Be careful what you ask for

Just a quick note that if you’re going to send someone to God to ask questions, they might not get the answers you expect.

On my mission, I once taught a man about the Gospel and challenged him to read the Book of Mormon and pray to know it was true. He did, and reported that he received an answer in the negative. My options were limited, to either dispute the divine nature of his personal revelation, to say he’d done it wrong, to entreat him to try again and again.

When we leave the confirmation of truths to the Holy Ghost, we have the implicit expectation that everyone will come to the same conclusions as ours. This is a natural assumption, but it breaks down in reality, particularly as the topic gets more granular and personal.

Jesus tells us that those born of the Spirit are like the wind: you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. If we consign people to that Spirit, we need to be prepared for them to follow it as they feel inspired to do.


  1. I don’t think you are saying that the Holy Ghost will give people different answers as to what is true. Rather, I read you to suggest that people will interpret what they receive from the Holy Ghost in different ways that may lead them to different conclusions and actions. Do I have that right? (As an aside, upon first reading your title, I thought you were going to be directing your comments to those who had asked the brethren to inquire of the Lord.)

  2. Anon, how could we tell the difference between someone interpreting the Spirit differently vs the Spirit actually saying something different?

  3. “When we leave the confirmation of truths to the Holy Ghost, we have the implicit expectation that everyone will come to the same conclusions as ours.”

    I think students of the scripture would not have this kind of expectation. Everywhere one looks in the scriptures there are basically three outcomes: 1) The Holy Ghost manifest light and truth; 2) Satan takes away light and truth; 3) Individuals follow their own will (agency).

    I think President Nelson is aware of this when he invited everyone to seek their own guidance at BYU yesterday.

  4. I had an experience like that as a missionary. It was very flustering at the time, especially to my companion.

    Many of us like to approach Moroni’s promise (and sometimes prayer/revelation in general) as a simple “scientific” principle: mix 10 ml remembering mercy, 50 g sincere heart, 25 ml real intent, 35g faith, and ponder vigorously for 30 min at 37 C –> 1 kg spiritual confirmation.*

    Perhaps revelation indeed is in some sense scientific, being based on laws and principles of heaven that we largely don’t understand. But it’s far from simple. The number of variables is huge. To start with, is it even “wisdom in God” (Moroni 10:3) that I ask? The scriptures suggest that I need the Spirit to even know what to pray for, or how (e.g., Rom 8:26). Do I have faith? How much? How real is my intent? Do I need to know with my whole soul, or is it idle curiosity? What experiences have I had previously to prepare me for or predispose me against feeling the Spirit in this circumstance? Is my general feeling of spirituality and closeness to God high or low at this moment? What other concerns are on my mind? Oh, and let’s not forget I could get that revelation and dismiss it as arising from my own thoughts. And 500 other variables we can’t begin to know.

    Is it then surprising that different people, even if they pray for the same thing, get different answers? When there’s no meter for measurement but our own feelings, everything is pretty subjective. And I think that’s the point: In our mortal life, we need to learn to recognize when God is speaking to US, ideally with the surety and confidence of an Abraham who could be willing if necessary to do the unspeakable in response.

    *Note for geeks: it’s possible this is an exothermic reaction, since D&C 9 describes your bosom burning. Safety warning: never drink an experiment.

  5. I’m reminded of this anecdote from President Nelson from October 2010:

    Many years ago two colleagues of mine—a nurse and her doctor husband—asked me why I lived the way I did. I answered, “Because I know the Book of Mormon is true.” I let them borrow my copy of the book, inviting them to read it. A week later they returned my book with a polite “thanks a lot.”

    I responded, “What do you mean, thanks a lot? That’s a totally inappropriate response for one who has read this book. You didn’t read it, did you! Please take it back and read it; then I would like my book back.”

    Admitting that they had only turned its pages, they accepted my invitation. When they returned, they said tearfully, “We have read the Book of Mormon. We know it is true! We want to know more.” They learned more, and it was my privilege to baptize both of them.

  6. Anon, what if the question whether the BoM is true means sufficiently different things to different sincere people? Might they not then actually receive different answers — at least, since in their hearts they had different questions?

    What if the truth is that a story is accurate enough for its purpose? See, e.g., Roger Terry’s comment on various accounts of the first vision:
    “Historians may squabble over the details of the story and the differences between Joseph’s various accounts. But I’m no historian. I don’t know how factual all the details are. All I know is that his story, the canonized version he recorded in 1838, is accurate enough for God to endorse it as truth.” in “Frau Rüster and Cognitive Dissonance,”

    Maybe “true enough for you for now” or “not true enough for you for now” could be the meaning of the Holy Ghost’s apparently inconsistent answers. I wonder.

  7. I, too, had a similar missionary experience, and I recall that it threw me for a loop for a few days. At the time, I resolved the issue by putting it to God’s sovereignty. We say that it is not me (the missionary) who converts, but the God/Spirit. If God chooses to, he can send a message to someone different that what I think should have been sent, or allow a message to be misinterpreted, or whatever God chooses. I cannot constrain God to do what I think He should do.

    At the Be One celebration, Pres. Oaks talked about the time before 1978, and claimed that he never received a confirming witness of the reasons given for the priesthood and temple ban. He said that he determined to be loyal to the brethren (I would love to examine with him exactly what that meant to him), which seemed to include a “silence” on the issue — in that he did not express his lack of witness. I have wondered since how the history might have been different if someone like the president of BYU publicly said that he was not receiving a confirming witness of the reasons for that policy.

    Today, there are a lot of people claiming that they are not getting spiritual confirmation of all of the Church’s stances on LGBT issues, and some are claiming contrary revelations. What does that mean?

  8. Abbey, I like your version of the usual understanding of the formula, but I’ve always wondered where the 30 minutes comes from. Moroni 10:4 doesn’t include any promise as to when. It’s kinda like Atticus didn’t tell Miss duBose what she looked like a picture of. And then in v.5 we get “… by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may [or may not] know the truth of all things.”

  9. Steve: A couple of point in response to your question: (1) I’m not sure most of can or should try to “tell the difference between someone interpreting the Spirit differently vs the Spirit actually saying something different.” However, I believe that those who hold certain positions in the Church are entitled through the Spirit to discern such things (D&C 46). I think someone like President Nelson, who I believe is a prophet, seer and revelator, is in a position to make such a determination. (2) I think the difference between what the Spirit is trying to say vs. what we interpret it to say is an important distinction with crucial theological implications. If the Spirit will tell two individuals the exact opposite thing, then that undercuts the notion of absolute truth that President Nelson (and other prophets before him) outlined yesterday. (3) On a personal note, my own experience in trying to hear and follow the Spirit suggests that I do not always understand what the Spirit is trying to tell me. There are times that I know I have felt it, but may not have completely understood the direction it was providing. I think this is why Joseph Smith spoke of the need to “grow” into the principle of revelation. Sometimes we might simply get things wrong
    (4) Some people are simply mistaken when they think they feel the Spirit. Not everything everyone feels is of God. (5) These are issues that Joseph Smith and other Church leaders and members have wrestled with since the beginning. For example, many of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants provide guidance on how to balance the democratization of revelation (i.e. everyone should seek the Spirit), with the need to maintain order in the Church (i.e. whatever Hirum Page thought the spirit may have been telling him, it wasn’t providing direction for him to give the whole Church). These are important things to thing about, and I appreciate you for raising the issue in your opening post.

  10. Joseph Smith taught relative truth, Russel Nelson teaches absolute truth. Living prophets handily negate what prior prophets have said without ever saying that prior prophet was wrong…which is relative truth. Do as I say, not as I do? Much easier to stick to the two great commandments, and get my orders from the spirit, not its interpreters.

  11. Someone stating: “I read the Book of Mormon, prayed about it, and the Holy Ghost told me it was not true,” presupposes that this person properly followed ALL of the instructions for finding out of the Book of Mormon is true. If any one of the components are missing, the outcome is, unavoidably, altered. The person must have “received these things” and “pondered them in their heart,” and then asked “God the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ” if these things are not true; and they also must have asked with a “sincere heart,” with “real intent” and “having faith in Christ.”

    The issue is that many of the necessary components are deeply personal and almost entirely internal. So we cannot easily determine their veracity. How can we see someone’s heart and intent? We usually can’t, but these are areas which are vital to getting the result Moroni outlines. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy completes the three challenges needed to retrieve the Holy Grail because he “begins to believe.” Rather than take things as an academic exercise, he lets go and begins to act on faith. He ends up not only obtaining the Grail (where others had failed), but he also understands in heart and mind what the Grail actually means.

    When I was serving as a Ward Mission Leader, I accompanied our full-time missionaries on a teaching appointment with a family I had never met before. When I walked into the house, I could feel the tension that was present with the wife. We sat down with the husband and wife and began reading 3 Nephi 11, each person taking a turn reading the verses. Rather than change her demeanor, the wife got angrier and her tone more seething when it was her turn to read the verses about the Nephites touching the Savior’s hands and feet. The wife then revealed that she led the Bible Study class at her church, and that she knew the Bible was true because of archeological evidence (what evidence?) and knew the Book of Mormon was not true because of the lack of archeological evidence. I responded that our approach was to prayerfully read and ponder these things based on the Spirit, since archeological finds are constantly occurring, and each find may call into question what was determined by the previous find, the actions of academic professionals were probably not a good basis for our spiritual nourishment. I can safely say that this woman was not acting with a sincere heart, with real intent, or with faith in Christ when we were reading the Book of Mormon together, but this example is an exception.

    President Nelson’s talk yesterday about BYU spoke about how adding certain chemicals into a person’s bloodstream will stop the heart, and then allowing blood to return to the heart again will restart it. He stated he responded to a question once that said “what happens if this doesn’t work?” by saying “It always works!”

  12. Scott, the problem with that approach is that you’re presupposing the answer. When others don’t arrive at the same answer, the presupposition requires you to assume that people who have not accepted the truth of the Book of Mormon are either acting deficiently or in bad faith, or that the process of determining spiritual truth is so complicated and involved that only the really elite are capable of discerning truth. Each of those is a problematic approach.

    And perhaps it doubles down on the problematic nature when we base our approach acontextually on Moroni 10; we generally conveniently forget to read vs. 1 when we look at vss. 3-5: Moroni is specifically addressing the Lamanites, whoever they are. If I’m not a Lamanite, does that approach work for me? Sure, maybe. But also, maybe not, unless we’ve decided that the words of vss. 3-5 matter, but not the words of vs. 1.

    And does putting certain chemicals into a person’s bloodstream always do what Pres. Nelson says it does? I mean, maybe. I don’t know–I’m a tax attorney, not a heart surgeon. But I do know that with respect to at least some medical procedures, we know less than we think we do, because most research is done on white men. So, for instance, the signs of heart attack may manifest differently in women, and certain treatments may work for one group but not for another. That is, context matters.

    And, to Steve’s point: context matters. To the extent that we believe that individuals have the right and ability to receive personal revelation, and we ask them to go for that revelation, we have to accept that the revelation they receive may be different from the revelation we expected them to receive, and if we were sincere in asking them to seek personal revelation, we have to respect the revelation that they personally receive (at least, as respects them).

  13. It always works until it doesn’t.
    There are those who have “properly followed ALL of the instructions” and are met with silence. (Of course, as noted above, there is no instruction/prediction as to when.)
    This is consistent with D&C 46:11-14 on gifts of the spirit, even if not consistent with our common cultural interpretation of Moroni’s possibly overstated promise to all. Not all are given the same gift.

  14. I think this plays into notions of “the elect.”

  15. Dark Traveler says:

    I’m a surgical RN and have participated in many open heart procedures. Pres. Nelson may say it always works, but I have personally witnessed times when it doesn’t.

  16. Yep.

    I had this exact same experience on my mission. An investigator agreed to pray about the BoM, later told us she got a strong impression that it wasn’t true. After we got up and left, my frustrated companion wondered why we didn’t start scripture bashing with the lady. I had to walk him through some basic explanations of what it means to really, truly mean it when we say that we want investigators to seek and find their own answers. It’s easy to forget simple things when you’re accustomed to believing that all stories involving the Spirit MUST turn out the same way.

    Aaron B

  17. Most answers take time. Many times it is a struggle. Answers come in obeying the law and moving forward in faith….line upon line…after the trial.

  18. Deborah Christensen says:

    As a experienced nurse practitioner I find Pres. Nelson’s confidence a bit questionable. There are a few drugs that we can predict the outcome 99% of the time. But alot of drugs don’t work that way. And it’s still only 99%. Life is not so black and white. Even the time of death is relative. Death is more a phase. You start at one end and we know you’re dead at the other. But the point you actually die varies from person to person and state to state. Seriously, the point of death is picked by legislative/parliamentary bodies for legal issues.
    As for the Spirit I personally think it also depends on where the person is at in their life and were the Spirit wants them to go. So I’m not surprised at all if a person prays with serious intent and follows the promise in the BOM: they can still get a “not true” answer. Just like a person can pray and get the answer to become a Catholic priest/nun. From an absolutist LDS perspective that is a “wrong answer”.

  19. That has been my frustration since the original November announcement. There does not seem to have been any room, anywhere in the discussion, to raise the suggestion that maybe the reason so many people had a hard time with it was because it *made them feel terrible* because it *drove away the spirit* because it was just wrong. Members are taught from a very young age that our gut should always be a central element of our spiritual epistemology–we’re warned all the time not to ignore “impressions”–so when an ecclesiastical authority says “This thing that makes you feel absolutely awful in your heart is actually really good and comes from God,” it doesn’t just make someone unsure what to think about that particular issue, it calls into question the whole relationship between the moral authority of the Church leadership and the member’s core epistemic self. It creates a paradox: the Spirit, or what you have thought all along was the Spirit, which is part of what made you believe in the divine authority of Church leadership, is now pulling your heart in a different direction, and Church leadership is telling you to ignore your heart. They’re telling you to ignore *the very thing that compelled you to believe in _them_.*

  20. Xensing Jahn says:

    On my mission, someone read and prayed and asked whether the Book of Mormon was true. They told me the answer they received was no. I was surprised and not sure what to make of it. I expressed my disappointment, but they responded that it wasn’t bad at all, it just meant that the Book of Mormon wasn’t true. But I had had a different revelation. What to do?

    People do get different answers sometimes. For example, Bishops sometimes ask an auxiliary presidency to pray about who should be called to fill a vacancy in their auxiliary. When the presidency all get the same answer by revelation and convey that to the Bishop, and the bishop prays about it and gets the answer “No”.

    Suggesting that someone got the wrong answer because they didn’t precisely follow some prayer formula seems legit on first glance, but it’s easy to move into “No true scotsman” territory with it. You can always say, there wasn’t enough faith even though we can’t easily measure faith, and you can always say they didn’t have real intent, but we can’t actually know for sure, etc. Also, it seems like God tells some people things regardless of the ‘formula’ like angels appearing to Alma and the sons of Mosiah, or showing Pharoah visions or Jesus visiting Saul.

    While it is worth exploring how others approached their prayer, it’s also worth trusting them to live by their own experiences, as hard as that sometimes is. I guess there’s a trade-off.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    If you send someone to the Spirit for an answer to a religious question, and they purport to have taken the exercise seriously and yet come with an answer we don’t like, as far as I’m concerned that’s their answer. Outsourcing to something we call the “spirit” always carries that kind of risk. I don’t think one can reasonably say “Oh that’s not the answer I wanted you to get, so never mind.” If you’re not going to abide by the process then don’t send them down that rabbit hole to begin with.

  22. Scott,

    Ironically, the story in 2010 you mention is a sticky one. President Nelson had included that story in his latest book “Teachings of Russell M Nelson”, and just before it went to print, the story was excerpted from the book and printed in LDS Living (IIRC – it might have been another faithful site run by individuals with access by Deseret Book staff), sort of as a teaser of the upcoming book. The story was told in its full glory, including the story of President Nelson miraculously running into these people later on in life at a Stake Conference. Fortunately, the member in question read the book excerpt and immediately called the publisher to tell them the story was inaccurate. It had somewhat of a relationship to the truth, but it was a distant one. The details of the story, as currently told by President Nelson, had picked up a number of…. Enhancements…. Over the years, which fundamentally changed the story from what it originally was to the version being told today (including the very portion of the story you mentioned. That part, according to the member, did not happen). The member (who is still active and believing) asked that the story be removed from the book, lest the book be tainted by something they knew was false. The printing was stopped until the story was removed from the book.

    I thought I’d pass that along so you don’t inadvertently perpetuate a story that turns out to be not what it actually was.

  23. Stephen Fleming says:

    This resonates since I believe I’ve had a handful of such “unorthodox” spiritual confirmations. And I agree that if we outsource to the Spirit and then don’t like the answer someone else got, we’re kind of sounding like the Methodist preacher’s response to the First Vision.

  24. Jeff Collins says:

    Once as a bishop, I knew things about an individual that prevented me from sustaining him in my own sacrament meeting ( it was for a stake calling). The stake president and I had a very serious disagreement for some time. I said I couldn’t sleep over the matter and that he could release me or I could stay home that Sunday, but i could not in good conscience sustain the man. He agreed to handle the matter in a different way. Who was right? Both of us? I’ve been very careful to honor another’s honest choice, even if I felt it was wrong. believe Joseph Smith taught similar principles.

  25. Yes, seems obvious. If we consign people to that Spirit, we need to be prepared for them to follow it as they feel inspired to do.

    I am fascinated by the comments.

  26. If someone receives an answer that they believe–in total good faith and integrity–came from the Spirit, and that answer is inconsistent with current church teachings and doctrine, do we have sufficient confidence in the Savior’s atonement to respect that person’s revelation and agency for their own life? This seems to be a hard thing for very orthodox members to do–to relinquish control, allow personal agency and trust that the Savior’s atonement can make up for any error.

  27. Truth is truth. Some things are siimply true. Absolute truth cannot be altered by the opinions of men. Truth is based on the laws God has established. Eternal laws operate and affect each of our lives whether we believe them or not. Out of love, God’s laws protect us and help us progress.
    These are all true statements taught by President Nelson. Prophets are appointed by the Lord to communicate his love and law. They are commanded to teach truth.
    Prophets are rarely popular. It is in our best interest to seek confirmation for ourselves through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost can be a second witness to the truth.

  28. I see humans as being incapable of comprehending absolute truth. If we are lucky we may get some of the symbolism down right. Mostly though we are just reaching and seeking for something greater than we’re are. Even prophets.

  29. I really think that Scott’s comment comes closest to making sense of this. We have got to read the Book of Mormon, study it intently. and ponder it – if we do, then I believe that the Holy Spirit will help us to understand its truthfulness. But we have still got to do our share of the work, and let the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses do theirs.

    The degree to which some Mormons are willing to interpret all of their emotions as promptings of the Spirit is very problematic. The scriptures talk about Gifts of the Spirit – i.e. tongues, prophecies, healings, etc., as well as Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, and so forth. What you will not find is any mention of “feeling the spirit.”

    So in fine, like Scott was saying, we can’t really know what is going on in somebody else’s head, or what is motivating them to feel the emotions they feel. And we do people a disservice when we tell them that whatever they feel must be a communication from God – feelings can come from a lot of different sources and tell people to do a lot of different things, and God is not the author of confusion!

    And that’s why I will stick with my personal experience: after reading the Book of Mormon many times, studying it, pondering it, reading the testimony of the Three Witnesses and the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses, applying the book’s teachings in my life, and praying about it, I believe that it’s exactly what it claims to be. I’m aware that not everybody shares my belief, but then again, not everybody has experienced the things I’ve experienced to arrive at that belief, either, so it isn’t a big deal to me.

  30. Pres Nelson in his devotional talks about truths, which he says he has a monopoly on. He makes assertions like;  
    “The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God!  And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman.  God has not changed His definition of marriage.”
    Is this the truth? Has God defined marriage? Is there only one definition? Has he asked Brigham his understanding? Has God ever said anything about gay marriage? Not that I am aware of. Because all the examples in scripture are between one man and at least one woman, does not prove God opposes gay marriages, does it?
    I am not aware of any modern revelation on the subject(and Pres Nelson does not claim any), he just asserts that it is fact.
    Is there an eternal moral consequence to following the prophet unquestiongly? Is there a responsibility to get our own revelation? We used to teach that.
    My personal revelation says, all are alike unto God, and that as he makes vastly more gay people than he does mormons? If God is OK with gay marriage, is there a moral problem with following the prophet unquestiongly. At the judgement bar can you claim the nuremberg defence, or are you responsible for your own actions?

  31. I’m with ChristianKimball. Yes, it seems obvious the Spirit can tell people different, even contradictory, things. As well, I’m fascinated by the comments. I’m not even sure how people feel this is up for debate. So many “the true scotsman” fallacies. I mean, early prophets didn’t know the “truth” about God having a body and didn’t really understand the godhead (just to name a couple of big ones) and yet they had revelation about the truthfulness of what they believed. I mean, really, some people don’t appear to know much about the past or the present of revelations and declarations of truth from not only their peers but also church leaders. Astonishing.

  32. More gently phrased, the Spirit seems to operate like “the Oracle” in the first Matrix. It tells you what you need to hear that will most benefit you. Something along the lines of “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” (2 Nephi 31:3)

  33. As pointed out in the first comment above, interpreting spiritual feelings is devilishly difficult. I’ve had a few very strong spiritual confirmations of various things. At the time, I was dead certain of what the Spirit was telling me. But as time passed, it became obvious that I was wrong about half the time. Consequently, I tend to not trust my (or anyone else’s) interpretations of feelings.

  34. “The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God! And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman. God has not changed His definition of marriage.”

    That being said, my question is, who then changed the definition in the mid to late 1800s to be that marriage was between a man and however many women?

  35. Perhaps it was GC, or perhaps not, but a few years ago I heard one of the 12 talk about how they had been discussing a topic and 14 of the 15 apostles all supported one position, and this one didn’t. He told (I believe) Elder Packer that he felt that his prayers on the matter kept coming back that the choice wasn’t right, and Elder Packer (who had voted yes) told him to keep voting no for as long as his prayers stayed that way. (If someone could source/confirm this story that’d be great)

    So if that is a good enough approach for the apostles to use then I see no reason why we, and especially our missionaries, shouldn’t use it as well.

  36. The comments are intriguing.

    I wonder how many commenters believe Nephi when he says the spirit told him to commit murder. After all, using the Prophet’s litmus test above, God has already told us his law, which is thou shalt not kill. So how could the Spirit consequently tell Nephi to disobey the law? Yet every four years in SS I have to endure a lesson that ultimately gives Nephi the benefit of the doubt.

    Yet if our neighbor were to get confirmation after fervent prayer that they are not to follow the precepts of the Mormon religion, we would discount that experience. Even if they go on to live honest, charitable lives outside of Mormonism.

    Sometimes there are no words.

  37. jaxjensen, The approach you describe may sometimes be used by the Q12, but it is hard to believe that it is regularly used or could even possibly have been used in connection with the November 2015 policy. I too wonder if there is a source to confirm the story you report.

  38. The talk wasn’t controversial people. It was kind and loving, while being gently straight forward about God’s reality on marriage. It’s not God’s view on marriage. It’s not God’s preference for marriage. It’s the reality of the kind of life our Father in Heaven lives.

    At this point in time, God hasn’t expanded on his revelation of the various degrees of glory. But we know the ultimate purpose of the church is to teach the principles and provide the ordinances until exaltation. That doesn’t happen without a man and a woman. Period.

    We all know that God loves all his children, and he asks us to follow his law, because it’s possible for us to do it. Don’t ask me, don’t ask your blog commenters what you should do if you’re struggling with this. Talk to your bishop and pray to God and decide for yourself.

    If you decide to go contrary to the church, understand full well what that means — you’re making a mistake that will ultimately leave you unhappy according to our knowledge and beliefs as a church. But we’re all free to choose the path and the consequences will come as they always do for good or ill. God loves you, but this life is clearly a life through a travail of tears and joys, which are all affected by our choices, and we’ll have moments of both.

    If you have faith in the teaching of the prophets, you know what to do. Itching for your preferred outcome might bring some temporary relief but the damage will only get worse the more you scratch that itch.

    “If God is OK with gay marriage, is there a moral problem with following the prophet unquestiongly. At the judgement bar can you claim the nuremberg defence, or are you responsible for your own actions?”

    Luckily, since I’ve become converted to the Lord through personal revelation, I’ve never had to follow unquestioningly. And before that conversion, I had lots of questions — and acted in faith and had the heavens opened to me. So no, I have no need to claim the nuremberg defense, because God revealed to me the eternal destiny of mankind as a result of the plan of salvation made possible through his Son. And it lines up with and extends the teachings of the prophets.

    Those who want to lay claim to their contrary revelation are no loose ground because they are claiming contrary light to what the rest of us, including those who are in authority have received.

    I can absolutely see you receiving light that isn’t being taught now for whatever reason (timing, worthiness, etc). But you’ll never convince me that you have done so while teaching, preaching, and pleading for not only what’s beyond what the prophets are teaching, but outright contrary to it.

  39. a.eon, Good thing those who feel instructed by the Lord contrary to what some of the prophets are teaching are often not much interested in convincing you, but rather in living according to the light they have received.

  40. Call me kooky, but I thought one of the primary functions of a prophet of God (or of Christ Himself) is to tell people: “No, actually what you’re doing is wrong and you need to change. I don’t care what you think God has told you, you are incorrect.” This idea is intrinsic in the Lord’s injunction in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Say nothing but repentance unto his Generation,” (6:9, 11:9; also Mosiah 18:20). Doesn’t repentance entail changing who we are, what we think, and what we do? Doesn’t the fact of that change infer that what we were previously doing, or thinking, or being, may not have been right in God’s eyes?

    There are a litany of examples from the scriptures, but here is just a small sampling:

    “And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea.
    And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them;” (Jacob 7:10-11)

    “And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved except it were through the redemption of God.” (Mosiah 13:32)

    The entire ministry of the Savior is filled with Him calling out people and saying “No, what you’re doing is actually wrong. You think you’re following God, you’re sure of it, but what you’re doing is wrong and you need to repent.” One of the most obvious examples is the incident described here:
    “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
    Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:27-33)

    I am sure these Pharisees were certain they were doing exactly what God wanted them to do. They were sure that God was pleased with them and that they were following His will. But according to Jesus, not only were they not following God’s will, they were actually guilty of terrible sins and in need of serious repentance. There is no way to sugarcoat this concept, and I find no evidence that Jesus ever attempted to do so; to the contrary, He was obviously very blunt and extremely direct. No mincer of words is He.

    When I was brand new in the mission field, I went tracting with our zone leader for the day (my second time ever tracting with anyone). He was a missionary who was getting ready to go home, and he was very meek and quiet. We approached a man in his driveway and told him we had a message about Jesus Christ to share with him and his family. The man said words to the effect of “I have read the scriptures, and I do not need to hear anything from you or your church.” My zone leader responded with these exact words: “Sir, as a true servant of Jesus Christ, I can tell you that you have erred in your study of the scriptures.” I was totally frozen and could not believe that he had just said that. I thought to myself, “Is this a normal thing for a missionary to say and I just didn’t know it yet?” Well, I never heard another missionary (including myself) say anything quite so directly, but I have never forgotten that moment. My approach then, and now, would not have been the same as this elder; however, I cannot say that what he said was wrong.

    There needs to be a clear line drawn between where God has spoken on a matter, and our own internal conscience and feelings. He lets us decide! He lets us figure things out! I love the example someone gave in the comments about President Packer telling that Apostle to keep voting no as long as he felt the way he did. That is right. But there is also, sometimes, black and white, fact and error, straight forward direction. I don’t know why God told Nephi to kill Laban, maybe it’s because Laban had already tried to kill the brothers 2 or 3 times, maybe it’s because God knew Laban would continue to pursue them (when he sobered up) and end up killing them, and maybe even get to Lehi and the family in the wilderness and kill them as well. Whatever the reason, it’s an act of faith that He knows something we don’t, and that we’re not always as clever as we would like to believe.

    From some of the comments I am reading, I would offer one side note about President Nelson: when President Monson (or Presidents Kimball and Benson for that matter) was out of the public eye and clearly ailing with dementia or other mental deficiencies, there were always calls for some sort of measure to ensure that we remove a prophet, or allow him to “retire,” when mental illness occurs because we cannot have someone leading this church who is suffering from failing mental health. Now, we have a prophet who is extremely public, extremely vibrant, and does not appear to have any mental (or physical defects) that would impair his leadership…and yet, there still appears to be so many who are unsatisfied. You can’t complain about something, then receive what you were asking for, and then complain that you don’t like what you got. The fact that this post is titled “Be careful what you ask for” makes the irony so thick, you could choke on it.

  41. Ryan Mullen says:

    I find it ironic that Amy’s impassioned defense of prophecy over empirical evidence “Truth is truth. Some things are simply true. Absolute truth cannot be altered by the opinions of men.” are the exact same words that someone would use to defend empirical evidence while attacking prophecy.

    Steve, this is a beautiful post because it can cut so many ways. Even re-reading it several times, I’m still not sure if you’re urging caution to (1) Pres Nelson for admonishing his audience to seek confirmation of his message, (2) members who think that the Spirit is safely predictable, (3) those who want church leaders to seek new revelation regarding LGBT inclusion. And I find I appreciate your words all the more for the situational ambiguity.

  42. Ryan, I believe that ambiguity is central to being a member of the Church.

  43. Remember when, in the talk about truth being truth, prophets, marriage, etc., the printed version of the talk posted in the church newsroom excised the line “God has not changed His definition of marriage.”

    That was something.

    Human error, probably. I mean, that’s actually the only thing it could be, right?

  44. Hat tip to Emily Jensen @emmusic on twitter for the catch.

  45. What is the purpose of the Book of Mormon? Is it to bring us to Christ, to provide physical evidence of the reality of Joseph Smith’s testimony of the First Vision, to help is to feel and then recognize the Holy Spirit? Is it to correct errors in doctrine and provide lost truths?
    I think the Holy Ghost provides witness to all these things as we are ready to receive. I do not believe He ever tells a true seeker the opposite. I do believe seekers can misinterpret their own thoughts and feelings the same way we all can. God offers a variety of teaching methods from scriptures to missionaries to Sunday School teachers to prophets to science to lead us to truth. But we only receive as we prepare and as He chooses to reveal. Sometimes patience is key. As is a relentless desire to find truth. How much did these people really want to find truth? Were they willing to change their lives to accept it or was it just curiosity?

  46. Dylan, I notice no one is pointing out the revelation where God opposes gay marriage. The november revelation is now a policy.
    You make a big point about God and his prophet calling people to repentance. But God has said nothing on the subject, the prophet has not claimed God has said anything, so claiming his exclusive definition of marriage is Gods eternal truth comes from where? Especially as the definition of marriage was changed by the church 120 years ago. We had similar authorative claims about limiting the priesthood, that are now attributed to the culture of the day. Which this will be too.

    Your quotes by Christ about the pharasees is good. The pharasees were part of the leadership team of the established church at the time. In the same chapter is a verse that might apply to the policy against gay marriage. “4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

    When you conflate the prophet speaking, and God speaking, do you allow for times when the prophet gives his own opinion? After all there is nowhere where God has defined marriage to exclude gay people. Because I or God is in a hetrosexual marriage does not mean God opposes gay marriage for gay people. We have just changed our definition of chastity from “not having sex outside a legal marriage” so that it excludes gay marriages.

    Obviously your view will not be changed by anything I say, and visa versa. But it is good to discuss respectfully how we come to our positions.
    Having been an active member for 60 years, on missions for 10, on bishoprics for 20, I am now comfortable with what is expected for exaltation, to love as God does, which we can help by loving our fellows.

  47. Interesting thought Geoff. Has God himself (or Jesus for that matter) ever declared himself married? Has He declared himself married to a woman? Multiple women? What has God himself actually said on the matter?

  48. Geoff,
    “Having been an active member for 60 years, on missions for 10, on bishoprics for 20, I am now comfortable with what is expected for exaltation, to love as God does, which we can help by loving our fellows.”

    And you’re suggesting I somehow don’t “love our fellows”? You’ll notice my posting mentions nothing about gay marriage, but since you decided to mention it, and to put things, and your comments, in proper prospective, let me share something with you. The week after same-sex marriage became legal in the State of California (where I have lived my entire life and where I still live today, raise my family and practice law in Los Angeles), I joyfully attended the small, intimate wedding of a dear friend of mine and his longtime partner. I hugged them both and told them how much I loved them and that I wished them all the joy in the world. I did those things, and I said those things, because I meant them. Hopefully that puts your remarks, and your seeming presupposition of my feelings regarding same-sex marriage, into a more illuminated perspective.

    Your comments about my use of the Savior’s remarks toward the Pharisees, and your conflation (your word, not mine) of God and prophets calling people to repentance having something to do with same-sex marriage are odd. My remarks regarding one of the purposes of God and His prophets calling people to repentance had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of same-sex marriage, but had everything to do with how we view guidance from the Spirit in ourselves and in others (please see Steve’s original posting).

    With regard to your quoting “they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers,” are you implying corruption and hard-heartedness with our current church leadership on par with that of the Pharisaic leadership in Jesus’ day? That’s the way it reads, sir. If that’s what you’re implying, and it is totally your right to do so, do you have any evidence other than your feelings that the Brethren are wrong on same-sex marriage? And moreover, if that is genuinely how you feel about our current church leadership (and you also provided me with your church resume), then why invest so much time, energy and (I assume) money in an organization which those same corrupt and hard-hearted individuals you mentioned have so much control over? When the Savior called out the Phaisees, I don’t recall Him later watching their BYU Devotionals, serving missions for their organization, or doing other things that would further their corrupt practices. Quite the contrary.

  49. Dylan, I must say that the end of your response to Geoff is among my least favorite responses to dissenting opinions. When you ask, “if that is genuinely how you feel about our current church leadership (and you also provided me with your church resume), then why invest so much…in an organization which those same corrupt and hard-hearted individuals you mentioned have so much control over?”, you are saying, “So why stay? Why not leave?”

    We need people who see things differently. We need people who take the Savior at His word and focus on the great commandments and let the rest get worked out by He who is mighty to save. We need people who, when directed by the dictates of their conscience or by the workings of the Spirit, are willing to make hard choices, including choices that may challenge an orthodox place in the Church.

    In my ward, we have a number of attending members who disagree with large portions of what we teach. Some may think that our goal should be to get these people to believe and adhere to the SOPs of the Church. In my view, though, these are the most beautiful souls of all. They are the ones who listen to God’s whisperings to them and find enough of His voice in church to keep coming, despite the constant reminders that they are different in a place that doesn’t readily embrace difference. They are seekers, which is about the highest praise I can give.

    I don’t think it is ever our place to question people’s reasons for coming or staying. If they are here, that is enough. If they find anything to eat at the table we set, that is enough. If they can better feel Christ’s love through their time with us, that is enough. We see through a glass but darkly; if we can share the light of Jesus in any small portion with others, that is enough.

  50. Brian, they replaced the line in the talk today. I’m unsure why it was removed then replaced.

  51. Buendia – Thanks very much for your comment; it is spot on.

  52. Dylan, The church history was to assure you I was an active member, you seemed to be outrigeousing me.
    If I say my grass is brown it says nothing about yours.
    I am proud of and pleased for you with your gay friend marriage. My wife and I were in California for a few weeks during the prop 8 thing, and I have only worn coloured shirts since, because I don’t want anyone thinking I am a conservative mormon, like the prop 8 mormons.
    I was talking about Pres Nelsons devotional, which to me was based around, and leading up to
    The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God!  And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman.  God has not changed His definition of marriage.
    I say your talk of calling people to repentance, as defending him doing that.
    I can not understand the leadership’s stand against gay marriage as anything but their culture. They try to dress it up as love, but if the recipient doesn’t feel loved, then it is not love. I wouldn’t describe them as corrupt (totally inapropriate) or even hard harted. I think they are trying to make their culture as acceptable as possible. But they are creating an unnecessary burden for gay members, and any who do not share their culture. If I am wrong then I have done very little damage, promoting love as I understand God expects.
    I’m sure Pres Nelson believes his statement quoted above, and is telling people it is truth, but it is patently not true, which undermines his credibility.
    I believe the restored gospel of Christ are to be found in the church, but it is well hidden by the culture of the members and present leaders. I am looking forward to seeing more gospel, and less culture.
    Thanks Buendia and Freckles.

  53. Yup! Being an adult means you get to hold two contradictory thoughts in your head all the time.

    God told someone it wasn’t true, and told someone else it was. So is the BOM true? Yup. Is it untrue? Yup. Do I feel threatened? Nope.

    There are others. Do prophets speak for God? Yes. And not at all. And it is completely okay.

    Life isn’t binary.

  54. Geoff-Aus:”They try to dress it up as love, but if the recipient doesn’t feel loved, then it is not love.”
    Really? So for all those years I felt unloved by God, it was true that I was not loved?
    Maybe there is a way to state your case without that consequence. I hope so.

  55. Wondering, sorry I may be wrong, or possibly I believe God loves us, whereas I was talking about humans who hurt other humans, and claim they are motivated by love(which I have trouble believing) because it sounds like abuse to me.
    I read an article on the exponent written by a woman whose family proudly claim an ancestor who baptised Wilford Woodruff who later became prophet. This woman was looking at her family records on this man and found when he was 68 married a 14 year old girl, who then bore him 5 children, the first born within a year. The blog also tells how when Wilford Woodruff was in his 70s for his birthday he would have random women sealed to him in marriage, totaling 267.

    This week Pres Nelson claimed “The truth is, however, that in the beginning—in the beginning—marriage was ordained by God!  And to this day it is defined by Him as being between a man and a woman.  God has not changed His definition of marriage.”

    I am struggling to reconcile these 3 things. I just don’t believe that a God who loves us all including women, would define within marriage acceptable to him, a 68 year old man marrying a 14 year old girl; a 70 year old man having him self married to 267 random women who have never even met him, but two gay people who love each other he can not include.
    This is not an eternal truth!
    Do they teach critical thinking at BYU? Are they allowed to apply it to the prophets devotional. Am I the only person seeing this problem, or are their others out there?

  56. Ooh they teach a LOT of critical thinking at BYU. Participated in some particularly good discussions on sovereignty and then gender in the hours after President Nelson’s devotional. I struggled with the content of the devotional, but given the university setting it was really the unnuanced, absolutist form that made me feel the whole thing was an insult to my intelligence.

    Not that you’ll hear much dissent if you hang out on campus. We’re all terrified of the HCO.

  57. “if it be wisdom in God that ye shall read them”
    Moroni 10:3

    Sometimes timing is off or other things. Clearly God has seemed it wise that the vast majority of his children don’t receive the gospel in the flesh. I remember reading once the story of a byu professor who played to know if his friend should/would join the church. The response he got was “she will if I tell her to.”

  58. “Who makes these changes?
    I shoot an arrow right.
    It lands left.
    I ride after a deer and find myself
    Chased by a hog.
    I plot to get what I want
    And end up in prison.
    I dig pits to trap others
    And fall in.

    I should be suspicious
    Of what I want.”


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