Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

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.

First:

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.

Second:

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.

Fourth:

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.)

7 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 11: “Revelation from God to His Children” (George Albert Smith Manual)”

  1. Robert C. said

    As a P.S., I found this post at the BCC blog very interesting, and in line with a main point I was emphasizing in the lesson above. It’s a letter Pres. Smith wrote in response to a question about the commonly quoted idea that “when our leaders speak the thinking has been done,” which Pres. Smith. Here’s a teaser quote from Pres. Smith’s response letter:

    I am pleased to assure you that you are right in your attitude that the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.

  2. prometheus said

    I really like your thoughts on experiencing truth as opposed to obtaining it. I will ponder that over the next few days – never thought of it like that before. :D

  3. kirkcaudle said

    Excellent post here Robert. You really hit the nail on the head with your comments regarding 2 Ne. 32:7. We, as a church, are in trouble once we ditch “thinking” and begin solely relying on “feelings.”

  4. Robert C. said

    Prometheus, I should cite my source for this idea, now that I remember. It’s from an essay Jenny Webb wrote in the book An Experiment on the Word (downloadable here). Regarding Alma 32, Webb writes on pp. 48-49:

    Following his discussion of sign seeking, Alma returns to the topic of faith in verse 21: “And now as I said concerning faith faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” While this verse is often cited as a “definition” of faith, re-reading it in light of its possible Edenic connections may help us read the familiar verse more carefully. The first thing that Alma says about faith here is not what it is, but rather what it is not: it is not to have a perfect knowledge. The use of the phrase “to have” here is particularly interesting. Why does Alma use that additional verb rather than stating things more simply as “faith is not a perfect knowledge”? The equation is not simply faith [does not equal] perfect knowledge, but rather faith [does not equal] having perfect knowledge. Perfect knowledge is thus cast in terms of possession, a thing capable of being had (or held) by an individual.

    One of the prominent characteristics of the narrative of the Fall is the emphasis on the theme of possession. Eve explains to Satan that she and Adam are not only not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but they are not even to touch it (see Moses 4:9). When Eve does eat the fruit we read that “she took of the fruit thereof” (Moses 4:12; my emphasis), a subtle reminder that she holds the fruit in her hands both to eat and, additionally, to pass to Adam. In other words, a component of the transgression may lie in the actual act of holding, possessing, and then ingesting the fruit of the tree of knowledge. And, given its appearance in Eden itself, such fruit can itself be seen as perfect, not fallen: for a moment, then, Eve and Adam literally possessed and consumed perfect knowledge. The consequence of this action, if we follow Alma, would be the absence of faith, a condition fundamentally impossible within the Edenic reality, and thus their removal from the Garden. It appears, then, that Alma’s description of faith as “not to have a perfect knowledge” (my emphasis) is possibly quite literal on one level: the state of having faith cannot co-exist with the state of having perfect knowledge. However, given that we already live in the fallen world, the consequence of possessing perfect knowledge is not another fall, but rather the simple absence of faith itself.

  5. Robert C. said

    To add to my comment above, and tie this idea to the lesson, I think this notion of “seizing knowledge” is related to Job, and the lesson more generally, as follows.

    The idea of seizing knowledge is, as Jenny nicely explains, related to the idea of ownership. When we own something, we control it. A related problem forms the central theme of Job: humans like to “control” God by reducing a conception of God’s justice to simplistic cause-and-effect logic. That is, the central question is whether the righteous are blessed or not. The message of the Book of Job, IMHO is that this question is more complicated than a simple, naive answer of yes would suggest—that is, sometimes the righteous suffer, and Job is an attempt to give some explanation for why it is that the righteous suffer.

    Now, what does this have to do with revelation, the theme of this lesson? Well, I’d say that revelation (and the related concept of knowledge) cannot be controlled in the same way. That is, revelation and knowledge (including the knowledge of why the righteous suffer) cannot be seized and possessed and controlled. We must “wait on the Lord,” as the scriptures say, meaning that we must endure and be patient when we do not have knowledge, and when revelation isn’t immediate. This implies that we must seek after knowledge, and desire it, showing that we really want it, and persevering through the times that we don’t have it (which is pretty much our whole lives!).

    Or something like that….

  6. Juan Carlos Martinez-Alferes. said

    Revelation, knowledge, temporal happines, salvation. is Revelation knowledge? The purpose of the lesson is to deliver a dose of spiritual knowledge about the benefit of revelation in our lives. Then, revelation is spiritual knowledge, not “common” knowledge as we might think. What is spiritual knowledge defined? Is inspiration knowledge similar to revelation knowledge? are both, inspirational and revelation knowledges spiritual knowledges.?

  7. [...] have talked about this in a lesson a few weeks ago, but I really worry that we have a tendency to think that contemplating the doctrines of the gospel [...]

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