Thursday, January 28, 2010

General vs. Personal Revelation: An Insightful Distinction

Comment #63 by OhMissJulie (emphasis is mine) - I know the prophet is true . . . (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

OK. Here’s how I understand it. The prophet receives guidance and revelation for the whole of the Church. There is a reason that we call them General Authorities. They give general counsel to the general population of the Church. This keeps the Church as a whole on track, and ensures that we stay unified on the macro level, and there are probably a lot of other good reasons for it including some I could name if my head weren’t so foggy at the moment. Personal revelation is just that - it’s personal. It’s revelation for you, just you, only you, and occasionally the people for whom you are responsible, like your children (or your ward if you’re a Bishop, or you’re Relief Society if you’re the RSP, etc.). So when the prophet comes out with his general revelation, it is your job to correlate that with personal revelation. Different kinds of revelation. Everyone should have both, and one cannot take the place of the other.

So, say you have a personal revelation that you shouldn’t consume any more coffee, tea, or alcohol. That’s great and you should follow it; however, it doesn’t apply to anyone except for you until the prophet comes out and says the same thing. Then everyone makes an honest attempt to reconcile the prophet’s words through prayer. They are then accountable for following that revelation. In most cases, they would never have had the opportunity to even receive that revelation had the prophet not had it for them. But let’s say the prophet comes out and says, oh, that everyone should support this amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage in California (for one totally random example). You then seek out personal revelation, and you feel that you should not do that. It doesn’t apply to your life. You are off the hook. Note that in this example the GAs specifically said that every member had to pray and follow their own consciences. You did, so you’re fine.

It’s nuanced, and in the religious context for some reason that makes it troubling, but that’s how I understand it. I think we tend to have a naive view of religion, expecting it to provide us with the kind of absolutes that we know full well don’t exist anywhere else. I do believe that the Lord takes His sense of order very, very seriously, though I don’t really get why, and for that reason church-wide “macro” revelations must come through a prophet. Individual application of those revelations, though, comes through more individual means.

1 comment:

Spencer said...

The beautiful thing is that personal revelation and general revelation will always (ultimately) agree. General revelation should be used as a standard (canon, measuring stick, etc) to which we compare things we feel are revelations. If they do not agree with the general revelations, then they are not from the same source.

Sometimes we forget that it is possible to receive revelation from the adversary. Just ask Sherem and Korihor. The scriptures further state that even the very elect will be deceived. (We can see that all around the blog-iverse.) That is the wonderful thing about having a prophet on the earth. We can know what is Truth and what is not. Sometimes we get ideas that seem to fit, but then they don't coincide with what the Prophets have said. Then is the test of our faith. We must rely on our testimony that the man was called of God to be His Prophet and seek to gain personal revelation of that thing we misunderstood.

It is important to know truth. It is also important to have faith to obey the Prophet (which is ultimately following God) without fully understanding why. Adam didn't know why he was offering sacrifice other than he was commanded to. We also need to have faith that our leaders are wholeheartedly seeking to know the will of God. And if they aren't, He will be their judge-not us.