Bishop Dean M. Davies begins by sharing a story that involved the selection of a temple site with Gordon B. Hinckley. While on the surface the story itself isn’t all that impressive to me personally. One side of my mind says that this was merely a matter of selecting a different site out of many that could have equally worked.
President Hinckley was a senior man with decades of experience, insight, and intelligence and had an idea in his mind of what to look for. The implication is that the Lord was directing all of this and I’m not saying that he wasn’t. On the one hand, this isn’t a mind-blowing story, it’s not parting a sea or translating ancient scripture, but on the other, maybe there is a different message.
The point Bishop Davies makes is this:
“As with the early Saints, so it is with us today: the Lord has revealed and continues to reveal to the President of the Church the patterns by which the kingdom of God is to be directed in our day. And, at a personal level, he provides guidance as to how each of us should direct our lives, such that our conduct may likewise be acceptable to the Lord.”
It is important it is to understand the doctrine and patterns that govern revelation and how God uses it with us. It is common in scripture to read about amazing stories of deliverance that might shake any skeptic to the core, but there are also accounts of quiet nudges here and there directing the path of individuals.
I think it is more common to see revelation in scripture serving the purpose of guiding God’s people along step-by-step rather than a continual barrage of earth-shattering miracles. If all that we expect from God is a booming voice accompanied by fire and glory, then we will miss much of the revelation in life that is subtle and very still. In the direction of our lives, we do not always need massive course corrections. When corrections are required either in our lives or those around us to avoid imminent disaster, that is one example of when we may discover more powerful promptings.
“What building blocks should we put in place in order to make our lives beautiful, majestic, and resistant to the storms of the world?”
Bishop Davies answers this question by suggesting “essential building blocks of our faith and testimony” that include Jesus Christ, The Book of Mormon, the Church as the kingdom of God on earth, and continuing revelation.
While the building blocks he recommends are significant, there are different paths to arrive at the knowledge of each. You may kneel and pray to know if all of them at once is true and get a warm feeling and that may be enough for you. We each have to determine what we think is convincing evidence. We all have a story and a unique life experience where we encounter these ideas with a variety of results.
As for me, I came out of a dark place around the age of 17. You could say that it was something of a ‘dark night of the soul’ that lasted about 6 or 7 years but it culminated in an unprecedented event of deliverance. The reality I once knew was gone, and I felt compelled to understand this new reality and seriously re-evaluate everything. With sober eyes, I examined things and thought genuinely about how I should approach evaluating the “truths” competing for my recognition.
What I decided upon was a straightforward exercise that involved dividing a paper into two parts and writing “Believe” on the left and “Know” on the right. Once I began the task, it was even more sobering to force myself to acknowledge the reality of what I only believed versus what I actually knew.
Only three things were on the “Know” side while I pruned away things I came to understand were merely beliefs, things I had before testified to a knowledge of when I didn’t understand what I was doing or saying. I had to come up with a litmus test for anything that could go on the “Know” side. The test I determined was quite simple; if I could say that I knew something because I had firsthand experience with, then I could declare without reservation that I knew it. I knew there was a sun in the sky that lit the world, I knew that I could think and act, and I knew a variety of things through experiences thus far in life.
Accordingly, there were three things I knew at that time that I could not deny. I knew there were dark beings that could torment and influence us, I knew that there was an intelligence greater and more powerful than them, and that man could command them in the name of God. It was the addition of the latter two pieces of knowledge that rescued me from a complete loss of hope and invigorated my mind to re-evaluate things.
I have found that what is called a “testimony” in LDS practice is very hard to articulate when it is based on knowledge from experiences. I have found it difficult to try and force my knowledge into the familiar “testimonial expressions” we hear among our people. It isn’t that they are wrong or bad, but I feel like they are the words of others when I would prefer to use my own words. Many feel comfortable using those phases as they sufficiently and efficiently communicate their complex feelings in a way that others can instantly understand and relate to. I’ve learned to accept that over the years.
“The chief cornerstone and building block of the Church and for our lives is Jesus Christ. This is His Church. President Nelson is His prophet. […] Now, today, it is our privilege to sustain him as the Lord’s living prophet on the earth.”
I’ve had a lot of issues with this kind of language. First off, I respect the order of the Church and take my understanding from D&C 107 as how the Lord has organized his church in our day. We sustain 15 as prophets, seers, and revelators but throughout the years, it seems like we have an almost worshipful attitude toward the president of the church.
For example, I never liked the extravagant birthday celebrations that occurred during President Hinckley’s presidency; it felt inappropriate. When we elevate any mortal in such a way, it can become dangerous.
It is this aspect that I do not like. Personally, I refer to the president of the church by his official title, “President” and do not call him “the prophet” because as Joseph Smith once wrote in his diary, “’A Prophet is not always a Prophet’ only when he is acting as such.” (source) As president of the church he, like the other apostles, may also prophesy and act as a seer or revelator.
None of these leaders are infallible which is why I agree that it is crucial to sustain them, to keep them from falling through our support and prayers. While the role of the president of the church is important and critical, it is the office and not the man that is critical. I respect foremost the office and, for the most part, those that have held it when they have acted in righteousness.
I had the opportunity to travel to San Antonio, TX with my family to hear President Nelson speak, not because of Russell M. Nelson, (who I respect as a good man) but because of who I believe works through him. I feel the same way about any other mortals in God’s order here upon the earth. I think we need to be careful not to elevate them or esteem them of greater worth than any other moral as we are all equal in the eyes of God and he is no respecter of persons. (Lecture 3:23, D&C 107:81-84)
“Listening to and hearkening to living prophets will have profound, even life-changing effects in our lives. We are strengthened. We are more assured and confident in the Lord. We hear the word of the Lord. We feel God’s love. We will know how to conduct our lives with purpose.”
I agree. A prophet, by Elder Widtoe’s definition, is a teacher of known truth.
“A prophet is a teacher of known truth; a seer is a perceiver of hidden truth, a revelator is a bearer of new truth.” (Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 258–59.)
The LDS Bible Dictionary has some vital information regarding what the role of a prophet is:
“It was also the prophet’s duty to denounce sin and foretell its punishment and to redress, so far as he could, both public and private wrongs. He was to be, above all, a preacher of righteousness. When the people had fallen away from a true faith in Jehovah, the prophets had to try to restore that faith and remove false views about the character of God and the nature of the divine requirement. In certain cases prophets predicted future events, such as the very important prophecies announcing the coming of Messiah’s kingdom; but as a rule a prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller. In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost…”
It might be easy to mistake a prophet as chiefly a revelator who continually has amazing new stories to tell or great acts to perform; this just isn’t the case. A prophet’s central role is to keep people on the path by encouraging them back when they stray by reminding them of what they already know.
People in the past would stone the prophets because they didn’t like being told they were wrong and had gone off course. Take Lehi, Abinadi, and Samuel as examples; they were primarily concerned with reminding the people of their duties and warning them of coming judgments if they continued in their ways.
Today, when we emphasize the words of prophets, I think we should see them in the light of a “forthteller” primarily responsible for reminding us of our proximity to where the Lord has set his bounds.