By: Stephen Marsh
August 9, 2012So, what do we know about prophets? What is the final word on prophecy?
So far, in previous posts I have covered:
- What they will tell us.
- How to listen to them, a typography of the things they say.
- Understanding the themes that are each prophet’s mission.
- How to become a prophet. [Scroll down]
Some context — prophets in the scriptures
There is the classic, prophet in the mode of Moses version “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” — one that we are told, over and over again is atypical for a prophet and which made Moses special.
More normative are events such as when Peter had his vision that led to gentiles being accepted as members of the Church. Peter was faced with an issue, there had been back and forth, there was a policy in place (no gentiles), he had a vision, and then they had to work out what it meant and the full implications (circumcision not required after all). That was a process that involved several different levels of revelation, follow-up, clarification and focusing.
Interestingly enough, his first response to the voice of God was to disagree with it “not so.”
Even more common seems to be events such as found in Luke 24:17-21ff. The apostles had been told things by Christ himself (or had read the scriptures), completely failed to understand them, pondered them, and eventually found enlightenment.
Or Phillip and the Eunuch, where Phillip is told to go to a place, but thereafter works from inspiration.
The general pattern is that there is a problem, God speaks, men do not understand, the inspiration is clarified, then they have to work out the implications on their own, with more struggle and concentration on the issue. Without the reason to face the issue, it seems rare for God to speak (e.g. it went a while for gentiles to be allowed to be baptized, until there was an active reason. Circumcision issues took some time to work out).
What is striking about many examples is that the prophet involved starts off saying “no” or going in the other direction (Saul of Tarsus anyone?). God speaks, and like with Jonah, encounters resistance. There is revelation, but the meaning of it still has to be worked out and developed.
More modern examples
We have some more modern discussions, since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and others talked about the process. They talked about how they, like the apostles, were limited in their understanding of God’s words by the weaknesses of their language, their knowledge and their context. God may be speaking, but they were the ones listening.
Further, they engaged in the process of refining what they understood and what it meant. Revelation would often go through drafts as they worked out just what it meant, prayed and pondered about it.
What that means for us
First, a preface, so to speak, then specifics.
In preface, I would note that we have a huge administrative burden in the Church and that we have a competing chorus of voices on almost every issue and many, many issues. It is easy to think that there is an issue or a problem, it is (a) the most important, (b) there is only one side, and (c) there is nothing else any where near as important. I suspect that not more than 4-5 people in each stake feel that way on a monthly basis. With 2946 stakes at the end of 2011, that is probably not more than ten thousand people a month who have something they want to say.
- Generally, you should expect each prophet to work with their theme. Historically, that has been true, though Spencer W. Kimball seemed to pick up new themes every time he almost died.
- Generally, you should expect prophets, seers and revelators (such as the first quorum of the 70) to be very engaged in the day to day administrative revelation related tasks of the Church — calling new bishops, new stake presidents, new mission presidents and dealing with related issues. Over 350 missions, with each president serving three years, means over 100 mission presidents to call and train each year. 350+ to supervise. I would not be surprised if there were a thousand stake presidency members (presidents and counselors) to call and train each year (that is only about 300 presidencies a year or about 10% a year, it is probably more).
- Generally, you should expect refinement once there is revelation. I know, you would think that if Christ himself were talking to Peter or John, face to face, day to day, for more than a year, they would get the point without needing refinement, but we are so modern, we probably don’t need as much time, feedback, exposure or refinement? Maybe not. We might even need more. I think it is worthwhile to keep Peter and Paul and their trials and conflicts well in mind when thinking about prophets and the transmission of the word of God to us.
- Generally, you can move prophets to action by moving God. There is a well documented methodology for it.
- Expect to start off not completely clear on what God is saying or what the important parts are.