“Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.”
Tao Te Ching chapter 38
What should we really expect from prophets? If God understands that knowledge of the future is the beginning of folly, and knowledge of the past is over and done, do we expect God to teach us folly? Do we expect God to speak truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even though we know our language and comprehension are incapable of encompassing that? I have personally come to expect God to be good and loving. Being good and loving means being effective in raising us to Godhood, and Godhood is a process and a community. It is not a state of absolute being, or absolute knowledge, or absolute truth. It is a process of doing the best thing we know to do, right now.
Frankly, I’m terrible at living in the now. I believe detailed understanding of the past and accurate predictions of the future are essential to making the best decisions we can about the present, but part of me tells me that isn’t always true. It’s really enough to simply have whatever stimuli will help us make the most effective, Godward decisions in this moment, then the next, then the next. Of course, a sustained sequence of effective choices in the now requires a certain amount of “true” understanding of past and future, but not an infinite amount. So are we really wise in asking our prophets to prophesy? Are we really wise in requiring that they have a perfect understanding of history?
I’ll give my answer–it’s complicated. We are wisest to expect prophets to be human. We are wisest to seek their counsel for today. We are wise to realize that we aren’t the exception to most rules, but every one of us is the exception to some rules. We are wise to seek and grow and listen and trust and pray and reason enough that we can learn our personal place in this unique life, and to choose now the best we know how. We are wise to learn that no one else can tell us what that place is, especially as we grow older and add years of complexities to the sum of our experience. We are wise to hope that others–including our prophets–are doing the same. We are wise to humbly counsel with others who likely see beyond our narrow view. We are wise to pattern our lives after our heroes. We are wise to give our heroes a soft place to fall.
This is what I tell myself, today.
"We are wise to counsel with others who likely see beyond our narrow view."
This is how I view the role of prophets. And, to be clear, every church leader is a prophet or more precisely, a revelator.
I think we do have many revelators. I think many people are good at getting answers to day to day prayers, and I think my life has been blessed for their work.
Leaders may not necessarily need to prophesy, but certainly a prophet cannot be a prophet unless he does prophesy. That is the meaning of the the word ‘prophet’.
All of the great prophets were shown, in vision, from the beginning to the end of earth’s history. So I just don’t understand how knowing the future leads to folly. Certainly Nephi saw our day, (the future) and recorded that fact that he saw us,does that make the Book Of Mormon ‘folly’? Please explain.
These are good questions, Linda. I think we would need to ask a Taoist what ways these sayings are usually interpreted. I was assuming there is something valuable to be learned from the text, since so many people do find wisdom in the Tao Te Ching, and trying to appreciate what the passage might mean applied in my life. I may have badly misunderstood the text, but it inspired these thoughts.
In Hinckley’s talk of October 1998, he read from Genesis 41 about Egypt preparing for 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine and then said, “Now, brethren, I want to make it very clear that I AM NOT PROPHESYING, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.” The best we may get these days are prophetic “suggestions”?
I think most members of the church believe that the Prophet and the Apostles, have a direct line to God.
So that if one Apostle opposes gay marriage, it is gods law, and all the Apostles agree, even though they don’t say it.
I would like to understand exactly what the communication from God to the Prophet, and Apostles is. Reading about the 1978 Declaration 2, it seems more like inspiration, and much less like Joseph Smith, with face to face meetings, or angelic visits.
How can we know how much weight to give their teachings if we don’t know whether they are teaching their own understanding or Gods. I haven’t heard one say thus sayeth the Lord. or this is a revelation I received, in my life time.
My views on what I expect and what I hope for have certainly changed as I’ve thought differently about the goal of Mormonism. If the goal really is to make us Gods, then this life isn’t about “getting it right”, but about becoming independent beings within a community of equals. If our prophets understand this, then refraining from giving more than suggestions is likely the right thing to do most of the time. If they don’t understand it, but are truly inspired by God, then giving suggestions may be what God is inspiring to best accomplish His goals. I do want revelation, but not in the ways I used to, and not in the ways many members seem to talk about it. I think I get the frustration, but I’ve kind of side-stepped the problem in my life. I tried head on, but it didn’t seem quite right, and this is where I ended up.