Prophets, Agency, and Revelation




Henry David Thoreau in his essay Civil Disobedience scoffed at public speaking:

“There are orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter.”

Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience (p. 26).

My remarks today may not “settle the much-vexed questions of the day”, but I hope they further the conversation.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence. We dwell in mortal tabernacles in a fallen world, while our God resides in the heavens.  We are separated and alone.  For some reason, God sees fit to require faith in our mortal existence.  He requires us not to know.  He requires uncertainty and ambiguity.

Though residing afar, we believe that God involves themselves in humanity’s doings.  To Nephi, the Angel described Christ’s mortal mission as “The condescension of God.”  Revelation is the primary medium of divine interaction.  The psalmist sung, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

Much of publicly recorded revelation came by way of prophets past and present. By equal standing before our Father’s eyes, all are entitled to divine communication.  There is no doctrine declaring prophetic privilege in receiving divine experience and knowledge.

Our potential for revelation

Joseph Smith taught this.

“Mormonism is Truth… One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may. (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199)

In fact if we do not do so, “we shall not come out true Mormons.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316)

From the very early days of the restoration, Joseph encouraged all to enjoy the experiences that he had.  In November of 1831 he dictated 68th section of D&C.

2 And, behold, … this is an example unto all those … ordained unto this priesthood…

4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

This is a liberal distribution of revelatory authority by God.

In preparing for the Kirtland temple:

“All who are prepared and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Savior will see Him in the solemn assembly”

He further taught,

” … We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now.  …[they] are to be poured…upon the weak, obscure and despised ones of the earth.”

“even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.”

Finally, in D&C 93

1…every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

These teachings are not unique to our dispensation.  Anciently, God also desired the children of Israel to commune with Him.

Exodus 19

10 ¶And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people,and sanctify them to day and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

The Hebrews, out of fear, did not presence Jehovah. However, after some days, a group of elders did.

Exodus 24

9 ¶Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:

10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.

In sum, we as children of God possess the potential to pierce through the veil and know all.

Need for Humility and Love from Leaders

By social necessity, churches are organized as vehicles of community, service, and support.  Organization require leadership.

D&C 121:39 teaches that “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”  In this revealing verse, the Lord does not exclude ecclesiastical authority.  In our Mormon faith, leaders are required to be humble.  This is an attractive aspect of our church.

The prophet Joseph said

“What art thou, O man, but dust? And from whom receivest thou thy power and blessings, but from God?”

Peter taught “Neither be lord over God’s heritage, but be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)

Christ requires a distressing degree of love and understanding. His doctrine is intended not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable. (paraphrase Harold B. Lee)

In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, one character states

“The more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular…I would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days.”

The Father Zosima boldly responded,

“For active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams.  Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching….  Whereas active love is labor and perseverance.”

Prophets and the Scriptures guide but do not provide all the answers

The prophets do not have a monopoly on revelation.  “It is not meet that [God] commands in all things.”  Although the leaders of the church are the only ones with the authority to direct the church, hold priesthood keys, and administer the ordinances, it is possible for individuals to be privy to enlightenment and revelation that the brethren have not yet received.   To believe otherwise would limit our potential to acquire truth and knowledge.

Bruce R. McConkie

“With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances.”

“Are the General Authorities Human?” address delivered at the Institute of Religion Forum at the University of Utah, October 28, 1966

It is a feature of God’s plan that we exercise our agency and bear personal accountability for our choices. Too often, we do not “study it out in our minds.”  We are too quick to hear and accept unquestioningly.

Elder Uchtdorf taught,

“Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”

February 2012 Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting

“We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true.”


Hugh B. Brown sermonized,

“I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent—if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.”

“One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking. More thinking is required, and we call upon you students to exercise your God-given right to think through every proposition that is submitted to you and to be unafraid to express your opinions…Preserve, then, the freedom of your mind in education and in religion, and be unafraid to express your thoughts and to insist upon your right to examine every proposition. We are not so much concerned with whether your thoughts are orthodox or heterodox as we are that you shall have thoughts…Progress in maturity may be measured by our acceptance of increased self-responsibility and an increased sagacity in decision making.”

“Final Testimony,” An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999)

The Lord revealed in D&C 58

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded … the same is damned.

To this scripture, I add that relying on the powers of the atonement to make things right in the eternities when we hold the power to make things right today is immoral and slothful.



Prophets and scriptures often leave it to us to figure out what is right, and what is wrong.

Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

But then verse six offers the opposite:

6 Do NOT answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be a fool yourself.

Both directives next to each other mean that we are intended to study, internalize, think, and weigh the appropriateness of each response for each situation, making mistakes, but growing in the process.


In 1979 Bruce C. Hafen, president of Rick’s college gave a masterful talk titled “On Dealing with Uncertainty”.

I will quote liberally from it.

“Christ taught, “In me ye might have peace” (John 16:33).  And the angels, in announcing his coming, sang “On earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). “For unto us a child is born … the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Yet elsewhere he said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

These passages illustrate that even though God has given us correct principles by which we are to govern ourselves, it is not always easy to apply them to particular situations in our lives.  The people on the extreme sides of these questions convey great certainty about what should be done. However, I think some of these people would rather be certain than right.

It would be helpful simply to be more realistic about life’s experiences, even if that means facing some questions and limitations that leave us a bit uncomfortable.

We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,”… Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.

We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction as they come to us. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels others may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear. Our encounters with reality and contradictions are, in fact, vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding.”


Through God’s prophets, the restoration boldly teaches that God is accessible to all. What a beautiful teaching revealed in our latter days.  What was the price of agency and freedom of thought? A third of our Heavenly Parent’s children and the infinite sacrifice of The Lamb, our Redeemer wrought to satisfy the laws of justice.  Let us honor Christ’s atonement by cherishing our agency and freedom, our most costly gift.



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