Saturday, February 24, 2007

Supremacy of Revelation

One of the more interesting ideas in By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens is the idea that the Book of Mormon introduces a form of revelation that is rejected by most Western religions. He states that almost all Christians have described the word “Revelation” as a metaphorical transmission of God’s revealing Himself. There is no actual concrete information that is given to a person who contacts the Divine entity. The argument seems to be that to claim a direct communication of actual words is to 1) ascribe anthropomorphism to God who is not human and 2) be open to fanaticism and heresy. However, the Book of Mormon explicitly introduces “dialogic revelation” as a true sign of faith and spiritual development. It should be part of the lives of everyone:

The Book of Mormon here becomes a study in contrast. Through chiastic form, thematic structure, numerous textual examples, and a final concluding instance of readerly invitation, the scripture hammers home the insistent message that revelation is the province of everyman. As a consequence, in the world of the Book of Mormon, concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration, mystery find powerful and substantive redefinition. That may well be the Book of Mormon’s most significant and revolutionary – as well as controversial – contribution to religious thinking. The particularity and specificity, the vividness, the concreteness, and the accessibility of revelatory experience – those realities both underlie and overshadow the narrated history and doctrine that constitute the record. The “knowability” of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within the record and invite reenactment outside it. (Givens, pg. 221)

This presents for Mormons a very strong challenge. It is not enough to simply feel good about spiritual experiences and consider us enlightened. Receiving revelation must take a step beyond the metaphorical and become literal. As Joseph Smith explained, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TJS, pg 151). Ultimately, the purpose of “dialogic revelation” is to bring Salvation by bringing us into the very presence of God with the knowledge gained. Again, as Joseph Smith has said, no one can be saved in ignorance. This is more than a prescription to book learning, but direct instruction to search out Heavenly communication for our own eternal welfare. Indeed, it is the key to that most forgotten subject of much speculation; the Second Comforter.

It is often stated by Latter-day Saints that the return of Revelation and Prophets is the central originality of Mormonism. What is perhaps less acknowledged is that personal revelation is as important a theological teaching as any corporate claim of authoritative pronouncements. Of course, it has been taught almost from the beginning that no revelation is accepted outside of a person’s authoritative jurisdiction. That still leaves room for the equally necessary individual communication with the Divine. Despite what Givens says about the Bible having almost no discussion of personal revelation, Mormons often quote Numbers 11: 24-29 as instructive:

24 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.

25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.

28 And Joshua the son of Nun ,the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.

29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

With so much emphasis on Revelation, there is still less practical applications observable in the lives of Latter-day Saints. This is not to say that many don’t hold the concept in high esteem as theory. Yet, when asked what was the last revelation a person remembers having, many if not most Mormons would probably point to the time they gained a testimony or a missionary story. Two possibilities are that revelation is not recognized when received or it is not easy to obtain. Considering the importance placed on communicating with God, it might be time to practice recognizing the intimations of the Spirit in a more "enthusiastic" tradition. Not a simple task, but essential to Salvation.

1 comment:

Tigersue said...

That is a very interesting post. I think you are right that many do not recognize revelation when it comes.
Sometimes I know I don't, but I recognize it latter in an after thought.

Perhaps it is as much that we take it for granted, that we don't realize it on a daily basis.