Friday, May 11, 2012

Do Prophets See God Face-to-Face - and Would They Tell Us If They Did?

A friend asked me once why our modern prophets don't talk about face-to-face visits with God - and he then added, "Like ancient prophets did".  The following was my response to him, to the best of my recollection:

1) I think in our day, such statements (even if totally true) would cause such ridicule and scorn within the world-wide media that they would do more damage to the Church than good.

2) I think the focus in our day is much more on gaining a personal witness of things and not relying on the witness of others than it was in the beginning of the Church. I think that has to be the case as a religion (or any organization) grows and matures. The beginning of almost anything can be grand and epic and chaotic and confrontational, but for it to sustain growth and mature the "radicalness" must give way to stability and steadiness - and claims to have seen and talked with God face-to-face don't fit stability and steadiness.

3) I think such statements (even if totally true) would create an expectation among believers that would lead to intense efforts to see God literally face-to-face - and implicit ranking of righteousness of the apostles by the general membership based on who said they had seen God thusly. That's not a good situation.

4) Finally and foundationally, there are almost NO claims of seeing God, the Father, face-to-face in our canonized scriptures, and there are very few claims of seeing the pre-mortal Jehovah or the resurrected Christ (especially after the initial post-resurrection visits to groups), face-to-face either - at least that are recorded in such a way as to completely rule out visions rather than actual visitations.

Think about this:

When in the entire history of our canonized scripture do we have accounts of face-to-face interaction with God, the Father?

Adam: the beginning of mankind (but only in the Garden of Eden - pre-mortality, if you will)
Moses: the beignning of the creation of the nation of Israel (and, based on our understanding, this was Jehovah - not the Father)
Jared: the beginning of the divine settling of the promised land, if you will (again, this was Jehovah)
Jesus: the Mount of Transfiguration (implied only as a physical visit) 

What other prophets in our scripture have, without question, written about seeing God face-to-face - not in a vision, but actually face-to-face? Look at the following: 

Nephi and Jacob: the beginning of the Nephite civilization? (in vision)
Jesus: the beginning of Christianity? (We have no clear, unambiguous record of Jesus seeing God, the Father face-to-face in mortality.)
Paul: the beginning of the missionary focus of Christianity? (in vision)
Joseph Smith: the beginning of the Restoration? (In the case of the Father, it appears that this was in a vision, not face-to-face - thus, "The First Vision".)

Notice something? Every instance in our canon that is explicitly face-to-face is in an Old Testament time period or setting. Maybe this is one of those "as far as it is translated correctly" issues - or maybe it is that those who see God face-to-face simply don't talk about it. I don't know.

Thus, I don't think it's how God generally works, and I think if He does appear thus to someone He probably adds the "go and tell no man" command to most of the visits.

Just my opinion, obviously, but it's how I see this issue right now.


Anonymous said...

Reading the beginning of your post made me think of my scripture reading. I am in the middle of Ezechiel and I find it very interesting and complementing what you wrote.
Even in those times a personal revelation was sought for and anyone could claim to be inspired, just like today, but the difference was who was speaking out of the desire of their own heart and wishes and who was speaking out of God's will.

We had elections last week end and it went reeeeeally bad on the internet and even between young adults of the church. Each side pretending that if you're a good mormon you have to be a conservative or a liberal. But at least we could blame their youth for the hot temper. The worse for me was when someone from my generation pretty much claimed that he had a personal revelation that "this" candidate was the right one for our country. I did not comment because things are tensed between me and his wife and they don't know how to separate their lives. I did not want to say anything that would be interpreted as an aggression.
Anyway eventually some members told him that personal revelations are meant to be kept personal or at least not shared on FB.
I know this man is super sincere but I also know that this man and his wife are can I say? Mmmmmmm Let's say that the only time I asked for a blessing I made the mistake to tell him what it was for and "THE SPIRIT TOLD HIM I WOULD BE GRANTED WHAT I ASKED A BLESSING FOR". First I was asking a blessing to help me get it, not to get a promise I would get it and second I never did and will never.
Anyway this is just to tell you that reading Ezechiel makes me realize that we are always thinking that "in the past this and this happened" when the purpose of God seems to always have been to me to grow through developing our potential in great part through developing our communication with Him.
Because to do so we have to let go of many things we have the feeling we can't function without. And actually we are right, we can't function without those things and this is exactly the point: to stop functioning as human being and start functioning as divine beings and to do so we have to become our own personal prophet and learn to let go of what human beings think is a true evidence of righteousness and inspiration such as seeing God face to face.

That was long.

Anonymous said...

To me, it's common sense. An apostle is a special witness of Christ. A witness' whole purpose is to testify about what they have seen. It seems strange to suggest that our 12 witnesses are supposed to keep quiet. Especially if the reason is fear of ridicule. (Consider the great and spacious building.)

Also, I don't know just what your friend was getting at, but for me, I don't care if it's a vision, or face to face,or just a voice-what's important is that a prophet speaks for God. That he says, Thus saith the Lord, or some equivalent. B/c that's what ancient prophets did. And that's what JS did. I don't see this with our church leaders though.

larryco_ said...

Papa: I have to confess that this is a sensitive issue for me. Throughout scriptural history, individuals have boldly stood forth to declare: "I Have Seen...!" These extrinsic visitations (Jesus, angels, etc., as opposed to intrinsic promptings of the Holy Ghost) have often been foundational in the development of God's work on the earth. Yet such visitations are not spoken of by modern-day prophets and apostles, even though rank-and-file members often take it for granted that such events are taking place. When you break down the titles that 15 gentleman carry on this earth - prophets, seers, revelators, special witnesses for Jesus Christ, (powerful designations indeed!) - it is completely understandable why members would think that extrinsic exchanges are taking place.

But I don't believe they are; and, as much as I admire your perspective, I can't accept any of your arguments for why they aren't.
I saw an interview once, conducted by an individual from a different faith, with Elder Neal A. Maxwell. The interviewer tried 3 different times to get Elder Maxwell to state whether he or any of his fellow brethren had seen heavenly messengers and to define prophecy and revelation. What Elder Maxwell came up with, both in explanation and example, was very similar to what a lowly person such as I might receive as an elders quorum president trying to decide on a first counselor.

Yet, visions from the Father aside, personal visitations from Jesus or heavenly angels have been part and parcel of religious figures throughout the scriptures. I mean, Laman and Lemuel had an angel visit them, and even I am a teensy bit more righteous than those guys! When the Lord visited Aaron and Miriam, he pointed out that such face-to-face communication was modus operandi for big time prophets like Moses. And not just for the prophets who founded dispensations either. Lack of space prevents me from listing them all, but they are multitude, and sometimes to large groups, such as those who witnessed the assension of Jesus as described in Acts.

I've often heard it said that the brethren don't mention these events now because they are "too sacred", "don't want to deal with the ridicule" such statements might bring, are "always commanded not to speak of them", etc. Baloney! (yes, you heard me, I said baloney! Oh, Larry, curb your tongue!). What better time to declare from the housetops what prophets have heard in the ear? Why is this the era when revelations proclaimed by angels to living prophets are to be kept secret? Again, "I Have Seen" has been a resounding theme in the past, and the administration of angels is constantly spoken of as one of the blessings of the Restoration. Tell me that it would not be absolutely electrifying to have President Monson stand in general conference and proclaim "Thus sayeth the Lord", and them share with mankind how this vision was received.

The latter days are to be a time when old men would see visions and young men who dream dreams, because where there is no vision, the people perish. As missionaries, we declare to the world that the heavens are open, and that God speaks with mankind today as he did in ancient times. We point to 19th century Joseph Smith to show this as an example. Were to God that we could also speak of face-to-face encounters with 21st century prophets.

Richard Alger said...

I do believe that God wants us to seek His face. I feel like for myself, it might be better to work out my salvation in trembling looking through a glass darkly.

Not that my life is dark. There are incredible joys and insights.

The time will come for all humankind to meet our maker face to face.

This post relates to this topic.

Papa D said...

I treid to be really clear in the post that I was focusing solely on examples from our scritures that were, unambiguously, actual "visitations" and not "visions" - and that is all this post addresses. I don't think it's fair to castigate modern leaders for not having visitations when such events are incredibly rare in all of our scriptural canon - and essentially non-existent after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. I understand what everyone is saying, but I only will ask this:

What are specific examples in our scriptures of undeniably literal, physical visitations of God, the Father, and/or God, the Son that occurred after the Old Testament times - excepting the groups visitations from Jesus that occurred immediately following the resurrection?

This post does not address angelic visitations, although I might address that in a different post later.

Papa D said...

Rich, I also believe God wants us to seek his frace - but I'm not sure that means actual visitations for everyone, and I'm not sure he wants us to tell everyone about it if it does happen. I think such actual, physical visitations just aren't the way He operates - if our scriptures are to be believed.

Just to emphasize something, even Joseph Smith did not claim an actual, physical visitation from the Father OR the Son in undeniable terms. The description and "title" of his first experience as a teenager describe what I accept as a "vision" - or, as we call it, "The First Vision".

Again, I left open the possibility that they are happening regularly but just not being braodcast openly - and I think we have to leave open that possibility for a very important reason:

We have scriptural precedent for it. "Go and tell no man" is a very direct order, and I can't assume it's the exception that proves the rule.

Anonymous said...

Remember, Brigham Young indicated that he had never seen God in the flesh.

I think that visitations are very rare.