Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’


And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may bredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon

2 Nephi 2:26


Do I Have to go to Church?

I’m a lucky man tonight.  I’m sitting out on my parents back porch.  That’s not why I’m lucky, but it’s a setting.  I, like many young former-“professionals” have moved back in (temporarily, I hope) with my parents as I both search for, and start a job.  I’ve been unemployed going on 14 months now, officially a bum in the eyes of most people.  When I was living in Utah, with my in-laws, I was the recipient of more than a few odd looks.  Though most people seemed, on the exterior at least, to be understanding and empathetic with my family’s situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those odd looks had to do with my mooching off of my in-laws and the free rent we received for a full year.

Certainly, within my wife’s own family, her siblings (and parents, to a lesser degree) presented a trial as they, too, questioned what we were doing and were more than eager to throw us out.  Such is the plight of an unemployed bum.  13 full months of job searching later, I’m no closer to finding a job than when I begin.  Hundreds of applications have been sent, less than a handful (literally) of callbacks or email responses have come back my way.

Such it is, in this context, that I find myself a lucky man.  I’m sitting on my parents back porch, watching the fire glow in the portable brick oven I just finished building less than a week ago.  It’s in the curing process, right now, as I try to get the thing acclimated to temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Currently, it’s sitting right about 400 degrees.  Tomorrow it will be slightly hotter.  The next day even hotter than that.  Then, some Saturday, our first pizza party will take place here at my parents house.  This project has been more than 6 months in planning, and I’ve taken more than my fair share of bumps and bruises in my feeble attempt to start a fledgling business.  Cost overruns, time overruns and broken parts have hampered the process, but at last there is some semblance of success at the doorstep.

That, in truth, is only part of the reason why I’m lucky.  While more than a few people here in Wisconsin complained of the heat (93 degrees with a fair amount of humidity), my wife and kids were suffering through a day in the low 30s with a nice slushy snowfall.  When I spoke with my wife earlier this morning, there was a 65 degree difference (literally) according to accuweather.com.  I chuckled, as we’ve often lamented the fact that Wisconsin seems so cold, and Utah typically the more temperate climate, and I was more than willing to point out the temperature difference to my wife as she suffered through a chilly late May day.

Definitions

As I did a little bit of reading, this morning, I was again reminded of a common theme among some LDS members as it relates to church.  I preface these comments with the clause that I am not terribly certain that our modern day interpretation of “church” is anywhere near accurate, and certainly has deviated from the scriptural definition in more than a few ways.  Church, as it’s referred to today, means little more than a religious body that meets on a weekly basis, with other meetings sprinkled in for good measure.  Church, as it’s referred to today, consists of meetings, programs, and hourly blocks of (mostly) scriptural discussions that repeat themselves at least every four years.  If you ask a member of the LDS faith what church is, they’ll likely reply that it’s their set of beliefs and more or less synonymous with the term “gospel.”

The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines church as “a house consecrated to the worship of God,” or “the collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ.”[1] The original Greek word for church is Ekklesia which means “a gathering” who could be “united into one body.”[2] The most likely New Testament definition, from what I’ve been able to gather, is that church was described or defined as any meeting where “two or three [were] gathered together,”[3] and could literally have been a group that small.  Any meeting consisting of two or three people which discussed spiritual principles or ideas or speculation, therefore, could have been labeled “church.”  The most succinct definition of church as contained in scripture is likely found in D&C 10:67-69, which reads, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and acometh unto me, the same is my bchurch. Whosoever adeclareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is bagainst me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and aendureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my brock, and the cgates of hell shall not prevail against them.”

The term “gospel,” by contrast, is defined by the same 1828 Webster’s dictionary as “the history of the birth, life, actions, death, resurrection, ascension and doctrines of Jesus Christ,” and “a revelation of the grace of God to fallen man through a mediatory … the whole scheme of salvation, as revealed by Christ.”[4] D&C 39:6 states and defines the gospel as, “repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the bbaptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and cteacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”  3 Nephi 17:21 follows similar lines and states, “aRepent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be bbaptized in my name, that ye may be csanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand dspotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my agospel … .”

The Difference Between the Church and the Gospel – 1984

Though many of you may be familiar with Ronald Poleman’s talk, given in 1984[5], on the gospel and the church, the differences highlighted therein likely give the best definition of the mainstream view of each, especially when one considers the changes and redactions that occurred to that discourse.  The original discourse defined the church as “a divine institution administered by the priesthood of God.  The church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.”  The gospel, as defined in this same talk, is “the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation.”

Following these brief definitions, the church is an institution which is charged with teaching the gospel, or the “plan” that leads us to individual salvation and exaltation.  They are, and were, two distinct and different entities.  Immediately after the original talk was given in general conference, Poleman was required to re-do the talk and give a similar, though distinctly different version which was then published in the Ensign and elsewhere.  In this second version, the church is redefined to be, “the Kingdom of God on Earth” and “divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources to implement this plan [the gospel] in each individual’s life.”  The remainder of the talk, as presented throughout changed version continue to highlight, continues to highlight how the church, and only the church, is divinely inspired and commissioned to implement, teach and administer the gospel.

The original talk, which I find to be a fantastic discussion on important and well defined differences, contains this instructive thought:

“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage, be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies.  Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles.  Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy.  In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.” – Ronald Poleman, October 1984 General Conference (original version)

The changed version removes this entire paragraph and replaces it with an entirely different line of thought, “the eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.”  You can be the judge of the similarities and differences of these two statements, juxtaposed against each other.  Suffice it to say, the redone version is geared and directed to a mostly hierarchical definition that strengthens and supports an ever increasing bureaucracy.  If what Polemen said was true in 1984, how much more true is it today?  The traditions – false and otherwise – are even more ingrained and popular than they were then and even more likely to hold sway in any given lesson or discussion.  The only way these can be adequately rejected or refuted is by knowing (a) what they are and (b) knowing the true form of the principle behind the tradition.  That, I’m afraid, is our task.

Is it any wonder, in retrospect, that this talk was both given, censored, changed and rebranded in 1984?[6] From Orwell’s 1984, I found a couple of insightful quotes as it pertains to this discussion:

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

The Universality of Revelation

So, why this discussion on church, the gospel and whether I have to attend church?  Well, one of my pet peeves (but only recently) is the idea of the universality of revelation.  My definition of the universality of revelation would be broken down by a rather simple statement:  “Since I received a revelation/witness that I need to be doing this or that, that means that you (all of you) should also be doing this or that”  In essence, the universality of revelation suggests that all the individual insights we receive are also applicable to everyone else, regardless of their station, their situation and their own individual lives.

Case in point:  if I were to believe (tacitly, because we never admit it) in the universality of revelation, then my thoughts on Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom must be followed by everyone.  In that discussion, I outlined why I think marijuana is not only kosher with the word of wisdom, but is perhaps one of the things our Heavenly Father has given us to use and enjoy, both for its effects on the conscious and its effects on our overall well-being.  Following this universality of revelation premise, my thoughts on Marijuana must thereby be the required protocol not only for me, but also for everyone else.  If it’s good for the goose, well, it’s good for the gander as well.

Now, as I stated in that previous paragraph, the belief in universality of revelation is one which is only given tacit approval.  Anyone reading the above paragraph will recognize the inherent weaknesses of my argument, not only because it falls on its face under closer inspection, but also because it bypasses the idea of everyone having their God-given right to lead their lives in concordance with the principles of revelation and free agency.

Guilting Me into Going to Church

So, how does this universality of revelation apply to this discussion?  Well, there are those around me who continually profess that leaving the church simply isn’t an option.  Not that I have any intentions of leaving, but the whole idea that (a) “the Lord is going to hold us all accountable” (to our “support” of church leaders and programs of the church), (b) “those who are sensitive to the troubles which beset the church need to be there, faithfully serving,” (c) Zion and her redemption are the same thing, and same cause, as serving in the church, (d) “withdraw[ing] from the church [will] cut yourself off from necessary ordinances, including the sacrament” and “imperil your capacity to keep the Sabbath day holy” and “limit your capacity to serve others,” and other similar thoughts[7], all related to the discussion of leaving or staying in the church, leave me beside myself.  Probably for good reason.  I probably need the reminding, but at the same time, I can’t come to an agreement on any of those items listed above.

If we step back and analyze the state of affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some things might come into focus, and rather quickly.  The first few things to enter our view would probably be (a) all is not well in Zion, (b) staying in or outside the church is an individual decision, (c) once ordinances are performed, all saints have the ability and right to practice those ordinances in their own homes, especially the Sacrament, no matter what any leader says, (d) leaving church will not imperil anyone from keeping the Sabbath day holy nor limit my (or anyone’s) capacity to serve and (e) the universality of revelation is alive and well in the LDS community.

Programs

My biggest bone of contention – and perhaps I’m wrong in this assessment – is that LDS members are so addicted to their own definition of church that they can’t really step outside the box and realize that “church” can be defined as broadly as we want it.  It really can be a meeting where you and I discuss spiritual principles.  That is church.  That is where we’re striving to grow closer to Christ.  Instead, for some reason, we define church in the most narrow version we can – a place we go and attend one time per week, with three hour blocks where we’re fed the same regurgitated vomit week in and week out.  We maintain incredibly narrow mindsets by thinking that service is to be rendered solely within the church, that we must attend a building 1x per week in order to even hope of keeping the Sabbath day holy, that we must support a system that is predicated on blind obedience to a pile of programs, lectures and leaders, and that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

I am so fed up with “programs” that I can’t even see straight.  Literally, the following is the list of “programs” we currently maintain (and I may be missing some):

  1. Primary program
  2. Young men’s program
  3. Young women’s program
  4. Sunday school program
  5. Duty to God program
  6. Personal progress program
  7. Scouting program
  8. Missionary program
  9. Home teaching program

10.  Visiting teaching program

11.  Provident living program

12.  Welfare program

13.  Temple attendance program

14.  Temple building program

15.  Humanitarian program

16.  Distribution center program

17.  Seminary program

18.  Activity Days program

19.  Young Single Adults program

20.  Activities program

And, from there, I could probably continue and re-label other organizations programs, because that’s all they really are.  The High Priests group is really about a program for old men, because you can only become a High Priest with age and seasoning, nothing to do with revelation.  The Elders Quorum is really a program for newly married people who aren’t spiritually sound enough to graduate to a special calling (i.e. their bishopric or the high council).  The relief socity is really just a program to keep the sister’s from backbiting and keep them engaged in various activities.  Programs, programs, programs.  Programs are little more than “a plan of action to accomplish a specified end,”[8] apparently.  And that “specified plan?”  To raise people who blindly follow leaders?  To raise people who pay a “full tithe”?  To depersonalize the gospel to such an extent that we think we need checklists, programs, graduations, certificates and prizes to suggest that we’ve arrived as “saints”?  Just what is the “specified plan”?  Interestingly, the word “program” only existed in the 1800s as a way to define a letter, advertisement or proclamation.[9] It had nothing to do with our “programmatic” learning that we’re now convinced we need.

And yet, in all these programs, our main focus is on three things:  (1) the church, (2) the prophet, and (3) the apostles.  If programs are the focus of the church, and I submit they are, then the result can best be seen in the beliefs (at least those publicly available to the average listener) of the average member.  The best place, it would seem, to hear these beliefs would be at your local “fast & testimony” meeting.  And, true to form, the results are rather predictable.  The next fast and testimony meeting you attend, take a pad of paper and a pen with you.  Make two columns.  The first column should have the header “Church / Prophet”, and the second column should have the header “Christ.”  Tally up the number of times someone testifies of either.  If someone testifies of the Church, or the Prophet, add the marks accordingly.  Likewise for Christ.  I did this over a several month time frame and the results were typically in favor of the Church / Prophet, at a rate of near 6:1 or 7:1.  I remember one meeting, only one person bore testimony of Christ, and that someone was a kid of 7 or 8 years old.  Everyone else bore testimony of either the prophet, or the church, or some other tale having little to do with the gospel.  That, I am afraid, is the result of the programs.  That, I am afraid, is what we have as a result of supporting these programs.  And, yet, I’m to believe that God will hold me accountable for not supporting these programs?  Well, if that’s the case, then I hope I can find a different God in the afterlife than the one I profess to believe in, because I can’t fathom how my God would expect me to believe in and support programs that run contrary to what I read in the scriptures.

Can one find good in these programs?  Of course they can, and probably do.  There’s no doubt there is some good, but the vomit that gets included in these programs (whether it’s the teaching of fear to our youth (i.e. “God’s great, you’re bad, try harder”), inculcating our primary aged children with a chant to “Follow the Prophet,” or the predictable “The Prophet cannot lead you astray” comments, or our adherence to a “uniform of the priesthood”) oftentimes more than outweighs the positives I see and witness.

Persuasion

Now, even amidst all this, I’m not saying that we should leave church.  Though I staunchly disagree with the comments enumerated above about our obligation to attend church, I am persuaded by some more wise than I that there are still reasons to attend church.  In a recent comment here (comment #2 and #4 are both pertinent), the following was added, which persuades me that there may be a better way:

I do believe that one individual can effect a great deal of change in a congregation. If the Lord has only one, inspired agent among every ward/branch, I believe that that is sufficient for Him to turn things upside-down. He could probably do it even with only one agent per stake/district. The masses, in my opinion, are not on as solid a foundation as they claim. I think it is more appearance and wishful thinking than actual fact.

The current status quo is one of continual unanimity, conformity, etc. A single person acting alone, but under the inspiration of God, can change the entire scene.

For example, if each week there is a single vote against, no longer can the claim to unanimity be made. Even closed-minded people are naturally curious, so although the leadership may discount that one, single vote against, eventually certain members of the congregation will approach the individual and ask why the hand was raised against. That is a teaching opportunity which may lead to two, or more, inspired agents of the Lord in the congregation.

Another example, a fixation on Christ in conversation can prove devastating to one’s idolatrous worship of prophets. Every LDS knows that although Nephi and people talked of Christ and preached of Christ, etc., the LDS do not do this. They talk and preach of prophets and apostles. An inspired agent of the Lord, forcing each conversation with another LDS back to Christ has an unnerving effect on that LDS, because they immediately recognize the scripture being lived and their own non-conformity to the word of God. So, even without preaching repentance, by doing certain things in a non-confrontational way, the population can be quickly brought around.

I can’t say that I’m as confident as the writer that things will improve “quickly,” but I note the wisdom in trying.  The difference between this comment, and the post referring to our “obligation” to stay, as I see it, is one of focus.  One chooses to focus on fear (i.e. we may “imperil” our ability to keep the Sabbath day holy, we will be held “accountable” for how we support and uphold “programs,” etc.), while one chooses to focus on hope and love.  For that, persuasion works wonders for me.

Returning, finally, to the universality of revelation, we simply can’t assume that everyone must follow the same course of action as we take.  While some may find wisdom and inspiration in staying in the church, others will find wisdom and revelation in leaving.  That is how it should be.  Everyone is on an individual journey and we must allow each individual the opportunity to individualize their journey as they and the Lord counsel together.  Sure, many may err in their judgments about what God is doing or not doing in their lives, but so long as they are trying and finding their individual path, I wish them all the luck in the world.

In spite of my misgivings about the way we interpret church in the modern context and how so many of the programs in the church are built around obligation, fear and guilt, I recognize what the commenter noted previously, that we are agents of change charged with acting, and not being acted upon.[10]

1984 Revisited

In the end, your decision to go to church is your choice.  Guilt should never be the primary motivating factor to do anything, and yet it’s one of the most popular methods used to get someone to do something, especially in the context of religion (i.e. if you don’t go to church, you can’t take the Sacrament and you’ll likely be breaking the Sabbath day, etc).  The universality of revelation is as false a doctrine or tradition, as Ron Poleman discussed previously, as there is on this earth.   Don’t believe it.  Do believe, however, in your ability to commune with your God and in your ability to receive divine counsel from on high (pun intended).

So, perhaps it is as Orwell stated, and as Poleman started back in 1984.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those of us who haven’t yet even learned to think are storing up inside of us the power that may, one day, overturn the tide of our idolatrous fornications with the “church.”

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same–people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”  George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 10


[1] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,church

[2] http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1577&t=KJV

[3] See Matthew 18:20

[4] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,gospel

[5] http://loydo38.blogspot.com/2006/04/1984.html

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

[7] http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/05/be-firm-and-steadfast.html

[8] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/program

[9] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,program

[10] See 2 Nephi 2:13-16, 26


Here’s the last part of the Small Miracles series.  The first entry focused on the Liahona and how Alma spoke of the slothfulness Lehi and his family showed towards the Liahona.  Part II was an excellent article by Hugh Nibley which speaks about the Liahona and a potential predecessor, arrow divination.  We live in a world where the “casting of lots” and “arrow divinations” are very much frowned upon as either being superstitious or being too “new age-y.”  Whatever the reasons, we should get back to the gospel and do away with the shackles that bind us down, shackles which increase our reliance on the “Arm of Flesh.”

Though I frequently quote from only a few authors, this should only be seen as one thing:  it’s what I’m currently reading.  And, perhaps a second: they are some of the few who speak and write on topics that interest me and inspire me to turn to Christ.  This brief preface paves the way for the following essay, taken from Nephi’s Isaiah.  From it, I will copy and paste a portion of Chapter 18 on Finding Truths.  This book was written by Denver Snuffer and all credit should be given to him.  As he may likely say in return, if you find any truth in it, all credit should be given to Christ.

Here are his words:

==================================

Finding Truths – Chapter 18, Nephi’s Isaiah, Denver Snuffer

As we saw earlier in this book, Nephi took the four final chapters at the end of his record to address a final summary warning to us.  In it he told us all that was weighing on his mind about our day.  These warnings are the product of the visions in which he saw our day and beyond.  We have already looked at these summaries in the opening chapters of this book.  In this chapter, we are going to look at how you, too, can gather truth through the same revelatory process as Nephi.

Though Nephi was not permitted to share the visions in his own words, he was able to describe them using Isaiah’s words.  As we have seen in our interpretation of the Isaiah text, Nephi’s use of Isaiah tells the story of Christ’s mission, our day, the Second Coming, and the Millennium.

As Nephi summarized his final warnings, he was troubled about our struggles in latter-day Zion.  Although the ultimate outcome of this season will vindicate those who follow the Lord, there are going to be challenges in our day which vex and perplex the Saints.  In particular, he cites our tendency to rely upon the “arm of flesh” instead of the “Spirit.”  Unfortunately, there are Latter-day Saint authors advocating the Spirit is an unreliable guide to truth.  Grant Palmer writes in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (Signature Books, 2002), on page 130-131; 133:  “When faced with this evidence, our first impulse is often to resort to personal inspiration as our defense of the Book of Mormon.  This is a higher means of substantiating the book’s antiquity, we assume. … Most of us have felt this spiritual feeling when reading the Book of Mormon or hearing about Joseph Smith’s epiphanies.  What we interpret this to mean is that we have therefore encountered the truth, and we then base subsequent religious commitments on these feelings.  The question I will pose is whether this is an unfailing guide to truth?  … The evangelical position of identifying and verifying truth by emotional feelings, which the Book of Mormon advocates, is therefore not always dependable … abundant evidence also demonstrates that is an unreliable means of proving truth.  Those who advocate the witness of the Holy Spirit as the foundation for determining the truthfulness of a given religious text need to honestly deal with these epistemological contradictions. … When a person experiences the Spirit at a Protestant revival meeting or when reading the Book of Mormon, it is not my belief that this feeling proves the truthfulness of the doctrines taught, or read.”  (Emphasis added.)  In this criticism, Palmer presumes “emotional feelings” are the same thing as being enlightened by the Spirit.  Of course, they are not.  However, it is understandable how he makes this error, for many people do associate emotional feelings as the sine qua non[1] of the Holy Ghost and fail to realize what is before us in scripture.

The scriptures do not either advocate reliance on emotions or give us examples of any prophetic figures doing so.  They tell a much different story.  They tell us of people who have faith sufficient to receive “the word of the Lord” and then seek for and obtain some confirmation of the veracity of that word.  They seek for a witness, not through emotions, but from objectively observable, demonstrable signs confirming the truth of the words they have been given.  Faith is required to receive the word in the first instance.  And faith is required to obtain objective confirmation.  They do this repeatedly in scripture, in a pattern which is commended to us to follow.

For those who have been raised as Latter-day Saints, the process of becoming acquainted with the Sprit can be a difficult one.[2] Palmer’s struggle and failure here is not atypical of some lifelong members’ frustrations in this area.  We are now going to consider the process described in scriptures for receiving an answer from the Holy Ghost and confirming it through faith.  Though it would require an entire book in its own right,[3] this subject will be addressed briefly here, because this book would be incomplete without it.

Not everyone has the same spiritual “gifts” given them.  However, spiritual gifts can be increased, and can be sought after.[4] Each person has some gift which comes naturally as a part of their makeup.  God has gone to great lengths to make everything in His creation unique.  Every person who has ever lived is one-of-a-kind.  Even identical twins are dissimilar.  No tree is alike, no flower is alike, no snowflake is alike; all to help remind us that we are unique.[5] In all time and eternity, there has never been another you.  Nor will there ever be a duplicate of you, science and cloning notwithstanding.  You can “hear” God’s voice, but how it comes to you may be different from how it comes to anyone else.  Frequently the description we get in scripture is merely “the word of the Lord came” to the prophets.[6] It comes to the mind, or it is “heard” in the mind, or it is sensed in the impressions, or it is dreamt; or it is a conviction which comes with palpable certitude.  However it comes, and in any individual case it may do so in an altogether unique way, it comes from a source outside of you.  Often it is surprising, not at all what was expected.  It can be inconvenient, requiring from you what you would not voluntarily seek.  These are not just “emotions” or “feelings” as Palmer would put it.  Rather there is an intelligence to it, which originates from outside of you, and which delivers a message to you; not feelings, but a message.

After receiving the “word,” confirmation follows.  The confirmation allows a person of faith to see evidence or support for their belief and trust in God.[7] Again, when it comes to the confirming sign which follows faith,[8] the variety of forms is unique to the person.  In a moment, we will look at a few examples to show the pattern.

First, however, remember you are unique, and will have unique experiences in relating to God.  Given the care with which you have been organized as an individual creation, how can you expect communication with the Lord to be standardized?  Why would the way in which He speaks with you be identical to the way in which He speaks to all others?  Why wouldn’t He carry on a conversation with each of His children in ways adapted to the individual child?  Do not expect your experience to be like that of another.  You are not, and never will be, a duplication of any other person.

We turn then to scriptural examples illustrating confirming proofs God has given to His people:  His confirming appearance in the “burning bush” to Moses was singular.[9] In all of history, no one else recounts such an appearance.  So, ask yourself why God employed such a matchless form of introduction to the person many believe to be history’s greatest single Prophet.  Was it driven by something unique in Moses?  Was this how God could reach into Moses’ perceptions, and therefore was the method chosen?  Here, a physical object, commonly seen, has an unusual aspect which appeals directly to Moses.  It is not “emotional” or a “feeling” but is a visible, physical event, observed by Moses and from which he encounters God.  Moses sees this thing, but then must “hear” the Lord’s voice in the same way in which all others “hear” Him.  It is recorded:  “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, ‘Moses, Moses.’  And he said, ‘Here am I.’ “ (Exo. 3:4.)

This encounter was not so unequivocal that Moses did not require faith.  This “voice” which he encountered from the “burning bush” was not audible.[10] Moses sensed it, and had to develop the faith then to “hear” it.  His faith was assisted somewhat by the sign he was witnessing.  But there was nothing automatic here.  There was nothing without effort.  It comes to every man, woman and child the same way, and requires effort and faith to understand.  Throughout Moses’ struggles to liberate a captive people, the words often came easy into his mind because of his faith.  That was a result of a growing capacity.  But even then, the signs which followed required great faith on his part as well.  He had to reach out in faith, in the court of Pharaoh, to speak the words given to him, and then trust he heard the Lord and was speaking on His behalf.  This was a difficult, trying ordeal for him.  Over time it resulted in him, Pharaoh, Israel and Egypt all knowing Moses had spoken with and was speaking to mankind for the only living and true God.  But as it was happening with him, Moses exerted effort and faith.

Gideon was another prophet with a unique method for receiving confirmation he could hear the voice of God.  In an unremarkable encounter, Gideon is met by a man whom he does not immediately recognize for his true identity.  The account states:

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord[11], if the Lord[12] be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his amiracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy amight, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:12-14).  A perfectly ordinary event, non-miraculous in any way, begins the process for Gideon.  He views this conversation in hindsight as something more than what it was at the first.  He finally sees this as an encounter with the Lord.  It is the beginning of the prophet’s call.  This man who spoke to him may have been a friend, neighbor or even Levite whom Gideon respected.  He was referred to by a term of respect, so Gideon must have respected the man.  It is only through hindsight however, the Divine nature of the communication is recognized by Gideon.[13]

You, too, may be able to see in hindsight how advice from someone else was really the “voice” of God to you.  God speaks to individuals sometimes through the voices in General Conference.  His voice is heard in the words of your Patriarchal Blessing.  Sometimes His words come from an inspirational song, or poem, or from literature.  But as you see His “voice” through the eyes of faith, you begin to realize it comes from Him.  The ordinary contains the extraordinary.  You must see the extraordinary in the ordinary before the truly extraordinary opens up to you.[14] You must have faith before you are shown signs.  “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow them that believe.” (D&C 63:9; emphasis added.)

Gideon through faith has “heard” the voice of God in this ordinary conversation.  As he realizes it is from God, he asks for a sign:  “And he said unto him, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.” (Judges 6:17.)  A sign is given which confirms momentarily, Gideon’s faith that this is a message from God to him.  However, he is being asked to organize an army, and then lead them into battle.  As his faith in this divine commission is budding, Gideon receives another message from God in a dream, that same night.[15]

For this kind of an undertaking, Gideon would like greater certitude from God to give him the confidence to lead an army into battle against a superior host.  He would like to see confirming evidence from the Lord sufficient to make certain this is no mere flight of imagination, and he as the faith to believe God will provide that to him.  In this respect, he has faith like Joseph Smith, as he awaited Moroni’s visit to answer his inquiry about his standing before God.[16] Gideon was certain in his faith the Lord would provide him a confirming sign.  The sign was not to produce faith, but was to confirm already existing faith.

He used the morning dew, and a sheepskin to confirm God’s will for him.  “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine aanger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me bprove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.” (Judges 6:36-40.)  Perfectly ordinary objects (sheepskin, ground, morning dew), get arranged in a way which allows Gideon to confirm the accuracy of his understanding God’s communication with him.  This is not “emotion” or a “feeling.”  It is drawing God’s communication into the physical world and seeing Him speaking there.

To Elijah, as he watched the unfolding physical signs of wind, earthquake and fire, these signs were not where he found God’s will.[17] These were physical events, observable by anyone who would have been present.  They were not “emotional” or “feeling,” but were outward events.  They were used to confirm the truthfulness of the inner “voice” which spoke to him.  That inner voice, speaking intelligence to the mind, was the voice of God; to him and to you as well.

Nebuchadnezzar[18] heard God speak to Him through a dream.  Likewise, Joseph of Egypt[19] heard God speak many times in dreams containing symbols from which God’s “voice” was “heard.”  Joseph, Christ’s earthly foster-father, was also warned repeatedly through dreams.[20] It is more likely the lack of faith than the absence of communication which accounts for the apparent “silence” of God in most lives.  We just do not believe or trust in Him enough to experience what is available to us all.  The great difference between prophets and others is not in God’s willingness to speak, but in the refusal to listen.  Some listen; and they are prophets.  Others do not; and struggle to believe the prophets.  God, however, has and does speak to us all.

In choosing a replacement Apostle for the deceased and apostate Judas, the method employed by the surviving Apostles was to “cast lots.”  It is written:  “And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all mean, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.  And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:24-26.)  The same method is used here by Apostles as had been used by the Lord’s crucifiers to divide up His clothing, as He was ganging on the cross in the last throes of dying.[21] When we think of the Roman guards using it to divide Christ’s clothing, it becomes less inspired-looking and more homely.  It looks more like expediency than revelation as a tool for choosing an Apostle.  Yet, at the same time, this same process is built into the scriptures for the Church today, and is used in every disciplinary council to assign roles to the High Council.[22] Without regard to feeling, emotion or desire, the lots are drawn and the assignments are made.  These physical objects contain within them the Lord’s mind for organizing a council before whom the hearing takes place.

From Nephi’s casting lots to decide who would go to address Laban,[23] to choosing a scapegoat,[24] to choosing an Apostle, to choosing roles in a disciplinary court, casting of lots has been the way people of faith have determined God’s will for millennia.  Through it God “speaks.”  But it requires faith to see it in that light.  For these are ordinary, even commonplace ways of making a decision.  Only through faith does it acquire the “voice of God” in it.

We are unique, and God’s ways of speaking to each of us is as unique as each of us.  We do ourselves a great disservice when we attempt to fit ourselves into a singular, stereotypical persona seeking only a singular way for God to talk with and to us.  We make ourselves into something we aren’t, in the search to find what cannot be found that way.  If we demand only the extraordinary before we will recognize His voice, we run the risk of looking in the wrong way for Him.  His voice is there.  He speaks to all of us.  But we can miss it if we are not attuned to listen.

You may never be able to hear God speak to you in the way in which others hear Him.  If you determine He must speak to you in a specific way, you can go a lifetime without ever having a conversation with Him.  He longs to speak with each of us.  Within each of us there is something uniquely attuned to Him.  How He reaches out to you may be as singular and unique as you are and you can be assured He is reaching out.  In fact, God is rather noisy, if you will allow Him to be.  We were never intended to live without a direct connection to Him.  Instead, we should hear His voice, and in time discover He is our “friend.”[25]

Christ’s use of the example of a living “vine”[26] or “branch”[27] or description of His Father as a “husbandman”[28] suggests you should have a living connection to God.  A living connection implies you are in contact with Him.  You hear from and listen to Him.  He is a part of you and an active part of your life and growth.  His Holy Spirit should nourish you.

Don’t try to mimic what you think others are.  Don’t make yourself a caricature instead of the unique Child of God, which you truly are.  The viciousness with which we seek to be the same stereotypic “Mormon” is no less offensive nor slavish than the way in which modern fashion-seekers make themselves silly replicas of rock-stars, movie stars, and ‘gangsta’s.”  Wearing gang colors to show you “belong” is very akin to our own efforts to dress alike, talk alike, sound alike, and think alike.  One has to wonder how either can contain any virtue as an end.  We should all feel comfortable being ourselves.  As Brigham Young once remarked:  “There is too much of a sameness among our people.  … I do not like stereotyped Mormons – away with stereotyped Mormons!” (JD 8:185; quoted by Vaughn J. Featherstone in The Incomparable Christ:  Our Master and Model, page 119.)

How each of us receives contact with God, how we hear His voice, and what gifts we possess are unique.  There is no single universal way for one to “hear [His] voice and know that [He] is.” (D&C 50:45.)  And so it is a mistake to ignore your own unique talent of “hearing” your Father in Heaven.  He did not send you here powerless to hear Him.  But it will require you to develop the capacity.  Relying merely upon your “feeling” or “emotions” alone is insufficient; you must learn to hear His voice.  All of the prophets referred to above, from Moses, to Gideon, to Elijah, received contact form God.  They were certain Who it was that spoke to them.  They obtained intelligence, heard His voice, and learned from Him.  None of them relied upon mere “feeling,” but instead “heard” words from Him.  He spoke with them just as He did with Nephi.[29]

There is no permanency to men’s lives, nor to the work of men’s hands.  There are only two things which will endure here with any permanency:  posterity and our words.  Buildings do not endure, as history has proven.  Today there is only one building from the Roman Empire still in use.  The rest are gone, except a few remaining relics which are in ruins.  But the words of Cato, Cicero, Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Livy, Sallust, Virgil, Caesar, Terrance, Polybius, Suetonius, and Seneca, to name only a few, endure.  Even more importantly, the words of Paul, Origen, Tertullian, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and the other ante-Nicean fathers are timely even today.  These writers’ words dealt with the struggle to maintain the truth delivered to the Saints through Christ and His Apostles.  So important do these words remain even now that the recent work of Barry Robert Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church, Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, (Ben Lomond:  Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research; 1999), continues the repeated study of their works.  Words endure; buildings, even temples, do not.  The closer the words are to the will of God, the more likely they are to endure.  Revelations are the most enduring of all.  But all expressions of faith and hope endure long beyond words of opposition, faithlessness and anger.  For the most part, the great critics of Christianity have been preserved only through the words of the apologists who oppose them.  History settles into patterns which repeat themselves, and so we should expect the critics of the Lord’s great latter-day work will also fade into neglect, as the works of faith and hope endure.

Get yourself in harmony with God, call upon Him and record His voice to you and you will leave something eternal behind for your posterity.  The record of your own testimony, and your posterity, will alone endure.  It is one of the reasons for the inspired instruction to us through the Latter-day Prophets to ‘keep a journal’ of our lives.  After all, “angels may quote from” your journal.[30]

We need to forget conforming to an imaginary pattern, and allow the unique gifts each of us have been given to mature.  Becoming “one” does not require us to become the “same.”  There is a great difference between the “oneness” God asks us to acquire, on the one hand, and uniformity on the other.

That having been said, there is nothing wrong with the development of a separate style, as the Saints have done.  This style is intended to distinguish us form the world.  It serves that purpose, and it reminds us we ought to behave differently than the world.  However, accepting such style is not the end in itself.  It does not confer any superiority upon us.  Its only function is to remind us we are different form the world.  But to receive revelation and “hear” God’s voice is a different challenge.  That challenge is not met through slavish conformity to what you think someone else thinks you should be.  Find out what God wants you to be.  Be that.  It is “one of a kind.”  It will make you free.[31]


[1] This Latin phrase is common among lawyers.  It means the “single best proof” of something.

[2] If converts have any advantage, it is here.  The process of converting requires some contact with the Spirit, and after baptism the conferral of the Holy Ghost is a distinct experience, usually gained in adulthood.  The contrast this brings allows any convert to know, with clarity, they have encountered the Spirit.  It is therefore easier to use this to build upon.

[3] See, e.g., Matthew B. Brown, Receiving the Gifts of the Spirit, (Covenant Communications, Inc., American Fork; 2005); as just one recent example.

[4] D&C 46:8: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given.”

[5] Moses 6:63: “all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, … all things bear record of me.”  The unique identity of everything in nature testifies to our own unique lives.

[6] See, e.g., Jacob 2:11; Alma 43:24; Ether 13:20; Gen. 15:4; 1 Sam. 15:10; 2 Sam. 24:11; and Jer. 1:11, among many others.

[7] “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TPJS, p. 151).

[8] D&C 63:9: “But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.” (Emphasis added.)

[9] Exodus 3:1-5:  “Now Moses kept the flock of aJethro his father in law, the bpriest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the cmountain of God, even to dHoreb.   And the aangel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of bfire out of the midst of a cbush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.  And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God acalled unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy ashoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is bholy ground.”

[10] “Hearing” God’s voice is not just automatic or easy.  Even when He is speaking directly to an audience, they must first attune their ears, through faith, before they know it is He and what He is speaking.  We see this in 3 Ne. 11:3-5: “And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a avoice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a bsmall voice it did cpierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn. And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they aunderstood it not. And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did aopen their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.”

[11] The word here denotes a respectful address for a man, not God.

[12] The word here denotes God.

[13] Margaret Barker’s work The Great High Priest (T&T Clark; London, New York; 2003) gives a scholar’s view of how mere humans became “angels” as they communicated God’s words to men.  One passage is quoted here:  “The belief that human beings, as a result of their mystical vision, were transformed into angels, was neither new nor the teaching of an unrepresented minority.  … The Gnostic believer changes from unbelief to faith, then from faith to knowledge and love, and then ‘such an one has already attained the condition of being equal to the angels.” (Id., p. 6.)  The theme of ancient Israel accepting men as angels appears throughout her book.

[14] This was the subject of my earlier work, The Second Comforter.

[15] Judges 6:25:  “And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him …”

[16] JS-H 1:29: “In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to aprayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full bconfidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”

[17] 1 Kings 19:11-14:  “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a astill small bvoice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very ajealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am bleft; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

[18] See Daniel, Chapter 2.

[19] See Genesis, Chapter 41.

[20] See Matthew, Chapter 2.

[21] Matt. 27:33-36:  “And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of aa skull, They gave him avinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they acrucified him, and bparted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my cgarments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there;

[22] See D&C 102:12-17:  “Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern, it shall be the duty of the twelve councilors to cast lots by numbers, and thereby ascertain who of the twelve shall speak first, commencing with number one and so in succession to number twelve. Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case, the twelve councilors shall consider whether it is a difficult one or not; if it is not, two only of the councilors shall speak upon it, according to the form above written. But if it is thought to be difficult, four shall be appointed; and if more difficult, six; but in no case shall more than six be appointed to speak. The accused, in all cases, has a right to one-half of the council, to prevent insult or ainjustice.  And the councilors appointed to speak before the council are to present the case, after the evidence is examined, in its true light before the council; and every man is to speak according to equity and ajustice. Those councilors who adraw even numbers, that is, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12, are the individuals who are to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and binjustice.”

[23] 1 Nephi 3:11.

[24] Leviticus 16:8: “And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat.”

[25] See, e.g., D&C 84:77:  “And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends,” among other places.

[26] John 15:4-5:  “aAbide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the avine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without bme ye can do nothing.”

[27] Id., see also John 15:6: “If a man aabide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”

[28] John 15:1: “I am the true avine, and my Father is the husbandman.”

[29] Three chapters were devoted to discussing Nephi’s progression in communicating with God in my earlier work, The Second Comforter.  Here we only make reference to it.

[30] Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p. 351:  “Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity.  Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies.  Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events.”

[31] John 8:36:  “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”