There were some very interesting challenges and questions posed to me in the comments of my last post but since I was on vacation last week I did not have time to respond to them sufficiently. Now that we are back I thought the general subject was important enough to warrant its own set of posts. Jeffrey Giliam made the most provocative comments there and his comments are in line with other views he has expressed elsewhere. Our disagreement centers on how to judge the quality of revelation from God. Before I directly respond to those comments I thought it would be wise to lay a foundation for my responses. In this first post I will respond to a list Jeffrey published where he delineates what he sees as the differences between “revelation” and “inspiration” from God. Here is the hierarchy he presents ranked from least impressive to most impressive (he calls 1-3 inspiration and 4-7 revelation):
1. Come to a decision on a subject and pray for confirmation
2. Receive other promptings (solicited or not)
3. Revelatory dreams
4. “Next, we have the revealed word, meaning when a prophet is able to say or write, Thus saith the Lord…”
5. Hearing an audible voice
6. “Seeing a vision with ones actual eyes”
7. Actual physical contact
I believe this list is woefully misguided and I’ll try to explain why.
Physicality: the wrong measuring stick
As you can probably tell, Jeffrey believes that the more physical and concrete a manifestation from God is, the better it is. I suspect this is a fairly common belief, but it is a fallacy that is not in harmony with our scriptures. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate.
The translation of the Book of Mormon — The method by which the Book of Mormon was translated falls squarely into what Jeffrey calls the lowest forms of inspiration. Indeed, the scriptures we have giving instructions to study things out in our minds and then ask if they are right were specifically given to Oliver in order to allow him to translate the plates. Further we have these very telling verses in section eight:
2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
This scripture specifically calls these promptings we receive in our minds and our hearts “the spirit of revelation” and goes as far as to explain that it was this very form of revelation that guided Moses through one of the greatest miracles in scripture – the parting of the Red Sea. In short, while implying that the revelation we receive in our minds and hearts is a lower form of revelation might seem logical to the modern, scientifically trained mind, it is clearly contra-scriptural.
Clarity and content
So if level of physicality is the wrong axis to measure revelation, what should we measure it upon? I propose it should be measured on the clarity and content of the message. In other words, we should judge the quality of revelations first on how murky or clear the message from God is and next on how much information we receive. This puts much of the responsibility for quality in our laps because clarity and content are usually a function of our spiritual ears rather than a function of God’s voice/messages.
Why choose these as the criteria? — Mostly because this approach agrees with scripture best. In this model, if we study something out in our mind and ask God about it and receive a crystal clear “yes” or “no” on the subject we can know with absolute surety that God is sending us powerful revelation – the same type of revelation by which all the prophets have worked (including Joseph and Moses).
Of course much of the revelation we need in life requires more than a yes or no answer from God. My experience has been that the better we get at the getting high-clarity/low-content revelation, the easier it becomes to move to the next step of high-clarity/high-content revelation. Just like any other difficult skill, it requires a lot of practice and repetition in order to get better receiving high-clarity/high-content revelation. And just like any other earthly skill, some people are born more skilled at this than others (perhaps because of pre-earth practice). But with work, all can get better at this process in mortality.
The Physicality Fallacy
I think the premium most of us put on mortal physicality in revelation from God is a philosophy of men. And as such, it is no wonder that mingling it with scripture leads us to all sorts of improper expectations. In my next post I will look more deeply at the scriptures to determine how many times we can conclusively show that revelations were heard by physical ears or seen by physical eyes. We often assume based on our modern conditioning that many or most scriptural visitations could be seen and heard with physical eyes and heard with physical ears but I am not convinced any longer. As Paul said “whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth”. Stay tuned for the next installment…