The idea that God communicates with mankind challenges some modern sensibilities. A distant God, the thinking goes, is a safe God. And though many religious people believe God spoke to prophets in antiquity, they often limit divine revelation to the past. This puts members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a unique position. Mormons believe “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and … that He will yet reveal many great and important things” (Articles of Faith 1:9).
In its broad meaning, revelation is divine guidance or inspiration; it is the communication of truth and knowledge from God to His children on earth, suited to their language and understanding. It simply means to uncover something not yet known. That religion depends on revelation is nothing new. A crucial lesson of scripture is that human beings tend to neglect the patterns of the past and struggle to discern the perils of the future. People search for God and seek to understand themselves. The traditional role of revelation, given to both individuals and God’s chosen leaders, has been to fill in this picture.
The Bible illustrates different types of revelation, ranging from dramatic visions to gentle feelings — from the “burning bush” to the “still, small voice.” Mormons generally believe that divine guidance comes quietly, taking the form of impressions, thoughts and feelings carried by the Spirit of God.
Most often, revelation unfolds as an ongoing, prayerful dialogue with God: A problem arises, its dimensions are studied out, a question is asked, and with sufficient faith, God leads us to answers, either partial or full. Though ultimately a spiritual experience, revelation also requires careful thought. God does not simply hand down information. He expects us to figure things out through prayerful searching and sound thinking.
Mormons affirm that just as individuals strive to communicate personally with God, so He communicates personally with them. He is interested in the course of their lives and willing to give the direction they need. To those who seek and accept His guidance, He responds. To experience revelation in one’s life is to sense God’s presence and to feel His affections.
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Here are some snapshots of what revelation looks like among Latter-day Saints. At home, a mother and father kneel in prayer and receive inspiration on how to raise their children, where to lay down their roots, which employment to seek or ways they can help their neighbors. In a congregation, a local bishop prays to know which parishioners to select as leaders and teachers, how to put food on the table of a family who is out of work or how to help youth navigate a confusing world.
The same process works for senior Church leadership. Mormons consider themselves fortunate to have experienced and inspired leaders, including the First Presidency — consisting of a president with two counselors — and a Quorum of Twelve Apostles. These senior leaders receive revelation for the Church as a whole on matters that range widely. This inspiration helps them govern the Church’s affairs and discern the current needs of its members. In preparation for their addresses to the Church during worldwide general conferences, speakers (both men and women) prayerfully seek insight to know the matters they should address. By fervently searching to know the will of God, they open themselves to the understanding that He provides. Church leaders are blessed with revelation in their capacity as Church leaders, just as individuals are enlightened in the context of their own lives. Revelation permeates the entire Church — bottom, top and in between.
Like a river guided by its banks, revelation received by Church leadership flows through an orderly channel. Doctrinal, administrative and policy decisions, for example, are carefully weighed against historical precedent. The foundational revelations and teachings of the Church serve as the basis for decision-making. Church leaders work outward from the already established foundation of scripture, teachings, practices and traditions and chart a course for the future.
Church governance at all levels is deliberated in councils. This consultative model ensures collaboration and a thorough airing of ideas and diverging views. Major decisions are not made unless there is unanimity.
In addition, religious authority must be exercised “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). Leaders and individuals in the Church understand that making inspired decisions and exercising authority are sacred privileges and that “the powers of heaven” can be handled only by “the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36).
In keeping with the past, this revelatory process continues. Mormons find agreement with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who urged divinity students to teach “that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.” Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent.”