of Christ and to experience what Joseph did. How is that leading us to apostasy? Couldn’t failing to seek such revelation just as easily lead us astray?

  71. Jack on December 29, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Christian,

    The accounts of miracles found in the Book of Mormon comprise a small part of it’s thousand year history. In light of the fact that most of what we read has to do with those who were the spiritual leaders of the Nephite nation, one can reasonably assume that most of the note worthy events in Nephite history are found in the BoM. One is left to assume that the average Nephite spent his/her days taking care of the mundane i.e., tilling the ground, watering the flocks etc.

    As for the problam of coercion; I think this is pointedly addressed in Alma ch.12:9 “And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.”

  72. SFW on December 29, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    Jack:

    Your reference to Alma 12:9 is fine except that we already teach that the Prophet receives revelation. If 55,000+ missionaries are not being coercive when they daily teach about a living prophet, then how is it coercive for the Prophet to say “Yes, the inspiration to build a new conference center came from a higher authority?” Further, are you suggesting that the Prophet hide his light under a bushel?

  73. Clark on December 29, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    Blake, as I said, Pres. Grant’s comments must be taken in terms of the times. I agree with you, but simply note that the era of apostasy probably affected why he said what he said.

  74. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    Christian,

    In response to you question (#65) “why should the ability to discern truth through the Spirit be so necessary to this mortal probation?�

    Isn’t discerning truth and light (and then obeying) the entire point here on earth? The more truth and light we discern, the more Godly intelligence we acquire. The more Godly intelligence we acquire the more we become like God. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.� (D&C 93:36) “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.� (D&C 130:18). “…I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.� (Abr. 3:18)

    You then ask: “How is that skill relevant to us being able to create and populate worlds in eternity?â€? — Don’t ask us, ask God. Obviously you need to discern more light and truth to get your answer!

  75. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 7:29 pm

    Regarding President Grant –

    I first wonder why we are basing the discussion off quotes cobbled together by an anti-Mormon like Quinn… Should we really expect a fair portrayal of the facts by him?

    I am more inclined to believe the story a told by Truman Madsen — a church historian and also grandson of President Grant. Madsen that Heber was sorely vexed by feelings of inadequacy early in his apostolic calling. He was only in his twenties and surrounded by mature spiritual giants. To add to that, one of the brethren in the twelve was preaching that no man should be an apostle without having had an open vision of Christ first. (It should be noted that while this is not accurate, it implies that most of the brethren had experienced such visions). Brother Grant had horrible self doubts but fought through them. Brother Madsen then reports that later while brother Grant was traveling alone (on a Mule I believe) he did indeed have an open vision of many of the dead leaders of the restoration (including Joseph, Brigham, and his own father) in a council with the Lord Jesus Christ at its head. It was the open vision of Christ that he had sought. He compared his experience to Lehi’s visions – he saw with spiritual eyes rather than his natural eyes.

    His comments later (assuming Quinn is accurate) don’t claim the Lord hasn’t appeared in visions, only that he hasn’t appeared in the flesh. And he was certainly warning against those who go around telling everyone that they have had a vision — such big-mouths are usually apostates and liars anyway.

    That would also explains why we don’t hear all about the apostles visions of Christ. They are spiritual pearls, and the world is full of too many swine to cast them around carelessly.

    Having said that, we do get occasional glimpses from the brethren — Elder Haight’s open vision of Christ in the garden as reported in General Conference comes to mind.

  76. Kristine on December 29, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    “an anti-Mormon like Quinn”

    Geoff, as you know, such an epithet for Quinn is debatable–it’s also needlessly divisive. Your comment is plenty strong without it.

  77. Clark on December 29, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    Weren’t we talking about a personal meeting?

  78. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 7:52 pm

    Point well taken, Kristine.

    Clark, it depends on what you mean by personal meetings. If an angel of the Lord appear in a vision and discloses heavenly intelligence isn’t that a personal meeting? Many of the prophets of old cited had similar visions without claiming to have Christ appear physically.

  79. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 8:05 pm

    Charles (52): Wars and natural disasters have always been with us. The “prophet of doom” talk was pretty general. Indeed, it followed a rule that ensures a successful prophecy: You can be specific about what will happen, or specific about when something will happen—but you can’t be specific about both! To me it seemed President Hinckley was reminding us of long-standing counsel, and not claiming any specific revelation. An example of a specific revelation would have been, in his later talk in April conference right before the invasion of Iraq, he could have said “Saddam’s government will fall within weeks, but no weapons of mass destruction will be found.” Instead he offered generalities and referred to government officials that had access to more intelligence than him.

    Tom (67): Thanks for the good wishes. I just worry that knowledge through the Spirit might be a mirage. Clearly, people all over the world are thoroughly convinced about mutually inconsistent propositions—convinced strongly enough to give their lives in some cases. How can I know that the powerful experiences I’ve had are different from whatever convinces these other people of their beliefs? We interpret such experiences as the influence of the Holy Ghost, and think it’s unique; but perhaps it’s a more universal mental/emotional experience, and one that doesn’t necessarily prove truth.

    Jack (70): Alma 12:9 is an interesting verse, but is the question of whether God even exists one of the mysteries to be witheld? If so, how do you reconcile it with Moroni 7:31-32, which seems to say that angels should appear to the “chosen vessels,” who in turn should testify of it, to make space for belief in the hearts of the “residue of men”? (As I recall, appearance of angels was also mentioned as a basis for belief at the end of Alma 12, and also by Amulek in Alma 10 or 11.)

    Geoff (73): Of course I believe finding truth is very important here on Earth. I just don’t understand the methodology we’re supposed to use (the Spirit, after having a veil put over our minds). When we send children out into the world to make their own way, we don’t erase their memory. I don’t think we would even if it were technically possible; if we could, would that enhance their progress?

    And while we’re at it—if it was so important to put a veil over our minds to see how we would behave on our own, why bother to tell us about the premortal life at all? If it’s important for us to know about it, let us remember it. If not, let’s see how we behave not knowing at all.

    In any case, I certainly do need more light and truth! ;)

  80. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 8:06 pm

    Charles (52): Wars and natural disasters have always been with us. The “prophet of doom” talk was pretty general. Indeed, it followed a rule that ensures a successful prophecy: You can be specific about what will happen, or specific about when something will happen—but you can’t be specific about both! To me it seemed President Hinckley was reminding us of long-standing counsel, and not claiming any specific revelation. An example of a specific revelation would have been, in his later talk in April conference right before the invasion of Iraq, he could have said “Saddam’s government will fall within weeks, but no weapons of mass destruction will be found.” Instead he offered generalities and referred to government officials that had access to more intelligence than him.

    Tom (67): Thanks for the good wishes. I just worry that knowledge through the Spirit might be a mirage. Clearly, people all over the world are thoroughly convinced about mutually inconsistent propositions—convinced strongly enough to give their lives in some cases. How can I know that the powerful experiences I’ve had are different from whatever convinces these other people of their beliefs? We interpret such experiences as the influence of the Holy Ghost, and think it’s unique; but perhaps it’s a more universal mental/emotional experience, and one that doesn’t necessarily prove truth.

    Jack (70): Alma 12:9 is an interesting verse, but is the question of whether God even exists one of the mysteries to be witheld? If so, how do you reconcile it with Moroni 7:31-32, which seems to say that angels should appear to the “chosen vessels,” who in turn should testify of it, to make space for belief in the hearts of the “residue of men”? (As I recall, appearance of angels was also mentioned as a basis for belief at the end of Alma 12, and also by Amulek in Alma 10 or 11.)

    Geoff (73): Of course I believe finding truth is very important here on Earth. I just don’t understand the methodology we’re supposed to use (the Spirit, after having a veil put over our minds). When we send children out into the world to make their own way, we don’t erase their memory. I don’t think we would even if it were technically possible; if we could, would that enhance their progress?

    And while we’re at it—if it was so important to put a veil over our minds to see how we would behave on our own, why bother to tell us about the premortal life at all? If it’s important for us to know about it, let us remember it. If not, let’s see how we behave not knowing at all.

    In any case, I certainly do need more light and truth! ;)

  81. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 8:12 pm

    Regarding President Hinckley’s “I think so” –

    Marc D. wrote (#51) “I have the same feeling. What really surprises me is that President Hinckley doesn’t answer the questions about prayer with ‘yes’ but with ‘I think so’ It sounds like he is not sure about the answers he gets.” Others agreed.

    It seems that that President Hinckley is demurring here. The “I think so” is the most extreme example of the three. If we are going to indict President Hinckley for not responding with a loud and bold affirmation to a non-believer’s question of his call from God, then don’t we have to also indict Christ, who routinely did the same thing in His ministry?

  82. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 8:30 pm

    Christian,

    Yes, I agree. Getting that “What’s” of God’s plans for us is difficult enough, but understanding the “Why’s” is enough more difficult. The What’s and Why’s of God’s plan are surely part of the light and truth we are seeking from the Lord through the Spirit. The good news is “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.â€? (D&C 93:28)

    By the way, it seems like an extreme stretch to say Joseph was speaking anything but literally when he says he held, handled, and hefted the plates… (Your #65. I was surprised you got so little response to that…)

  83. Jeremiah J. on December 29, 2004 at 8:50 pm

    Geoff J: Your example of Christ is a very good one, and one which I have been thinking about for some time in this context. It is true that Christ often gave cryptic answers to very direct questions, e. g. : “Tell us once and for all: Are you the Messiah?” One wonders why he did this.

    Still, I think there is a deeper reason for the cryptic language, especially in the Gospel of John. Christ had no problem challenging the Jewish authorities and the temple system in open, vocal displays. He once told the crowd that they were the children of the devil, and he told the Pharisees that they were not the followers of Moses, and that they would die in their sins. He also went on and on about a special relationship he had with God, whom he repeatedly called his father. So it seems that he had no problem with offending people with the truth. Can you imagine President Hinckley telling any group of people that they were the children of the devil?

    And yet when asked questions like: “Are you the messiah?” and “Are you a king?” he frequently gave answers like: “I have already told you, but you would not listen.” His answer to Pilate was more explicit, however: “My kingdom is not of this world.” At least part of the intention in these answers seems to be that Christ wanted people to understand that he was the Messiah, but not exactly the Messiah in the sense that they imagined. To say yes to the simple yes-no question would have been just as misleading as saying no, depending on who the audience was. Likewise, Christ was indeed a king, who had a real kingdom, but his kingdom was *a different kind* of kingdom than Pilate was thinking of. Unlike many of those who followed Christ but after rejected him, all the apostles but one had no stubbornly held preconceived notions about what Christ should be like. They knew that Jesus had “the words of eternal life,” and were open to his teaching about what eternal life really meant.

    There is some of this in the way our prophet speaks to us and to the world. To those who understand what he means by a “prophet”, he speaks more openly. To those who don’t he takes a more modest tone. This is actually the explanation that Joseph F. Smith gave to the saints after he seemed to deny, when quesitoned at the Smoot hearings, that he had received revelations.

  84. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 9:16 pm

    Very insightful comment Jeremiah — It hearkens back to what I think is key scripture in relation to this string: D&C 8:2-3:

    “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
    Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”

    This scripture clearly indicates that it was the still, small voice of the Spirit that led Moses in his ministry — even in the most dramatic situations like parting the Red Sea. This is not how the world thinks a prophet should receive revelation. On this string there are plenty of people who have been offended by the idea that our prophet mostly follows promptings instead of having consistent open visions. So as you mentioned, it is a no-win situation for President Hinckley when he is confronted with questions like, “did God tell you to do so-and-soâ€?. The answer is yes, but probably not in the way most people assume God should speak to a prophet on a regular basis. (So I agree with the original thesis presented by Gordon).

    I do believe that President Hinckley (along with many others) has probably seen and spoken with God in visions, but the scriptures don’t say that such manifestations are the norm.

  85. Christian on December 29, 2004 at 9:27 pm

    Geoff, I agree that “spiritual hefting” gets to be a bit of a stretch. The issue of the plates definitely tends toward forcing a decision between “true prophet” and “conscious fraud”, and makes the possibility of “sincerely mistaken” problematic.

    Still, I’ve read in passing some things that indicate that the experiences with the plates might not have been as concrete as we imagine, but I’m not as conversant with the totality of the evidence as I’d like to be. When did Joseph ever say “he held, handled, and hefted the plates”? I know the testimony of the eight witnesses uses the word “hefted”, but is there anything else? Are we sure he didn’t just see them in vision, like John the Revelator’s parchment in DC 7? It seems there’s stories about hiding the plates in barrels of beans, etc.; is there a collection of these statements somewhere?

    Too bad the plates couldn’t be handed down, like the Liahona and sword of Laban in Book of Mormon times.

  86. Geoff Johnston on December 29, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    Christian,

    The records of Joseph holding, handling, and hefting the plates are manifold. The most ready source I have is from Lucy Mack Smith who describes several places Joseph used to hide the plates from the mobs (perhaps her history of the prophet is the source you were asking about). One of the several references describes an occasion after he had to hide the plates in a hollowed birch log. She records:

    “Joseph, on coming to them, took them from their secret place, and, wrapping them in his linen frock, placed them under his arm and headed for home”

    As for your comment “Too bad the plates couldn’t be handed down, like the Liahona and sword of Laban in Book of Mormon times” — I must ask “Why?” What good would having the plates today do anyone? The test of a record is in its content. If the record is true, God must reveal it to individuals who follow Moroni’s charge. If it is false then God won’t support it. If someone today can’t get a clear answer on that question, how would having the plates in some museum solve that personal spiritual problem?

  87. Jack on December 29, 2004 at 11:22 pm

    Christian: “Alma 12:9 is an interesting verse, but is the question of whether God even exists one of the mysteries to be witheld? If so, how do you reconcile it with Moroni 7:31-32, which seems to say that angels should appear to the “chosen vessels,â€? who in turn should testify of it, to make space for belief in the hearts of the “residue of men”? (As I recall, appearance of angels was also mentioned as a basis for belief at the end of Alma 12, and also by Amulek in Alma 10 or 11.)”

    Where has there been any equivocation on the basic belief that God exists?

    Consider these two exchanges:

    KING: You are the prophet, right?

    HINCKLEY: Right.

    KING: So if you change things, that’s done by an edict given to you.

    HINCKLEY: Yes, sir.

    Also, regarding verse 31; I think a careful reading will reveal that angels visit the “chosen vessels” in order to impart the word of Christ. The chosen vessels, therefore, bear testimony of the word of Christ not merely of the visitation of angels. I agree that it is important that we have some sense of literal contact between heaven and earth in order to incite faith. However, verse 32 makes it quite clear that the reception of the Holy Ghost is the result exercising that faith. Therefore, once things have been set in motion and the Holy Ghost is manifest, why the need for angelic visitations? Of course, this doesn’t mean that angels will cease to appear to prophets (or the least saint for that matter) from time to time. That said, I like Nibley’s idea that seeking an angelic visitation is probably a waste of time because the messenger is likely to quote you the scriptures.

  88. Geoff Johnston on December 30, 2004 at 12:06 am

    Nice take, Jack. I was thinking of that amusing statement by Nibley as well.

    Speaking of angelic visits, or apparent lack thereof in the Church today, Christian said in #49:
    “It concerns me that President Hinckley didn’t testify of more concrete revelation. Of similar concern to me is the oft-repeated teaching (by Joseph Fielding Smith, and repeated by Spencer W. Kimball in the Miracle of Forgiveness) that no witness is more powerful than the Holy Ghost. That seems to be the kind of thing we would tell ourselves to feel better about not having more direct experiences. I think it’s a pretty good indication that the more concrete revelation we all assume should be happening to prophets and apostles may well not be happening.” (Sorry Christian, but you’ve been giving the juiciest comments to respond to).”

    First, the passage in D&C 8 describes how God generally communicates with His prophets.

    Second, Jack and Nibley are right — when angels appear with messages it almost invariably to quote scriptures that we already have.

    Third, “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nep 32:3) So in other words, even if an angel were to appear, it is the Holy Ghost that causes the truth to sear into the hearts of the receptive. This is probably why an angelic visit did not convert Laman and Lemuel – they were resistant to the Spirit. (Alma the younger and friends obviously received the Spirit’s message that accompanied their angelic visit). So if it is the Holy Spirit that does all the real teaching anyway, the angels become superfluous in most cases. God can send them when they are needed, but I see no evidence in the scriptures that implies that angels have ever been sent regularly and consistently to any prophets who are conducting business as usual.

  89. Clark on December 30, 2004 at 1:28 am

    Geoff, I think I’d make a big distinction between a real visit and a vision or dream which may well be symbolic. I recognize not everyone does. But I do. I am of course familiar with the debate about whether the witnesses to the Book of Mormon saw something real or had a vision. Personally I think it was real, but then I don’t think the witnesses had to see something real for them to be witnesses. On the other hand I do require real plates, and would reject those as visionary.

    I also think there is a significant difference in terms of ritual between a vision of Christ and meeting Christ. However that is tied to the higher ordinances of the temple and what transpires in the Holy of Holies – especially under the auspices of the President of the Priesthood. Blake is right that we all ought to be seeking a personal meeting with the Savior and indeed that ought to be what we strive for after having our election made sure. Simultaneously though I don’t think an apostle or prophet needs that experience to be a witness of God.

    But for that matter I don’t think a vision of the sort you describe is stronger in terms of knowing than the still small voice. A vision offers no additional knowledge or belief than what the witnesses you or I have had. (Indeed I confess I’d probably more skeptical of a dream or vision that didn’t include tangible effects)

  90. Geoff Johnston on December 30, 2004 at 3:11 am

    Clark, thanks for the thought-provoking note.

    I have to admit that tonight is the first time I have considered the difference between seeing Christ in “vision” and having Christ appear in the flesh. From what little research I have done there appears to be not much difference. For the prophet Joseph, the First Vision seems very much to be a personal, physical visit to earth by the Father and Son — not only because that is the traditional view, but because of the specifics Joseph uses regarding space. “…exactly over my head… descended gradually until it fell upon me… standing above me in the air…” All of these strongly indicate that Joseph was still on the ground he knelt on when the Father and Son appeared and that They were physically there visiting him.

    The other scriptural descriptions of Christ appearing to Joseph seem to fall into the “vision” category without a physical appearance. They seem to be more like the vision Paul spoke of when he was note not certain whether he was “in the body or notâ€? during the vision. (2 Cor 2:12). Section 76 was called “The Visionâ€? wasn’t it? Verse 12 : “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of Godâ€?. Verse 19: “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.â€? The same type of language is used in Section 110. Joseph Smith said of this section: “…I retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed myself, with Oliver Cowdery, in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer, the following vision was opened to both of us.â€? Then starting in verse 1: “1. THE veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. 2. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.â€?

    In section 110 the vision continues and keys are committed to Joseph and Oliver. I don’t know if receiving keys required laying on of hands or not – if so then these were physical visits after all (at least by the prophets). But the text of section 110 makes it sound like this a vision without physical visitors, much like the vision in section 76… (Does anyone have an authoritative statement on this question?)

    If these both were, in fact, visions seen with spiritual eye only then I fail to see the need for physical visits from the Lord while we are in the flesh… I also wonder how often it has happened aside from His visits in the 1st century and the First Vision. It certainly didn’t happen before His mortal ministry and we know people received their calling and elections still. Christ can meet people via this kind of vision and communicate what he needs to without physically passing through the veil can’t He? Perhaps the higher ordinances were involved in section 110 more than the text shows… I don’t know.

    One thing that I am sure of is that, contrary to one of the last things you said, the visions in sections 76 and 110 are certainly “stronger in terms of knowing than the still small voice�.

  91. Christian on December 30, 2004 at 8:26 am

    Geoff (85): “What good would having the plates today do anyone? The test of a record is in its content.”

    The plates would do the same good today as they did when they were shown to the witnesses. They would inspire belief and serve as a witness of Joseph’s prophetic calling. In fact, if they were in a museum, they could do even more good today: They could likely be physically analyzed and translated, and Joseph’s claims proved true. (A case where that might possibly be done—the Book of Abraham—doesn’t seem to come out too favorably, but that’s another can of worms.)

    God could have revealed only the content if he wanted to. But he seems to share my opinion that tangible experiences do matter—at least he shared that opinion during the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. ;)

    Jack (86) and Geoff (87): I never said President Hinckley wavered about the existence of God. That’s me doing the wavering!

    It’s true that Moroni 7:31 doesn’t explicitly say the chosen vessels will testify specifically of the angelic visitation. But I think that expectation is a reasonable interpretation of Moroni 7:29-38 taken as a whole, especially in light of the rest of the Book of Mormon: There are several examples of prophets openly testifying of their angelic visits, even to unbelieving audiences. There are also several examples of this happening in immediately successive generations, not just a founding generation. And the periods where it didn’t happen seem to be identified as periods of relative apostasy. Have we been in relative apostasy since our founding generation?

    I’m not asking that angels or the Savior visit all the time as a normal mode of day-to-day operations. I just want some concrete experiences testified to in each generation.

    Nibley’s quip is amusing, of course. (It’s also one to add to my list of explanations that make us feel better.) But it’s just a joke, if not a rhetorical dodge; it misses the point. Substantively, it’s like saying testimony meeting is a waste of time because we hear the same things. Even if an angel just quoted scripture, it would be extraordinarily valuable to have added confidence that those scriptures are in fact true.

    Geoff (89): I think even the First Vision is ambiguous in terms of vision vs. visitation. While there are some details that suggest “visitation,” JS-H 1:20 says “When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven.” That suggests “dream” or “vision” instead of “visitation.”

    As far as failing “to see the need for physical visits from the Lord while we are in the flesh…”, Joseph Smith said (somewhere in HC, I can find it if anyone demands it) something along the lines of ‘No man can truly say he knows God until he has handled something, and this can only be in the Holy of Holies.’ Sounds like a physical visit would be valuable to him, if he thinks he needs it to truly know God! (Indeed his teachings about the Second Comforter seem to accord with this.) The statement was in Nauvoo, in the context of a talk about the temple. To my knowledge Joseph never claimed to have had such an experience. This suggests (to me) that even he had not had the experience of handling the Savior yet, and that he looked forward to it once the temple was completed and the highest ordinances could be performed properly. In fact, I seem to recall seeing a record from the Nauvoo temple (post-Joseph) posted on the Internet, a “Book of Anointings” or something, that suggested the Brethren had many great expectations for those highest ordinances (Second Anointing), such as powers over nature like Enoch and Melchizedek, and the ability to live to great ages like the ancient patriarchs.

    Anyway: It seems clear to me, from the Lord having witnesses handle his body, that the Lord agrees that physical proofs (“infallible proofs”, to use the phrase in Acts 1) are in fact important. The thing I can’t get past is that it seems undeniable that their value fades as successive generations pass away, and we don’t know the witnesses personally, don’t know their character, their worldview, etc. (Even their human memories are quite plastic within just a few years, let alone a human lifetime.) The statute of limitations passes, if you will. If there is a God and I meet him someday, the first thing I will ask is why such physical proofs are not renewed in every generation.

  92. Charles on December 30, 2004 at 9:53 am

    SWF (55 and on)

    I don’t know if I am reading coercion the same as you are. I simply think the greater population that is likely to tune into Larry King is not ready for certain revelations or concrete examples. LK is interviewing the man more so than the prophet G. B. Hinkley. While I, and many others, understand there is little distinction between the two, the secular world sees him as the president moreso than the prophet.

    I’m reminded about the line in Men in Black. “A *person* is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

    Again I think it would be more of milk before meat. Let the mass populous learn about the church, its fundamentals, etc. Specific instances of revelation are probably more solidly found in the strenght of the testimonies of those who witness such revelation.

    As it has been discussed before there is a very sublte line between inspiration and outright revelation. It would no doubt be an entire interview in itself to discuss the nuances of these differences.

  93. Jack on December 30, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Christian: “I never said President Hinckley wavered about the existence of God. That’s me doing the wavering!”

    Christian,

    I appreciate your candor. I think most of us have wavered on that point at one time or another. My use of Alma 12:9 is to show that individuals are at various levels of preparation. Therefore, what may be a mystery to one may not be to another. I think it is incumbent upon those who have received a measure of the Holy Ghost to execise the sweet condescension of God and rejoice in those who are led over the threshold of the Kingdom by the foundational teachings of the Gospel. The Book of Mormon never sequesters the foundational teachings of faith, repentence, baptism, the reception of the Holy Ghost, endurance etc. – as preached by the Lord’s servants – behind the veil of mystery. Beyond that, the particularities of heaven are somewhat obscure in the BoM. (though it is made quite clear that individuals may position themselves to learn them on their own – as per 2Ne.32) Hence, Pres. Hinkley’s decided pronouncements that he is a prophet and his seemingly incongruous statements about the operations of revelation are a reflection of the Book of Mormon’s approach to these things.

  94. Clark on December 30, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    I have to admit that tonight is the first time I have considered the difference between seeing Christ in “vision� and having Christ appear in the flesh. From what little research I have done there appears to be not much difference.

    I think a public blog isn’t the place to discuss this. I’d just say there are important differences in what is handled. There are many allusions to this in both the NT and in the D&C. So I’ll leave it at that.

    Regarding visions like D&C 76, let me clarify that I don’t have a problem with visions, if one is already spiritually mature. I just don’t think they necessarily add much to what could be revealed in other ways. Their main advantage is symbolism. Yet that means that one is in effect seeing actors in a play and not the events themselves. (Most typically anyway) I think we see this in John’s vision, Nephi’s vision, and most probably visions by Joseph or Moses. Indeed I have a sneaking suspicion that these are all common visions.

    Note also that I don’t think that the difference between visions and visitations to simply be “of the spirit eye only.” Rather to me the difference is more akin to a play versus an encounter. Further I think that “handling” which is key for receiving keys, is very, very important. Especially in connection to higher ordinances.

    Getting back to Pres. Grant, it was those keys, the right to administer those keys, and the question of authority over people given keys, that was the basis for most of the apostate movements. Thus the question of whether Pres. Grant had such experiences was very important in many people’s minds and was tied to ones election and events akin to Hel 10. That context seems largely alien to us now. So we can easily misunderstand what is going on unless we are familiar with the context.

    (Whoops, I just noticed Christian’s comments and he points out some of the same things I said in the above)

  95. Clark on December 30, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Just to add something – I’d note that Joseph’s accounts of the first vision don’t appear to have been used by him in testifying of himself as a prophet. Indeed they became used in proselytizing by others and largely took on the importance they have after the death of Joseph. So turning to those as evidence of how Pres. Hinkley or others ought to behave will certainly undercut ones argument once one realizes the history of their use.

    It appears to me that Joseph kept many of his experiences private. Indeed he taught that the reason many don’t receive visions and revelations is because they can’t keep a secret.

  96. Geoff Johnston on December 31, 2004 at 12:29 am

    Clark,

    Well that’s a pretty cryptic answer, but I suppose I understand your reasoning for that. Nothing you said has me convinced of the need for physical visits from the Lord for exaltation (or to have one’s calling and election made sure) while in our mortal probation — though I could be convinced with sufficient evidence. In my skepticism I am thinking of all the patriarchs and prophets before Christ. Scripture tells us of many of them who had their calling and election made sure and achieved exaltation — and they all died before Christ even received His physical body. The Brother of Jared is a fine example.

    Christian,

    1. “God could have revealed only the content (of the Book of Mormon) if he wanted to. But…�

    – When it comes to you and me God has only revealed the content. And He has given the methodology to discover the truth of the content. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is still the first principle of the gospel, both in rank order and importance. If one can’t develop enough faith to get a concrete answer from God about the truthfulness of the content of the Book of Mormon then that person can never develop the faith need for salvation anyway. Having the plates wouldn’t solve the faith problem at all.

    2. “Nibley’s quip… misses the point. Substantively, it’s like saying testimony meeting is a waste of time because we hear the same things. Even if an angel just quoted scripture, it would be extraordinarily valuable to have added confidence that those scriptures are in fact true.�

    – I disagree. Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost sears the truth into our hearts — not the voice or sight of angels. The same thing applies to testimony meeting. If one is having trouble receiving a sure witness of truth through the power of the Holy Ghost then we are back to the faith (or possibly qualification/faithfulness) problem again.

    3. “Joseph Smith said (somewhere in HC, I can find it if anyone demands it)�
    – Yes, I would love it if you could find that reference for me.

    4. “In fact, I seem to recall seeing a record from the Nauvoo temple (post-Joseph) posted on the Internet, a “Book of Anointings� or something.�
    – Hmmmm. Why do I get the feeling there is a lot more to your knowledge of church history than you are letting on…

  97. Christian on December 31, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    Geoff, I’m now getting around to looking up references to back up the things I said. The HC reference was easy enough to find, it’s HC 4:608. Here’s the whole entry; the sentence I paraphrased is at the very end. (Looks like my paraphrase was pretty accurate, except for my replacing “holiest” with “holy”, and “No one” with “No man”… I guess it could be debated as to whether using “man” here is male chauvinist or not… After all, women probably don’t need to handle anything to truly know God. :) )

    Sunday, May 1, 1842.—I preached in the grove, on the
    keys of the kingdom, charity, &c. The keys are certain
    signs and words by which false spirits and personages
    may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to
    the Elders till the Temple is completed. The rich can
    only get them in the Temple, the poor may get them on
    the mountain top as did Moses. The rich cannot be
    saved without charity, giving to feed the poor when
    and how God requires, as well as building. There are
    signs in heaven, earth and hell; the Elders must know
    them all, to be endowed with power, to finish their
    work and prevent imposition. The devil knows many
    signs, but does not know the sign of the Son of Man,
    or Jesus. No one can truly say he knows God until he
    has handled something and this can only be in the
    holiest of holies.

    As for my claim about expectations for the Second Anointing, I’m still looking for specifics to back this up. My recollection is that I learned about this from Tim Rathbone on LDS-Hist a few years back. It was interesting enough that I’m hoping I saved it somewhere; I’m going to look for it and get back to you.

  98. Clark on December 31, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    Nothing you said has me convinced of the need for physical visits from the Lord for exaltation (or to have one’s calling and election made sure) while in our mortal probation – though I could be convinced with sufficient evidence.

    I don’t think you do need it in our mortal probation. That to me is rather clear. (Otherwise everyone who didn’t have their election made sure before death would be damned – hardly compatible with LDS notions of work for the dead) Pres. Kimball in particular said some things along those lines. However the powers associated with these visits were considered rather important. Indeed that whole issue of the Church of the Firstborn was actually very wrapped up in the actual succession crisis after Joseph’s death. There are quite a few good papers on the subject, the most famous of all being Andy Ehat’s thesis. It makes the rounds as a PDF although because of its sacred nature he’s requested that it not be distributed. I think you can read it in the reading room at BYU though. There are similar papers around though.

    As I said though, given the sacred nature of such things I don’t think it appropriate to say much in a public internet page.

  99. Christian on January 1, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Geoff, I found the source I had been thinking of. It wasn’t the “Book of Anointings,” but in fact Ehat’s thesis that Clark mentioned. (I got text versions of both about the same time a few years ago; I suppose I conflated them in my memory.)

    I think this is the passage from Ehat’s thesis that must have fixed the idea in my mind, from I. Introduction:

    Joseph Smith declared that during life humans could acquire tremendous
    powers. From 1842-1844 — by introducing temple ordinances — he
    ceremonialized the process by which such powers, blessings, and authority
    could be conferred on the “true and faithful.” Throughout this-fourteen-year
    ministry he developed and solidified his conceptions of the ordinances that
    were essential to the restoration of “the ancient order of things,” including
    the blessings of longevity of life as the Old Testament patriarchs had and
    the awesome, superhuman powers they attained.

    In support of this, Ehat quotes the scripture about Nephi’s sealing power that Clark mentioned earlier, and also quotes from the Book of Moses/JST about Moses, Enoch, and Melchizedek.

    However, scanning through the later parts of the thesis and also the purported “Book of Anointings,” while great promises are implied by the Second Anointing, most of it could be read as being exercised in eternity. I didn’t see anything to buttress a claim that they seriously expected patriarchal longevity or to exercise Nephi/Enoch/Melchizedek powers over nature in mortality. In that sense, the Ehat passage above seems a little overblown, Quinn-style (who was actually on the committee for this thesis).

  100. Clark on January 1, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    I think Ehat’s basic thesis is correct, but the notions have definitely undergone some revision over the years.

  101. Geoff Johnston on January 1, 2005 at 2:29 pm

    Clark & Christian,

    Thanks for those references and comments. It is interesting stuff.

    BTW — Is the History of the Church published somewhere on the Web? I found the Journal of Discourses but not HC in a cursory search.

  102. Christian on January 1, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    Geoff, I’m not aware of HC on the web; I found the quote I was after with GospeLink 2001.

  103. Geoff Johnston on January 1, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    Yeah, I use GospelLink too. Man I’m getting lazy when inserting a CD is too much work! Thanks.

  104. Justin B. on January 1, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    History of the Church can be found here

  105. Geoff Johnston on January 1, 2005 at 6:35 pm

    Sweeeeeeet.

    Nice link, Justin. Thanks!

  106. Splendid Sun on January 1, 2005 at 7:21 pm

    The Loss of the Extraordinary
    A recent post at T&S by Greg has focused my attention on a topic that I have been pondering for awhile.

    My dad served a mission in Hawaii and was probably one of the last to learn the language and use it for the bulk of his mission. I grew up with …