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Of Prophets & Patriarchs

D Christian Harrison - March 2, 2008

This post has been buzzing around my head for about a month, now. But I wanted it to be “just so”, and so it just languished there. It languished, that is, until I decided to keep it short and sweet.

About a month ago, a friend asked me whether my patriarchal blessing mentioned a wife. I told him it did, and that it promised that she would bring into my life children… so he asked whether I believed that. I suggested that the blessing could be interpreted to mean a wife and children in the next life or — and here is where I stumbled — that the Patriarch was simply mistaken.

It’s odd, really… I’m comfortable with our dear and inspired prophet being mistaken from time to time — in the truth of our faith being both a personal and institutional journey towards God. Yet I wasn’t at all comfortable with the notion that patriarchs could miss the mark. We hold our patriarchal blessings in such high esteem. Could I possibly think for a moment even that mine wasn’t made to order, a veritable blueprint?

What do you think? Do we hold patriarchal blessings in such high esteem—higher, even, than our prophets? And if so, should we?


  1. What do mean?

    Do you mean we hold our patriarchs in their role, higher than the prophet in his? Or do you mean that we hold the “revelation” in the blessings higher than the revelations from the prophet?

    Comment by Seth R. — March 2, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

  2. No. I mean that we seem to consider/expect patriarchal revelation to be infallible when we don’t even have that standard for the words of the prophets.

    Or, it may just be me. Though I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this — I am comfortable with our prophets being less-than-perfect, but somehow feel “un-Mormon” thinking that a patriarchal blessing may be mistaken in some fashion or other.

    Comment by Silus Grok — March 2, 2008 @ 10:31 pm

  3. ( I apologize if my desire to be brief got in the way of articulating my basic premise. )

    Comment by Silus Grok — March 2, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  4. Yes, I do. There are two reasons for this and they’re linked. The first is that it’s a one-time deal where a whole bunch of personal fasting and praying is going into it by the patriarch, my parents and myself. Second is because of all that, the experience is personal, deep, powerful and incredibly moving.

    Comment by Bret — March 3, 2008 @ 12:58 am

  5. I think that LDS members tend to see Patriarchal Blessings as divinely-inspired gypsy fortunes. They’re not. The Blessing is a guide, a way to go, a blueprint after which to pattern your life. Too often people respond to the possibility that you will not receive a particular blessing in this life by saying “Oh, you’ll get it in the next life.” I don’t know if that’s entirely true. The Patriarchal Blessing is for this life, not the next, but it is ultimately worded to teach you how to pattern your life.

    There are things said in my blessing that are specifically and unmistakably meant for this life. Right now, they don’t seem possible. But in struggling with this, I have come to know that the blessing is meant foremost to change my heart. Whether or not the blessings actually come to fruition is immaterial so long as I have used the words of the Blessing to pattern my life.

    I don’t know if what I’m saying makes sense. It’s a hard concept to put into words, and is rather counterintuitive to the way we would like to see Patriarchal Blessings work.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2008 @ 4:24 am

  6. A PB is aimed directly at you, while a prophet’s statements are aimed at the entire church. So it’s easier to dismiss a prophet’s statements as not applying to you. If that’s coming out right, I’m not sure.

    Comment by Susan M — March 3, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  7. I think that although both callings are true and inspired, that both are filled by human beings and received by human beings; meaning they can have a blip in communication from time to time. That is not to say they “make mistakes” in regard to revelation for the church or individual, but more like a personal typo that can be explained from a different perspective and/or viewpoint or wording that one can perceive correctly.

    Case in point, the PB my s-i-l received told her she would be both mother AND father to her children. She freaked presuming her husband would die at the delivery table of their last born in the wilderness. This has not been the case. However her husband’s career has been such that after their last born he has been on the road or gone from the home a LOT! Was that the intended meaning? Maybe, maybe not.

    I also think that much of our blessings depend on what is intended for us and what we choose to do with those intentions.

    I was given a particular admonition and chose to disregard it. That one point sent me through a particularly difficult phase of life. Had I bent low and humbled myself, did things completely against my nature and natural will, and followed what at times still seems contrary to my personal identity – let’s just say it would have been difficult for a period of time but easier in the long run.

    Had I followed those admonitions with blind and complete faith and not my own understanding of them in the first place, I would have been miserable for some time, not knowing why, and maybe never seeing the “why”, but still blessed in the long run.

    Going off on my personal comfort and course allowed me to make that mistake, learn from it and get back to what the Lord had intended for me; and in hindsight see the wisdom in the original blessing wording.

    Comment by s'mee — March 3, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  8. I think that LDS members tend to see Patriarchal Blessings as divinely-inspired gypsy fortunes.

    And this is reinforced by almost every lesson I’ve been apart of that talks about Patriarchal Blessings. Someone usually bring up a sister, wife or cousin that is told in their blessing that they’d be married with a large family, but are somehow still single at age 60. So of course they’re told that it must be talking about the “next life”.

    What are you supposed to think about a sheet of paper that supposedly outlines your life, but anytime it doesn’t match can easily be tossed away as being part of your life in heaven or you weren’t worthy enough so the roadmap was incorrect? It sure seems more mystic or a “fortune” to me. And pretty much anyone I’ve talked to speaks of it in the same way (to varying degrees of course). Patriarchal blessings have this almost creepy magical aura that seems to surround them in the church (at least in church culture).

    Don’t even get me started on one of my mission companion that worriedly showed me his PB that told him he would return from his mission early because of a great calamity, but would be able to finish that mission in his golden years with a beautiful wife. Yep, you guessed it. He finished his mission without a calamity to anywhere in his life. Maybe the calamity didn’t happen because he wasn’t worthy enough?

    Comment by jjohnsen — March 3, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  9. I agree with Susan M (#6). It’s easy to say that the prophet’s words may not apply directly to you for various reasons, but it’s hard to argue that a PB doesn’t apply to you. And yet, there are plenty of examples of those whose PB do not seem to be fulfilled during this life. This becomes so hard to reconcile since the promised blessings are usually “dependent on your faith” or something similar.

    Patriarchal Blessings trouble me greatly. It is quite often that I hear of someone whose life hasn’t followed the pattern suggested in their PB, and it leads them to believe that they haven’t been “worthy or faithful enough.” I believe that many LDS take PB’s far too literally.

    Also, I have never understood why we hold a blessing from a patriarch, often someone you’ve never met until you receive the blessing, in higher regard than a blessing received from our own fathers.

    Comment by SingleSpeed — March 3, 2008 @ 11:12 am

  10. Silus, this is interesting that you should post this right now. In sorting through some papers, I recently read my Patriarchal blessings for the first time in ages. Talk of a spouse and children were there. And I felt that it was not in the next life sense as it told me to teach them according to the Fulness of the Gospel. Would that be needed in the next life? It scares me if I blew it not getting over my condition. I still might have time to get things right. Or maybe they could be step children. I am fine with being single and having no children in this life is that is what is meant to be.

    I do not know much about Patriarchal blessings. I know that leaders of the Church make no claim of being infallible. I am not sure how these works with Patriarchal blessings.

    Comment by Barb — March 3, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  11. Maybe the calamity didn’t happen because he wasn’t worthy enough?

    Or maybe it didn’t happen because he was warned it would happen and was thusly more careful.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  12. My patriarchal blessing mentions that i would serve an honorable full-time mission, yet i very nearly came home from my mission after only a few weeks in the mission field. If i had decided to end my mission prematurely, would that mean that the patriarch who had given me my blessing had made an error? Of course not. I was frustrated with aspects of missionary work. Over time i realized that most of those frustrations stemmed from my shortcomings as a missionary, and over MORE time i learned how to overcome or at the very least deal with those weaknesses of mine. On a less heroic note, my patriarchal blessing also mentions my wife and children. Yet i was divorced after only three years of marriage and had no children. But i admit that my wife and i are the ones to blame for the failure of our marriage, and i find no comfort about my circumstances by questioning the validity of my patriarchal blessing or the efforts and faithfulness of the Lord’s servants. Patriarchal blessings do not shield us from the consequences of our actions and decisions. Nor do they always shield us from the decisions and actions of others, although we’d like to believe that bad things don’t happen to good people. If somebody were killed in a car accident moments after receiving a lengthy patriarchal blessing, i wouldn’t blame the patriarch for not anticipating the tragedy. We are supposed to use our patriarchal blessings as guides, and sources of comfort and reassurance as we strive to live the gospel faithfully. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the advantages of such a powerful tool. If you have chosen to go down a different road, or if some freak accident or the actions of another individual have landed you on a divergent path, you’d be better off finding a way to realign yourself with the counsel and guidance of your patriarchal blessing rather than criticizing the reliability of its source.

    Comment by Ranster — April 1, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  13. Ranster, I’d dismiss your accusatory tone as an April Fools prank… but I suspect it’s genuine.

    Please re-read the post. I have not questioned the “efforts and faithfulness of the Lord’s servants” — rather, as a faithful latter-day saint, I am keenly aware that we have been taught that we do not consider our leaders infallible. So I posited an honest query.

    Comment by Silus Grok — April 2, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

  14. Sorry to disappoint you that this wasn’t an April Fool’s prank. No prank i could think of would compete with CNN’s story about Snoop Dogg joining the LDS Church. So i re-read your post. Your question is:

    “Do we hold patriarchal blessings in such high esteem—higher, even, than our prophets? And if so, should we?”

    Maybe i’m still missing your point, but i don’t see the value in trying to prioritize patriarchal blessings vs. prophets. The way i see it, revelation is revelation. Wouldn’t it make for a better discussion to talk about how we struggle or strive to follow or apply a revelation rather than talk about its ranking with other revelation? The only thing i meant to accuse you of is not asking a better question. You were my most memorable home-teacher and gospel doctrine teacher in college. I have a tremendous respect for your intelligence and wisdom, not to mention your other many fine qualities. Y’know i love you buddy. BTW i’m moving to the SLC area soon…how do i get in touch with you? We need to do some serious catching up.

    Comment by Ranster — April 5, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  15. There was an article in the recent Ensign where a woman questioned the truthfulness of the Gospel based on a promise of giving birth. She decided that she had so many other evidences of the Gospel that she could not dismiss her testimony on this proof. In her case, she did give birth after she no longer required the proof. I know that not all of us will see our blessings fulfilled in this life.

    Well, I thought of this post as I read the comments. :)

    Comment by Barb — April 5, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

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