Kimberly White is the co-author of the recently released book, The Last Safe Place: Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times. It is available in paperback, kindle, and audiobook formats. CLICK HERE to learn more. 

A friend once told me he no longer believed that our prophets are really prophets in the “see the future and speak for God” sense, only in the administrative sense. When I asked why, he pointed to an issue on which the prophets had issued a statement. “Look,” he said, “the fact is ….” And he went on to explain all the reasons why his preferred approach was the right one. They were good reasons, upheld by good motivations, and intelligently presented and argued. “If they can’t see that,” he concluded, “they can’t really be prophets.”

Most of us have been in his shoes, or known someone who was. About some issue or controversy, we thought carefully, read a lot, talked to people we respect and trust, and eventually reached a conclusion we felt good about—and then the prophets said something that completely contradicted this solid and sincere conclusion and undid all our research and effort! We are left wondering how they could say such a thing—“Don’t they know about this?” or “Haven’t they read that?” Many take the route my friend took, concluding that, if the prophets don’t even know the things he knows that led to developing the opinion he has, they can’t really be prophets.

In all this, notice what is happening. We are first developing conclusions and opinions, and then judging the truthfulness and reliability of the prophets on how well their statements agree with our opinions. But is this the best way to determine if a person is really a prophet?

–(image created by Jeremy White)

The Lord describes his prophets as a watchman on a tower, and this image is significant. A tower is a raised structure that gives the watcher a different perspective than the rest of the community can have. The tower allows the watchman to see further than others can, and to see over the tops of buildings, hills, and other obstacles that block the view from the ground.

If the perspective of the watchman on the tower were no different from the perspective of the people on the ground, he would serve no purpose. It is precisely because he sees things differently that he is important.

Imagine a group of people who were afraid of an attack from a bear, and so sent a lookout to the top of a tower to see where the bear was coming from. Meanwhile, they talked about the potential attack, comparing notes and ideas, and decided together that the bear would probably come from the south. Having so decided, they pointed their defenses and weapons toward the south. A few moments later, the watcher climbed down from the tower and told them he has seen the bear coming from the north.

What should the group do?

Obviously, they should turn their defenses and weapons toward the north. If they wasted time arguing with the watchman, saying “No, they have to be coming from the south, because of this, this and this!” we would think they were profoundly stupid people. That is, after all, what they send the watchman up there for in the first place—to see for sure the things they could only guess about. It is nonsensical to send someone up to see what’s going on and then ignore them if they come down with different information than you expected. The tower is for things being different than we expect.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking things through and coming to conclusions while we wait for the watchman’s report, and clear-thinking people will certainly sometimes reach the right conclusion without input from the lookout.

But the whole point of a lookout tower is that the point of view from up high is more accurate than the point of view from the ground. If I’m on the ground and someone else is up on the tower, my best thinking—however good and well-informed it is!—will always be less accurate than his clear line of sight.

When we conclude that prophets are wrong, or “not really prophets”, on the evidence that their statements contradict our opinions, we are like the people who send a watchman up to a tower and then ignore him when he tells them where the enemy is coming from.

When we work our way through this life, trapped in our own limited brains, subject to time and disease and cognitive errors, we should be very suspicious of anyone who claims to be a prophet but who says the things we already agree with. A person whose sayings are always comfortable, and always agree with our existing opinions, is by definition someone who shares our perspective. The very comfortability and familiarity of their opinions is a sign that, like us, they haven’t been up on the tower at all.

So I would say to my friend, and to any and all of us who are surprised to hear the prophets contradict our well-intentioned and carefully thought-out opinions: Contradiction is what prophets are for. We can’t judge prophets against our own best thinking, because the Lord sent them specifically to contradict our best thinking when our best thinking is wrong and we can’t see it.

It is utterly irrational to say “They can’t be prophets because their statement/policy makes no sense to me.” That’s like saying “There can’t be a bear if I can’t see one.” Judging a prophet by how well he conforms to our opinions is as silly as judging a tower watchman by how well his perspective conforms to the view from the ground.

The way to judge whether or not someone is a true prophet will come down to the confirmation of the Spirit, supported by the testimony of witnesses and of revealed scripture. But it will never hinge on how closely that person’s statements conform to my own personal opinions about things.

How can we know the prophets are truly prophets? This, and many other questions and issues relating to prophets in the latter days, is answered in The Last Safe Place: 7 Principles for standing with the prophets in troubled times available here.