Why would prophets leave revelations unwritten?

July 16, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:41 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation

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.

God’s perspective

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.

Lorenzo’s perspective

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:

- MockingSwine 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.

31 Comments »

  1. I’ll rephrase your question: What are the advantages of a faith-promoting rumor over a canonized or at least recorded revelation? My answer: Because it can be effectively used for various faith-promoting purposes, but never has to be defended (it is always deniable).

    For example, there are reliable accounts that John Taylor received a vision in 1887 to the effect that polygamy would never be taken from the earth. That is entirly consistent with John Taylor’s view of polygamy and the mindset of him and every other LDS leader in 1887. Obviously, had that revelations been canonized or even recorded in a in such a way that it’s provenance could be established more clearly, it would have required more explanation than it generally receives by LDS apologists. But it no doubt served to strengthen the resolve of beleaguered polygamists in the final years of their struggle.

    Comment by Dave — July 17, 2005 @ 8:50 am

  2. Geoff: Lorenzo Snow didn’t publish or reveal his experience, his daughter did. It is hearsay. That said, there are unpublished revelations, visions and divine audiences had by millions of members of the Church and sensitive people outside the Church every day. God speaks to all of us always and all ways. Most of them don’t get written down because God doesn’t say much to blabber mouths.

    Comment by Blake — July 17, 2005 @ 12:58 pm

  3. Dave: Excellent point. Not writing something down does have the convenient side-effect of allowing an experience to become a faith promoting rumor that is shielded from real scrutiny and criticism. I think it would be a huge stretch to imply that President Snow used that fact as motivation for not recording and publicly discussing this particular revelatory experience, though. That leaves us to rely on the testimony of his family members of the experience (though it sounds like he related the same experience to several family members and other close associates) as to the truth behind this experience. That said, this revelation was of a personal nature and very different than the alleged prophesy about polygamy. Based on the content of the message President Snow received I see no reason to doubt Christ would say such a thing.

    Blake: I have mixed feelings about this blabbermouth concept that floats around the church. I hope it is obvious from the post that I do think that many or most personal revalatory experiences are sacred and should be kept from public exposure. But I worry that the concept of blabbermouths give some people an undue sense of license to discourage all forms of theological exploration. (I suspect you would understand that problem better than anyone.) I posted on this blabbermouth idea a couple of months ago.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 17, 2005 @ 1:31 pm

  4. I posted this over at Splendid Sun, but I’ll post it here as well. I think it bears on the discussion. It’s part of a letter from Joseph to the brother of Jered Carter responding to a revelation he felt he had had to direct the brethren:

    And again we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case; and that in a council of High Priests.

    It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into his presence; and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no importance, to satisfy the queries of individuals, especially about things the knowledge of which men ought to obtain, in all sincerity, before God, for themselves, in humility by the prayer of faith.

    Besides the importance of the ifrst part of the quote in terms of what might merit written revelations to the church, I think the last part does suggest that there are some things that we each have to study out for ourselves. I think that while we can ask questions and think about the answers, it would be wrong to declare that we have the answers because the Lord had revealed something to us that he hadn’t revealed through the normal channels. If we ever got that sort of information (like the visions of Nephi, Moses and others of the whole plan–or other smaller things that we need to know in order to help us in our personal lives), it would be for our benefit, and we would not be expected to disseminate it. I think that that is the essence of the blabbermouth conecpt.

    Comment by Steve H — July 17, 2005 @ 9:42 pm

  5. And again we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case; and that in a council of High Priests.

    It sounds nice Steve, but it also kinda sounds contrary to our scriptures… What happened to “pray always” and “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings” and whatnot? There was already a precendent set when Lorenzo Snow made this plea and received this visitation. If we give this quote too much weight we must assume he was in the wrong to do so…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 17, 2005 @ 11:41 pm

  6. DOH! Blake and Dave beat me to the punch with the hear-say comments.

    “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.”

    Surely serious questions regarding historical accuracy enter into such a discussion when the descendants are the source after the person’s death.

    “That said, this revelation was of a personal nature and very different than the alleged prophesy about polygamy. Based on the content of the message President Snow received I see no reason to doubt Christ would say such a thing.”

    Isn’t this a little close to selecting the historicity of some experiences based on how much we “like” them? “We can doubt pres. Taylor’s experience because it doesn’t sound to me like something Christ would say.” But Pres. Taylor’s experience is backed up by much more evidence and testimony than Pres. Snow’s. In fact, Pres. Taylor’s revelation, it would appear, was written in his own handwriting.

    I too have mixed feelings about the blabbermouth excuse, for that’s what I believe it to be. Wouldn’t it be great if people in testimony meeting actually testified of what they had “seen and heard” just like all the people in the scriptures. This sure would help make such meetings a lot more edifying.

    Sometimes I think people are afraid to share their experiences because they think they will be scoffed at. And this can be the case, especially when the speaker mention very far fetched things, things that are contrary to church doctrine, or reaches conclusions which simply don’t follow from the experience.

    Additionally, we can just as well apply your three reasons to Joseph Smith saying that he actually sinned by giving us modern day revelation when he shouldn’t have. Isn’t this what we are kind of saying about prophets today? Joseph had in mind a much more charismatic church than the one we are a part of today and our making excuses is only making things worse in my opinion.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 18, 2005 @ 9:17 am

  7. Nice post, Geoff. I agree with all the angles that you explore. However, I do think that Joseph would have likely written the experiance down. Maybe he wouldn’t have mentioned seeing the Lord, but I tend to believe that he would have writting down the procedural changes. But, again, that is a guess really, we can never know.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 18, 2005 @ 9:19 am

  8. I also wanted to add that the story seems to be corroborated by the quorum of the twelve; though I am uncertain as to how many were still living at the publication date.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 18, 2005 @ 9:23 am

  9. I don’t think Joseph Smith wrote down a very big percentage of the “revelations” he received at all!

    From the first vision account he says there were many other things revealed. Moroni’s visits, same thing. And he had visitations from all the prophet heads of each dispensation as well as numerous Nephite prophets, Paul and others. What did they reveal to him? Why didn’t he write those things down? In the King Follet sermon he mentions how much we would know if we could look into heaven, well – he did and we don’t have hardly anything of what Joseph really knew written down.

    I think modern prophets work under a similar criteria. They may very well have visitations or revelations. Are they written down? I don’t know. If they aren’t does that mean they didn’t happen?

    Personally I think one of the biggest reasons spiritual experiences aren’t shared is ridicule, both real and imagined. My wife and I are in our present business because of an experience my wife had in the temple. Do we tell people about it? No. Why not? The non-member would think we are nuts, so would some of the members, and what happens if the business fails? If it fails then obviously we are nuts, the experience didn’t happen, the church is false etc. We aren’t going to open ourselves or others up to those factors.

    Comment by don — July 18, 2005 @ 10:27 am

  10. Question:

    Is it better for non-members to think we are nuts or simply deluded?

    So what if they don’t believe us? At least we are giving them something to not believe in.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 18, 2005 @ 10:57 am

  11. Jeffrey: Isn’t this a little close to selecting the historicity of some experiences based on how much we “like” them?

    Of course it is. But that is the essence of history and religion isn’t it? The question is what criteria we use to decide what we like/believe. Since I have had plenty of personal contact with God through my own revelation I have no trouble believing the experience Lorenzo Snow related to all these people actually happened. Based on my personal experience with God, I also have trouble believing he would tell President Taylor that polygamy would be taken from the church. (BTW — What did the alleged revelation actually say? I don’t know anything about it. If actually said polygamy would never be taken from the “earth” then it was true after all…) I just think God is much too good at predicting and influencing the future to get something as easy as that wrong.

    We are picking and choosing when we accept that Jospeh Smith was actually visited by Christ too. I make my choices on what history to believe based on the evidences I have seen/experienced. We all do.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2005 @ 11:54 am

  12. Jeffrey: So what if they don’t believe us? At least we are giving them something to not believe in.

    It seems to me that we ought to do some kind of risk/reward analysis on these sorts of things.

    a. What is the potential reward for blabbing all of our personal revelatory experiences? I guess they could strengthen the faith of someone… Any other benefits?

    b. What are the risks of blabbing our personal revelatory experiences? Ostracism or at least freaking people out (which permanently closes the door to future faith promoting interaction)… Offending the Lord…

    It seems to me that the risks of cavalierly talking about our private interactions with God far outweigh any possible rewards.

    (I agree with this part of the blabbermouth argument — it is the extension that discourages theological digging and discussion that I oppose)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2005 @ 12:06 pm

  13. Here is one passage from John Taylor’s Sep. 27th, 1886 revelation:

    “My son John: You have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant and how far it is binding upon my people.
    Thus saith the Lord, All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant?
    For I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with; but they stand forever.
    Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject?
    Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandment, and yet have I borne with them these many years and this because of their weakness because of the perilous times. And furthermore it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters.
    Nevertheless, I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not.
    And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph, all those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law.
    And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham?
    I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so Amen.”

    The language is quite powerful (loaded with phrases lifted from sec. 132) and quite clear and authoritative.

    The feelings regarding the manifesto, as I’m sure you know, were quite mixed. Here is a quote from Quinn’s (in)famous article on it:

    Responding to Heber J. Grant’s question in August 1891, if he regarded the Manifesto as a revelation, “President Smith answered emphatically no.” After explaining that he regarded the document as inspired under the circumstances in which the U.S. government placed the Church, Joseph F. Smith added: “But he did not believe it to be an emphatic revelation from God abolishing plural marriage.” (cited from First Presidency Office Journal, 20 Aug. 1891, copy in CR 1/48 in Dialogue, Vol.18, No.1, p.81 – p.82)

    We can hardly consider the manifesto to be all that binding when the church leaders continued to practicie the principle for decades after it was received, both in Mexico and the US.

    Sorry for the tread jack.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 18, 2005 @ 1:04 pm

  14. Now to respond to your actual comments:

    Of course it is. But that is the essence of history and religion isn’t it? The question is what criteria we use to decide what we like/believe.

    I hope you don’t really mean this. I hope your history and religion involves more than “what you like.” What about plausibility, falsifiability, parsimony, contextual credibility, independent attestation, dissimilarity, mesh, scope, fit, honesty, adaptability, openness, fertility, effectiveness, reliability, self-correctiveness, endurance and clarity? Of course we are human so our desires will play some part, but this is an unfortunate obstacle which we should try to see past, not embrace as a source of truth. It’s with this in mind that I am a little confused about what you say next:

    Since I have had plenty of personal contact with God through my own revelation I have no trouble believing the experience Lorenzo Snow related to all these people actually happened. Based on my personal experience with God, I also have trouble believing he would tell President Taylor that polygamy would be taken from the church.

    What exactly are these personal contacts? That the BoM is true? That JS was a prophet? What do these things have anything to do with rejecting some revelations given by the successors of JS while rejecting others which are just as authoritative? Merely saying that the contact was “the church is guided by prophets” is still begging the question. Why was Woodruff a real prophet at the time, while Taylor was not?

    We are picking and choosing when we accept that Jospeh Smith was actually visited by Christ too. I make my choices on what history to believe based on the evidences I have seen/experienced. We all do.

    I agree but my point is that “we like it” is not evidence of any kind. Why will we reject the revelation for which there is MORE evidence while accepting the hearsay?

    With regards to your risk/reward analysis, (a) should justify it all by itself. The scriptures say more than once that the disciples of Christ testify of what they have seen and heard in order to convince people. They did this because it DOES convince people and quite frankily some of us, myself included, could really use some more of this.

    I think (b) is an exaggeration in part and begging the question for the rest. Again: do we prefer to be called crazy or deluded? Misguided or blind altogether? I think that the “ostracize” excuse really is trying to cover the fact that our “communications” aren’t all that impressive and we would prefer not having them subjected to analysis and criticism. We simply don’t want to hear that we might be wrong because we are afraid that we might actually be wrong.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 18, 2005 @ 1:19 pm

  15. Jeffrey,

    I don’t have a problem with Taylor’s revelation that polygamy is an eternal law and won’t be changed and that we’ve got to live it. Nor do I see where the manifesto said anything except we aren’t going to live it now. I put it in the same catagory as the Law of Consecration. We aren’t required to live it now either, but that doesn’t change it being a commandment for us to live.

    As far as the disciples being told to testify of the things they’ve heard and seen…I don’t think that means everything they’ve heard and seen. Christ himself told many not to talk of the miracles/healings He performed. The Disciples were not allowed to tell about the details of the Mount of Transfiguration. Other revelations they may have received may not be available to us because they in fact didn’t feel they should tell us…especially personal experiences that were meant for them.

    I’m not comfortable sharing certain spiritual experiences with others. I may with my family, or with my journal. If years from now my grandchildren read my journal and discover these things, hopefully they too will be carefull about sharing them as well.

    Comment by don — July 18, 2005 @ 1:54 pm

  16. Those in my camp certainly aren’t suggesting that Church Leaders should say EVERYTHING, but how about SOMETHING? When was the last time anybody every said “I saw”? That was pretty much the title of one of Nibley’s chapters in World and the Prophets, a book which really scares me when applied not to early christianity, but to us.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 18, 2005 @ 2:07 pm

  17. It sounds nice Steve, but it also kinda sounds contrary to our scriptures… What happened to “pray always” and “counsel with the Lord in all thy doings” and whatnot? There was already a precendent set when Lorenzo Snow made this plea and received this visitation. If we give this quote too much weight we must assume he was in the wrong to do so…
    How would this be contrary to our scriptures? Certainly we should counsel with the Lord in all our doings, but that doesn’t mean that we go to the Lord and say–”Reveal somthing new to me, Lord. Time to come accross with something new.” The point here is that there really aren’t any things that are difficulties to the church, that are keeping us from progressing as individuals on which the Lord is ready to do something. Pres. Snow, here is not pressing the Lord for a new revelation. He is asking for a confirmation of his calling and guidance as to how he should act personally, and he didn’t seem to know how to act. There was precedent on the matter, but not distinct, revelatory guidance.

    Comment by Steve H — July 18, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  18. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for that John Taylor text (#13). You say it is clear, but it seems anything but clear to me that this is some prophesy saying polygamy will never leave the church again. Where does that interpretation come from? The New and Everlasting covenant is not synonymous with polygamy after all. I could understand if that is how many interpreted this record at that time, but that is certainly not the only possible or viable interpretation of the text.

    (#14)I hope you don’t really mean this.

    Yes I did mean that we all make our decisions of what to believe based on the evidence as we understand it. As new evidence is added opinions sometimes change. How is that different than what you wrote?

    Why was Woodruff a real prophet at the time, while Taylor was not?

    You seem to be implying that the evidence of several family members and several apostles that President Snow had this experience is unreliable. You certainly don’t have to believe it but I am not at all clear what you are trying to say here. Are you trying to say that the above John Taylor quote is saying just what Dave implied (in comment #1)? If so, I just don’t see it.

    They did this because it DOES convince people and quite frankly some of us, myself included, could really use some more of this.

    Well then this post should be wonderful news to you. President Snow was personally visited by Christ in the temple and he only told a few close associate about it. It seems to me that based on that factoid, odds are very high that he is visiting others in our day too. Even better — you and/or I might be able to elicit a visit if we properly prepare ourselves.

    I think that the “ostracize” excuse really is trying to cover the fact that our “communications” aren’t all that impressive and we would prefer not having them subjected to analysis and criticism.

    I don’t give rip if someone thinks my occasional dialogue with God is impressive. It is Him talking and me listening and understanding. If that is unimpressive to someone then they are foolish. God talking to us is always impressive. The more clear and concise the communication the more impressive it is.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2005 @ 11:56 pm

  19. Steve H: Certainly we should counsel with the Lord in all our doings, but that doesn’t mean that we go to the Lord and say-”Reveal somthing new to me, Lord. Time to come accross with something new.”

    I am not really disagreeing with you on this subject — it is really mostly a quibble. I would say that every time we petition the Lord we are looking for some new light or knowledge. Every confirmation or prompting we get is in fact something new to us (or we would not be seeking it.) I agree that we do not need new doctrine very often though. The quote is a good one regarding new doctrines or even new churchwide policies; I was just concerned about it being read to mean we don’t need any new light or knowledge or personal guidance from God which of course is false.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2005 @ 12:06 am

  20. Part of the problem I see with sharing profound spiritual experiences is that some of those who hear them may not be able to differentiate between true manifestations and mental delusions. Unfortunately, my children have had a seminary teacher that taught that angels are just UFO travelers and that most of the miracles were performed via UFOs. Now they are forced at an early age to try to distinguish between the gospel and delusions taught as gospel. Most of us don’t get that until we go on our missions. ; )

    Besides, aren’t we supposed to live worthily so that we can receive the second comforter, who is Jesus? In which case, there should be many people in the church that can attest that they have seen Christ. However, if one can be ridiculed for not wearing a tie fashionably wide enough, wouldn’t they be wary of sharing something more precious and personal?

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — July 19, 2005 @ 8:43 am

  21. “The New and Everlasting covenant is not synonymous with polygamy after all.” C’mon Geoff. Now you are just twisting the text to suit “what you like.” The New and Everlasting covenant for 19th century Mormons was Plural Marriage period. That is clearly how Pres. Taylor would have interpreted it, thus making it the way we should interpret it. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that that is how we should apply it. It’s interesting that 19th century Mormons hardly ever called it “plural marriage” or “polygamy.” Instead they called it “celestial marriage”, “the New and Everlasting Covenant” and “the principle.” It’s funny how we have redefined most of these terms in order to make our scriptures (sec. 131, 132) more readible.

    Personally, I think the Eternal Social Contract, as I have come to call it, has a lot to say about this. Yeah, God is eternal and doesn’t change, but He is not the only one involved. My view of God in the heavenly council is not one of pulpit pounding dictator, but one which reasons and listen to the others involved. If these “others” would have wanted to discontinue plural marriage, I think that God could have, and did, oblige.

    “Based on the evidence as we understand it.” How is this the same as “how much we like it?” My point is that we don’t get to pick and choose the evidence which we will use to interpret or accept claims. Based on this evidence we really shouldn’t “pick” a conclusion that we like either, as much as “accept” the conclusion which is the most sound. I imagine that you will probably agree with all that so I guess we don’t have to argue about it too much. Where I get off the bus, so to speak, is when “according to what we like” plays any significant part at all like you seemed to imply it did.

    Thanks for correcting me on the Woodruff/Snow confusion. All that talk of polygamy got me all turned around. “You seem to be implying that the evidence of several family members and several apostles that President Snow had this experience is unreliable.” Where there really INDEPENDENT witnesses? If so I would love to see those accounts. Unfortunately, the only accounts of Pres. Snow’s experience and given after his death so he could neither confirm nor deny any of the details, especially the exaggerated ones. I’m not saying that his experience didn’t happen. I am saying, however, that it is very likely that it didn’t happen as his adoring descendants said it did.

    Actually the vision that Dave was talking about was a whole other experience which is also not entire reliable in its details. It involved a vision of Jesus and Joseph Smith and there is some, though not a lot, of circumstantial evidence backing it up. This experience, however, has just as much merit as does the Pres. Snow experience, which really isn’t all that much. The reason why the church doesn’t talk about the Taylor vision is because of its distasteful content and its association with Fundamentalism. This, of course, would be another case of “not liking it.”

    “It seems to me that based on that factoid, odds are very high that he is visiting others in our day too.” I don’t think so. The basic point still stands. Back in the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people actually spoke of seeing Christ. Now they don’t. Simply throwing Pres. Snow and/or Taylor in the mix with those early Saints doesn’t say anything about today at all. Ever since the church abandoned polygamy totally (which actually lasted through JFS’s presidency), few, if any, revelations have been recorded. “Even better-you and/or I might be able to elicit a visit if we properly prepare ourselves.” I agree with this, but I am simply noticing that it isn’t happening and wondering why.

    “I don’t give rip if someone thinks my occasional dialogue with God is impressive. It is Him talking and me listening and understanding. If that is unimpressive to someone then they are foolish. God talking to us is always impressive. The more clear and concise the communication the more impressive it is.”

    Exactly! If this really is the case then why not talk about it for everybody else’s benefit? I’m not calling the actual event unimpressive. Only that if people go up on Sunday and say that they are willing to give 10% of their income for the rest of their life because they felt “good”, the only thing I see that’s impressive about that is the amount of steadfast delusion and credulity. “Feeling good” and “liking it” are not reliable sources of truth. It isn’t really content.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 19, 2005 @ 8:58 am

  22. “may not be able to differentiate between true manifestations and mental delusions.”

    That is exactly what I was talking about. It is no coincidence that those who do tend to share their “experiences” are labeled as the crazies of the ward. Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if every once in a while a person would share an experience which wasn’t so far fetched? This would at least give the crazies company making them look less crazy.

    One of my mission companions, one I didn’t get along with at all actually, claimed that he had seen two angels. He swore that the experience was very real, but unfortunately I didn’t think much of it so I never got to actually question him on the subject. He would go around sharing this experience at zone conferences and the like. Even though I didn’t take his account as seriously as I should have, I do appreciate his willingness to share it. (I think the biggest problem with him is that his sharing this experience came off as being very self-righteous. Not because he was sharing it, or claiming that he was special, but because of the way he acted when he wasn’t telling that experience.)

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 19, 2005 @ 9:20 am

  23. Good thoughts Jeffrey. I saw you picked up the ball on this John Taylor thing at your blog so I will comment on that there.

    What I want to address is what I think is the truly interesting discussion here. Regarding personal revelations you said:

    Exactly! If this really is the case then why not talk about it for everybody else’s benefit?

    My private conversations and dialogues with God are just that — private. They are nobody else’s business. I have come away from each of them with that very distinct impression and message left on my mind — that my conversation was between God and me and that nobody else was invited in. Besides, I don’t think that words can properly describe or capture those dialogues anyway.

    So rather than talk in detail about my personal conversations with God I try to convince everyone I know to go have one of their own. I have written a lot of posts doing just that here at the Thang (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)

    I hope it is obvious that I am trying to encourage others to talk with God and hear what he has to say in return. I am willing to do just about anything to preach that message except for betray God’s trust regarding my own personal conversations with him. It will have to suffice for me to say that when I talk to God he sometimes talks back in very clear an unambiguous ways. (Oh I forgot to link to this post which is also on the subject of dialogue with God.)

    I fear this complaint that our current church leaders don’t talk about meeting with Jesus and getting such revelations now betrays a certain spiritual laziness. It is very reminiscent of the Israelites attitude toward Moses. I alluded to this in the post but it is worth fleshing out. They saw Moses as being in a different class of person than they were. He was the type to have dialogue with God and they wanted simple instructions from him after the revelation. God wanted to talk with all of them face to face but the people wanted no part of that. They told Moses to handle all of that.

    I feel pretty certain that God wants the same thing of us today. He wants to meet face to face with all of us. All of us have that opportunity. The way we achieve that is by getting better and better at our dialogue with him now. It is not by expecting our church leaders to go to the mountain and talk with him and then giving us all the reports — it is by climbing the mountain and meeting with God ourselves.

    My suspicion is that in the last days God will settle for nothing short of a nation of prophets. Whining that our current leaders are not disclosing their revelations to us is of no value at all. We need to be busy getting our own visitations.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2005 @ 2:59 pm

  24. Geoff,
    I see some things in this about your personal take on things coming together in ways that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I certainly would never claim that Joseph’s statement here releases us from the responsibility for finding our own light. In fact, I would claim that no matter how much revelation we have at the hand of others, we can never get anything worth two cents out of it without our own personal revelatory experiences. Whtever we have in the revelations, they are only words, and only the spirit can use those words to enlighten us.
    Floyd,
    That’s really bizarre for a seminary teacher to be teching that. Makes me feel my repsonsibility as a parent more keenly.

    Comment by Steve H — July 19, 2005 @ 3:38 pm

  25. “My private conversations and dialogues with God are just that-private.”

    This isn’t saying anything. Why must it be private? Are you talking about me behind my back? To be honest I don’t really care what you were talking about. Why can’t you tell me HOW you were talking? What did He sound like? And so on. I should also point out that the original point was why don’t CHURCH LEADERS share anymore? Surely what they are doing IS our business is it not? Why does the church (not the leaders mind you) not recieve visions, or accounts of them, anymore? What has changed?

    “I have come away from each of them with that very distinct impression and message left on my mind-that my conversation was between God and me and that nobody else was invited in. Besides, I don’t think that words can properly describe or capture those dialogues anyway.”

    No offense, but this sounds like you were doing a lot more talking than God was. If it wasn’t words, then what was it? Did you see something? Again, just feeling good is a terrible guide to light and knowledge and Joseph never would have settled for that.

    “I am willing to do just about anything to preach that message except for betray God’s trust regarding my own personal conversations with him.”

    Did God ask you to keep it secret? Or did you just feel that way? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you must admit that this all seems very circular and overly self-protective does it not?

    “I fear this complaint that our current church leaders don’t talk about meeting with Jesus and getting such revelations now betrays a certain spiritual laziness. It is very reminiscent of the Israelites attitude toward Moses. I alluded to this in the post but it is worth fleshing out. They saw Moses as being in a different class of person than they were.”

    I don’t buy this very popular excuse for a second. How does our church leaders keeping quiet help us develop more faith? In the scriptures, as well as church history, the times when members have more spiritual experiences are when their leaders are more open with theirs. Again, consult Moroni 7 for details. I don’t consider the prophet different than myself, but I do ask him to be a prophet. Act like one! Prophesy! I don’t want a sign to prove anything to me other than that I should call you a prophet. Every other prophet in the scriptures has obliged his followers with such.

    Talking about the revelations of members which have nothing to do with church management, or me at all, is only changing the subject to something less embarassing without addressing the question at hand. Why doesn’t the church as a whole hear about visions anymore? What has changed?

    How did Joseph convince the world he was a prophet? He produced the BoM and a whole book full of additional revelations. How do the prophets today do it? We are asked to believe that lots of revelations are happening in secret. Anytime they are asked if they really receive revelations their answers are just as vague as any other members, including yours. Are you comfortable with that? Can’t we do better than these vague promptings and feelings which could be coming from pretty much anywhere? Other churches claim to receive the exact same “communications”, how are we any different?

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 19, 2005 @ 3:49 pm

  26. Jeffrey,

    I appreciate your point of view and comments, especially about getting back on track with this blog. Why don’t the modern prophets give us more “direct” – “thus saith the Lord” revelations?

    As I reflect on that I’m not sure what kind of revelations I would want to or expect to hear. They certainly can’t tell us when the second coming will start. They could tell us how wicked the world is now…but that’s already been said. They could tell us to repent…well I guess they do that already. They could tell us to do more missionary work…opps they do that already too. They could tell us to serve more…give more…oh, they do that already too.

    I guess what’s missing is either some earth shaking new doctrine, or do we expect the prophet to say “Thus saith the Lord” when he’s calling us to repentence?

    Because all the changes that have taken place (priesthood to all, temple building, quorums of 70s, area presidents, perpetual education fund etc, etc) didn’t come with “Thus saith the Lord” they weren’t revelations?

    Comment by don — July 19, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

  27. How did Joseph convince the world he was a prophet? He produced the BoM and a whole book full of additional revelations.

    Actually, he didn’t convince them. The spirit did. Nothing else is suffficient.

    In the scriptures, as well as church history, the times when members have more spiritual experiences are when their leaders are more open with theirs.

    We will have more spiritual experiences when we seek the spirit more earnestly. Anyone else’s spiritual experiences, while they might inspire me cannot prevent that process or substitute for it.

    Comment by Steve H — July 19, 2005 @ 5:53 pm

  28. Only that if people go up on Sunday and say that they are willing to give 10% of their income for the rest of their life because they felt “good”, the only thing I see that’s impressive about that is the amount of steadfast delusion and credulity. “Feeling good” and “liking it” are not reliable sources of truth.

    Are testimonies only valid if they are eloquent? Those posting here are obviously intellectual and articulate, yet someone who is less articulate might be trying to express the same things with, “I had a good feeling.”

    Comment by C Jones — July 19, 2005 @ 9:16 pm

  29. Steve,

    C’mon. You know what I am saying about Joseph and “his” convincing. How effective would the missionaries be today at convincing people, sorry helping the spirit convince investigators about the BoM if they didn’t even let the investigators have access to it? I don’t think anybody thinks such a policy would work at alll. And yet that is the very policy we are now asked to live by. This “change” cries out for an explanation.

    Again, changing the subject to the frequency of revelation in the church membership is only avoiding the more embarrassing question at hand. Joseph held out himself as an example that ANYBODY could receive not only inspiration, but full blown revelation. His example inspired others to actually seek and obtain such experiences.

    If there are any complaints at all about church membership not receiving enough revelation then maybe our leaders can lead us in this by setting an example. Is this too much to ask when we sustain them as prophets, seers and revelators? Is it too much to ask when we sustain them as such to ask what have they prophesied about? What have they seen? What have they revealed? How can we really sustain them as such while trying to hide the answers to these questions?

    C. Jones,

    I don’t ask for eloquence, only accuracy. Those poor old fishermen were able to say “we saw… we hear… we touched…” and so on. It doesn’t take a poet to say these words. However, if it really was just a good feeling or a hunch of some sort, which I think it almost always is, then I actually think that member ARE rather eloquent in describing this. What else are phrases like “burning in the bosom,” “still small voice” and “stupor of thought” supposed to communicate.

    What I really don’t appreciate is when members try to use their eloquence to cover up how significant these “episodes” really aren’t. All churches have them, be they christian or not. Surely we can do better. If we really can do better, then let somebody tell us about it. Let’s stop wallowing in metaphor and get to the facts of the matter.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 20, 2005 @ 8:39 am

  30. Jeffrey,

    I have a lot to say regarding your questions in #25. Unfortunately I’m still on vacation and have limited time to respond. Your questions are getting to the heart of the matter though. They are also the crux of the disagreement I have with your assertion that revelation is fundamentally different than inspiration. I’ll probably write a post or two to respond as soon as I get a chance.

    BTW — I agree with the recent comments by Steve H and C Jones

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2005 @ 11:58 am

  31. What are you doing blogging on vacation? Go and enjoy yourself. I can wait.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — July 20, 2005 @ 1:18 pm

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