Sunday, February 12, 2017

What a prophet is and what a prophet is not

This is a continuation of this post.

We have to be very careful about what we desire from God. Typically, the Lord gives us what we want. Sometimes, he graciously warns us against what we desire, but we don't often listen.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
 5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
 6 ¶But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
 7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
 9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
 10 ¶And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
 12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
 13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
 16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
 17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
 18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
 19 ¶Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
 20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
 21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city. (1 Samuel 8)

The people wanted a king. Samuel told them that was a bad idea. They persisted. God gave them a warning. They persisted. God told Samuel to give them a king. And we know the rest of the story. They diverted themselves from God's intended path of blessing by desiring not what God wanted, but what they in their own foolish hearts thought was right.

We do the same exact things today. One of the ways we do this is in our idea of what a prophet is. We (especially we from and LDS background) like the idea of a strongman-prophet. We like the idea of reducing the complexities of the gospel into betting on the right horse. We like thinking that salvation is all about finding and then following someone who has had spiritual experiences. It simply does not work like that.

The Lord answers us according to the desires of our heart. If we believe in salvation-through-prophet, God will give us a man who thinks he can save us. He will produce a man who promises us all the blessings we desire in the packaging that we expect it to be offered in. As God told Ezekiel:

4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;
 5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. (Ezekiel 14:4-5)
Those who believe this false doctrine are just like the Israelites who wanted a king: they aren't interested in what God thinks or says. They simply want someone that fulfills the pattern they are looking for.

We ought to pay special attention when a messenger begins preaching things that sound an awful lot like "keep doing what you are doing."
24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.
 25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
 26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
 27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
 28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.
 29 O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light? (Helaman 13)

Well, you might be thinking, if someone comes with godly works, and godly claims, what could we possible have to lose?

First, God has shown himself abundantly willing to allow people to go on thinking what they want to think. The Israelites thought that Aaron was meant to build them a golden calf. They thought that Samuel was meant to give them a king. The early latter day Saints thought that God had called them to build Zion. But none of these things were the case.

Second, there is no insurance policies against prophets who might be leading people astray. The Lord said to Ezekiel:

9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.
10 And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him; (Ezekiel 14)

You see, God will hold the people who follow a deceived prophet just as accountable for their mistakes as the deceived prophet. This is ironic, because the reason people are tempted to hitch up to a prophet is that they think they can somehow shortcut into blessings from heaven without actually connecting to heaven. There is no way to do that. You actually have to access heaven, no matter if you are vetting the teachings of another man, or obtaining teachings directly. Both require accessing heaven.

Thirdly, those who rely upon the teachings of a man instead of on God directly can never ascend past the telestial glory:

 98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;
 99 For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas.
 100 These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch;
 101 But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.
 102 Last of all, these all are they who will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud.
 103 These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
 104 These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth.
 105 These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
 106 These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work; (D&C 76)

It is interesting that one of the scriptures cited about says "deceived prophet" instead of "false prophet." Can you see how there is a difference? A false prophet never came from God. A false prophet is a total phony. They are liars, and they know they are liars. A deceived prophet is different. A deceived prophet may have accessed the heavens. He may have had many interactions with God. He may have worked true, mighty wonders from heaven. Yet, none of these things prevents a man from teaching false doctrine. All men are capable of being mistaken. Prophets only know what God has shown them, and no prophet has seen everything. Like anyone else, prophets must synthesize what God has shown them with their understanding of everything else. Everything else could come from their understanding of the scriptures, studies of human behavior, cultural biases, and what they have heard from others.

Furthermore, all men are capable of possessing lesser truth. For example, consider John the Baptist. He preached a higher degree of truth than the Jews, but a lower degree of truth than Christ. Christ's teachings would not have been new or radical if they were simply the same things as John preached. They were not. Some followers of John recognized that Jesus had higher truth, and started listening to Jesus instead of John. Many did not. While a post-Jesus follower of John (such as the disciples Paul encountered baptizing with the baptism of John) were not preaching false doctrine, they were certainly preaching doctrine of lesser light than the followers of Jesus (see Acts 19). Those who cling to lower light when shown higher light are akin to men who opt to eat stale, moldy bread when hot, fresh bread is offered to them.

Finally, if you believe any old man who comes with signs and wonders, what happens when you encounter a true prophet of God who has been sent by God to lie to you? Is this so far fetched? Here are two examples:

 1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Beth-el: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
 2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
 4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
 5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.
 6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
 7 And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
 8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
 9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
 10 So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.
 11 ¶Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
 12 And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
 13 And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
 14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
 15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
 16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
 17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
 18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.
 19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
 20 ¶And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back:
 21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee,
 22 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
 23 ¶And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
 24 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
 25 And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
 26 And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto him.
 27 And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
 28 And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass. (1 Kings 13)

 14 And when he was come to the king, the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And he said, Go ye up, and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand.
 15 And the king said to him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou say nothing but the truth to me in the name of the Lord?
 16 Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd: and the Lord said, These have no master; let them return therefore every man to his house in peace.
 17 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would not prophesy good unto me, but evil?
 18 Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the Lord; I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left.
 19 And the Lord said, Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner.
 20 Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will entice him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith?
 21 And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so.
 22 Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee. (2 Chronicles 18:14-22)

Please do not be so simple and foolish as to believe a man's message is correct just because he has had experiences with God. He could be a liar. He could be wrong. He could be clinging to lower truth. He could even be sent from God to lie to you. We ought to focus on the Lord Jesus, and scrutinize what we hear from men no matter what they have revealed or how beneficial it has been in the past.

Rather than see these facts as a reason to condemn people who have, at some point, received valid revelations from heaven (and who may continue to do so), we ought to simply realize that men were never meant to be the source of light in our lives. Like the prophet in 1 Kings 13, we ought to mourn instead of condemn these people and their followers.

An ideal messenger of God will make himself redundant by successfully bringing up those who hear him to the point where they equal or surpass him in experiences with God, as Jethro did with Moses. Conversely, if we consider a man as the object of evaluation, instead of considering each message separately, we limit ourselves to the state obtained by that man. Unless that man is Jesus Christ, our decision will result in severe limitation on our part.

Every step along our truth progression is like a ladder. The sides of the ladder are composed of ever-increasing light. The rungs of the ladder are composed of messengers. Each time we encounter a messenger, we gain access to some share of the light they have accumulated in their pursuit of God. One can acquire, evaluate, and integrate a lifetime's worth of light in much less than a lifetime. Then, we apply those things that are true, and move onto the next rung. Every time we have sifted through a messenger's light, and applied all they have to offer, we can return to God and say, "Lord, I have been true and faithful to everything you have given me. Give me further light and knowledge." He will send us another messenger. These messengers come in diverse ways. In today's world, technology has made God's job of spreading light and truth unprecedentedly easy. The internet gives us access to the entire population of holy men on the earth just as soon as we are ready to search for and hear them. Angels are also dispatched today just as in ancient times, though they are not the only means in todays connected world.