Zelophehad’s Daughters

Personal Revelation

Posted by Lynnette

When it comes to personal revelation, I’m a believer; I really do think that there have been moments in my life when I’ve been on the receiving end of divine communication. I like that the doctrine plays such a central role in LDS thought; I love the idea that you can go directly to God for answers and help, that we believe in a God who is interested in us as individuals and who will interact with us personally.

Yet at the same time, I have to admit to a certain degree of skepticism when it comes to the use of revelation as a means of discerning truth. A couple of years ago the website religioustolerance.org conducted a perhaps not overly scientific, but nonetheless quite fascinating study to see, in their words, whether “prayer can determine the will of God.” They selected the controversial issue of same-sex marriage, and recruited 75 people, both conservative and liberal, to pray about it. Sixty-eight percent of their subjects reported having successfully ascertained the will of God. The result? Every single person found that God supported her or his initial belief, even though these beliefs were in direct opposition to each other.

I grew up hearing stories of people who prayed about the Book of Mormon and joined the Church based on the answer they received. I’ve heard some powerful stories along these lines, some of which have deeply touched me. Yet I’ve also heard a number of accounts of people who feel strongly that God led them out of the Church, or who eventually left after years and years of unanswered prayers. I don’t quite know how to make sense of it all.

I often hear that personal revelation will never contradict the teachings of the scriptures or church leaders. But even setting aside the issue that sometimes the scriptures and prophets contradict each other, I see problems with this argument. After all, why do we believe in the legitimacy of the scriptures and the prophets in the first place? We’re told to get a testimony of them based on personal revelation. But if you have a subsequent revelation which contradicts them, and so you’re told not to trust it, on what basis do you then trust the earlier revelation that the prophet is a true prophet, or that scripture is the word of God?

On the other hand, I do think it’s a good idea to have some kind of checks and balances on personal revelation, which has a real potential to run amok. Though it’s something I take seriously, I’m not sure that personal revelation should automatically trump all other potential sources of truth, including scripture, prophetic teaching, and reason. Perhaps the reason God communicates in so many different ways is to reduce the dangers that arise from making one source definitive and relying on it exclusively.

I frequently struggle to make sense of personal revelation in my own life. On more than one occasion I’ve made a decision that felt right which then led to disaster of some sort. I don’t know if I’m learning something valuable from the disasters, or if I’ve simply fooled myself into thinking that things were inspired when they weren’t. Sometimes I’ve felt so frustrated by the answers that went wrong, or the answers that never came in the first place, that I’ve seriously questioned my belief in the whole process. I get exasperated with the ambiguity of it all.

Still, somehow I keep talking to God. And despite my frequent doubts, I continue to hope that he’ll talk back.

12 Responses to “Personal Revelation”

  1. 1.

    I am one who had a revelation that said one thing, and later a revelation that said the exact opposite. We’re talking foundational here, on the order of “is this person a prophet whose teachings I need to sit up and pay attention to? are these books truly scripture by which to guide my life?”, that sort of thing.

    The only way I can make sense of it and keep God in the equation is to think that the revelation part is God saying something like “I love you and won’t stop you from making that choice.” Like you, I see a problem with assuming that the revelation part means, “Congratulations, the opinion you have just formed is part and parcel of Absolute Truth.”

  2. 2.

    Every single person found that God supported her or his initial belief

    Priceless.

    I think Beijing is correct. We might interpret God’s unwillingness to intervene as direct approval.

    Also, what if God has a sense of humor? Sometimes I think God answers us the way an exasperated parent might. “Sure, go ahead and put your finger in the socket, if that is what you are determined to do.”

  3. 3.

    Nice post, Lynnette. The Catholic Church tempers its reliance on institutional revelation by emphasizing tradition and reason as alternative channels for moving us (well, them) toward divine truth. It seems like we ought to do the same thing for personal revelation: it should be measured against the scriptures; against the collective experience represented by the still-young LDS tradition; and against reason. A fair amount of what passes for “personal revelation” might not stand up to that sort of review, but what did would be of better quality. But the general LDS approach is to insulate revelation (whether institutional or personal) from any sort of review.

  4. 4.

    That’s fascinating, Beijing. I’m also curious about the role of personal interpretation in this. I’ve had some strong spiritual experiences in the context of the Church (while attending church meetings, through priesthood blessings, etc.) I’ve interpreted that to mean that God is in some way involved in the LDS church, that it’s a place where I can build my relationship with him. However, I’m still agnostic about the One True Church claim. And I wonder about people who feel more strongly about that particular issue–is it because we’re interpreting the same kinds of experiences in different ways, or is it because we’re having very different kinds of experiences? I honestly don’t know.

    Mark, I definitely wonder sometimes too about God’s sense of humor!

    Dave, I also like that approach. More than once I’ve heard non-members express frustration with an LDS tendency to play the personal revelation trump card when a discussion isn’t going well–which only really works if you believe that revelation is insulated from all other sources of truth. I find revelation somewhat more credible when it’s discussed as one source of truth in dialogue with others, instead of as something immune to any questioning.

  5. 5.

    Accepting the validity of personal revelation as a source of truth can tend toward anarchy. However, a touch of anarchy may be just what a hierarchal institution needs to prevent it from becoming totally rigid. The tension between the authority of personal revelation and that of priestly hierarchy is one of the things that makes the LDS Church the “Living Church,” which is the part of the formula (“only true and living church”) that we always leave off.

  6. 6.

    JWL, I agree; for all my reservations about it, I think the emphasis on personal revelation provides a much-needed counterbalance to the more hierarchical and authoritarian aspects of the Church. And I like your idea that it’s the tension between the two that makes it “living”.

  7. 7.

    […] – Lynnette of Zelophedad’s Daughters has a provocative post about personal revelation. I would also draw your attention to the comment by Dave, ever the Catholic-friendly Mormon blogger. […]

  8. 8.

    JWL said: “Accepting the validity of personal revelation as a source of truth can tend toward anarchy. However, a touch of anarchy may be just what a hierarchal institution needs to prevent it from becoming totally rigid. The tension between the authority of personal revelation and that of priestly hierarchy is one of the things that makes the LDS Church the “Living Church,” which is the part of the formula (”only true and living church”) that we always leave off.”

    Amen, to that! I love anarchy! ;) Ultimately, it is the church (the people of the Lord) that make the final decisions in all things through their voting via the law of common consent. The people are the first check and balance to priestly despots, totalitarianism, king-men, or unrighteous dominion, as Joseph called it. If the people aren’t receiving personal revelation and using the Holy Ghost to manifest the truth of all things, they will end up straining at gnats and swallowing camels. As the current state of voting is pretty much a rubberstamp in virtually all cases, that check does not seem to be currently active.

    My personal belief is that the Berean principle should be always applied: after a canonized set of scriptures is accepted by the individual, those scriptures should be used as a measuring stick to measure everything else, whether pronouncements from church leaders, or personal revelations that you’ve gotten.

    Beijing said: “I am one who had a revelation that said one thing, and later a revelation that said the exact opposite.”

    I’ve never had that experience, though I have had revelations or prophetic announcements that did not appear to be capable of being fulfilled. (Digest version—>) For example, one day the Holy Ghost told me that I would marry girl x, though I was in love with girl y. A decade passes and I finally am out of the relationship with girl y and guess who ends up falling in love and marrying? (Me and girl x!)

    Other times the message communicated was crystal clear, but badly interpretated by me. For example, prior to joining the church the Holy Ghost manifested itself to me twice. I had always interpreted the second revelation as meaning A. It wasn’t until later years that I revisited the words and realized that the Holy Ghost was not referring to A, but to B. My point is that the Holy Ghost, at least in my experience, does not give conflicting information. If both revelations are from the Holy Ghost, it may be that your interpretation of one or both of those revelations is lacking some important insight.

  9. 9.

    best Denver DUI attorneys

    Zelophehad?s Daughters | Personal Revelation

  10. 10.

    top Pennsylvania roofers

    Zelophehad?s Daughters | Personal Revelation

  11. 11.

    best PA roofing contractors

    Zelophehad?s Daughters | Personal Revelation

  12. 12.

    visit

    Zelophehad?s Daughters | Personal Revelation

Leave a Reply