Personal Revelation

Lots more people have started reading the Book of Mormon than have finished it. I suspect that the first stories in the Book of Mormon were specially chosen because they would be read thousands of times more often than the final stories. And which stories were given prominence? In the 4th chapter, Nephi was asked to slay the unconscious Laban in the streets. It’s interesting that only a few pages into the book a man was commanded to break one of the Ten Commandments.

There’s a similar conflict in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. Kierkegaard wrote about the angst he imagined for Abraham in Fear and Trembling. Abraham was willing to obey, even though he was potentially disqualifying himself from heaven. Kierkegaard asked how Abraham could know that he was interpreting God’s words correctly, especially with the stakes so high. He had to have enough faith in his new vision to disobey God’s laws that had been established by great prophets in other generations.

A tidy way to resolve this conflict is to ask where Abraham’s testimony of God’s laws came from. He might have learned it from scriptures or teachers, but how did he know to trust them? Ultimately, he had a testimony that was based on personal revelation from God. The commandment to make his sacrifice came in the same way. So in that sense, it was an extension of his old beliefs rather than a betrayal of them.

These two stories highlight the importance of personal revelation. The words that God speaks directly to our conscience are more important than the words we hear from any other source. They are even more important than the commandments that come through a prophet, because without personal revelation we cannot have a testimony in the prophets either. (As Brigham Young said, “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied.”) The stories also illustrate that the inspiration given to one person at one time does not always agree with the inspiration given to another. In spite of that, conscientious disciples don’t use their personal responsibility as an excuse to disobey God’s words. God still calls prophets for a reason, and disciples are responsible to gain a testimony of the prophets.

Learning God’s commandments for ourselves ends up being a task that is active, not passive. It would be irresponsible to let anyone else tell us God’s will for us, even if they hold the authority to write scripture.

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