Lately I have pondered some issues relating to revelation, the privilege of having the Spirit communicate to us things that are sacred in nature, or at least able to help us in ways unseen at the moment.
I ran into the Mark Hofmann story again. If you read the linked Wikipedia story, you’ll learn that he forged documents which he was able to pass as real, discovered old documents that seemed to contradict greatly the “official” history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the story, he “fooled not only members of the First Presidency — notably Gordon B. Hinckley — but also document experts and distinguished historians.”
While it would be interesting to parse whom he really fooled, I’d like to present just two ideas concerning the episode and its handling in publicity.
It was naturally well noted after he was caught, that Pres. Hinckley “was unable” to pronounce the documents forgeries right off the bat (as described in the Wikipedia article linked to above, accessed Dec 11, 2009). Also, in footnote 38 there’s a description how Hofmann pulled “the ultimate spoof” against God by appearing in a meeting with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle, who was unable to point out the crime of murder that he had just committed.
Pres. Hinckley frankly admitted that he was duped by Hofmann. Other prominent LDS leaders were also obviously not aware of the forgeries, and frankly admitted that. From this some have inferred, that they could not be real “prophets, seers and revelators” since they could not reveal that Hofmann was a fraud.
Does a prophet really always know everything? Think about Jonah. (If you haven’t read the book in the OT yourself, read it just for relevant basic information.) Jonah was told to call the people of Nineveh to repentance. His response was to take the opposite direction and run away from his call. When he did heed the call, he went to tell the people in Nineveh that if they must repent; terrible things were in store for them. Then, when the people did repent, and the Lord removed the punishment (the same he does when we repent), Jonah was indignant. His prophecy didn’t come to pass; Nineveh was not destroyed.
Can we infer from that, that Jonah could not have been truly a prophet called of God, because he didn’t know they’d repent? What about the fact that he rebelled against the Lord’s commandment, and only obeyed after he was humbled enough? I mean, if Joseph Smith can’t be a prophet because of his character flaws — he did have some, I’m sure — or that he did things we in our society would frown upon, then by any like measure, Jonah can’t have been a true prophet.
We could tell less (and more) impressive stories about Bible characters, whom believing Christians hold to be prophets, that equally show them as flawed people. Did you know that Peter denied Jesus — three times — to save his own skin or just out of timidity?
In my view, prophets do not have a constant “broadband connection” bringing in all knowledge that God has about things that are happening right now or in near future. They sometimes are given warnings, advise, or Revelation. That does not mean that they are like radio receivers, that follow every channel all the time, knowing all things past, present and future.
Prophets only receive — and publish — Revelation about things that the Lord deems important to the people of the Lord. When that isn’t happening, they are just mortals, who struggle with their daily lives just like you and me. Except they probably have less time to watch TV shows.
It is true that sometimes even the saints also make the mistake of thinking that everything an Apostle says is Revelation. Or perhaps especially the saints do that. The prophets also sometimes think that the fact that they have authority over the Church, all of their opinions are from the Lord, when a lot of them are just their own reasoning. And no man can be totally free from the “false traditions of their fathers”. We are all influenced deeply by the culture we are immersed in.
Funny, those old document experts’ (whom Hofmann likewise fooled) expertise has not been questioned as actively as the prophetic callings of the LDS leaders who were more or less duped. But imagine for a bit what would have happened, if Pres. Hinckley had declared Hofmann’s documents forgeries. As I see it, the following things may have happened:
- The vocal critics of the Church would have decried the statements as utter frauds; attempts to use the cloak of authority to deep-six anything that would put the Church history in questionable light out. Now they said that the Church wanted to do just that, but the problem with that is, that they were published (the “Salamander Letter” was published as such in Ensign).
- Faithful Church members would likely not have studied the documents as seriously, as they did now — they would not have been proven forgeries so soon.
- The secular experts’ motivation to test and answer questions of their validity as seriously as they did now — it is not cool among scientists to prove prophetic claims true; rather, they might have concentrated on proving them right.
So you see that it is not so simple for a prophet to declare a document a fraud, when there are so many people, who disagree with his authoritativeness, who still matter.
And all of that doesn’t mean that I claim that Pres. Hinckley, for example, knew all along. No, I mean, that there was no real need to resort to Revelation, when the documents’ true nature came out anyway. If that process was a trial of faith, I can only say that we need trials of our faith. They may not be nice, but they are useful.
And one last word about trials and faith. It has always moved me to tears to read of the Three Hebrews Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. In Daniel three, they are threatened with death by burning in a fiery furnace, and they face the imminent torture and death with resolve. One of the most beautiful descriptions of faith to me is in verses 18 – 19 in the 3rd verse. It reads:
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. (Daniel 3:18-19)
They were good men, who had very strong faith. For them it did not matter that they would die in the furnace as much as it did to show the King that they were firm in their resolve. We have to remember, that throughout the history of the kingdom of Israel and Judah, idolatry had been a major scourge, that had invited the hot displeasure of the Lord. These men would not be guilty of that.
Our furnaces are not physically burning, but we are constantly bombarded by images and words that undermine our faith; that entice or even threaten us to worship false gods. Our idols are not that difficult to recognize, and many of us bow down to them, some unwittingly, some just out of indifference, some in defiance. I can’t speak for them, but I think I can say, that I have faith the Lord can save me from the consequences of social awkwardness and ostracism the secular society uses as punishments for us not bowing down to their idols.
But if not, I still will not bow down to their “Idols”.