J. Stapley put up an excellent post the other day asking “Why would prophets leave revelations unwritten?” In it he outlined the sacred visitation President Lorenzo Snow had in the Salt Lake temple from the Lord Jesus Christ. In that interview the Lord gave President Snow very clear and explicit instructions regarding the reorganization of the first presidency. But President Snow never wrote this experience down or shared it with the whole church. We only have knowledge of it because he told some of his descendants of the story and long after his death they revealed it to the church at large. The question is: Why did he choose to keep this experience to himself?
This question ought to be looked at from a couple of perspectives. One perspective is that of President Snow. What reasons would he have to share or not share this visitation with the world? Why did he choose not to write it down and broadcast this marvelous experience? The other perspective is that of the Lord. Did the Lord want this encounter with President Snow to remain unshared or did he not care one way or the other? Obviously only they can answer these questions fully, but in the absence of their direct explanations we can try to postulate the answer based on what we know.
Our thoughts are not his thoughts – but that never stopped me from trying to understand God before. So let’s speculate on his opinion on this episode. We can assume that since President Snow did not record or publicly reveal this meeting with Christ that the Lord did not specifically want him to do so. That alone speaks volumes. Why would Christ feel this way? Why does he not command those he visits to tell the world about it? And more importantly, how many other people have received personal visitations from Christ and kept quiet about it?
Of course these questions cannot yet be answered fully. But the scriptures make it very clear that there were many occasions during Christ’s mortal ministry that he asked recipients of miracles to keep quite about them. Further, he has often commanded prophets in scripture to not allow certain revelations be revealed to the world until he gives the green light. It is clear that there are many things that are only available to those who are aggressively seeking truth (like Abraham) and not to the rest of the world.
Using Joseph as exemplar
J. mentioned in the comments of his post that Joseph would surely have recorded such a revelation. Of course that assumes a lot. For one thing it assumes that Joseph recorded all of the visitations he received from the savior. As far as I know we have no idea of what percentage of the revelations that Joseph received were recorded. It could be that he recorded them all or that he recorded some tiny percentage of what he received. How would we know if he didn’t record it? It seems to me that Joseph could have had a weekly interview with Christ and if he told no one we would be none the wiser about it. I don’t think that is the case, but it is a major leap to assume Joseph recorded all that he received by revelation. In fact, it took Joseph a full 12-13 years before he wrote down an account of the first vision and our official account wasn’t written until 18 years after the fact. And that visitation may never have been written down if Joseph had not realized that it was an important piece of the foundation of the church. So saying that Joseph would have written it down is a suspect argument at best.
President Snow never shared this experience beyond his immediate family and as far as I can tell he had very little reason to do otherwise. He did not need to share the experience in order to reorganize the First Presidency. He had authority to do that with or without his interview with Christ. The Church did not need to know about it to carry on – obviously the church faired nicely without knowing anything about it. Like Joseph and his powerful, private visitation from God in 1820, Lorenzo kept all these things in his heart as a cherished personal pearl. He only shared his personal pearl with beloved family members in sacred settings thereafter. That seems appropriate to me.
But Lorenzo had ample reasons not to share his experience. Here are some I can think of:
- Mocking – Swine do not know how to properly handle pearls. This was a personal experience with an answer to a personal question. God does not need to personally reorganize the First Presidency; he has delegated the keys to do that. So this experience was simply for the benefit of President Snow. It was a personal reply to a personal question. Why share personal conversations with the whole church if it is not required?
- Envy/Comparisons – Have you ever told someone of a revelation or miracle you have received? As often as not the response will be something like “why would that happen to you and not to me?” Sometimes our blessings can make others feel less blessed or inadequate. It seems that in some cases it is best to remain quiet about them lest we appear to be bragging.
- The fallacy of prophetic infallibility - A major danger in this church as in all churches led by prophets in ages past is the myth of prophetic infallibility. (Consider the experience with Moses on the mount – the people wanted him to do all their talking with God but God wanted to meet personally with all of them). Even today members of the Church seem to secretly hope that every leader of the church is nothing more than a puppet in the hands of God. They want to believe that every counsel we receive is actually God’s counsel as voiced through his current mouthpiece. This is just false. I’ve discussed before how the Lord turns the keys of the kingdom over to his stewards and intervenes only when they ask him to or when they might seriously screw his church up (and sometimes not even then it seems). Telling the Church that Jesus personally gave him instructions on how to proceed with the reorganization of the first presidency would have been a turbo-boost to this prophet-as-puppet false doctrine. It would have been what Jeffrey Giliam would call a very destructive doctrinal meme that would have been extremely difficult to eradicate.
The Slow Information Leak
Obviously God was not against us finding out about his visit to Lorenzo Snow. (If he was against it we would not be talking about it now.) There are some very positive things that come from our knowing about it. It is extremely exciting to know that Christ was still appearing to people near the turn of the 20th century. It is encouraging to know that those who are so visited often do not talk about it because that opens the door for us to assume Christ has visited many others too. As far as we know he may have had a personal interview with someone last night in a temple somewhere.
Of course we should mostly care about our potential personal interview with Christ in this life. We should be figuring out how we can be the type of Saint the Christ could visit. We need to be having enough interaction with him now to work up to the point of piecing the veil and meeting face to face. We need to build the faith and become prophets, seers, and revelators within our own spheres of responsibility now. The best part about the Lord and president Snow leaking his experience is that by hearing about it we can increase our faith in Christ and move one step closer to duplicating that experience.