What is Revelation?

HawkgrrrlAsides, christianity, church, eschatoloty, inter-faith, LDS, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, prophets, questioning, religion, theology, thought 28 Comments

People have different opinions on what personal revelation is.  Is it from God or from within us?  Is it personal or universal in the scope of its truth?  Does it only come in some ways or should we take inspiration however we can get it?  Is it only available through the HG, or to all who seek truth?
http://gbcdecatur.org/files/Revelation%20PowerPoint%20Sermons.jpgHere are some theories about what might be meant by revelation.
  • Some have theorized that if a “revelation” doesn’t contradict what you already believe, it can’t be proven to be a revelation. That’s an interesting idea. If it is what you already believe, confirmation bias could certainly be at play.  Some would chalk all revelation up to “confirmation bias.”
  • If we don’t find revelation provocative, maybe we are past feeling or don’t “have ears to hear” or to comprehend the real meaning. Some would say that if you don’t feel you are receiving it, it’s your fault for not being open to it.
  • If we judge all spiritual input by whether or not it matches our own view, we are discounting the possibility that God’s view differs from our own. We limit God to being us on our best day. (Personally I think we all do this to varying degrees – recreate God in our own image).
  • Everyone has different “spiritual gifts.” The way I see that, some people have a very acute sense of smell. Others are keen optical observers. Likewise, spiritually, some have meaningful dreams. Some have strong emotional responses to information that is presented. Others are able to discern people’s intentions. We don’t all have the same qualities or traits. Some traits lend themselves to different situations (e.g. you can’t use your ability to discern people’s intentions to translate ancient records).
  • I tend to think that “revelation” should be just that – the uncovering of something hidden. In which case, it could be in our self-interest or not. What if “revelation” is really just uncovering things within ourselves that are hidden.
  • Some say personal revelation is just that – personal.  One person’s truth may be another’s error.  What is meaningful to you individually in your circumstances may not work for another.

So, what do you think revelation is?  Is it common or infrequent?  Have you experienced it?


Comments 28

  1. Interest insights Hawk

    I wonder often about this! If you were to take an a adult member with personal (say sexual transgression problem) from a typical stake. Some Bishops depending on the severity could recommend a church court, others might say will work with you on this.

    It’s something I also saw in my youth quite often when friends with the same transgression would go to their bishops some would almost write it off and a few bishops would be severe. Others who were really worried would get their records transfered to a singles ward where they knew the bishop dealt with things often and had a much more gentle approach to these problems.

    I know we all have different backgrounds and as you read Hugh B Browns autobiography he talks about how the apostles views differed greatly and obviously they were going to bring that into how we approach members with personal problems.

    But I think what baffles members is knowing you could go to one Bishop and get a softer penalty for say a sexual offence and go to another and possibly have your membership in jeopardy?

    Many would ask where is the Revelation in that?

  2. Sorry for two reply’s in a row.

    Do we as a church feel that a worthy priesthood holders/bishops inspiration or revelation trumps an inactive, agnostic or non members fathers advice or what he feels as inspiration/revelation for his family.

    For example his daughter is dating someone deep in his waters he disapproves of. The bishop on the other hand feels they are well suited and would make a great eternal companionship.

    Who’s advice or personal revelation trumps?

  3. What, no quotes from Joseph Smith? Nothing from Scripture?

    James, wouldn’t it be great if Bishop’s at least used the Church Handbook as a starting point, consistency would be a great thing, however, circumstances ARE always different for individuals, the decisions shouldn’t be different based on the Bishop, IMHO, but on the person (though I don’t think it’s that way in practice).

  4. In defense of James and as a Bishop the Handbook is open to considerable interpretation.

    Unfortunately cultural and gospel paradigms are hugely influential in such areas.

    On the situation offered by James. I would argue that a Bishop has no right in such matters and a father does by default regardless of their spiritual persuasion. However, above all these is the girl herself.

    I think using quotes or scriptures on this matter would be a little like the chicken and the egg. I bet each of the prophets experienced revelation differently and therefore using what they say as an infallible guide is difficult. I think they are valuable but just as much as what has been written above.

  5. 4″On the situation offered by James. I would argue that a Bishop has no right in such matters and a father does by default regardless of their spiritual persuasion. However, above all these is the girl herself.”

    Just for the record I would strongly encourage my daughter to receive advice from her current Bishop and we have sought after his help and advice/revelation.

  6. Great post hawkgrrrl. Something I have pondered a lot over. I like what you said about “(Personally I think we all do this to varying degrees – recreate God in our own image).” I also really like your points 4, 5, and 6. If revelation is “uncovering something hidden” maybe this then applies to scientific, or technological breakthroughs, or maybe even learning and applying secular concepts as well. I’m certainly not convinced that revelation need be a religious, or even a spiritual affair.

    I do think some people are more inclined toward it. But believing in, and taking literally someone else’s revelation, to me, is just very dangerous. There has simply been way too much error, pain, and suffering caused in the history of the world because people try to turn personal revelation into something more. For this reason, first and foremost, I would say that personal revelation is just that – personal. I might add however, that this doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from those who have claimed to have received revelation. It just means we should use wisdom in proclaiming absolute Truths in this vein.

    I don’t know if I’ve received revelation. I’ve had sudden strokes of ideas, profound thoughts, spiritual experiences, and emotional experiences. I’ve solved problems that seemed unsolvable (by me). But who hasn’t? If this is revelation then I would submit that most of us receive it, and it is largely independent of the HG, or church. Or alternatively, God, and the HG inspire all His children irrespective of their choice of religion.

  7. Oh, and as far as using Bishops as guides in our personal affairs, I think we give WAY WAY too much credence to our leaders by virtue of their position. If you’re going to your Bishop (or anyone else for that matter) because you recognize your own psychological limitations in any decision making process, then that’s fantastic and many of us could do better in this regard. But if we’re seeking a revelatory answer, assuming that what the Bishop says is definitive, I think we’ve crossed the line into trusting in the “arm of flesh” as it were.

  8. #1-

    James- I have wondered about the great differences in bishops as well. I think their own personal experiences and backgrounds have a lot more to do with the way they decide to handle situations than with direct revelation. Some bishops have a lot more compassion than others and are able to love those they serve, while others are very business like and issues are very black and white to them. I am sure there are members out there who are no longer part of the church because of the way a bishop handled their personal situation and had they had another bishop they would still be part of the church. Bishops will be held accountable for their lack of charity just as much as the rest of us.

  9. This is a great discussion. Thank you for the post Hawkgrrrl.

    This brings up one of the greatest dilemmas that I have had to face in the church: What is one to do when their personal revelation differs from what their leaders tell them? How does one remain obedient, but at the same time be true and honest with themselves and their own values?

    I do not yet have the answers to this, but I have a couple of thoughts that have helped me to understand it better. I believe that much of what do do in the church is based on the culture and dogma of the church and our individual lives rather than the pure doctrine of Christ. That is why some bishops and other leaders have such different opinions about how their different wards should be run. Because there is so much variability, their different opinions can not be eternal truths, but are rather what that individual feels is best at the time. I do believe that we ought to carefully consider the council of all of our leaders, but I have a hard time doing things just because they say so, especially when there is such disagreement amongst leaders, depending on who you ask. My point is that I believe personal revelation trumps all else. Some would say that that is a slippery slope to moral relativism, but I don’t see that as a valid concern if a person’s heart is in the right place and their motives are pure.

    I try to remember that the point of everything we’re asked to do is to help us to better love God and love our neighbor, and do what is taught in the temple. The rest is just details. Those details vary in importance depending on the individual. I believe that God will individually let us know which details are important to us.

  10. #9-

    I agree with you Aaron. I believe if our heart is sincere and our motives are pure we need to trust what the Lord tells us, even if it differs from what our leaders tell us. Our leaders are just human and have to deal with their own personal lives and families as well as all those who bring their issues to them. It is hard enough to know what is right for you and your family and to get direction for them, let alone all others coming to you. I recently heard that some bishops recommend to women who’s husbands are struggling with pornography that they should get some provocative lingerie and work harder to be sexy for their husbands. If that isn’t the worst counsel you can give a woman in that situation I don’t what is. A woman needs to trust what the Lord teaches her and tells her over the bishop’s counsel in that situation IMO. That is just one example of when a bishop is missing the mark and possibly making a situation worse rather than better. I think the best approach is to trust in what you feel the Lord wants you to do, taking the bishop’s counsel to the Lord of course, but if you still feel the best approach is your own original feelings then go with that. We have to be able to have a personal relationship with the Lord and not rely on others to discern what He is saying to us.

  11. Anyone looking for a good read about hearing the voice of God should read the classic American gothic novel “Wieland” by Charles Brockden Brown.

    Anciently, people who wanted direction about decisions to be made, or to know whether a particular God had accepted an offering or had granted forgiveness would consult an oracle, soothsayer, witch, or other shaman. Of course, the authors of the Bible didn’t approve, but when the LORD was consulted in the OT, it was usually through some oracular device or chance ritual (urim and thummim, casting lots, etc.) through the intermediary of prophets (shamanistic individuals that communicated with God in trances and such). Sounds a lot like oracles, soothsayers, witches, and shamans, except the prophets believed in Jehovah rather than Baal, Apollo, Asherah, etc. Outside revelation given to prophets for all Israel and Judah, comparatively little is said in the Bible about personal revelation outside the mythic stories of Abraham and family.

    In the NT, Jesus promises the Comforter: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Perhaps he’s changing the game here, bring access to God to all people, not just through a prophet, or centered around cultic practices at temples. Who knows for sure. Of course, promise of the Comforter doesn’t say that everyone was going to receive this gift, and, Jesus said that the comforter would help the disciples remember Jesus’ sayings, not direct them in their daily walks. Other NT scriptures talk about the Spirit of God as a sanctifying, purifying, justifying agent, and one that allows good works (healings, prophecies, tongues, etc.) to be made manifest. Other than remembering the words of Jesus or knowing that sins are forgiven, what evidence does the Bible show about the power of God to give regular personal revelation?

  12. jmb275 – “If this is revelation then I would submit that most of us receive it, and it is largely independent of the HG, or church.” Well, of course, JS didn’t have the HG when he had the FV, right? Paul didn’t have the HG on the road to Damascus. Arguably, Alma the Younger did, but due to sin wasn’t worthy at the time. I suppose we could think of the HG as an enhancer or a lens cleaner on our side. If revelation is God uncovering something that is hidden, it also requires unbiased human perception on our side to perceive it or receive it with clarity.

    Aaron Reeves: “On the situation offered by James. I would argue that a Bishop has no right in such matters and a father does by default regardless of their spiritual persuasion. However, above all these is the girl herself.” I totally agree. When James posed the question my immediate thought was “neither” because the girl will be the one whose opinion is the one that really matters in this situation. If she seeks counsel, that’s her deal. I would guess she would care what her father thinks, but her own feelings could trump that. The bishop, even if he were handsome and single, would probably not figure into her thoughts unless he had some closer relationship to the situation. 😉

    I agree that we tend to look to our leaders for too many detailed matters that are very personal in nature. Some leaders (although not most in my experience) also like to overstep a little by enforcing their personal opinions as counsel they expect others to follow (along the lines of “these glasses really help me see better, so they’ll help everyone see better!”) Personally, I can dismiss most of that as irrelevant to me, but when I’m asked to do something very directly, and it’s no great sacrifice on my part to comply, I generally comply because I think it helps me be more humble and open-minded. If I were asked to do something I truly felt was wrong (not just silly and inconsequential), I would respectfully explain my position. In my experience, most leaders will relent when given a reasonable explanation of one’s personal feelings.

  13. #7 –

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments. As this post alludes, Bishops already have enough trouble officiating as judges over strict ecclesiastical matters to try and get into the issues of “who ward members should marry”, etc. A close relative was having a hard time about two issues, one should she marry her boyfriend, two should she go to college or stay home and have children (tenatively). Her parents, who are both well educated and experienced, provided her with some reasonable advice. However the whole family, including the parents placed greater emphasis that she ought to get the Bishops perspective on the matter. I’m not sure what advice he gave, and in all probability it may have been reasonable as well, yet the whole thing got me wondering about lay clergy. I have absolutely no reason to believe that the Bishop of my ward has any better take on most issues then I what I could surmise on my own, or wrangle out of the few confidants in my life. Going to my Bishop would be no more wise than seeing any of my neighbors for the types of things that you just don’t lay before casual acquantences. I was really surprised to learn of my relative’s almost completely disregard for the good advice of her parents over the unknown quality she could get from her Bishop, who on all accounts is just “the guy down the street”.

  14. To my thinking, there is personal revelation and corporate revelation. One of the struggles of early leadership in the church was reconciling the necessity to have cohesive top-down leadership with the founding principle of continuing revelation. Early on, Oliver Cowdrey and other leaders received revelation and thought to make that part of the Book of Commandments, only to eventually get slapped down by Joseph, much to their chagrin. With respect to revelation intended to provide direction and leadership to the church as a corporate body, it makes sense to have a singular point of delivery – supported by the notion of common consent.

    On a personal level, no such common consent would be needed, similarly there would be no requirement to transcribe revelation into understandable, english prose, when it may have been received in a series of feelings, multiple answers to prayers, or other form not so easily translatable.

    In either case, however, ANY revelation must be subject to scrutiny and ultimately rejection based on common sense and traditional notions of right and wrong. This scrutiny on the corporate level is the doctrine of common consent, and on the personal level, is probably common sense and basic morality.

    Consider these extremes: if someone comes to you and says they have had a vision or a dream where God told them via revelation to volunteer for a soup kitchen 3 nights a week. Is that revelation from God or from man? Same person comes to you and says they received a revelation from God in a dream that they were to kill their child (ala Abraham). Do you consider that revelation more or less divine? On what do you form this basis? Even if you were the one with these dreams – would you be more likely to act upon one or the other? Would you be willing to assume you may have a mental illness or some sort of disease affecting your brain if you received the latter revelation as opposed to the former.

    God may be giving us revelation and information that is contrary to our morals, values, and common sense. He may be trying to force us down a whole new moral paradigm. But if He is, He needs to do it in a manner other than dreams and visions, because these can be too easily affected by physical stimuli (drugs, lack of sleep, trauma, disease) and without more, common sense says that revelation which goes counter to common sense and common morality, must be disregarded. The alternative is too dangerous.

  15. “Do we as a church feel that a worthy priesthood holders/bishops inspiration or revelation trumps an inactive, agnostic or non members fathers advice or what he feels as inspiration/revelation for his family.

    For example his daughter is dating someone deep in his waters he disapproves of. The bishop on the other hand feels they are well suited and would make a great eternal companionship.

    Who’s advice or personal revelation trumps?”

    Interesting to see that most of you side with the Father- Its only because MMers are progressive thinkers. In reality I think most members and the daughter would side on the religious leaders views to the detriment of the father!

  16. “But if we’re seeking a revelatory answer, assuming that what the Bishop says is definitive, I think we’ve crossed the line into trusting in the “arm of flesh” as it were.”

    I think there is truth to this. We are admonished to study the problems out for ourselves. Sometimes the despair of sin makes it necessary for a leader to lift those clouds away through loving counsel.

    I remember a great singles conference talk by Innis Hunter, who was in a bad marriage with young children, as I recall. She reports that the Bishop told her that he usually doesn’t give this advice, but he felt it appropriate to counsel her to seek a divorce. At the time I heard this talk, it hadn’t been that long since Howard W. Hunter died and left her a widow. She looked back on that advice as being revelatory for her.

    What about the other end of the spectrum? Those who receive revelation for themselves that they do not need to see the bishop about misdeeds that “usually” are handled with priesthood authority?

  17. 16. Rigel – I see the role of a Bishop in this regard as helping another person receive the blessings of the atonement. IMO, one of the problems I have experienced is feeling forgiven or in getting perspective on my relationship with God, Bishop’s have helped me with that. So if a person does not feel that need then I don’t think they need to go see a Bishop. God forgives the person, not the Bishop. However, I guess I would say that if the misdeed has negatively affected other people then that might be a different matter.

    14. Beware – You comments around extremes got me thinking about Lowell Bennion’s statement that if a scripture (and we could insert revelation here) was counter to the nature of God he would dismiss it as being the product of people. This is difficult in the case of Abraham like you cite, Lowell might then say the whole story is incorrect.

  18. This is an interesting question. In my opinion (and it is just my opinion), I equate all revelation (both spiritual and “non-spiritual”) with the Holy Ghost, regardless of whether one is a member of the Mormon church or not.

    Personally, I think that we as Mormons give the Holy Ghost a far more limited role than He deserves. I was once speaking with an old bishop about some of my spiritual experiences before I was baptized Mormon. I recall his saying that none of the experiences I had had after the age of 8 could actually be FROM the Holy Ghost – since I wasn’t Mormon yet. I disagree with this notion entirely. In my opinion, we we don’t really understand the line between the power and gift of the Holy Ghost as well as we like to think we do. My experiences before I was Mormon were no less powerful/meaningful/interpretable than those I have had since being confirmed – some have been even less so. In addition, I have been to too many other churches where I have felt what I equate with the Spirit, and have had too many non-LDS friends who are faithful members of their own churches and are receiving revelation in their own lives.

    So, in my mind it breaks down into 1) I am completely wrong and its a non-religious phenomena at play, 2) the Holy Ghost and light of Christ are nearly synonymous, or 3) God really reaches out to every seeker of truth, through what I regard as the Holy Ghost, regardless of their religious persuasion.

    Steve S (#11) – Your comments on OT revelatory experiences are pretty interesting. I recently had my non-Mormon sister tell me about her personal “conversion” to Catholicism. Her description of the HG was identical to what a Mormon might describe it as – a peaceful feeling inside, and her confusion removed. However, the method by which she received this revelation was quite unorthodox. I think God works with what we give Him.

  19. To me revelation is inspiration and can be received through self-exploration or a higher power. Also, a revelation to the individual will always trump revelation received from others for that individual, no exceptions.

  20. And I agree with what many have said so far – in my personal experiences, personal revelation trumps anything someone else says you should do. However, personal revelation is just that – personal.

  21. So does anyone have any input about my earlier question: “Other than remembering the words of Jesus or knowing that sins are forgiven, what evidence does the Bible show about the power of God to give regular personal revelation?”

    I ask because the BOM and D&C have a lot more to say on the subject of revelation and the Holy Ghost, but I’m hard-pressed to find details about how this works from biblical sources. And yet, these topics are not exclusive to Mormonism–plenty of other Christian faiths have developed theological positions and practical directions about them, drawing upon the Bible exclusively.

    Anybody care to bite?

  22. There are Eternal laws that govern reception and understanding / comprehension of revelation. There are an infinite number of levels of the same. Minut degrees of available light and truth are always available throughout the universe and the boundries of this side of the veil. He who desires it, has satisfied the lawful requirements, and then CHOOSES to receive, may. Amen to SteveS that “not exclusive to Mormonism” covers many, and even “all” experiences and exchanges with the infinite and spiritual realms. Pure hearts filled with love……”to the extent of their understanding” and with sincerity can and do have revelations that are true and right. We as humans are always trying to BOX things up in a neat predictable little package that fits into the realm of what WE are thinking and feeling, leaving NO room for the infintesimal range of possibilities that can and do happend accoring to “THE WILL AND PLEASURE OF ALMIGHTY GOD”>
    We CANNOT judge any non-member or another religion for their level of exhange with God. The range of possibilities is between them personally and God who is the respector totally.
    Light attracts light. Love attracts love. and so forth/so on.
    But above it all is LAW and God. Any searching being can access clarity of understanding and truthful answers that are specifically designed JUST for that person, JUST for that situation…JUST in detail for all the parameters of the laws in action in that MOMENT and CONDITION. I am so glad to acknowledge and relax knowing even God is bound by eternal laws! Thank goodness!!!
    That’s my understanding!
    Love to all!

  23. BTC:

    I appreciate very much your comments about needing to be very careful to subject our personal revelatory experiences to rational analysis. But psychologists are still working on a “rational” theory of mind, and would probably be quick to say that we are not so much rational beings as rationalizing beings.

    Sometimes the things that bubble up out of our subconscious in dreams can be even more rational than the things we tell ourselves are really the product of logical thought. In other words, the cerebral cortex isn’t any more immune to distortion than other parts of the mind/brain system.

    And we have even less of a theory of how the mind/spirit connection works.

  24. #19

    Kate, I am not sure why no one has mentioned this in the post, but does it not say in Moroni 10:5 that, “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”? This to me really leaves little room for interpretation. If it is true the Holy Ghost testifies of its truthfullness. Missionaries use the above scripture all the time to lead investigators to ask about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Many that I taught had a very definite spiritual experience, by following this council” that according to the scripture was received from the Holy Ghost. Membership in the Church is not required to receive a testimony of truthfulness nor to receive revelation. If you ask God, with faith, believing you will receive an answer, you will receive one and the Holy Ghost is completely involved.

    I also believe that this relates to all truth, religious or secular. Truth is truth and the Holy Ghost testifies of it.

    As for asking a Bishop for counsel…it depends on the Bishop. However, in any situation that does not involve personal worthiness, the Bishop is just another guy giving the best counsel that he can. His calling is as a judge in Israel not as a counselor to the ward. I have asked the Bishop for direction in decisions at times and in every case it was because the Bishop was my best friend before being a Bishop and After. This is the time that a Bishop should give counsel and in regards to worthiness issues. Otherwise, go to a professional if it is important or work on receiving your own answer.

    D&C 130:23 A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. As another example of receiving revelation from the Holy Ghost and not necessarily having the gift.

    I believe that most Bishops mean well. I do think, however, they often get involved in things that are slightly out of their purview.

    James – I would hope that a daughter would have enough love and respect for her father that his counsel would hold weight. But, in the end if the daughter is of age the ultimate decision is her’s and it becomes a parents responsibility to support and live with the decision, and be available should it end up being wrong and praising when it turns out correct.

  25. RobertM. You’re an oasis in a misty world. I didn’t notice a single reference to Mor. 10:5 either. And I would add verses 3 and 4 also.

    People. Do you ever pray for your Bishops? Do you ever ask God to strengthen them in dealing with your concerns? Your comments about your Bishops are sad. Your comments about your bishops are disturbing. I think I’ve learned a lesson from all this. I’m going to start praying for my Bishop.

    Divine revelation is the only kind of revelation. If there are others they don’t hold a candle to the divine kind. In the quest for truth, there are only four personages in the universe; God, the Father, God, the Son, God, the Holy Spirit, and you. Nobody else counts. Experience and/or position in the Church mean nothing to me.

    If you haven’t had divine revelation, then you know nothing. And any knowledge you think you have will be used by you to glorify yourself. You will ‘deny the power theirof’.

  26. Rich, you left out the Bishop in your list. 🙂

    Fwiw, I have to wonder if you were reading the same post and thread as I just did. I have absolutely no clue what prompted your comment. It just doesn’t match what everyone has said in this thread.

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