I am more aware of the distance that separates me from God than I have ever been before. I am also more aware than ever before that God and I are One, and there is nothing separating us. My journey into the paradox of God is many years long, but it began in earnest two years ago as I began to lay down my first “sacred cow” that I’d never even thought I’d be asked to sacrifice. This post describes that sacred cow. It causes me considerable pain to write these words, because I am revisiting some of my greatest periods of darkness as I rehash these ideas, and I know that reading them will cause some to experience their own pain. I ask you to forgive me and to know that I have tried to be honest and gentle and kind. My only motivation is love, for God and for my fellow humans, and a desire to come into greater light and greater rest. If you feel my words are not for you, please allow them to drift away from your mind. And if you feel my words are for you, don’t let me be your authority; take them to God and learn for yourself what is true and what is not. Let God teach you who he is and what he wants for you.
“But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:7).
It is imperative that we stop reading the scriptures as if they’re talking to everyone else and about everyone else. They are written to us and about us. When we are warned that some doctrines and commandments are not of God, but of men, we should assume that means that some of OUR doctrines and commandments are not of God, but of men.
When we read things like this, we should assume they apply to us:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:15, 20).
We talk about fruit a lot, and it usually seems to mean whether someone is nice or not, or whether they say positive or negative things; maybe they create good programs or do good service for those around them. I’ve started thinking about fruit differently, though. In the scriptural examples, it is always a question of one of two things: 1) what species of fruit is produced, or 2) is the fruit life-giving or rancid and not very useful? I’ve come to think of fruits as evidences in the sense that if apples are coming off it, it’s probably an apple tree, but if there are no apples, it’s probably not an apple tree. If there are apples, but they’re inedible, it may be an apple tree, but it’s not functioning like it should to be useful.
So to apply this to the above example, my thoughts would be that the way to find prophets is by their fruits, and the fruit of a prophet would be prophecy. The fruit of a seer would be seership, and the fruit of a revelator would be revelation, or knowledge that was hidden and is being revealed anew, or in other words, that cannot be found elsewhere.
What the scriptures don’t say is that the way to know true prophets is by their titles and positions or lack thereof in a church hierarchy. This is kind of a bummer, because that would make the task a lot easier, which is probably why we still try our darnedest to make that the way it works in our minds.
Before I continue, I would like to make something very clear: I genuinely love the leaders of the Church. I am grateful for the things I have learned from them throughout my life. Specifically, many of the addresses and books by Elder Bednar have changed my life by changing my understanding and have brought me closer to God and truth than almost anything else I’ve encountered. I could list talk after talk from the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that were pivotal moments in my development as a God-seeker, and I will never not be grateful for these inspired messages and those who delivered them.
Inspiration is not prophecy. Touching stories are not seership. Quoting other General Authorities is not revelation. Bearing testimony of a love of Christ and of his name is not bearing apostolic witness of the life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ. Widespread philanthropy is not proof that the leaders speak for God. Decisions made by anonymous committees in the Church Office Building are not revelation. Policy changes are not revelation. Proclamations are not revelation.
God and God’s people follow patterns. Part of that pattern involves God’s people ever so slowly turning to their own thoughts and opinions and the learning of man instead of to God and losing essential contact with him. When this happens in scripture and in history, the volatile but life-giving power of the Spirit is replaced by principles, programs, and outward performances--the things of order and predictability and security. When God and angels stop being personally involved in the affairs of men, men fill the void with rules, customs, and trust in institutional authority. It happened to the Israelites' religion. It happened after the death of Christ in the Catholic Church. Ours is not immune to this pattern.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face. Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:23-26).
Our leaders bear testimony of the name of Christ. This is very different than bearing witness of Christ, and this scripture makes that distinction clear. To know Christ is very different than to know about him, and God wants us to know Christ. True prophets know him because they have seen him and know that he lives. Blaspheming against God is a synonym (according to the dictionary, at least) for using the Lord’s name in vain. We generally think of this as using the name of God casually in conversation when we’re not actually talking to or about him, but think about those words and what they mean: using his name in vain. When we say that our message is from God when he has not actually given us that message, we are using his name in a vain way, or for our own vanity. And if we have not had literal contact with deity, it is vanity to proclaim we speak for God.
In our General Conferences, it has been the standard practice for decades to have speakers prepare their talks weeks in advance, go through multiple edits, and read from teleprompters. There are literally scripts that are followed. The speakers are people who have paused or given up prestigious careers in law, medicine, academia, and business, and they are well-informed on the issues in the world. The things they say make a lot of sense.
“And they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men” (2 Nephi 28:4-5).
Obviously no one in Conference says, “There is no God today,” but what we do hear with what I now consider alarming frequency is, “Keep your eyes on the leaders of the Church,” “Stay in the boat and hold on,” and, “Follow the Prophet.” The concept of Christ being the keeper of the gate who employs no servant there (2 Nephi 9:41) seems to have been replaced by the belief that the Redeemer has done his Atonement and has now given his work and authority to men, instead, to speak for and represent him in our lives.
God knows each one of us intimately. He is no respecter of persons, and he wants every single one of us to know him for ourselves. The job of a prophet is to teach people what they need to know to do what the prophet has done and rend the veil of unbelief that separates men from God, to come into God’s presence and be saved by him personally and individually. When a message merely makes people feel better but brings them no closer to this essential goal, no matter how encouraging and validating it may be, it is merely a precept of men.
When we are depending on others for our instructions from God, we are unconnected ourselves. When others tell us to depend on them, that is vanity and inserting a middle man into the process of salvation, which does not and cannot work. When others proclaim that all is well with us when all is not well, and we listen, we are not relying on the Rock of our Redeemer as our foundation of safety and peace, even if we’re being told that we are. And anything built on any other foundation will eventually fall, no matter what anyone has said.
Anything less than God leaves us dissatisfied and unfilled. When we feel empty, it is because we are attempting to fill our “God-sized hole” with platitudes and precepts that do not save. There are saving messages available to us. Heaven itself is available to us, and if you are not experiencing heaven, please consider that your methods of knocking at its door might be the barrier. Believe that God is willing to talk to you directly. There may be more available to you than you have supposed.
I love my Savior. A line from the Book of Mormon that is enjoyed somewhat tongue-in-cheek in my family is, “I glory in my Jesus.” I have grown to love this statement so much. He is my Jesus, and he is your Jesus. Claim him. Don’t let anyone convince you he or she is more qualified than you to know what he would say to you. He is yours.
When I was asked to lay down my belief that those who lead our Church are prophets, seers, and revelators, my heart broke into a million pieces. All my securities vanished. After I tantrumed and fumed and fought for a year, I moved from plain brokenness to contrition. And then God was able to teach me, because I was finally willing to let him be my only security. And I am learning that he really is mighty to save.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.