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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10 Responses to Let Us Reason Together: Revelation or Emotion?

  1. Rozy says:

    I like the words of Mormon when he taught his son Moroni how to judge. He said that the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, “for every thing which inviteth to do good, [could be The Muppet Movie] and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.” (Moroni 7:16)
    Joseph Smith taught something to the effect (don’t have the exact quote in front of me) that thoughts that come into our mind are from the Spirit, flashes of pure intelligence. Those can happen when we’re listening to inspiring classical music, or watching an uplifting movie.
    Perhaps John D. is like Korihor and has been deceived and will come to a day of reckoning. Sad.
    Events are speeding up and there is no fence sitting anymore (was there ever?) for we must declare our allegiance to one side or the other. As always, I’m looking forward to General Conference and hearing the words of living prophets and apostles, as well as other leaders.

  2. Lilli says:

    Christ taught us to discern truth and error ‘not’ by feelings or even revelation, but by comparing what the Spirit or a Spirit or even a person or prophet it telling us, and if the ideas they teach or convey to us is contrary to or different from the commandments of Christ, then we can know for sure it’s false.

    Feelings and emotion is not at all a reliable way to tell truth from error, or every religion on the planet is just as true as the LDS Church, for countless non-members receive just as strong or stronger revelation and confirmations that ‘their’ church is the only true church or religion.

    And as Joseph Smith taught, our feelings, revelation, dreams, visions, visitations, impressions, etc, can easily be from the Adversary or from our own mind as much as from the right Spirit.

    The adversary or our own heart or mind can cause us to feel really good and wonderful about very wrong things and very bad and uncomfortable and even fearful of very true and right things.

    Everyone, even so called prophets as we have seen in history and in the scriptures is very easily deceived by false revelation and false spirits and falsehoods that can sound so right and feel so good to us, even bringing great joy, peace and seeming love.

    The Adversary, like false prophets, leads us astray by telling us 99 wonderful truths while slipping in 1 good lie that hardly anyone ever catches, cause they are so impressed and convinced by all the truths and knowledge they are being taught that they just become very accepting of whatever they are told by what they think is a true prophet or the spirit.

    But Christ warned us to ‘test the spirits’ and test those who profess to be true prophets or true followers of Him, by whether or not they teach and really keep his commandments and not something different or contrary. He taught us to prove all things by facts, not feelings, before we believe any precept or person to be true and correct.

    But in order to be able to discern by using Christ’s commandments, we would have to study and live them ourselves, which is very rare for anyone to do, otherwise we will easily and unknowingly be led astray by the false prophets and falsehoods that Christ warned that most everyone would fall for, all the while thinking we are righteous and right.

    So Christ made it very easy to discern truth from error and true prophets from false prophets, for they will be pretty much perfect, for they will keep all his commandments and only teach his commandments and not add in their own or anything contrary to Christ’s commandments.

    But even if we were to ever find such a true prophet, like Jesus said John the Baptist was, (who by the way proved he lived Christ’s commandments like no other prophet in history ever has), Jesus said to not ever follow Prophets or anyone, nor let anyone be your leader but Him. Christ taught that only he could be trusted to lead us correctly and never be wrong. For even true prophets always have the possibility of falling or leading people astray no matter how well intentioned, for everyone usually feels they are right no matter how wrong they may be.

  3. Jared says:


    It doesn’t appear you are LDS. If it turns out your are, then you are a different brand than I am.

  4. Glenn Thigpen says:

    My experience is not like that of John D. I learned there is a difference between whisperings of the spirit and emotion. I feel emotions watching great movies, such as “Fiddler on the Roof.” I feel great emotions of sadness and joy when reading of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the early saints, and others. I feel similar emotions when I read the story of the Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon.
    But those feelings are not the same as the feeling, the knowledge that I received when I received my testimony of the Book of Mormon via the Holy Ghost. I have had very few actual such revelations in my life. But they all have been of such a clarity that I knew they were from God, via the Holy Ghost.
    I have had spiritual promptings also during my lifetime. And they are different from emotions. I cannot explain it any better than that. Only that my experience is different from those such as John D. That is why I know that the Church is the restored Church that Jesus organized upon the earth during His mortal ministry.


  5. Rob Osborn says:

    My belief is that everyone is born with the light of Christ and as such all can receive the personal witness through the spirit of an eternal truth be it a Muppet movie or General Conference for members and nonmebers alike. Just last night I watched a documentary on Netflix (it was about a prison inmate now freed) and several times the spirit testified (light of Christ) of truths contained in it. It does cause emotion. The actual “gift” of the Holy ghost is more of an authority power.

  6. Lilli says:


    I am not LDS anymore, because I believe in Christ’s teachings.

    But I learned all that I talked about above in the LDS Church. But I grew up in the LDS Church when it still encouraged people to ‘search, study, ponder and prove all things’ instead of today’s preaching of letting the thinking be done for us by the Spirit or by the Prophet.

    Even Joseph Smith was very knowledgeable about how easy it was for him to be wrong or for everyone to be deceived by feelings or false inspiration from what we think is ‘the spirit’ or from angels or prophets, etc.

    I have found that most LDS don’t appear to be LDS. And don’t seem to believe or live what their own religion teaches, especially when it comes to Christ.

  7. Lilli says:


    I agree. Everyone on earth has the gift of the Holy Ghost (It’s not a Mormon thing), if they don’t ignore it by doing wrong, for then it can grow silent. Then the Adversary come in and makes us feel really at peace or good about doing really wrong things and we think it’s the Holy Spirit still.

    Thus why Christ said to ‘test the spirits’ or prophets, to make sure they are teaching truth to us. His commandments being the standard of truth to test by, of course.

  8. Rob Osborn says:

    I believe the light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two separate things that often get confused. The warm feelings we recieve, that make us feel good, direct us in decisions, reveal truth, etc, is the light of Christ. The gift of the Holy Ghost in the other hand is more of an authorities power where a person gets baptized with fire which gives them authority the same as ministering angels. I’m the New Testament it stated that after one is given the gift of the Holy Ghost then can they speak with the tongue of angels. So, the gift of the HG is a power that adds upon the light of Christ, but it is an authoritive power rather than just access to truth.

  9. Lilli says:


    I agree that the ‘light of Christ’ or ‘our conscience’ which we all are born with that helps everyone discern right from wrong deep down, is different then the Holy Spirit which can give us revelation just like the Adversary can give us revelation, both true and false.

    But I believe we gain the Holy Ghost or access to the Holy Spirit by keeping Christ’s commandments not because someone in authority blessed us with it. Thus why anyone of any or no religion can gain the Holy Spirit if they truly follow Christ’s commandments.

    For 1, Christ surely knew that finding a righteous person was and always is rare and near impossible to do and if people had to find a righteous person who happened to also have ‘authority’, whether 200o years ago or today, in order to gain the Holy Spirit is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, pretty near impossible. For of course if someone had such ‘authority’ they would have to keep all of Christ’s commandments in order to keep such authority and I have never known of such a person or prophet who has proved to be able to do that, except probably John the Baptist, who Christ said was the greatest prophet.

    And Christ of course understood that it would be impossible to pass on any such authority from person to person down thru the ages or even person to person today since again, righteous people worthy of such Spirit or authority are so rare it’s hardly possible to find anyone to pass it to.

    Even some or all of Christ’s own apostles admitted and found it hard or impossible to keep all his commandments, so surely Christ knew that people around the world would have to have another way to access the Holy Spirit themselves then hoping to somehow come across a righteous person who just happened to have authority too.

    For Christ taught us that no one is a true follower of him, let alone a true prophet, (and have any kind of authority) if they don’t keep all his commandments. He said that is how we know false prophets from true ones, etc. And I don’t know anyone in our generation or since Christ who fits that bill. Though I’m sure there have been some few souls who have and do keep his commandments but they are so rare I many never meet one.

  10. Mike T says:

    Emotions can be deceiving, they are often tied with our own desires, past experience and individual bias. If we base our testimony or seeking guidance from the Holy Ghost on our feelings, we may be deceiving ourselves. A good question to ask ourselves when we receive inspiration associated with emotion is, did I learn anything new, or was information beyond my-own received?. if we can answer yes then we have received revelation. Then it is our responsibility to determine the source. does the revelation agree with the scriptures, the prophets, and other souses of truth, if so, we can be more confident that it is of God.

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