Critical Principles for Vetting Revelation and Avoiding Deception
We talk a lot about receiving and following revelation, but I’ve learned in my experience that the process itself is not as simple at it may first seem. There are real dangers involved because not all revelation that crosses our path comes from God.
The word revelation in Greek is apokalupsis and means “disclosure:–appearing, coming, lighten, manifestation.” The English word revelation comes to us from the French revelare around the 1300s and means to “unveil, uncover, lay bare.”  In its plainest sense, when revelation is happening, we are basically seeing something that was unseen before.
The trick is determining what exactly we are looking at, its source, and what we should do with it, if anything. If we simply swallow any new information without vetting it first, we are going to have potentially disastrous problems.
Where revelation can come from
Hugh B. Brown taught that revelation comes through many means outside of those that we would typically assume.
“…revelation does not come only through the prophet of God nor only directly from heaven in visions or dreams. Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration.” 
As we are applying revelation in its general sense here, we can see that Brown’s words are self-evident in their simple truth. Newly uncovered information can appear anywhere and through various methods of inquiry. We could discover it through our own searching, or it can be delivered by messengers of various persuasions.
Blindly following the first thing that comes along
As I mentioned before, following the first impression can run you into trouble, even darkness.
“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me…” 
The man in the white robe, who is he? Is he an angel or a false guide? Lehi points out that he is just a man in a white robe. This isn’t just a throwaway part of this experience, this man is an embedded part of his vision. In Nephi’s vision, he is more of an observer but in Lehi’s case, he is an active participant.
Lehi simply follows the man without knowing who he is. He is dressed in a white robe so there is an appearance of holiness but following this man leads to a dark and dreary waste. Lehi doesn’t cry out to this man for help, he cries out to the Lord which I think is an indication that he began to suspect that this robed figure either didn’t know where he was going or was intentionally leading him astray.
Whether it is a vision, a spirit, a supposed holy person, or anyone that bids us follow them, I think the robed man in Lehi’s vision is a lesson to each of us that there are influences out there leading us astray. There are many out there with an appearance of holiness asking us to follow them. Even Jesus asked people to come and follow him so how do we know the difference?
The full vision showed that it was necessary to hold fast to the word of God as the primary way of making it through the mists of darkness. We must hold fast to the rod of iron, all the way to the tree, until the fruit is in our grasp. There may be many voices along the path, but they won’t be telling us to let go of the rod and follow them. We must learn to know God’s word in order to not be deceived.
Not all revelation comes from God
A revelation comes to us and knowing the importance of obedience we up and follow. That would be a great course of action if all revelation came from God alone, but it doesn’t. The sad account of Korihor’s deception is an important reminder.
“But behold, the devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me: Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God. And he said unto me: There is no God; yea, and he taught me that which I should say. And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true; and for this cause I withstood the truth, even until I have brought this great curse upon me.” 
It’s easy to look down upon Korihor but let’s look at what happened to him. An angelic being appears to him and perhaps this was the first time anything like this had happened. Imagine an angelic being appears to you for the first time; how do you know if they are of God or the devil? What do you have to compare it to? Korhior, likely overwhelmed by this experience sought to be faithful to what appeared to be a higher power with authority.
What Korihor was taught pleased the carnal mind, he liked what he heard. His teachings were very successful so it seemed like they were true, and yes, he even came to “verily” believe that they were true. He seemed to willingly ignore the contradictions, i.e., ‘the people have gone astray after an unknown God, and although I am an angel, there is no God’.
He had an amazing encounter, he felt chosen, he wanted all of this to be real and good, it gave his life meaning and purpose. The problem is that he got too caught up in the moment; the pride of being selected as a special messenger to correct the world’s problems was too tempting and he accepted without question. Truth is not based on how amazing a particular experience may be; don’t be wooed by special effects.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy we find a similar warning to those in the ‘last times’ or ‘latter-days’:
“Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences.” 
So how do we avoid these pitfalls? The good news is that there are principles in play that can help determine whether a revelation is good or not.
Principles for vetting revelation
This is one of my favorite pieces written by an LDS general authority, it is Richard G. Scott sharing an experience about how he had received some guidance from the Lord but kept pressing for more until he got the entire message and not just a portion of it. There are many key principles to learn from here.
“I spent much sincere effort in seeking guidance and understanding from the Lord in study, prayer, fasting, and anxious service. Help came unexpectedly one Sunday as I attended a meeting where a humble, unschooled, Mexican priesthood leader struggled to communicate truths of the gospel identified in his lesson manual. It was obvious they had touched his life profoundly. I felt his intense desire to communicate those principles because they would be of great worth to his brethren. In his manner there was evidence of a pure love of the Savior and love for those he taught.
That love, sincerity, and purity of intent permitted a spirit to envelop the room. I was so touched that in addition to receiving again a witness of the truths he presented, I began to receive some personal impressions as an extension of those principles taught by the humble instructor. These impressions, intended for me personally, were related to my assignments in the area. They came in answer to my prolonged efforts to learn.
As each impression came, I wrote it down. I was given precious truths needed for me to be more effective. The specific counsel began with this impression: “Continue to build the Church on the foundation of true principles, but with increased expression of love and appreciation for the great Lamanite people.” There followed matters of great benefit to me.
Next I visited the Sunday School class, where a well-educated individual presented his lesson. That experience was a striking contrast to that of the priesthood meeting. It seemed as though the instructor had purposely chosen obscure references and unusual examples to illustrate the principles in the lesson. I will confess that I had the distinct impression that he was using the teaching opportunity to impress the class with his vast store of knowledge. He did not seem as intent on communicating truth as the humble priesthood leader had been.
This experience also created an environment where strong impressions flowed. I wrote them down. One paragraph began, “Testify to instruct, edify, and lead others to full obedience, not to demonstrate anything of self. All who are puffed up shall be cut off.” Another signaled, “You are nothing in and of yourself, Richard.” That was followed with some specific counsel on how to be a better servant. The impressions became so personal that I felt it inappropriate to record them in the midst of a Sunday School class. I sought a more private location. There I continued to write the feelings that flooded into my mind and heart as accurately and as faithfully as possible. After each powerful impression was recorded, I meditated upon it and pondered the feelings I had received to determine if I had accurately interpreted them. Then I studied their meaning and application in my own personal life.
Subsequently I prayed, expressing to the Lord what I thought I had felt. There came a feeling of peace and serenity when it was confirmed. I asked if there was yet more that I should be given to understand. There came further impressions, and the process was repeated until I received the most precious, specific direction for which I will ever be grateful.
This event embodies several principles I feel are true regarding communication from the Lord to his children here on earth. I believe that we often do not learn the truths the Lord would freely share because we do not in humility earnestly seek light. We also can leave the most precious personal direction of the Spirit unheard because we do not strive to understand, value, use, remember, and expand the first promptings that come to us when we are in need or when impressions come in response to earnest, intense prayer.
You can see the things that I have been teaching you are not theory. I have learned them in the crucible of personal experience. I am sorry I cannot communicate them more clearly, but I know how you can also receive that kind of direction: Ask the Lord, seek the light, have faith in the Savior, strive to obey his commandments. He will bless you with light to lead you as you walk through this treacherous world in which we live.” 
I can testify to the truth of Elder Scott’s words. It has been about 15 years since I first took his counsel to record spiritual promptings as a means to obtain further light; a practice that has changed my life immeasurably.
Note how in Elder Scott’s account, he:
- Recorded the promptings
- Sought for accuracy through meditation, pondering, and prayer
- Studied meaning and application
- Expressed back to the Lord what he thought he had felt
- Received confirmation
- Asked if there was more
- Repeated some of his processes
Receiving revelation is not the hard part, it can come from anywhere at any time. The challenge comes in vetting the source of that revelation, determining what it means, if it is complete, and how we should respond.
Yes, it is true, sometimes revelation comes in an instant, in an emergency, and we must immediately respond. I’ve been in those situations, but they are also fairly rare; we are not always in a state of emergency.
When you consider how much time we have for TV, Netflix, movies, sports, video games, social media browsing and posting, we do have ample time for the process of receiving and vetting revelation if we choose to.
Just like Lehi and the man in the white robe, or Korihor, being dazzled by a false messenger, we too can find ourselves in real danger. Trusting any revelation without seeking confirmation, or a second witness, can lead to deception. Paul taught, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a fact shall be established.” 
Perhaps the best instrument for vetting a revelation are the scriptures. Does it align with what God has already revealed or is it something new? While God can reveal things to some that have never been revealed before,  he doesn’t set aside the safety of multiple witnesses to establish truth.
Personally, many revelations have crossed my path, from many sources, and in many ways. On very few occasions I have experienced differing degrees of what can be described as a ‘burning within’. I have had dreams and visions, some that came to pass and others that never did. I was once given simple audible instructions from an audible voice on theee consecutive occasions. Other times I have perceived a voice that was audible only to my mind. I have perceived a gentle nudge and have felt a tremendous force. I have experienced pure knowledge distilling and enlightening my mind and I have seen a room of people overcome to silence. I have been at an event with blaring music conversing with another about sacred things while the volume decreased only immediately around us to where we could speak reverently in low voices. I have also seen and experienced the darker side that presented itself openly to create fear, and disguised to instigate deception. There are hundreds of experiences with some being singilar and unique, and others being regular and consistent.
As I initially turned to God will real intent and with all my heart and mind, good things came and revelations increased. I was excited and assumed it all was from God. I took it all in as quickly as possible without caution or taking time to discern. I recorded dreams that were deeply symbolic, seemed rooted in truth, and took them to be revelation. One I tracked for over 7 years, but it never came to pass. Other instructions came and I followed them immediately without knowing the source and with the revelation coming in a new manner than I was unaccustomed to. What I thought was faithfulness was recklessness, an invitation to great danger.
Thankfully, an openness to reject error and a continued effort to seek out God opened the way to avoiding these deceptions. You cannot avoid these things on the path, they come with the territory.
When one becomes more sensitive to what lies beyond the veil, communications from good as well as evil sources open up to you. In the first stages of increased light and darkness, this bombardment and subsequent excitement can blind the discernment of the unprepared.
Imagine dropping a young child off in the middle of a big city for the first time. They can see and be seen; eyes are upon them. How will they know people with genuine intentions from scammers, thieves, and predators? Only through experience, trial and error, and maturity can one discern how to best navigate themselves in this world as well as the world beyond the veil. Joseph Smith taught:
“A fanciful and flowery and heated imagination beware of; because the things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” 
We remember Christ’s temptation in the desert . As he fasted for 40 days, and although weakened in the flesh, he used the scriptures in all three cases to confound the devil’s temptations that were placed before him, even though the devil also tried quoting scripture.
It is also good to recall the experience of Moses as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price . After a theophany drains him of all mortal strength, he is approached at this moment of weakness by Satan. Moses is able to discern between God and Satan using the knowledge of God’s glory and his commandments and the lack of any glory possessed by Satan as the determining factor:
“Blessed be the name of my God, for his Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me, or else where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve.” 
We can see that it is critically important that we not only know the Word of God in scripture, but that we commune with God and personally know of his glory so that it will not be possible for us to be deceived.
Such was and always will be the situation of the saints of God, that unless they have an actual knowledge that the course that they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint;
[…] nothing short of an actual knowledge of their being the favorites of heaven, and of their having embraced that order of things which God has established for the redemption of man, will enable them to exercise that confidence in him necessary for them to overcome the world, and obtain that crown of glory which is laid up for them that fear God.
[…] for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them. 
If you do not know that the course that you are pursuing in life is according to the will of God, the adversary will have power over you, and with that power, he will destroy you, just like Korhior and many others. Yes, I realize how harsh that sounds, but if you do not have an actual knowledge from God that you are living according to his will, then what are you spending your precious breath on?
Let’s say that you are fortunate enough to be trusting in the right people, true servants of the Lord, but what about all the choices you make in life independently? You have access to some true guides along the path, but what will you do when messengers arrive in dreams or visions, or impressions come boldly in an unexpected hour? What about the myriad of voices in the media, celebrities, politicians, friends, family, associates, bloggers (including this one, I’m not immune from error). What is true? What is false? How will you judge whether God is trying to save you or Satan is trying to destroy you?
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 
The answers are there in the scriptures, I’m only sharing some personal experiences and perspective. Read what Jesus and his apostles taught and you will find what you need. A blog post is no substitute for searching, meditating, pondering, and applying scripture on your own; there are no shortcuts.
- Online Etymology Dictionary: Revelation
- Edward B. Firmage, The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown: An Abundant Life, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1988, pg. 135-140 – full text
- 1 Nephi 8:5-8
- Alma 30:53
- 1 Timothy 4:1-2 NABRE
- Richard G. Scott, Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge, devotional address given at Brigham Young University Aug 17, 1993 – full text
- 2 Corinthians 13:1 NABRE
- Alma 26:22
- Joseph Fielding Smith (editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137
- Matthew 4:1-11
- Moses 1:1-22
- Moses 1:15
- Lecture 6:4,12
- John 14:6 NABRE