Posts Tagged ‘Arm of Flesh’


Follow the Prophet, Don’t Go Astray?

So I found myself sitting in nursery this past Sunday watching my 2 year old son play around and saw Ursula reincarnate.  Not really, but certainly the thought came to mind more than a few times.  For those who try and break free from the corporate church, and its teachings, primary is often referred to as one of the last few bastions where the gospel is still pure and simple, where the teachings still focus on and about Christ.

I had that in mind as the scene played out in front of me.  I’m not sure if it’s a churchwide program that our unit (nice, I just called it a unit – very correlated) has been following with what primary songs they sing and when, but ours has been on a program which has been focusing on the infamous (to me, at least) primary song:  Follow The Prophet.  It would be safe to say that chills nearly run up and down my spine when forced to listen to that song, for reasons I’ll try and discuss.  But these aren’t ones that I enjoy.  Probably more like fingernails going down a chalkboard.

A few weeks (months?) back the primary president gave me a CD of the primary songs the primary was working on so that I could pass it along to my wife who could then listen to those songs as we drove with the kids in the car.  Problem is, it’s only a 5-track CD and one of those tracks is “Follow the Prophet.”  So somehow – and I promise it was an honest mistake – the CD was misplaced for a couple of weeks before my wife finally found it.  I’ve managed to skip that track a few times while present, but so far the inundation of that song at church is beyond my control.  Unfortunately.

A few years back, I overheard my nephew singing that song by memory and thought about how cool it was that he had learned such an inspiring song.  Now, I’ll be damned if my kids sing it.  Shows just how far I’ve fallen.

Seeds of Dislike

So, why my particular dislike for this particular song?  Well, it’s not quite as simple as you might guess, though it really is.  Sound confusing, or at least a bit muddy?  Good.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

My dislike probably had origination with the whole “the prophet will never, indeed cannot, lead us astray” meme.  Though even that is a tenuous link.  It really is just one of those things that happened, and really happened overnight more or less.  Whereas before (as in the case of my nephew mentioned above) I found it entirely beneficial, and probably inspiring, to sing such a song, now I can’t stomach it.

I did a simple search on google using the terms, “Follow the prophet” and found a few worthwhile links which will help reinforce this point, and it’s a point I labor with at home as well.  We’ve been taught by many that the Lord will still bless us if we do what the prophet tells us, even if he’s wrong.  We’ve been taught for 120+ years that our church leaders simply cannot lead us astray – try as they might.

This is recorded by Marion Romney and repeated in Ezra Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet (a talk which is difficult to find anything within to agree with):

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident, which happened to him: I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home….Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

Blind obedience is required – check your coat (and free will) at the door.

Primary Revisited

So, just what are we teaching our primary aged children, and younger?  Well, taking a couple of the verses of the song might elucidate the conversation, if only slightly:

Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
We are his descendants in the latter days.

Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
People in his city did just what they should.
When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.

Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
They were busy sinning-Noah preached in vain.
They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.

Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,
So the Lord sent Isaac as the chosen one.
Isaac begat Jacob, known as Israel;
Jacob’s sons were twelve tribes, so Bible tells.

Moses was a prophet sent to Israel.
He would lead them to the Promised Land to dwell.
They were slow to follow, or so it appears.
They were in the wilderness for forty years.

It might not appear so “slow,” if you step back and realize that we’re now treading on 180 years of wandering in our own wilderness, awaiting the redemption of Zion and our own promised land.  The problem then becomes, though, what happens when the term “promised land” gets redefined by the same church that has been wandering aimlessly, or nearly so, in regards to Zion?

For example, at this past summer’s commencement speech, Whitney Clayton gave a speech on the promised land.  Though I, as of yet, have been unable to find the transcript of the speech to ascertain the entire message he intended to give, we’re given a few snippets in the LDS Church News.  These tidbits suggest that (a) the land of promise is, today, merely a way of life, “not a place like it was in the Old Testament,” (b) the “promised land” usually isn’t a place – “it’s found wherever an individual is at the moment,” and (c) today’s college graduates are “cross[ing] a modern Red Sea or River Joran, as you graduate from BYU and move one – no generation has been better trained or more richly prepared for its future.”  Better trained and “richly” prepared?  To do what, presactly?  To continue building up and sustaining Babylon, or to actually redeem Zion?  Based on the text of the talk I’ve been able to read, it leaves little doubt – we’re to continue our toils in Babylon, seeking for our land of milk and honey and, not so coincidentally, riches.

Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;
So the king threw Daniel in the lion’s den.
Angels calmed the lions, and the king soon saw
Daniel’s pow’r was great, for he obeyed God’s law.

Here’s an interesting conundrum:  was Daniel’s power great because he obeyed the law, or did Daniel really have any power at all?  And, did he refuse to sin, or did you merely listen to the spirit in doing what he did?  Granted, a song – especially a primary song – has got to rhyme, so we should probably grant the author a little leeway, but still, who here is exactly comfortable with the lessons being taught here?

Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets-follow what they say

Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet he knows the way.

Here, really, is the crux of the song.  The last verse talks about the troubled times we live in – which we’re constantly being reminded of – but then it takes a turn for the worse, much worse.  Instead of reinforcing the idea that we should seek to get answers directly from the Lord, as is evidenced in several of the verses of this song, we’re redirected into a belief that we need to follow what they say.

Verse 1:  Adam served the Lord by following His ways.

Verse 2:  Enoch leads his people in righteousness.

Verse 3:  Noah was called, as an individual, to preach the word.

Verse 4:  Abraham prayed and received individual revelation.

Verse 5:  Moses was called, as an individual, by God to lead the people.

Verse 6:  Samuel answered, as an individual, “Here I am!”

Verse 7:  Jonah learned to listen.

Verse 8:  Daniel disobeyed the laws of the land and prayed.

Verse 9:  Now we’re confused, and we need someone else to tell us what to do.

Alternate Ending

So, the next time you listen to that song, perhaps we could think of this alternate ending that some seem to like:

Now we have a prophet, in the latter-day,
He is here to guide us in so many ways.
If we choose to follow all that he may say,
We will have the Spirit with us every day.

alternate ending verse for the primary song “Follow the Prophet”

Perhaps even worse than the first couple of verses, now we’re told that if we follow all that the current prophet says, we will have the Spirit with us every day.  That, of course, gets back to the whole blind obedience argument.  Blind obedience, though, has never been taught in the church, or so Joseph F. Smith stated back in 1892.

“Not a man in this Church, since the Prophet Joseph Smith down to the present day, has ever asked any man to do as he was told blindly. No Prophet of God, no Apostle, no President of a Stake, no Bishop, who has had the spirit of his office and calling resting upon him, has ever asked a soul to do anything that they might not know was right and the proper thing to do. We do not ask you to do anything that you may not know it is your duty to do, or that you may not know will be a blessing for you to do.” (Joseph F. Smith, Collected Discourses, ed. Brian H. Stuy, Vol. 3 (Burbank, B.H.S. Publishing 1987-1992).)

If only he’d waited a few years, his eventual successor, Heber J. Grant, he’d have heard this very thing taught to the members.  Quoting, once again, Marion Romney:

“Standing by me, [Heber J. Grant] put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

It really is shocking, to me at least, when you look at it this way.  Perhaps it’s true that the culture is so screwed up that they’d benefit from a prophet coming amongst us to tell us to repent, or await the certain destruction that’s coming.  Perhaps it’s true we need an outside voice.  That’s fine.  But, how about we draw the line somewhere?  Perhaps we could draw that line at – oh, I don’t know – Follow the Savior, He Knows the Way.

That’s what is so bizarre about this song.  Where it could be good, it falls measurably short.  Where it could teach kids to follow the Savior, it teaches them to rely on the arm of flesh.

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (D&C 6:36.)

The scriptures teach us – almost ad nauseum – that we need only follow one person – Christ.  And yet, here we have a primary song that teaches us to follow someone else.  If this could be broken down into images, it would look something like this (in my mind):

Doc2

In these two representations, the one on the left is what I’d call the “Joseph Smith Model,” whereas the one on the right I’d call the “Follow the Prophet Model,” or the model now espoused by the church, and church membership, generally speaking.  The reason I’d call the one on the left the “Joseph Smith Model” is because it’s the egalitarian approach he seemed to espouse, while the one on the right highlights just how much we’ve abdicated our personal responsibility in seeking truth.

“Do you believe Joseph Smith, Jun., to be a Prophet?’ Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. … Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pages 119, 160.)

Wild Things

So, with that in mind, it might do us some good to revisit Ursula.  In our nursery, as is probably typical of most (and is of the ones I’ve ever attended), a member of the primary presidency comes in each week for music time.  This past Sunday the song of choice was, as you rightly guessed, Follow the Prophet.  But, it wasn’t just that.  The sister passed out maracas, tambourines and all sorts of musical gadgets and gizmos to the 11 or 12 kids in nursery.  The effect was one of no small mayhem.  So, picture if you will, a scene from Where the Wild Things Are (which just may have been the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but the images work) where all the monsters are dancing and singing and chanting around the fire.  The member of the primary presidency leading the pack of wild, ravenous 2 year olds as they listened to a cultic song and shook their maracas with all the muster their tiny arms could.

That, in miniature scale, is what I saw in nursery.  I even tried to snap it on my cell phone, but didn’t get it out in time.  I was nearly appalled and probably would have been had I not been so taken back by the whole scene playing in front of me.

Cyberspace Questions

And, not so appalled as I am at some of the websites currently floating around which reinforce our idolatrous ways.  The President of the church has his own website, owned, managed and ran by the church, which reads more like a resume than anything else.  And, there are countless others devoted to following just what the president is doing on any given day – like www.followtheprophet.net – which literally seeks to “follow” him on his travels.  Once there, you might have some fun going to their post on May 24th of this year and asking yourself, should a prophet be limoed around in a Gulfstream IV – the Huntsman jet – which has a price tag hovering around $36 million and change (new).  Just a question.  We’d all do a little better to ask a few more questions each day.  Start with that question.  Then, imagine that Gulfstream landing in rural Guatemala, or Mongolia, or Uzbekistan or wherever it lands.

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.” – Lloyd Alexander

As a culture, we’re so far removed from processes which create the goods and services we want that all we really care about is the end result.  When we go buy a toy at our nearest Wal*Mart, we care not how it came to us or where it was made.  We couldn’t care less that an 8-year old kid is working 12-hour days to help support his family, just so they can have a ¼ cup of rice on the table at night.  No, so long as we get our toy at a good price, that’s really all we care about.  Same with our groceries, shoes or whatever it may be – just so long as it has an appropriate price tag on it.  The last quote of my post on Samsara and Perfume discusses this idea and refers to it as “world building.”

The same principle goes with this Gulfstream.  Instead of asking ourselves some questions like these:  “does he really need a $36 million airplane to traverse and gallivant across the globe?”, “So what if it reeks of extravagance to the extreme?,” and others along the same vein.  Instead, we simply throw those questions aside and, as the original story on FollowtheProphet.net mentions, find no shortage of adulation for such conveniences.  Questions, lots of questions.

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Gandhi

Alternate Ending, Part 2

So what’s my whole beef with this issue?  Mainly one of focus.  We, as a church and a people, are so fixated on an office that we can’t see the forest for the trees.  We have developed such a cult of personality that we no longer verify things, no longer think that God can (or does) work outside the bounds of the corporate church.  We think that all we have to do to be saved is listen to a man.  Any man, really.  So long as he ascends the hierarchy and holds on longer than the rest, that means we are bound to listen and adhere to everything he says.

Like the above graphics note, we’ve replaced intimate relationships with corporate institutions.   The idea and belief that Christ now must speak through someone else, and that that someone else is impervious to ever doing anything contrary to the will of the Lord is about as egregious a teaching as I know.  We’ve strayed from the path that instructs us to go on and on in our search for Christ, and strayed into a path that we only need search for a president – for then we’ve found the only person we need listen to (allegedly).

Denver Snuffer wrote about this in his 3-part series on the Traditions of Men (Part I, Part II, Part III – which are well worth your time), part of which I include here:

“In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly.  He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully.  He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired.  In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president.  President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide.  President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.

President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order.  He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray.  That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”

President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president.  One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.”  You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority.  But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell.  So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints.  The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result.  Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.”  No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired.  We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all.  To question is to lack in faith.”

The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful.  Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.”  In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.”

Weak Faith

So, I guess at the end of the day, all this probably means that I have weak faith and am on the road to apostasy.  Such is my plight.  If you’re here, perhaps you’re experiencing the same weaknesses.  If so, soyez le bienvenue (French for:  “Welcome”).

So while the primary may generally be one of the last few bastions of pure Christlike doctrine, that song isn’t doing us any good.


Personal Revelation – Part I

I had a discussion in a class I attended a couple of weeks ago in church.  Being a member of the LDS Church, a member growing more and more at odds with the ‘mainstream’ definitions and teachings, I posed a question in class.  I posed said question to elicit a meager discussion of some sort, having sat through the first half of the lesson with crickets chirping throughout the audience as the teacher went on.  A comment had been made in Sunday school, the hour prior, on a lesson on how to build and sustain Zion, that we “need to be obedient to the brethren.”  This lesson and discussion was followed by a one on the importance of obedience as a pillar of our faith.

Obedience to “what” was the essence of my question.  As the discussion flowed most agreed that we are obedient to Christ, but I was semi-surprised when even more agreed that we should be obedient to the brethren as they are the mouthpiece(s) of the Lord.  No qualifiers were offered, just obedience to the brethren with the tacit understanding that they are teaching – always – what Christ would teach.

I don’t necessarily disagree with that as it is proving increasing difficult to assume that what they teach is what Christ would teach were he were here on earth leading His church.  For one such reference, one can look at the April 2009 New Era magazine, a magazine geared for 12-18 year olds.  The focus of that month’s articles is, from the cover, “Learning and Earning.”  Therein one finds a quote by Gordon B. Hinckley, when he was President of the Church, which reads:

“You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known.  All around you is competition.  You need all the education you can get.  Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.[1]” (emphasis added.)

While this article is not about how divergent current counsel is from what Christ may have taught, it is nevertheless worth noting in this context of whether we follow what a mortal man is telling us or what Christ through the Holy Ghost may be telling us.  After all, we were not sent to this earth to obedient to a man or men.  We were sent here to learn to be obedient to the Lord.  It can and does happen that He sends a servant who preaches His message, and in these instances we must be obedient to that message.  Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that we are obedient to the One who sent the servant who preached the message, not the messenger.  This is true regardless of whether the messenger is inside or outside the Church.

By this point you may have begun wondering how this relates to personal revelation, and why I am discussing it here.  During the conversation I discussed previously I made a comment regarding our need to be “prophets” – as Moses indicated (see Numbers 11:29) – and that we needed to follow personal revelation in our own lives.  It is my opinion that the Iron Rod, the rod which leads unfailingly towards Christ, is personal revelation, coupled with the scriptures and inspired teachings.  I probably could have phrased it better and introduced the topic better during this class period, but it nevertheless provided the prelude to this write-up.  Both during and after class, one member of the class stated a few things along the lines of our individual personal revelations are all too often tainted by personal wants, desires, and ideas.  These tainting then corrupt our divine personal revelation, leaving us disjointed and unable to rely on this revelation.  As a result, we should look to the “brethren” to teach us and lead us to Christ because their revelation is untainted.  Therein lays the issue I would like to discuss.  Do we look to someone else to teach us and lead us to Christ because we are prone to relying on our own desires, wants and ideas?  If so, in what ways do we do it and in what ways should we not do it?

The difficulty of addressing this topic is underscored by the fact that modern day leaders have repeatedly said that we do not need much additional revelation, at least at the upper echelons of the Church and as an institution.  Gordon B. Hinckley, while acting as President of the Church, rather infamously stated in an interview that, “Now we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation.  We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation[2],” as well as reiterating in a separate occasion, “…we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith.  We don’t need much revelation.[3]

Jeffrey R. Holland also declared something along similar lines when he said, “To help us make our way through these experiences, these important junctures in our lives, let me draw from another scriptural reference to Moses. It was given in the early days of this dispensation when revelation was needed, when a true course was being set and had to be continued[4](emphasis added).  Lest we think this is a modern development in the Church, we turn to Joseph F. Smith when he was also President of the Church.  During the Reed Smoot Senate Confirmation Hearings Joseph F. Smith was asked by the confirmation committee, “Have you received any individual revelations yourself, since you became president of the church …?,” to which Joseph F. Smith responded, “I cannot say that I have.[5]

With a body of leadership stating that there is a less of a need to have and receive revelation today, it’s no wonder that individual members may be at odds with the need for personal revelation.  Even if they see a need for personal revelation, all too often this need is given to general authorities of the church to whom members look for guidance.  This is further compounded when personal revelation is viewed as being tainted by personal wants and desires, all the while the hierarchy of the church is seemingly protected from these tainting aspects of revelation.

Author Denver Snuffer dedicated an entire chapter of his book Eighteen Verses to this idea taught by Gordon B. Hinckley and Jeffrey R. Holland regarding the time we find ourselves and the revelation we should or should not expect to receive.  This chapter in his book is based off an obscure verse of scripture found in an obscure book in the Book of Mormon.  Omni 1:11 states:

“And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written.  And I make an end.”

As a response to this proclamation by Omni, Snuffer offers this poignant thought:

“The writer confirms “that which is sufficient is written” and sincerely believed this to be true.  This thought illustrates what his ancestor, Nephi, condemned when he warned against any who should say:  “We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!” (2 Nephi 28:29).  This is an illustration of the kind of religion which endlessly repeats old inspirational stories while failing to add any new ones.  Having faith in what others did long ago, when events in their lives caused their faith to be tested, is no substitute for having faith to see the miraculous in your own life.  Joseph Smith had this to say:  “Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation with God ….” (TPJS 324).[6]

One may be led to ask why revelation ceases, or why some feel that “we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!”  Whatever the answer to that question, it may also provide insight into why some are afraid to seek personal revelation, or are afraid of being misled by personal revelation, and instead rely on others to show them the way.  This is discussed at length in Eighteen Verses, from which I quote only a tiny portion:

“The reason revelation ceased among the direct descendants of Nephi’s line, who originally maintained the plates, is not explained in full.  Nor is the reason for the word of the Lord abandoning the Israelite leadership at the time of Eli.  It seems likely the reasons had more to do with the inclinations of the leaders to seek revelation than the Lord’s willingness to give it.  It may well be those former leaders did not seek revelation because they thought they already had a great store of existing truths which were not being lived fully.[7]

This statement describes Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement perfectly.  In the Book of Mormon we find many, many examples of people using their agency to both pursue and seek for personal revelation, as well as examples of those who turn from it.  The Book of Jacob contains one such instance.  In the opening chapter of book of Jacob we read:

“For because of faith and great anxiety, it truly had been made manifest unto us concerning our people, what things should happen to them.  And we also had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophecy; wherefore, we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come.[8]

Here, in contrast to what is mentioned by Omni, is a group of people who received “many” revelations, possessed the spirit of prophecy, and were greatly blessed because of their desire to seek after these things.  They were not content merely with past revelation that was written and given to people of a day gone by.  They exhibited a level of faith sufficient to receive answers and it is noted that they had a “great anxiety” to be taught and instructed.  They acknowledged that they did not have all the answers and, instead, they actively sought for revelations and the gift of prophecy.  Christ instructs throughout modern scripture that if we ask, we shall receive (see Matt. 21:22; John 16:24; 1 Ne. 15:11; Enos 1:15; among many others).  The use of the world “shall” in scripture, especially in this context of asking and receiving, “implies a promise, command or determination … when shall is uttered with emphasis in such phrases, it expresses determination in the speaker, and implies an authority to enforce the act.[9]

This is no empty promise.  Christ wants us to ask and, indeed, is imploring us to ask.  He wants to give us light, knowledge and truth.  He wants us to grow.  He is not content with us merely surviving this mortal experience, simply going through the motions.  It should also be noted that Christ is disappointed when we do not ask and do not search out things we do not know.  Christ mentioned as much when he visited the Nephite disciples at the time of his appearance on the American continent.  While teaching these disciples about the meaning of the “other sheep I have which are not of this fold” statement he had told to the apostles who were at Jerusalem[10].  Christ specifically mentions in 3 Nephi 16:4 that “if it so be that my people at Jerusalem … do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, …,” implying that there is knowledge and insight to be gained from asking questions, especially questions on topics for which Christ has left a trail of breadcrumbs.  It is interesting to note, then, in this context that Christ was troubled “because of the wickedness of the House of Israel” (3 Nephi 17:14), wickedness which can be related to this very discussion of not seeking for further light and knowledge and having an inquiring mind.[11]

As quoted above, the inclination to ask seems to be lacking in our day, most importantly at the individual level, but also at the institutional level.  To say that the odds of receiving something we do not ask for are slim would be an understatement.  While it is true that we do, on occasion, receive blessings for which we have not specifically asked, many blessings await us and are only given once we ask and petition the Lord.  We are a complacent people, content to let others teach us and tell us what we should be doing, what we should be taught, how it should be taught and how to think and act.  From media pundits who tell us what to think to books telling us how to improve ourselves, from radio personalities informing us of our opinion to uninspired leaders interpreting life’s important truths[12], we find it much easier to turn to someone else than we find it to develop our relationship with the Divine.

Accessing the airwaves of personal revelation is no easy feat.  It is one that must be fine tuned and understood.  It is not like turning on a television set to our favorite news show or the radio to our favorite station.  While personal revelation can happen much more frequently than it probably does in our individual lives, God will still try our patience.  It is perhaps this line of thinking which led Neal A. Maxwell to declare:

“One’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free … how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art!  Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy! … Real faith…is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process.[13]

In our quest to acquire more constant personal revelation we will still be led, nevertheless, through times of trial, doubt, uncertainty and difficulty.  Yet in this process of fine-tuning and in viewing those instances of personal revelation, we should view the instances of personal revelation which we receive as gifts from God as we try to walk the path which He would have us follow.  In thinking over this topic I was reminded of an experience Edgar Cayce, who some call either the “sleeping prophet” or the “sleeping (false) prophet,” had.  Before sharing that story; however, this scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants is applicable to this conversation:

“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices not in that which was given to him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33).

Complement this verse with this dream Edgar Cayce supposedly had, as related by Jess Stearn:

“Cayce was literally a dreamer, and he felt people could learn about themselves and the world about them by studying their own dreams. “Consciousness is sought by man for his own diversion. In sleep, the soul seeks the real diversion or the real activity of self.”  If he didn’t understand a dream, he would lie down and interpret it in trance.

“In one dream, he saw himself climbing to a heavenly chapel to pray. A celestial custodian showed him a large room crammed with packages, beautifully wrapped and addressed to different people. They had not been delivered, and the custodian sorrowfully explained why, “These are gifts for which people have been praying, but they lost their faith just before the date of delivery.[14]

Of the many gifts our Heavenly Father and Christ would give us, surely personal revelation is one of the greatest for in receiving it we are receiving pure knowledge, inspiration and guidance from the pure source.  Indeed, personal revelation is a very real connection with the Divine.  Do we, on occasion (more frequently?), fail to view personal revelation as both a gift and guidance from the Divine?  Do we reject the gift if we are afraid to utilize it, or prefer to hear someone else tell us what guidance we’re seeking?  To be sure, church leaders and inspired individuals do provide words of counsel which can bless and uplift, but there’s a greater goal to be gained and a greater gift to be received than merely listening to the experience of others.  As quoted previously, Joseph Smith stated this very thing when he said, “Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation with God ….[15]”  It is only in establishing our own connection, our own familiarity with God that we can begin to grasp a complete view of our condition and our true relation with God.  Anything else is inferior.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as well as others, forewarned us about our tendency to rely on other men, especially leaders.  Brigham Young once stated, during a conference at the Utah Bowery in 1867, that, “Brethren, this Church will be led onto the very brink of hell by the leaders of this people. ….”  Joseph Smith similarly addressed the saints, though in a different context, whereupon he was expounded the meaning of the fourteenth chapter of Ezekial in the Old Testament.

As found in The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we read:

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel – said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church – that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls – APPLIED IT TO THE PRESENT STATE OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS – SAID IF THE PEOPLE DEPARTED FROM THE LORD, THEY MUST FALL – THAT THEY WERE DEPENDING ON THE PROPHET, HENCE WERE DARKENED IN THEIR MINDS, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy.[16]

The idolatry evidenced in Ezekiel 14 was that the people went to the prophet for their knowledge of God, not to God himself. They set up a stumbling block, a mediator for THE mediator (our Lord and Savior).  That is to say that instead of approaching God through prayer, supplication, fasting or whatever method, for knowledge of Him and his Son, we tend to approach a man.  No matter how inspired that man may be, the gospel is an individual gospel meant for “the one.”  That one, to me, is me.  That one, to you, is you.  As mentioned above, it is an imperative duty we have to seek an individual relationship and connection with God and when we do not undertake to fulfill that duty our minds must become “darkened.”

Ultimately, the Savior did what He did for us as individuals.  The relationship we need to be nurturing and cultivating is that relationship with Him, on an individual level.  To suggest that we need a mediator for THE mediator is rightly preposterous, and yet that’s what we largely believe today – that the knowledge of the Savior is best obtained through other “inspired” men.  We forego drinking water from the Pure Source for water from another source.

The problem we have, as I see it, is that we have been instructed by leaders of the Church that they (the leaders) simply cannot lead us astray.  Even if they wanted to, they are somehow prevented from so doing because of their position in the Church.  This teaching seemingly originated with Wilford Woodruff and the now famous Manifesto that did away with the practice (at least publicly) of polygamy in 1890.  Since his statement those many years ago there has been an increasing clarion call by the leaders reiterating this very same line of thinking.  Perhaps Joseph Fielding Smith summed this feeling up best when he stated:

“There is one thing in which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds.  Neither the President of the Church, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.[17]

To be sure, Joseph Fielding Smith is not alone in this belief.  Whatever the original intent of this statement, or the current meaning, many members rely on this teaching and is even shared in the form of a testimony during numerous church meetings.  This teaching only serves to promote the idea that all we really need to do is trust the brethren, trust the leaders of the church and do, ultimately, whatever they instruct us to do over the pulpit, in magazines or in manuals.  Given that they profess that their unified voice always represents the “mind and will of the Lord,” all we, as lay members, need to do is follow them and what they say.

As attractive as this teaching is to the natural man and the idea that there is some mortal being that we can trust at all times, in all places and no matter what, it simply is not scriptural.  The Lord, in the Doctrine & Covenants, instructs us that:

“… man bshould not counsel his fellow man, neither ctrust in the arm of flesh – But that every man might aspeak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world…[18]

In a couple of different scriptures in the Book of Mormon, Nephi spoke of trusting in what he called the “arm of flesh”.  The arm of flesh, quite literally, is trusting in man to teach and preach and lead the way to God and Christ.  It is trusting in man to protect, guide and instruct us.  It is trusting in man – any man – for our salvation and spiritual education.  Some may argue that a “prophet” is not a “man” in this definition, but I have yet to find any example which qualifies “man” to exclude someone holding a certain calling in a Church, no matter how elevated.  Clearly trusting in the arm of flesh has other ancillary definitions, but trusting in the arm of flesh has a direct correlation with our ability to receive and obtain personal revelation.  When we seek to be taught from men, we will obtain men’s understanding.  When we seek to be taught from the Spirit, we will obtain divine understanding.  These two are not the same and no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are still left alone with the intimate decision of who we follow.

Nephi makes these two statements in regard to trusting in the arm of flesh:

“O Lord, I have atrusted in thee, and I will btrust in thee forever. I will not put my ctrust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his dtrust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.[19]

“Cursed is he that putteth his atrust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the bprecepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.[20]

The second statement contains a very appropriate and important exemption for trusting in man, that being when the precepts taught by a man are “given by the power of the Holy Ghost.”  How, then, can we know when something taught to us is given by this power, or if it’s merely given without the power?  It would seem that personal revelation is what is needed to interpret discourses, articles, lessons, teachings, preaching and any idea put forth which claims to be from God.  Truth is not confined to an institution, to a calling, or to a specific group of men leading a specific religious institution.  Truth transcends the boxes we create for it.[21]

Christ specifically told us that He, personally, will teach any and all willing to listen; all we have to do is “open the door[22]” and ask God who “gives liberally.[23]”  Sometimes this teaching does come from a messenger He sends, but mostly it comes while we are on our solitary road, when we ask and seek for the knowledge and truth only He can provide.  Christ also taught, elsewhere, that we should all stand or fall by ourselves, trusting in no other person than Him alone[24].

Indeed, it’s an individual journey and process which we must undertake in our own solitary way.  The end goal, the only goal, after all, of personal revelation is to create and gain an intimate relationship with our Savior.  Without that personal relationship life loses its meaning and we are left alone, man/woman, in this lone and dreary world.  On speaking of this individual journey contrasted with the seeming comfort we may find in a collectivist view of being a “chosen” person, Denver Snuffer opined:

“Each of us must find Christ for ourselves.  Popular opinion and the collective view of who are God’s “chosen people” cannot be trusted.  There has never been a safe, broad mainstream which reliably prepared or can prepare anyone to receive Him.  It has never happened this way.  We delude ourselves into thinking it will be otherwise for us.  It was always designed that the Gospel of Christ requires you to find Him in His solitary way.  His way is that of a “thief” who comes without credentials, without trappings and without public acclaim.  His only sign of authority may be that your heart will burn within you as He speaks to you while in the way.  Often times He will require you to first accept the unlikely truths which save, originating from unlikely sources, before He will permit you to come to the Throne of Grace.[25]

Of all the scriptures which discuss the nurturing of this vital relationship with Christ, I think this scripture in Jeremiah clarifies it best:

31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a anew bcovenant with the house of cIsrael, and with the house of Judah:

32 Not according to the acovenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:

33 But this shall be the acovenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my blaw in their inward parts, and write it in their chearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all aknow me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their biniquity, and I will remember their sin no more[26].

In all likelihood God is speaking to us far more often than we realize.  Christ stated that He was the “light and life of the world – a light that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.[27]” This is the same light of Christ that has been given to every man, woman and child on this earth[28].  Unfortunately, most of us are walking in darkness at noonday and fail to recognize the light that is within[29].  In order to hear the voice of God and receive revelation, all we really need to do is to begin listening.

It would seem, then, that the ultimate goal that both God the Father and Christ have for us here in mortality, as the verses in Jeremiah indicate, is to come to know them for ourselves.  To establish a connection and relationship with them, a connection and relationship that transcends all other relationships and experiences we might otherwise have here in mortality.  That goal would include having his “law” written in our hearts and being numbered among “[His] people.”  In the movie The Other Side of Heaven, a dramatization of John H. Groberg’s missionary experiences, we hear this quote, which reiterates this very point:

“There is a connection between heaven and earth; finding that connection gives meaning to everything, including death; missing it makes everything meaningless, including life.[30]

We must find that connection, open that door, and seek for the Holy One of Israel ourselves.  That connection is the Holy One of Israel through revelation that He is waiting to give us, if we would but answer His call and knock.  That connection is what will open the doors of eternity to us.  He will write His law upon our hearts and we will become His people, but only if we trust in Him and no other.  We must approach the Mediator Himself, not some substitute, in order to be taught on an individual level from the Master teacher.


[1] Hinckley, Gordon B.  “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for the Youth.”  New Era, January 2001, page 8.

[2] Hinckley, Gordon B.  Compass Interview.  9 November 1997.

[3] Hinckley, Gordon B.  San Francisco Chronicle interview with Don Lattin.  13 April 1997.

[4] Holland, Jeffrey R.  Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence.  June 2000 Liahona.

[5] Reed Smoot Case, Volume 1, pages 483-484.

[6] Snuffer, Denver.  Eighteen Verses.  Pages 104-105.

[7] Id. Page 122.

[8] See Jacob 1:5-6.

[9] Definition of shall, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.  http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,shall

[10] See 3 Nephi 15:11-24; 3 Nephi 16:1-4; and 3 Nephi 17.

[11] See Doctrine & Covenants 93:24.

[12] See Mosiah 23:14; 2 Nephi 28:31.

[13] Maxwell, Neal A.  “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds.” Ensign, May 1991.

[14] Stearn, Jess.  Edgar Cayce – The Sleeping Prophet, page 22.

[15] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 324.

[16] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Section Five.  Pages 237-238.

[17] Smith, Joseph Fielding.  Conference Report, April 1972.  Page 99.

[18] Doctrine & Covenants 1:19-20.

[19] 2 Nephi 4:34.

[20] 2 Nephi 28:31.

[21] In Come, Let Us Adore Him, Denver Snuffer discusses this idea.  On pages 70-71 of his book, he states, “Christ’s message is his authority.  His words are what distinguish His true ministers from false ones He never sent.  Anyone teaching His truth should be recognized as His messenger.  He taught this to Moroni.  Those who will receive Christ in any generation do so because they hear and recognize His words (see Ether 4:12).  Anyone who will not believe in His words, no matter who He sends to speak them, will not believe in Christ or His Father.  Those who trust only institutional sources of truth, whether they are Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, or Latter-day Saint, believe in an institution, and do not believe in Christ.  The ability to individually recognize His words distinguishes those who are saved from those who are lost.”

[22] Revelation 3:20.

[23] James 1:5.

[24] Mark 9:40-48 (JST)

[25] Snuffer, Denver.  Come, Let Us Adore Him.  Pages 68-69.  2009.

[26] Jeremiah 31:31-34.

[27] Doctrine & Covenants 45:7.

[28] Doctrine & Covenants 84:44-47.

[29] Doctrine & Covenants 95:5-6.

[30] Groberg, John H.  The Other Side of Heaven.