Revelation: Two Talks with Two Themes

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 244th week, and we’re covering the Saturday morning session of the October 1989 General Conference. 

I enjoyed Elder Faust’s and Elder Packer’s talks, and especially the two of them together. In Continuous Revelation, Elder Faust pointed out that “over the centuries revelation from prophets has come incrementally” and that “much of it is not spectacular.” He also cited President John Taylor, who said:

Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I read these kinds of comments as gentle concessions, almost. Joseph Smith produced revelations like water coming from a firehose, and it’s hard for me not to feel a little disappointed that revelations have seemed to come so sparsely from the prophets who have succeeded him. I need these little reminders that Joseph Smith is a special case, and not the baseline. (I also feel as though the pace of revelation has quickened under President Nelson, although that might just be because I’m paying more attention in recent years.)

Elder Faust had a couple more interesting things to say. On the stern side, he said:

I do not believe members of this church can be in full harmony with the Savior without sustaining his living prophet on the earth, the President of the Church. If we do not sustain the living prophet, whoever he may be, we die spiritually. Ironically, some have died spiritually by exclusively following prophets who have long been dead. Others equivocate in their support of living prophets, trying to lift themselves up by putting down the living prophets, however subtly.

It’s interesting to me that in the same talk he also cited Brigham Young’s famous fear about the Saints relying too much on prophets:

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.

This is such an interesting tension to me! Tensions like this have long been the most compelling parts of the Restored Gospel, and have shaped much of how I view my faith. We come to Earth to grow. Growth is always accompanied by stress, strain, and discomfort. These two injunctions aren’t actually contradictory–we can sustain the prophets and think for ourselves at the same time–but they definitely pull in different directions. They subject us to stress, strain, and a little mental and spiritual discomfort. Not everything that is uncomfortable is related to beneficial growth. Sometimes we just stub our toe and it hurts for no profound reason.

But when I see commandments that deliberately pull us into tension, I think: yes, that’s the point. That’s where the growth comes from.

Elder Packer’s talk, Revelation in a Changing World, was a good companion to Elder Faust’s. He picked up a similar theme of downplaying the drama surrounding revelation, saying specifically that:

The patterns of revelation are not dramatic. The voice of inspiration is a still voice, a small voice. There need be no trance, no sanctimonious declaration. It is quieter and simpler than that.

He also said something so surprising to me that I shared it immediately on Facebook (I do that with a lot of interesting quotes). It was:

Things of the Spirit need not—indeed, should not—require our uninterrupted time and attention. Ordinary work-a-day things occupy most of our attention. And that is as it should be. We are mortal beings living in this physical world.

Spiritual things are like leavening. By measure they may be very small, but by influence they affect all that we do.

This is an important point for those of us seeking to live lives of sincere discipleship and consecration… but also trying to navigate our day jobs so that our family can eat. It resonates with another of my favorite religious themes: that the sacred and the mundane can coexist.

I still remember a tense argument I had when I was studying a traditional martial art in high school. Most of the students were much older, and I got into an argument with one of them in a long car ride back from a teaching session in D.C. because I made the statement that all experiences could be spiritual if we had the right mindset, and he thought that was stupid. More than two decades later, I think I had that one right. 

Of course it’s important to go to sacred spaces and seek special, separate sacred experiences, but if we’re living our lives right, we’re also going to find spiritual experiences in unexpected, ordinary moments of day-to-day living. Especially in our homes and with our families. Sacred experiences don’t have to take place in special times and places. They can–and do, for those who are keeping an eye out–happen in the most ordinary circumstances imaginable: giving you kids a bath, sitting down to a meal with family, drifting off to sleep in the knowledge that those you love most are all quietly slumbering under the same roof. These are the most profound experiences a human can have.

One thought on “Revelation: Two Talks with Two Themes”

  1. “They can–and do, for those who are keeping an eye out–happen in the most ordinary circumstances imaginable.”

    Yes. And this is so comforting, because if they didn’t, how often could you count on having them? For someone in the thick of life with a busy family…not very often, even if we ARE seeking out quiet time alone when possible. If I didn’t have access to spiritual experiences when giving the kids a bath or preparing dinner, I might not get to have them at all!

Leave a Reply