RS/MP Lesson 11: “Revelation from God to His Children” (George Albert Smith Manual)
Posted by Robert C. on June 6, 2012
I’ll comment on four quotes that struck me in the lesson.
If we have erred in our conduct the voice will whisper to us ‘turn back, you have made a mistake; you have disregarded the advice of your Heavenly Father.’ (p. 114)
What I like about this comment is that it presumes that the Holy Ghost speaks to us even if if/when we have sinned. I think this addresses a common lie we tell ourselves, that we’re not worthy to hear God’s voice.
We do not believe that the heavens are sealed over our heads, but that the same Father who loved and cherished the children of Israel loves and cherishes us. We believe that we are as much in need of the assistance of our Heavenly Father in the directing of our lives as they were. (p. 115)
Although I think it’s common to believe that we need to pray for direction in our lives, I think it’s less common to pray for understanding, since we tend to think we understand the basics of the Gospel. In my experience, this is a dangerous attitude. I like Nephi’s grieving in 2 Nephi 32:7 over “the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge.” This is, remember, after Nephi also laments that we “ask not, neither do ye knock” (2 Nephi 2:4).
The third quote builds on this idea:
I believe in you, my brethren and sisters. . . . You are entitled to the same knowledge that he is who presides over the Church. You are entitled to the same inspiration that flows to those whom God has caused to be ordained as His leaders. You are entitled to the inspiration of the Spirit, and the knowledge that He is your Father, and when I say “you” I speak of all those who have obeyed the commandments of our Father, and have partaken of the sweet influence of the Spirit of the Lord in the Church of Christ. . . . Each of us is entitled to the inspiration of the Lord in proportion to the manner in which we live a godly life. (pp. 116-117)
Various manifestations of inequality in the church are a common topic of discussion and concern, especially recently among many of my friends (related to the Proclamation on the Family, and gender imbalances in Church). I think these are real and valid, and need to be treated compassionately, considerately, and thoughtfully. One thought that is often forgotten amidst these concerns is the radical equality embedded in this idea embedded in the lesson that we are entitled to receive “the same inspiration that flows” to our Church leaders.
What are the implications of this doctrine of radical equality that is so prevalent in scripture? When viewed in light of the eternal equality with God that we presume in Mormonism, I think many of our concerns about inequality in this life show themselves to be trifling.
We read in Job that there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding [see Job 32:8]. If we keep the commandments of God we are entitled to that inspiration, and if we live as the sons of God ought to live, we will have that inspiration, and nobody can prevent it, and the result will be our own physical and mental and moral development in mortality, and continued development throughout the ages of eternity. (p. 119)
In the scriptural citation here, from the Book of Job, Elihu is speaking. Elihu is a rather controversial figure among Old Testament scholars. My sense is that most scholars actually see Elihu in a rather negative light, although I’m personally more inclined to see him in a positive light—largely because of arguments the late Robert Gordis, conservative Jewish thinker, makes in his book The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job (see here for a nice discussion that roughly summarizes my own view, at least in its current form).
For the purposes of this lesson, what I think is most interesting is how Elihu refers to the Spirit as the source of authority, rather than to age (Elihu was young, and waits for his elders to speak first). But the fact that Elihu is controversial among scholars raises, I think, a key question: how do you know when others who invoke the Spirit are really doing so correctly? Or, put differently, how do you know if an answer to prayer is from the Spirit or from some other source (like from your own head, or an evil spirit)?
Usually, when this kind of a discussion occurs, someone invokes D&C 9:8-9, and focuses on the promise “that your bosom shall burn within you” if the matter in question is right, and you’ll have “a stupor of thought” if it’s not right. This is a fine answer, but it’s also a rather thin and superficial answer. In a classroom setting, it’s probably more helpful to focus on the admonition to “study it out in your mind.”
I think we, as a people, actually have a tendency to be pretty lazy when it comes to this “study it out” question. I’ve been building to this conclusion with my preceding quotes and comments, since it seems to me we often just rely on our Church leaders to tell us what we need to know without, for example, really feasting on the scriptures ourselves. A think a useful question to think about, and maybe even discuss is why. What other things vie for our attention and interest, besides the study of God’s word? Which of these other interests are good, wholesome and worthwhile, and which of them are distractions away from “the solemnities of eternity” (D&C 43:34)? Of course all of us get distracted by vain, worldly things from time to time, why is that? How can we guard against it?
I think one important answer to this last question, about why we get distracted from seeking truth and the Spirit more earnestly, spending more time studying things out in our own minds, is that we have made distraction a kind of habit. We live in an iPhone, iPad world, with lots of media competing for our attention, and the scriptures our an old and outdated form of media. And the writing is difficult. Ultimately, we mostly view the scriptures as boring. And then, as parents who think the scriptures are boring, we wonder why we our losing so many of our youth. I’m on a soapbox now, but I really do think that this is a pretty major cause of many of the struggles we face in the Church, and in our families. If we truly cultivate a love and interest for studying God’s word, including both the scriptures and the teachings of our Church leaders, then I think it is much, much easier to generate enthusiasm in others (esp. our youth). Then, we can bear testimony without hypocrisy about our love of God, and his word, and the Spirit, and the truths that can be experienced only when faithfully and diligently seeking further light and knowledge.
(I refer in the last sentence above to the idea of truth being “experienced” since I’m nervous about the common way of thinking about truth as something to be “attained” or “obtained,” as though truth is merely knowledge that can be grasped in the way that the fruit of the tree of knowledge was seized in the Garden. This notion of truth and knowledge is rather dubious, IMHO, rooted in apostate philosophical ideas. The point of this lesson, it seems to me, is to get us to think about seeking the Spirit in all that we do, so that we are more open and ready to experience the world and others, and an understanding of the world and others, as they are constantly being revealed to us by the dynamically changing nature of the Spirit, that John 3:8 says “bloweth where it listeth”—rather than a kind of static and prideful knowledge of what we think the world and others are like.)