You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid.

David - June 28, 2010

A friend shared a story with me yesterday about his favorite uncle that left me both amused and thoughtful. The uncle is a dyed-in-the-wool man of faith; a stake president, solid testimony, the kind of guy to whom the concept of disobedience would never occur. I know the type: A friend and mentor of mine, currently the president of one of the MTCs, fits this description. I’m envious and in awe of such men, for their unpolluted spirits and natural surety of providential collaboration.

Some years ago, the uncle had just finished reading the account of Lehi’s dream, and Nephi’s subsequent personal witness of it. It started him thinking– he wanted to see what they saw. He wanted the vision, too. So he started fasting and praying, approaching the Lord in humble admonition to receive this incredible blessing. For three months he persisted, fasting, praying, knowing if he continued, the Lord would acknowledge his faith. Finally, one night as he knelt in prayer, a voice came to him and said, “All right, I’ll show it to you. But are you prepared for the responsibility that accompanies this knowledge?” My friend’s uncle stopped cold. The gravity of the offer suddenly took on a whole new dimension. He finally answered, “No.”

In a sense, my friend’s uncle’s prayers were answered. The Lord acknowledged there was a vision and He agreed to share it. It was the realization of what accountability came with such celestial familiarity that changed his mind. Frankly, I think he chose wisely, and I believe the Lord expected it, too. To me, it wasn’t a lack of faith; it was more that the uncle recognized the lack of necessity at that stage of his spiritual evolution. Did the choice stunt his progress? Hardly. He isn’t Lehi or Nephi or Joseph Smith; he wasn’t foreordained with the mantle that they had. In such a situation, I would have opted out, too. But then, I’m a coward.

The uncle’s story reminds me of something I witnessed a few years ago (I may have shared this story before; if so, I apologize). I was teaching temple prep to a young couple. The wife was a convert who was approaching her 1-year mark a a member. The husband had been until-recently inactive, and was actively pursuing a career as a rock musician, with long hair and tattoos. Week after week, they came to all the classes, attentive, full of questions and comments. When it came time to invite them to make an appointment with the bishop for their recommend interviews, they responded that they weren’t ready. The wife then frankly explained that they believed everything that was taught was true, and they knew they needed to go to the temple to live together forever and return to Father’s presence. But they weren’t ready to assume the responsibility that went with the covenants. I was simultaneously incredulous of their decision and appreciative of their insight.

Not that I’m comparing the uncle with the couple. In the couple’s case, it was the unwillingness to respond to an invitation. The uncle, on the other hand, made a righteous request on his own that the Lord was willing to grant because of his faith, but first gently implied (in my opinion) that it wasn’t essential.

It’s like my 14-year-old daughter’s new-found passion for learning to drive. Last Saturday I suggested we go to the church parking lot in our little Matrix (which she’s slated to inherit), where we started her education. At first, she got familiar with the controls and pedals. Then she put the car in Drive and, with her foot resting lightly on the brake pedal, she coasted up and down the lot, getting a feel for the wheel as she turned the corners. After a while, I let her touch the gas as she went, starting out nervously but soon getting familiar and more comfortable with the added power and responsibility. I was delighted with how well she progressed, and later that day she took her mom for a ride with her new-found knowledge. Since then, she’s been asking repeatedly to go driving again so she can learn more. Will I continue to teach her? Absolutely. Does that mean if she proves to be suitably adept, I’m taking her out on the road? Absolutely not. Not just because it’s illegal (although that’s a solid enough reason right there), but because the road brings with it so many other elements that could hurt her. As she continues her education, she’s preparing herself for when she is ready, and that’s enough for now. As it is for my friend’s uncle.

Anyway, that’s my take. I may be way off course.

25 Comments »

  1. Great post. While I can kind of relate to the driving story (I specifically remember being in the high school parking lot after taking the car up to 20 MPH, and looking at my father wide-eyed as he told me he drove 80 MPH on the freeway), I think the principle is good.

    I’m just glad you didn’t whip out the oft-quoted-in-sacrament Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

    Comment by brandt — June 28, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

  2. Curious… what “responsibility” do you suppose would have accompanied the knowledge of Lehi’s dream? If it was for personal witness, then what would he be obligated to do with that knowledge? Was there some implication that he would be required to share details of the encounter with others? Because it sounds like he did that anyway…

    Comment by B-rizzle — June 28, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

  3. Very interesting post. I’m with #2, curious as to what would have been required of the man that sought to see Lehi’s vision. Of the Church leaders I have known personally, I can’t really imagine any of them making the same request.

    Comment by MCQ — June 28, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  4. #2, I think the responsibility wouldn’t been sharing the experience with others. I had a similar experience once. There was something (not really important) I wanted to see/know. While praying about it, I realize (not sure if the Spirit prompted me, or just my own thoughts) that if I would receive what I was asking, the experience would take my testimony to a whole new level. Then I would have greater responsibility to live according to it. Kind of unsecure with my testimony at the time, I stopped praying.

    Comment by Niklas — June 28, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  5. I met a woman on my mission who said that several years prior, she had wanted to see the Celestial kingdom. She prayed for that experience for six months and finally it was granted. She described it briefly to us, and we could see it affected her dramatically.

    But she was inactive. That’s why we visited, and it puzzled me. What could possibly draw you away once you saw the prize?

    As for the uncle, I’m not so sure “no” was the correct answer. Perhaps at that time in his progression it was, but Father does want us to seek revelation, so I hope the lesson learned was not “be content with the words you already have” (see 2 Nephi 28:29 and Alma 26:22).

    The ideal answer would be yes to the vision and yes to the responsibility and perfect follow-through with obedience, but we all know how impractical that is for most of us.

    Comment by Thaddeus — June 29, 2010 @ 3:55 am

  6. My take is in agreement with Niklas in #4 and Thaddeus in #5. I understood the “responsibility” to be the necessity of notching up his righteousness according to the more perfect knowledge he was about to receive. Perhaps the nature and content of the vision was a much greater portion of added “meat” than Father’s children usually graduate to, and although the uncle’s faith qualified him for the vision, the consequence of not living up to the added knowledge as well as he had been was a strong possibility.

    Comment by David T. — June 29, 2010 @ 6:56 am

  7. My take is that this post is an invitation to Crazy Town.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — June 29, 2010 @ 7:17 am

  8. I’m with Chino. I think your friend’s uncle was just at the point of hallucination. First I don’t think God is cool wth those kinds of requests; second, I don’t need a “vision” about that kinds of stuff. I have a good imagination and have my own picture of whatever people are talking about. It’s good enough.

    Comment by annegb — June 29, 2010 @ 8:30 am

  9. I’ll grant you, this isn’t the sort of request I would make, but that has more to do with where I feel I am spiritually than what *I* think God thinks is cool. Since joining the Church, I’ve been told that if I lived a righteous life, I’d be entitled to ask for such things. In Joel 2:28 it was foretold that in our time,

    “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions…”

    Also in his talk, How to Get Personal Revelation, Bruce McConkie said,

    “Now I say that we are entitled to revelation. I say that every member of the Church, independent and irrespective of any position that he may hold, is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to entertain angels; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and if we would like to go the full measure, he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of Deity.”

    Perhaps the reason this sounds like an evite to Crazy Town has more to do with the one considering it than its viability.

    Comment by David T. — June 29, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  10. Nah, I think it has more to do with the fact that any sane person would have a hard time squaring your Bruce McConkie quote with your original post.

    Your initial account suggests that even Stake and MTC Presidents quake at the thought of receiving revelation that might come with strings attached (as if there is any other kind), while Bruce suggests that even the rank-and-file are entitled to the same visions and somehow forgets to mention that personally revealed truth is really, really scary.

    For what it’s worth, the Crazy Town thing was a joke. What I really meant is that you come off like a total sycophant.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — June 29, 2010 @ 10:14 am

  11. Chino, that isn’t what I was trying to convey. It’s not so much that he quaked at the thought of receiving revelation with strings attached, but rather that he didn’t fully understand the depth of what he was asking until the Lord brought it to his attention (incidentally, it wasn’t spelled out, but the uncle wasn’t a stake president yet at the time he was going through this exercise). Using your words, I think that variable degrees of personally revealed truth are really, really scary when they exceed our ability to receive them– such as variable degrees of glory will be intolerable for us if we hadn’t reached the level of spiritual growth they were intended for.

    The McConkie quote was more in response to annegb’s comment that God wouldn’t think it cool to request such a thing, and that she doesn’t need a vision because she has a pretty good imagination. The whole McConkie talk, I think, addresses that perspective. For example:

    “I repeat, that the better the intellect, the more we are able to evaluate spiritual principles, and it is a marvelous thing to be learned and educated and have insight and mental capacity, because we can use these talents and abilities in the spiritual realm. But what counts in the field of religion is to become a personal participant in it. Instead of reading all that has been written and evaluating all that all the scholars of all the world have said about heaven and hell, we need to do what the Prophet said: gaze five minutes into heaven. As a consequence, we would know more than all that has ever been evaluated and written and analyzed on the subject.”

    He reiterates a number of times that everyone who receives the gift of the Holy Ghost should aspire to receive personal revelation, and even visions– or more specifically, they should live their lives in such a way as to qualify for such things– because it’s within their ability to do so. To a cynic it could even be seen as an indictment against the membership at large because so few will actually accomplish this.

    Comment by David T. — June 29, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

  12. According to the post, the answer wasn’t “Do you want the responsibility” but “Are you prepared for the responsibility?” Different question. Preparation involves…..um, preparing? He realized he was not fully prepared for the new spiritual knowledge he was requesting.

    Comment by jks — June 29, 2010 @ 2:35 pm

  13. Thanks for being a good sport and responding. Personally, though, I agree with annegb. If I heard someone recounting that story over the pulpit, it would probably get an eye roll from me. Then again, I never was a big fan of McConkie or paeans to super-righteous uncles.

    Comment by Chino Blanco — June 29, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  14. I don’t get. Yes, none of us really “needs” to see the same vision as Lehi or to peek into celestial kingdom or anything like that. But why is it weird if somebody wants to see such things. Nephi did. He was no prophet at the time. And he did see. And when Laman and Lemuel where arguing about the meaning of the vision, Nephi asked if they have asked God. Maybe he think that they too could see the same as he if they would humble themselves.
    We should feel free to pray for all kind of things, IF only we are prepared to receive what we are asking for.

    Comment by Niklas — June 29, 2010 @ 11:49 pm

  15. Chino, an atheist is accustomed to rolling his eyes at our quaint little tales of Joseph Smith’s visions, but that’s just because such things are beyond the realm of possibility in his worldview. Are lay members’ visions outside your worldview, too?

    I’ll admit that not every member’s tale should be believed and not all should be related, but they all merit consideration and evaluation before being discarded.

    I do believe that there are hidden treasures awaiting our active discovery. Jesus made reference to one reserved for the early Middle-eastern Church in 3 Nephi 16:4.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that revelation, not scholarship, is the method of learning preferred by the Lord for His people. This is why investigators start with praying about the Book of Mormon rather than reading John Welch.

    Comment by Thaddeus — June 30, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  16. Thaddeus reminded me of a wonderful essay I read years ago in Dialogue, entitled, “Freeways, Parking Lots and Ice Cream Stands: The Three Nephites in Contemporary Society” (ironically handed to me by a critical non-member). The author, William A. Wilson, explained how he had compiled hundreds of Three Nephite stories, a large portion of them taking place in modern times– everything from old-timers appearing out of nowhere to warn people about their food storage, to three men with long white beards leading armies dressed in white defending the Israelis.

    The most important part, though, was his conclusion. He couldn’t say which stories, if any, were true, but it didn’t matter:

    Stories of the Three Nephites… are still very much a part of contemporary Mormon society. In our unguarded moments, in a testimony meeting, in a Sunday school class, in intimate conversations with small groups of friends, in the family circle — when critical perceptions are tuned low and the spiritual vibrations are strong — in these moments the Nephite stories circulate among us. And they tell us much of ourselves and of our church. They mirror our attitudes, values, and principal concerns; they reinforce Church teachings and persuade us to follow them; they tell us of a personal God concerned with our individual problems; and they provide us with pride in the past, with confidence in the future, and with the means of meeting the crises of modern living with equanimity. So long as the stories continue to meet these ends, they will remain a vital part of Mormon folk tradition, and they will continue to enlarge our understanding of Mormon culture.

    I have no reason to doubt the uncle’s story. I respect my friend enough to know that if he reveres his uncle, I believe it happened. Also, too much has happened in my own life to lean otherwise. But more importantly, the story gave me a greater appreciation of our relationship to the Lord and of the numerous opportunities to make it stronger.

    Comment by David T. — June 30, 2010 @ 8:50 am

  17. Hello there, found this website after reading a comment from “Seth R” on another blog.

    I thought it was pretty interesting to read this post and the comments because I don’t know a single thing about Mormonism; actually, I had to get to comment 15) to be sure that this was in fact discussing Mormonism’s stories! Nephi, Lehi, Joel… these names sounded so strange to me as I am not used to see them associated with Jesus or Lord.

    Comment 15) was also when I learned what is my first disagreement with Mormonism: you guys have the exact same problem as other kind of Christians regarding special revelations, visions, dreams, or any other particular claim of divine knowledge. You say that Atheists reject first hand such claims, which is more or less true, I admit, being an atheist myself, but in fact, you do the exact same thing with other religions. So, at least, atheists like me (I always specify ‘like me’ because atheists have nothing in common you know…) are consistent regarding that particular point, but you are not…

    In other words, how do you justify the exceptions?

    How do you proceed following this statement:
    “I’ll admit that not every member’s tale should be believed and not all should be related, but they all merit consideration and evaluation before being discarded.”

    Comment by Hugo — July 3, 2010 @ 6:49 am

  18. Hugo, I’m not sure that I understand your question, but it seems to me you are asking how it is we can reject other churches’ claims to revelation while accepting our own. For me, the answer is that we don’t. We admit to the possibility, even probability, of revelation being received in other churches, we do not claim that our church is the sole source of revelation from God, just the sole place where all of the keys of God’s authority are found. This is a complex subject, on which I could say a lot more, but since I’m not sure I’m getting at the subject you are asking about, I’ll leave it at that for now. Let me know if I’m addressing your question or not.

    Comment by MCQ — July 3, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

  19. @MCQ
    Yes this is more or less the question I was asking; but it can be much more broad than that and does not need to be a comparison between churches or various claims.

    In other words, the question is simply: How do you know that a particular revelation is true/trustworthy or not?

    At the same time, I would add that I do have “revelations” in my head myself when I am thinking/praying/meditating. There is this feeling of having other voices speaking, as if I am having a conversation with someone else. My conclusion is always that these “revelations” are nothing more than myself talking with myself, and I wonder, why would it be otherwise? why do religious people think that some people’ voices should be trusted more?

    Comment by Hugo — July 8, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  20. … oh, and what does that mean?

    “the sole place where all of the keys of God’s authority are found”

    Seems awfully arrogant to me! You admit the possibility of other churches receiving revelations but you’re ultimatelty “the best”? not a single shred of doubt that you might be wrong?

    Thanks

    Comment by Hugo — July 8, 2010 @ 8:57 am

  21. Hugo, in my view, revelation from God comes in a particular way and carries with it particular feelings. We can begin learning how to recognize it at an early age. For example, when we first begin to read the scriptures, and listen to others testify of Christ, the Holy Spirit tells us of the truth of these things by giving us certain feelings. If we become familiar with those feelings, we can recognize them when they come again, as in an answer to prayer or in conjunction with inspiration or revelation received to help us know the answer to a question. The key is knowing what the Holy Spirit feels like. Once we know that, then we are able to distinguish between revelation from God and other, more mundane sources of information, like wishful thinking or self delusion. We can talk ourselves into all kinds of things, but those comversations are not going to be accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

    Comment by MCQ — July 8, 2010 @ 8:59 am

  22. Of course, Hugo, most peoiple have doubts all the time. I suppose there are some for whom doubt has been extinguished by repeated confirmation from the Spirit but most people I know have doubts. One of the things we talk about here pretty often is our doubts and the things we have doubts about.

    But in the end, we have to be responsible for the things that we have received from God through his Spirit. I can definitely say that I have no idea about a lot of things, but I have to also admit a pretty strong knowledge of where God wants me to be, based on repeated inquiry: he wants me in this Church.

    The phrase you quote above doesn’t mean we’re “the best.” I don’t even know what “best” means in the context of religion. Each individual can only follow his or her conscience. If you are doing that, then you are doing what’s “best” for you.

    The issue of keys and authority is more about the fact that we believe that authority to act in God’s name must come from God. It can’t come as the result of a great idea or an interesting set of beliefs. What I was getting at is that it’s not really our doctrine that sets us apart from other religions (there are a number of other churches that believe much of the same things we do), the difference is in the fact that God’s authority (meaning the power to perform saving ordinances and other acts in his name) can properly rest in only one organization. If you believe you’ve found the right one, it’s not particularly arrogant to say so, though it may sound that way I suppose.

    Comment by MCQ — July 8, 2010 @ 9:44 am

  23. Hugo, in my view, revelation from God comes in a particular way and carries with it particular feelings.

    This is really vague; do you have any way to define the ‘particular way’ and ‘particular feelings’ ?

    We can begin learning how to recognize it at an early age.

    Yes, we are all very aware that the best way to indoctrinate people into a religion is to teach them from a very young age that God exists. This makes the child consider that principle as fundamentally true, without any critical analysis possible. It is then piratically impossible to have a rational approach to the question “Do you believe God exists?” The answer was put in the child’s mind before the child could even think for him/herself. The answer cannot be anything else than ‘yes’ as it is the pre-supposition needed to explain all the rest of any theistic worldview.

    For example, when we first begin to read the scriptures, and listen to others testify of Christ, the Holy Spirit tells us of the truth of these things by giving us certain feelings.

    Confirmation bias?
    You have certain feelings and ideas, and by finding people with similar feelings and ideas you can confirm that yours are “real”.

    I will not address the rest of the comments for now. I find it interesting, but since the very basic idea of God and Holy Spirit being real is unproven to me, there is no point in addressing something I consider to be entirely natural, i.e., thinking…

    Because that’s what I am asking you basically… How can you make the difference between a thought which is yours and a thought which was “generated” by the Holy Spirit in your mind?

    cheers

    Comment by Hugo — July 10, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  24. since the very basic idea of God and Holy Spirit being real is unproven to me, there is no point in addressing something I consider to be entirely natural, i.e., thinking…

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you’re asking me to prove to you that God exists, or saying that you won’t believe unless you get proof, then you will never believe. God has ensured that he cannot be approached except by faith. That’s the constraint that we all live with when we wish to know God. The good thing is that, by exercising faith, we really can know him eventually. But not by rational proof.

    Yes, we are all very aware that the best way to indoctrinate people into a religion is to teach them from a very young age that God exists. This makes the child consider that principle as fundamentally true, without any critical analysis possible. It is then piratically impossible to have a rational approach to the question “Do you believe God exists?”

    You can call it indoctrination if you want, Hugo, but you have to teach children something about God. either you teach them your belief in God or you teach them your disbelief. I happen to have a belief in God, which leads me to teach my children about my belief. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

    I’m talking about the fact that even children can feel the Holy Spirit. They don’t need indoctrination to do it. You can too, Hugo, if you don’t destroy any possibilty of it by taking a purely rational approach. Reason isn’t the only way to truth, and it’s a dead end when it comes to appraching God.

    The answer was put in the child’s mind before the child could even think for him/herself. The answer cannot be anything else than ‘yes’ as it is the pre-supposition needed to explain all the rest of any theistic worldview.

    If it were that easy, Hugo, then everyone would always believe what they were taught as children. Fortunately, we all reach an age where we have to discover the truth for ourselves. Some end up with faith in God that is similar to what they were taught and some end up in a very different faith, and some end up with no faith at all. In my experience, few just go along unquestioning what they were taught as children. What I try to teach my children is that they need not rely on my belief, they can find out for themselves, as can anyone who sincerely wants to know.

    Because that’s what I am asking you basically… How can you make the difference between a thought which is yours and a thought which was “generated” by the Holy Spirit in your mind?

    First of all, the Holy Spirit doesn’t necessarily generate thoughts in your mind. That’s why I described it as a “feeling,” rather than a thought. It can give you impressions in your mind, but generally it gives you feelings confirming things that others say or that you read or say yourself. I already explained how you can tell that these things come through the Spirit. You learn to recognize these feelings by comparing them to feelings you have had before. Once you learn to recognize it, it isn’t hard to know when it’s happening again.

    Comment by MCQ — July 10, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  25. f you’re asking me to prove to you that God exists, or saying that you won’t believe unless you get proof, then you will never believe. God has ensured that he cannot be approached except by faith. That’s the constraint that we all live with when we wish to know God. The good thing is that, by exercising faith, we really can know him eventually. But not by rational proof.

    Thanks for your honesty; not all theists share that kind of comment.

    Personally, I find it important to believe in things I know are true. A belief based on faith is not ratinal proof, as you said, and I don’t adhere to any such belief.

    We all have a choice. You pick the faith side, I pick the rational side.

    Thanks, take care.

    Comment by Hugo — July 11, 2010 @ 8:33 am

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