After the fire a still small voice

July 21, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 1:06 am   Category: Personal Revelation,Scriptures,Sunday School Lessons

I’m teaching lesson 28 covering stories about Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19 this Sunday and since we have a shortened block (2.5 hours) here in Arizona I’m going to focus mostly on the things we learn about personal revelation in chapter 19. You are familiar with the famous verses:

Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19: 11-12)

This subject dovetails nicely into a conversation I had with RoastedTomatoes yesterday and some comments I made at BCC. In a thread over there I said the following about personal revelation:

I think that there is no question that all people have equal access to God when it comes to sending communications to him. I like to compare that to “upload speeds”, using an internet analogy. We can all sincerely pray after all. But it seems obvious to me that not everyone has the same download speeds, or abilities to receive and understand messages from God. Many (perhaps most) people seem to be downloading information from God at 14.4 modem speeds (or slower) while other like the prophets seems to be downloading multimedia extravaganzas from God at T3 bandwidth. I believe our doctrines that say that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a MAJOR boost to our download speeds if we keep the promises we made a baptism and renew weekly with the sacrament. (If we break those promises then the Gift of the Holy Ghost is largely wasted on us.)

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. My personal revelation category has more than 25 posts already. (See here, here, and here for particularly relevant posts.) RT mentioned that he liked the bandwidth analogy but wondered about the “signal to noise ratio” when it comes to personal revelation. I think his concern is that it is usually very difficult to tell what part of our impressions are coming from God and which parts are not. I have covered this question in the past in my Ears post but I think the experience of Elijah also speaks directly to this signal to noise issue.

Now I’m not sure how much poetic license the authors of 1 Kings 19 took with the actual experience that Elijah had but I don’t think it matters much. The point seems to be that noise is always an issue when we are seeking to hear God’s voice. Not necessarily audio noise but “mind noise”. (I just made that term up.) I think the issue is that we need a way to quiet our minds enough to discern the Spirit’s still small voice. That is not an easy task for most of us. There are some things we can do to find quiet in our minds though. For me quieting my mind in order to communicate with God is usually through a process pondering/meditation/prayer. But in order to properly ponder/meditate/pray it is useful to find a quiet place. There aren’t too many quiet places in the modern world so this requires some real work sometimes. The temple is a quiet place. (I actually hate going to the temple with people I know because it is not a quiet place where I can properly meditate/ponder for me when friends or ward members are there – but that is another subject.) The scriptures refer to our “closet” which I think mostly means somewhere (at some time) in our homes where we can quietly ponder and pray. (When you have a house full of little kids like we do this usually has to happen early or late – I prefer late personally.) And another quiet place can be outside, in nature if possible. I sometimes go on walks around our neighborhood after the kids go to bed (and after temps drop below 100) and that gives me some pondering time. Anyway, once we can find a a quiet place we need quiet in our minds if we are to get good at hearing and understanding the “still small voice” of God. Of course a major part of properly quieting our minds is repenting I think. Sins seem to cause mind noise and the more serious the sin the more mind noise it seems to cause. If we want a quiet mind we ought to at least be keeping our basic covenants with God or we will have possibly too much mind noise to deal with to properly hear the still small voice. Further, the Gift of the Holy Ghost seems to amplify the still small voice for us but it doesn’t work unless we “always remember [Christ] and keep his commandments“.

The Lawnmower Analogy

Even when we have repented of any obvious sins and quiet our minds, it still takes takes a lot practice to learn to glean more and more info from the “signal” God is sending us . This post is getting long but I have to share this story that is a variation on the Ears thing to finish up. A guy in my ward told the best story a while back. He said his dad repaired lawnmowers for a living. The man said that when he was a boy he watched with wonder and awe as people would bring in lawnmowers and his dad would pull the crank a few times and immediately know what was wrong with the mower. It always sounded like the same noise to him as a boy but there were nuances in the sound that his father had learned to discern over years of practice. This man then said that as a teenager his ears got more and more attuned to those nuances too and he got almost as good as his dad. Of course even the masterful dad couldn’t do his trick if the radio was blasting or another mower was running or something. But if he had sufficient quiet he could use his trained ears to discern exactly the information the mower was telling him.

This is how personal revelation works. The information from God is there but we must train our ears to discern it. It arrives via a still small voice most of the time. But even the best trained spiritual ears won’t be able to properly hear if there is a lot of background noise (like sin or being caught up too much in the daily noise of life) jamming the signals.

May we all learn to find our quiet places where we can quiet our minds and get better and better at discerning the things God wants to directly tell us.

27 Comments »

  1. Excellent post Geoff. Only a quiet mind knows when God is speaking and what he is saying. The challenge is to learn to know and trust — and your analogy to hearing the motor is excellent. I suppose that is discernment at its findest. BTW I can hear the make and model of a motorcyle just by hearin its exhaust note. I can also hear if the tappets need adjusting, the valves stick or need better seating and whether the oil needs to be changed. I wish I were that adept at the note of God voice.

    Comment by Blake — July 21, 2006 @ 7:35 am

  2. Very good Geoff:

    I might admit something a tad goofy here to see what you think. I sometimes make a mental image of Heavenly Father (who looks surprisingly like Jesus I understand) and imagine facial expressions and the like while I pray. It seems to work for me. Is this nuts or a reasonable approach?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 21, 2006 @ 8:39 am

  3. Great thoughts, thanks.

    Can you elaborate on meeting only 2.5 hours–is this all of Arizona? When did it start? Will it continue indefinitely? How much time do you have for each meeting? Is this a test program to be implemented more generally? I’ve always said that when I’m prophet I’ll shorten meetings to 2 hours (like we had on my mission in Russia many years ago…).

    Comment by Robert C. — July 21, 2006 @ 10:23 am

  4. I completely agree about the benefits of quiet and being free from distraction, including internal mental distraction. Too many times when I pray I end up thinking about something different than what I am actually saying, or go off into a thinking tangent without saying anything much at all.

    I think there is another fundamental principle worth mentioning here, and that is the nature of communication and language in any resource limited communications channel. In this case, even when the bandwidth is potentially infinite, it is according to the economy of God to minimize unnecessary effort.

    Now, if you are communicating with someone else through a seriously bandwidth limited channel, or alternatively if there is a considerable per symbol cost to communication, the natural solution is to use macros, shorthand, metaphors, etc – anything to convey a lot of information using a small number of bits.

    Now I submit that the key to receiving revelation from God, is to adopt his shorthand or language as the organizing principle of your very thoughts, to write his law in your heart, such that the the very hint of a divine principle can be expanded internally to convey the full semantics of what he intends you to understand in that situtation.

    It simply will not suffice to develop your own language, law, and understanding, for the purposes of revelation, because then the Lord has to go through all the effort of translating his language into your language, and the impedance mismatch may be so severe, that the idea cannot be properly be conveyed at all.

    The same applies to becoming so imbued with the doctrines and philosophies of men, of ones own civilization, that one cannot understand the gospel on any other terms. One ends up trying to adapt the gospel to owns own culture and background so severely, that god cannot enlighten your understanding any more, because one has distorted it beyond recognition. It is very difficult for a revelation to undo what you are dead set on, which makes it very important not to adopt some sort of creed of your own or external devising, whether religious or secular, thereby shutting off revelation as to the detailed understanding of the law and knowledge of God.

    The first principle of education and pondering should be to learn how to think like God thinks, in the language that God thinks and communicates in, and understand other cultures and other philosophies the way God does, not understand God the way other cultures and philosophies do. It makes one naturally far more receptive to inspiration and revelation, and dramatically increases the effective communication bandwidth of the Spirit.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 21, 2006 @ 10:27 am

  5. In most LDS recovery work, there is a heavy emphasis on personal revelation (in particular as one receives it during scripture study). The goal is to become of one mind with God, which I see as the ultimate purpose of revelation to begin with.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the post.

    Comment by John Anon — July 21, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  6. Blake – That’s a pretty good talent you have. From what I can tell you ain’t too shabby with your spiritual ears either.

    Eric – I don’t think your concentration technique is odd. We all have our own tricks. (I, for instance, can concentrate better lying down in bed than I can while kneeling for some reason.)

    Robert – We are in a high growth area near Mesa so the shortened block is partially out of necessity because there are not enough buildings. I don’t know if all of AZ is on the same 2 1/2 hour plan but our region seems to be. I won’t be surprised if it gets implemented elsewhere though because it seems to be working well for us. 65 minute Sacrament meeting and the rest is made up in breaks and the other two meetings. The only problem is that it is hard to get on a roll when teaching a lesson. I can live with that though!

    Mark – Thanks for the insightful comments. I think you are very right about learning the proper language and by so doing small amounts of info from God can communicate a great deal of information with many nuances. It takes time to build up our spiritual ears though — maybe that is incentive to repent early and remain righteous in life!

    John Anon – You’re very welcome. Thanks for the kind words.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 21, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

  7. Mark Butler,

    Who in the world pretends to speak and think in God’s language. What is God’s language? The Adamic Tongue? And what is that? Latin? Hebrew? Aramaic? Um, no. Whatever it is, you don’t speak it, and neither does anyone else on this planet, and nobody champions as “orthodox doctrine” that we should all be speaking the Adamic Tongue, your misreading on the 1 Cor. 2 quote notwithstanding.

    Comment by Kurt — July 22, 2006 @ 3:30 am

  8. Kurt: Don’t be hurt. From one perspective you are right. The doctrine of deification entails learning to think and know as God does. As we grow in light we come to know all things. And Paul said to have the mind of Christ. So one of the tasks of prayer is precisely what you say. From another perspective, what you say looks to be impossible. Mark is also correct — the natural man cannot do that. From which perspective do we view the issue.

    Comment by Blake — July 22, 2006 @ 8:09 am

  9. I think a problem with the lawnmower analogy is that a lawnmower is machine that is not attempting to communicate anything, so that the entire burden is on the listening human. By contrast an intelligent being intending to be heard can speak up as loudly and enunciate as clearly as needed.

    Comment by Christian Y. Cardall — July 22, 2006 @ 5:48 pm

  10. Christian, I think you are right, with one major proviso:

    And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

    And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

    And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
    (Alma 12:9-11)

    The point here is that the Lord does speak strongly – but he speaks in such a way as to be comprehended to lesser or greater degree by hid children according to the heed and diligence they give unto him.

    It is also very interesting, and radically under-emphasized doctrine that ignorance leads to iniquity. In our church we are always harping on behavior. That is necessary to a degree, but it is far better to teach people the principles so they understand the reasons for correct behavior in the first place.

    Now I don’t think what I said here was all that mysterious, and frankly I don’t understand Kurt’s objection in the slightest. Seems like a pretty straightforward reading in the context of the prominent doctrine of divinization, even earthly divinization to me.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 22, 2006 @ 6:41 pm

  11. Great post Geoff. I like the lawnmower analogy. God can speak in unmistakable ways at times, but this appears to be the exception rather than the rule. The whisperings of the still small voice are often difficult to distinguish from other feelings we have. To confidently distinguish between them takes time and practice.

    The analogy also reminded me of another salient point. In my experience, the average person watching the father pull the lawnmower and diagnose the problem usually starts out thinking it is a trick. If they can’t hear any difference in the sound then they assume no one else can either. Now, a lawnmower repairman may eventually convince everyone that it is not a trick because they can consistently fix problems with lawnmowers.

    However, a similar situation exists in aesthetics, but without an easy way to demonstrate that it is a real ability. Just like the lawnmower repair father, people can develop a refined taste/discernment in various other areas like music, art, movies, taste (of food) etc. One of the standard problems in aesthetics has to do with whether or not someone can be “correct” in judging one piece of art to be better than another. I have a co-worker who thinks the best movie ever made is the original Star Wars (episode 4) and I can’t convince him that however entertaining he finds it, it is not even in the running for best movie ever made. I have a sister-in-law who thinks it is just my “opinion” that Britney Spears sings musical junk food. Here again, the person with an untrained “ear” in any of these areas thinks the connoisseur is just being snooty.

    The same thing happens with spirituality. The person who has never learned to distinguish the voice of the Lord from their emotions or their own thoughts often assumes no one else can do it either, but they are incorrect. I like the lawnmower analogy because it makes the point that one can indeed develop “ears to hear.”

    Comment by Jacob — July 22, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

  12. Christian,

    I recognize that the lawnmower analogy only illustrates our side of the divine communication process and not God’s. But since we can’t control the sending side I think it is probably most useful to focus on our own capacities for spiritual hearing/discernment. (The lawnmower analogy is really the same as the music analogy I used in the Ears post which also focuses only on the receiver side of the communication.) I think another reason to focus on the receiving side is because it focuses our minds on the first principles of the gospel — faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance. These two principles are the engine that allows for clearer and clearer dialogue with Divinity. In the absence of these two there usually can be no dialogue with the heavens.

    But you are right that sometimes the sender (God) can blast a signal loudly enough that the faithless and unrepentant can clearly hear. The angel chastising Laman and Lemeul is the classic example of this. But the results with Laman and Lemuel are very telling I think. Being forced to hear the message of God did not force Laman and Lemuel to develop real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ or to repent and experience a mighty change of heart. The memory of the visit quickly faded and they were not changed at their cores. I think this is likely a indicator that the process of exercising the faith to try to ponder/meditate/pray and to continually repent is what changes the core of men and women. It is that difficult ear training process that changes us and slowly makes us more and more like God. There are apparently no shortcuts to changing souls and so I think this difficult process of trying to see more and more clearly through the “dark glass” is the process of making us like God and one with God.

    For that reason, I think God refrains from sending us angels like he did in the case of Laman and Lemuel because he doesn’t only want us to hear what he has to say, he want us to become what He is.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 22, 2006 @ 11:59 pm

  13. Jacob,

    Thanks. It appears we are on the same wavelength here. I think your point about the skepticism of those who can’t hear/discern the things the lawnmower Dad or the person with well-trained spiritual ears can hear is a good one. Ear training takes both faith and time — faith that there really is additional information to be heard and time to learn how to discern it.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2006 @ 12:03 am

  14. Geoff,

    Mark demands to know why he is wrong, here you go, Mark.

    The first principle of education and pondering should be to learn how to think like God thinks, in the language that God thinks and communicates in, and understand other cultures and other philosophies the way God does, not understand God the way other cultures and philosophies do. It makes one naturally far more receptive to inspiration and revelation, and dramatically increases the effective communication bandwidth of the Spirit.

    The first principle? Not even. The first principle of education according to the Scriptures would be John 7:17. Mark, I defy you to find one passage of Scripture that advocates what you suggest above, namely that learning any particular language is what opens the conduits of the Spirit and therefore revelation. There is none.

    The kind of knowledge the Lord values is the knowledge of experience, not any kind of intellectual ascent, that is what the Hebrew “yada” means, it means I know someone by experience with that someone. And in the case of God, the way to learn about Him is by having a godly walk. The only way to have the Spirit teach you and reveal God’s will to you is to be cleansed from sin and be in the right path doing the Lord’s will, cf. D&C 50:26-30.

    The position Mark is advocating is an intellectual ascent, which is completely contrary to the gospel message. He believes a person must learn some “language” in order to be more receptive to the Spirit, so you dont have to translate God’s language into your own. The Scriptures teach plainly that a person must be doing the works of God to have the Spirit and therefore be more receptive to revelations:D&C 42

    12 And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. 13 And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit. 14 And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach. 15 And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given.

    Want the Spirit? Then “observe the covenants and church articles to do them”. That is why the Lamanites “knew it not” when they received the Spirit: 3 Ne. 9:20

    And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

    Because it was not an intellectual process, it was a matter of them having a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    Sorry Mark, but learning some “language” just isnt an issue, per Acts. 2. Geoff, forgive me for not stating this sooner, I thought it so patently obvious that to do so would be redundant. I mean, come on, if you want the Spirit, keep the commandments. There is no “langauge” requirement. This is Primary stuff.

    Now, I predict Mark will shovel a load onto your blog saying that by “language” what he really meant wasnt “speaking” or “words” or “discourse” per se but something else more non-descript and ambiguous. Even though it is plain from his own quotes that what he means is speaking, words, and discourse. And he will accuse me of being me of being ignorant of some Aristotelan dialectical baloney.

    Comment by Kurt — July 23, 2006 @ 4:16 am

  15. Kurt, In the interest of not monopolizing the conversation, I am not going to respond to your substantive position at this time. All I can say is that I believe that you are at least half right. I most assuredly do not believe one can learn the things of the spirit without personal righteousness. I also believe that a sort of informal learning, namely righteous habit acquisition, happens by doing so.

    However I do not believe that one can learn the fulness of truth, nor even the basic principles of the gospel, without thinking about them and receiving a spiritual confirmation of those thoughts, and how to improve them. That is what the scriptures are for. If thinking wasn’t necessary we wouldn’t need the scriptures at all. Nor would we need to study, ponder, contemplate, pray verbally, listen to talks, etc.

    I would like to refer to the scriptures and the other prophets, but as I said, enough for the moment.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 10:51 am

  16. Editors Note:

    I just deleted more than a dozen comments of a brawl of sorts between Kurt and Mark. The subject of this post (discerning communications from God) is far too important to me to allow such a threadjack here. However I left a few (sometimes edited) of those comments because I thought they were sufficiently on topic.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  17. Mark,

    Kurt seems to have a simple complaint. He thinks you said we have to learn an actual “language” (such as Adamic language or something) in order to properly communicate with God. I thought you were using the term “language of God” figuratively in #4 — sort of like calling the information the lawnmower conveys to trained ears a language. Which is it? If it is only the latter then I agree with you. But if Kurt is correct in his reading of your position then I think he is right in his objections.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2006 @ 11:55 am

  18. Geoff (#17),

    I do maintain that eventually we will learn to speak and think in terms of God’s language in the grammato-lexicographical terms. I quoted several sources with regard to Zephaniah 3:9 to demonstrate that this is the predominant understanding within the LDS tradition. I no of no contrary assertions, though clearly some are unconvinced.

    I also maintain the for unexplained reasons, the purity or commonality of this language has a connection with the exercise of divine power:

    And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.
    (Moses 7:13)

    My suspicion is that the primary aspect of the effectiveness of divine language it that it is simply what is spoken in heaven. i.e. it maps more clearly to the concepts of the divine administration and government, the gospel, the very culture and heritage of divinity, and the law and rule of heaven, than any other language. It is the lingua franca of divine culture.

    However, I do not interpret the term “language” so narrowly – as far as I am concerned all culture, all semiology, all law, all habit, all regularity, and all knowledge falls under the rubric of language. That assertion has a heritage that goes back thousands of years. John S. Robertson mentions the ancient belief in the correlation of language and culture. It is all over the Old Testament. Righteousness is defined in terms of abiding the law, and more particularly abiding the spirit of the law, and not just the letter.

    Many of the Greek philosophers commented on the correlation between language and culture. Much more modern philsophers, notably Charles S. Peirce, treated this correlation as well. So did the Christian tradition. In fact, religious traditions that are not very particular about words, and the power of the proper understanding thereof, often with a preference for some language hundreds or thousands of years old, are the exception, not the rule. Taoism leans that way, but it is pretty hard to have religion without scriptures, and it is pretty hard to make scriptures normative without authorative traditions as to the proper semantics of terms.

    I maintain that scriptural semantics genuinely come in many levels of inspired interpretation, as Elder Oaks has said, and also that spiritual progress entails understanding the *word* of the Lord, both the relationships between scriptural terms, and the proper, inspired semantics of those terms, and implementing those rules, laws, principles into your life, having the law written into your heart and into your mind.

    Now I have more I would like to say, but in the interest of decency, I will yield the floor to others.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

  19. Mark: I do maintain that eventually we will learn to speak and think in terms of God’s language in the grammato-lexicographical terms.

    When do you assume this “eventually” will be?

    My post is about comprehending what God has to say to us through his still small voice today. Is speculation about some eventual use of a universal language even relevant to the topic at hand? I frankly am totally uninterested in talking about some real Adamic language (or whatever) that may or may not be used by all people in the Millennium or eternities to come (I assume that is what you have in mind).

    Further, I am having trouble reconciling your use of that scripture about Enoch and what you say in the next several paragraphs. Are you contending that Enoch actually vocally spoke some divine language? If so I disagree. I think that Enoch spoke in the language of his people but God sent his spirit to sear the meaning of what he said into the hearts of those who heard. We have similar examples of that happening elsewhere in scripture. For instance 3 Nephi had a similar experience and there is no reason to believe he spoke anything other than his own language:

    And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily. (3 Nephi 7: 18)

    Perhaps we are agreeing on this point — I just can’t tell for sure yet.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

  20. Geoff, I don’t think you understand my point here, which is that the process is gradual. We can use English, but our spiritual progression entails that we use scriptural English, and understand the semantics of terms in their scriptural context, more so than in their secular context.

    In other words understand what God *means* when he inspires a prophet to say something, in a mortal language, often after a process of translation to a new mortal language, for which the commonplace, non-religious usage may be even further off than the commonplace, non-religious usage in the original language of the prophet, which no doubt deviates to some degree from what God would like to communicate in the first place, because of the “weaknesses of our language”.

    Now as I tried to make clear in the second half of my last message, is that I am speaking of language in the broadest possible sense. Some here have chosen to attack the very narrow sense, the one you are not very interested in, but that which you asked me to explain, so I did.

    You speak of listening to a lawn-mower. Well the question of language is what is the lawn mower “trying” to tell you. I.e. what do those noises mean. The question of inspiration is similar. Joseph Smith said that inspiration was worthless unless intelligence was communicated. He criticized the Shakers in particular in that regard. He also said:

    No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.
    (TPJS, 328)

    So the question is what is a revelation? Well the common semantics are suggestive enough. A reveal-ation is an uncovering of the truth. Listen to Paul:

    Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

    But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

    i.e. revelation is the making manifest of the will and mysteries of God, for a very important purpose: obedience of faith, not just intellectual contemplation.

    The words of Jacob are relevant here as well:

    Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.

    Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.

    Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.

    Notice what revelation leads to in the last verse – an understanding of all his ways. Now I cannot comprehend the merest smidgen of the idea that this sort of understanding is irrational or non-representational. The scriptures are full of peons to the power of the *word*, or proper language in general.

    So we can advance very far indeed using an inspired theological dialect of our native tongue, what God or angels would use if they wanted to communicate with us according to our understanding. My secondary point (which I did not mean to turn into a full blown discussion), it is somewhat off topic, is that very understanding of the way God speaks in our language, gradually leads to an understanding of how he thinks and speaks in his language. Sometimes we seek to approximate this by returning to the original texts, most notably the Hebrew ones, the more ancient the better.

    My primary point is that understanding the scriptures means learning divine culture, “language”, law, and understanding. If you don’t want to call that the “language of the Lord” in the general sense, or if you want to excise the implications of the Adamic language or the language of Enoch no problem. It just happens to a proposition with a very long history in both ancient and modern scripture and prophetic commentary.

    I personally would rather talk about why inspiration, knowledge, and truth are necessarily rational and representational in the scriptural sense. Those lawnmower sounds mean or *represent* something, right?

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 1:35 pm

  21. “paeans” – hymns of praise.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

  22. In other words understand what God means when he inspires a prophet to say something … My primary point is that understanding the scriptures means learning divine culture, “language”

    In this thread I am only interested in discussing how we understand what God means when he speaks to us via his still small voice. What he meant when he talked to prophets is a off topic in my opinion.

    I think it is useful to think of inpiration/revelation from God as coming in the form of what Joseph called “pure intelligence”. We might need language to write or describe that pure intelligence to others here on earth but God’s “language” seems to be unfiltered pure intelligence to me. That is, rather than sending the intelligence through the filters of our senses for us to interpret, I think he bypasses those filters somehow and delivers understanding if we figure out how to tune our minds to it.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 23, 2006 @ 8:41 pm

  23. Geoff (#22),

    I think your conception of “pure intelligence” is untenable. No one has ever, in all of human history, come up with a non-representional mode of thought or communication. The whole value of symbols is that they *mean* something.

    Now although, according to the scriptures, the difference between any testimony holder and someone with the gift of prophecy is only a matter of degree, the reason why I brought the scriptures up is they are the primary means by which we may obtain revelation – either deeper understanding or personal guidance as to which principles are particularly relevant in our hour of need. Again, there is no such thing as a non-representational principle.

    Furthermore, Joseph Smith in his discourses of revelation through the Holy Ghost distinguished between over-wraught emotions that carried no instruction, and revelations that did carry instruction. All instruction is representational.

    Even habits are represenational, i.e. they have a natural structure that causes us, by instinct, to initiate certain responses in certain contexts. That is a developed relationship, that is also representational.

    When people dream dreams, or hear voices, or have premonitions, they are only of ultimate value if they *mean* something. All meaning is representational.

    The Lord’s definition of truth is “knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they will be”. All knowledge, particularly that sort of knowledge, is representational.

    The Lord has said we need to gain knowledge so that we can obey higher laws, line upon line, precept upon precept, and that such obedience is the manner and mode of sanctification. All “lines” and precepts are representational.

    Now what good could a lesson have without any meaning? An impression without any content? A book without a story? A still small voice without a voice?

    To me it seems that you are speaking of magic, pure and simple. If not, I would love to hear about how intelligence can be communicated or exercised without any structure, semantics, or representation of any kind.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

  24. I do agree, however, that God’s spirit can penetrate our minds, bring things to our remembrance, and so on. We can also gradually learn some habits semi-conciously through righteous habit acquisition, following the spirit without thinking about it. That makes for a very fuzzy form of knowledge however – habits that are written structurally into our physiology, but which we do not understand except in the most general, fuzzy terms.

    The Lord generally cannot teach us new things without our willing effort to let him, to ponder and think about the impressions he gives us, and to preserve our understanding through obedience. If we are stubborn he can send impressions all day long, or the most incredible experiences, and severe judgments, and not learn a thing. Whatever knowledge fades away almost immediately without perseverance, like last semester’s final exam.

    By the way, the whole reason why we have to ponder and study things out in our minds to effectively receive revelation, is that all revelation is representational, symbolic, or sign-ificant. Otherwise it is just whistling in the wind. When we are most in tune, not least, the Lord can speak and can we can hear his voice, or he can give us a vision – both extremely representational, but of little value unless we understand what we hear or see. If we do not seek to understand, no dice. There is no precedent for direct knowledge download.

    I think that would generally require the Lord to rearrange our brain structure (physical and/or spiritual) without our involvement, and he seems to have a rule against that, or perhaps a natural constraint makes it essentially impossible. The most high bandwidth form of revelation appears to be visions, actual spiritual experiences that require effort to understand and retain.

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 23, 2006 @ 9:24 pm

  25. Mark,

    First, brevity is a blog virtue. (Repeat that to yourself and 5 times before each comment and you will make a lot of new blog friends…)

    Second, you are misunderstanding my position to begin with. I never said that the pure intelligence from God did not end up in some representational form in our minds, I simply said I don’t think it is necessarily delivered to our minds in that form. To understand my position read my post and the follow up thread thread where I compare our minds to a Celestial Media Player.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 24, 2006 @ 12:21 am

  26. Geoff,

    [Deleted superfluous paragraphs - editor]

    Now as to the main topic at hand, your position is clear, the challenge that I raise is for you to make any explanation whatsoever for knowledge or intelligence to be transmitted without any representation.

    One traditional hypothesis is that truth is a natural substance, like the traditional conception of grace, sort of like going to the gas station and getting a fill up. I am saying that as a baseline conception, such a perspective is enormously inadequate, as it cannot account for the most basic facts of the matter except in the most magical terms.

    For example, you suggest that something with a structure, gets converted to something without any structure or semantics whatsover, and then upon arrival, gets converted back into something that does have structure or semantics? Don’t you see what is logically implausible (to put it mildly) about that?

    How would you explain the fact that spiritual influences are described as coming not only from God, but also from men, and devils as well, in a rather large number of qualities and flavors? What makes an evil spiritual influence evil? Does the adversary have the same magical ability to convert knowledge into something without a representation, and then back upon arrival?

    It seems that to account for the scriptures with the theory that the spirit is a simple metaphysical substance that is effective without semantic modulation or structure, you would have to argue that there are many different types of the spirit, or that the adversary can literally “enchant” the spirit with different properties. Same deal with the lesser spirits of good things. What say ye?

    Comment by Mark Butler — July 24, 2006 @ 7:10 am

  27. Mark,

    I don’t know. There is not enough data available for me to speculate on the details of what form “pure knowledge” is transferred in beyond the link I already gave. Further, I don’t care all that much because for practical purposes I am mostly interested in learning to hear and understand God’s voice to me better. Sort of like I don’t really care exactly how my TV works in great details — I only really care about my reception.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 24, 2006 @ 11:28 am

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