“Agents Unto Themselves”
by W. Jeffrey Marsh
When U. S. President Martin Van Buren, was visiting with the Prophet Joseph Smith he asked the prophet, “Wherein do we differ in our religion from the other religions of the day? Brother Joseph said, We differed in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (History of the Church, 4:42.)
We believe in revelation. There was a time in our history when it was a crime for us to say that (see History of the Church, 3:47). President George Q. Cannon said, “I do not know that that day has entirely past.” (Journal of Discourses, 22:262-3.) Even so, we literally believe that God speaks to His children.
Revelation is communication from God to man. The ultimate purpose of revelation is to give the faithful the necessary guidance to obtain eternal salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Salvation cannot come without revelation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 160.) God stands revealed or He forever remains unknown. The Prophet Jacob declared, “Behold, how great and marvelous are the words of the Lord; how unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of Him; it is impossible that man should find out all His ways, and no man knoweth of His ways save it be revealed unto him. Wherefore, despise not the revelations of God.” (Jacob 4:8.)
The scriptures indicate that those who score high on the humility scale enjoy a greater outpouring of the Spirit. To President Brigham Young, the Lord declared, “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom….” We tend to assume that we learn wisdom best by studying, by reading books, or attending lectures. But the Lord’s counsel to his prophet was, “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself, and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and that his ears be opened that he may hear, for my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and the contrite.” (D&C 136:32-33.)
President Harold B. Lee shared an experience he had as a stake president which illustrates the important intertwining of humility and spirituality. A man in President Lee’s stake had been excommunicated for immorality. The next morning the man’s brother came to President Lee’s door and said, “I know, by revelation, that my brother is innocent and that you were wrong in excommunicating him.” President Lee said, “May I ask you a few questions?”
He said, “Certainly.” He said, “How old are you?” “Forty-seven.”
“What priesthood do you hold?” He said that he thought that he was a teacher.
“Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?” “No,” he said, “I use tobacco,” which was obvious.
“Do you pay your tithing?” He said, “No, and I don’t intend to as long as that blankity-blank man is the bishop of the ward.” “Do you attend your priesthood meetings?” “No, sir.” “You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?” “No, sir.” “Do you have family prayers?” “No.” “Do you read the scriptures?” “Well my eyes are kind of bad, I can’t read very much.”
Then President Lee pointed to a radio and said, “Inside that radio are dozens of tubes. If one of those tubes starts going bad or weakens, it weakens the signal and I am not able to receive the music or the message as clearly. If several of those tubes go out I can’t get a signal.” And then President Lee added, “We have within our souls something like a counter part to those radio tubes. We have a ‘go to sacrament meeting’ tube, a ‘keep the Word of Wisdom’ tube, a ‘pay your tithing’ tube, a ‘have your family prayers ‘ tube, a ‘read your scriptures’ tube, and the master tube of our whole soul ‘keep yourselves morally clean’ tube. Fifteen of the best living men in our stake prayed last night. They heard the evidence, and every man was united in saying your brother was guilty. Now you who do none of those things, said that you prayed and you got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?”
The man replied, “Well President Lee, I think that I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source.” (Stand Ye In Holy Places, 135-138.)
No doubt, there are false communications from the adversary. But what happens if we pray, in all sincerity, and simply do not seem to get an answer? Why are there times when it seems we do not receive inspiration? Here are four possible reasons to consider (there are undoubtedly others):
First, the Lord expects us to develop our capacity to learn to make wise choices. He allows us agency to make choices on our own. Section 58 declares, “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all the things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; and he receiveth no reward. 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; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves . . . But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.” (D&C 58:26-29.) Often our Heavenly Father allows us the agency to make wise choices on our own, and then expects us to move forward and act in righteousness.
A second reason no answer is likely to come: A person may be seeking guidance in choosing between two alternatives that are equally acceptable to the Lord. In Church history, a group of elders enroute from Missouri to Ohio asked the Lord whether they should travel by boat or by land. The Lord’s answer was, “It mattereth not to me.” (See D&C 60:5; 61:22.) Isn’t that an interesting response from the Lord? The choice was theirs to make. There are other occasions where missionaries in the Doctrine and Covenants were asking which direction they should go, north, east, south, or west? And the answer from the Savior was, “It mattereth not to me.” (D&C 80:3.) Because people living in all directions needed salvation, the Lord was saying, in effect,
A third reason: Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, or maybe even the right question in the wrong way. We may be asking God to make the choice for us, rather than submitting our choice for His approval. When we ask Him to make our decision for us, it means we have not yet made up our own mind. Wouldn’t it be nice, and very easy, if we could simply ask questions like
“Who should I marry?” and have a list of possible choices appear before us. Or, for college-age students to ask, “Which major should I involve myself with? What should I do for a career?” Or for a couple with a young family to ask, “Where should we live?” Until we make a choice, and determine what it is we are seeking, why would we expect the Lord to send a confirmation?
A fourth reason: Perhaps the Lord has already given us the answer, but we have not yet been willing to accept it because it was not the answer we were hoping for, or what we expected.
So what do we do when no answer seems apparent? Church leaders have given some very helpful counsel.
President Boyd K. Packer has said, “Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember you cannot force spiritual things. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer …. Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them. The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12). Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.” (Ensign, Nov, 1979, p. 21.)
President Brigham Young said, “I will now refer you to the scripture, where it reads that we shall be judged according to the deeds done in the body. If I do not know the will of my Father and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement of life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes.” (Journal of Discourses, 3:205.)
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has taught that “Revelations from God – the teachings and directions of the Spirit – are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work our problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in morality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior’s sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening to the still, small voice, the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of His Spirit.” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, March 1997, 14.)
And President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “Usually the Lord gives us the overall objective to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but He expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and His prophets, and then prayerfully act – without having to be commanded ‘in all things.’ This attitude prepares men for godhood….” (Conference Report, April 1965, p. 121.)
Given the times in which we live, it will undoubtedly become increasingly more important to learn to be guided by the light of the Spirit. When it seems as though we are left to ourselves for certain decision-making experiences, that is the time to engage in “good cause[s] and do many things of [our] own free will, [in order to] bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58: ).
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.