Let Us Reason Together: Revelation or Emotion?

A former Mormon, John D. (I’m not going to give his last name) recently wrote the following critique about his experience with “revelation”. 

“Did I have incredibly powerful and inspiring emotional experiences in a LDS context when I was a child, teenager, and young adult? Absolutely.  Was I explicitly instructed from a very early age — by the church — on precisely how to interpret those emotional experiences?  I believe I was…I remember very explicitly being taught in early morning seminary that if I were to feel any of these emotions in a church context, I was to interpret them as the Holy Ghost bearing witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true church on the planet. I was taught to teach my “investigators” as a missionary the same thing.  If we could ever get our investigators to feel an emotion, we would immediately say, “See!  Those are the fruits of the Holy Ghost testifying that this is the true church, and that you should be baptized!”

…And for the record, I still cannot find a believer to explain to me the meaningful difference between “emotion” and the “Holy Ghost.”  I certainly could never tell the two apart when I was a believer. This was made clear to me once when I felt as inspired by the Muppet Movie as I was by any LDS General Conference talk.  It was very confusing for me as a teen, believe it or not.”

Even though John D. is no longer Mormon, I think John brings up some good points in his critique for active, believing members to consider.

I’ve been an active member for 50 years. During this time I have pondered the points John makes many times. I’ll give an answer to John’s question based on my understanding, and more importantly, my experience.

I’ve learned that the things of the Spirit and our emotions are closely related. As John D. points out, the feelings and emotions experienced in church meetings can seem to be the same as the feelings and emotions experienced at some movies (However, at least for me, the Muppet Movie isn’t one of them).

I know by experience that it is difficult to distinguish our own feelings and emotions from those that come from the workings of the Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to distinguish the difference, given time and experience.

I’ve had a number of occasions where I’ve followed my feelings and emotions (I will refer to them as promptings or whisperings of the Spirit hereafter) and knew they were from the Holy Ghost in answer to prayer. For example, one of my sons asked if I would approve of him purchasing a motorcycle. This surprised me. He knew how adamant I am against motorcycles. I told our children from their youth up not to ask about a motorcycle because the answer would be no. He pressed me to consider his request, saying he would accept my decision, but told me how important it was to him. He even wrote a letter explaining his strong feelings and reasons. I told him not to get his hopes up, but I was willing to go to the temple seeking an answer from the Lord. When I walked into the temple, I measured my feelings, and I was absolutely against granting my permission. When I walked out of the temple I had a changed my mind. My feelings were to give my permission. Something changed my heart during the temple session. I was amazed! 

I learned an important lesson from this experience and others similar to it. A prompting of the Spirit is easier to identify when the prompting is the opposite of what you had planned.

There are many other kinds of manifestations of the Spirit beside the kind John D. criticized. In 50 years of church activity, I have been given a variety of experiences in answer to prayer. The foundation of my testimony wasn’t built, as John D.’s appears to have been, exclusively by promptings, or as John says, emotional experiences. The Lord has used the gifts of dreams, visions, ministering of unseen but not unheard angels, and what I call serendipitous answer to prayer, in addition to whisperings of the Spirit.

Serendipitous answer to prayer can be thought of as a “packet of help” at just the right time, a gift from Heavenly Father. Someone else is generally involved. The outcome can be life changing or just helpful in some meaningful way. 

Lastly, I believe there are many active Mormons who have never completely embraced the “doctrine of Christ.  They are active in church but not so active in the gospel. Those who are inactive in the gospel will eventually lose faith, unless they have a conversion experience.

I believe we are living in an era of sifting. I think we will see more friends and loved ones leave the church. I hope they are not all like John D.. He now makes a living fighting against the church. With that said, John seems like a great individual, I hope one day he will find his way back.

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