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This post might be one of the most intimidating subjects I’ve come across thus far. I’m immensely worried that someone will twist my words and give them meanings I did not intend. However, I feel very strongly that this is what Heavenly Father wanted me to talk about. I wrote another post this week, but I woke up in the middle of the night with the distinct impression, “That’s not what you need to talk about,” and then promptly fell back asleep.
In Helaman chapters 8 and 9, Nephi is preaching to the Nephites, many of whom have gone astray and some of which are Gadianton robbers. The Gadianton robbers try to rile everybody up, and Nephi responds by telling the people that their chief judge has just been murdered. The people come to find out it is true. They start to blame Nephi because he knew about it, and then Nephi prophesies again and tells them who did it – namely, the judge’s brother. The murderer is caught and thrown in jail. The reactions from the people are mixed.
39 And there were some of the Nephites who believed on the words of Nephi; and there were some also, who believed because of the testimony of the five, for they had been converted while they were in prison.
40 And now there were some among the people, who said that Nephi was a prophet.
41 And there were others who said: Behold, he is a god, for except he was a god he could not know of all things. For behold, he has told us the thoughts of our hearts, and also has told us things; and even he has brought unto our knowledge the true murderer of our chief judge.
So some people didn’t believe, some people believed Nephi, some people believed the five Nephites who went and found the judge had been murdered, and then there were some people who believed Nephi was a god.
Now here’s what’s funny about that. Nephi preached to the people, and I quote…
Helaman 8:12 And now behold, if God gave unto this man such power, then why should ye dispute among yourselves, and say that he hath given unto me no power whereby I may know concerning the judgments that shall come upon you except ye repent?
Nephi is literally like, “Hey. Heavenly Father gave me this power to know what’s going on.” Then Nephi tells them that the judge has been murdered, and there is a group of people who are like, “Gasp! He must be a god!”
Now many of us may roll our eyes and laugh at these fools, but…have we ever mistakenly turned our prophets into gods?
What does it look like to turn our prophet into a god?
In 1945, a church magazine printed the following quote: “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” What many people don’t know about that statement is that President George Albert Smith was furious about it. He replied to that statement with his own, “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the church.”
Brigham Young stated, “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God.”
It looks like not receiving our own testimony of the prophet’s words.
It looks like people leaving the church over church policies from the past. The church doesn’t explicitly teach that prophets are perfect, but church culture implies it. When we internalize those implications, it can be difficult to stick around when we find out they’re not true. We expected the prophets to be perfect gods and when they didn’t live up to our expectations, we left.
It looks like accepting everything point blank. Now there will be some people who argue with me on that one. There will be people who argue with me because God has promised that He will never let our leaders steer the church astray and we are taught to be obedient. I 100% agree with both of those teachings. I also agree with the teaching that we are supposed to learn for ourselves and NOT accept them point blank.
The last way that we unconsciously turn prophets into gods is when we don’t allow room for the fact that they make mistakes. It is uncomfortable for some to sit with the notion that a prophet can make a mistake, but it’s true. They make mistakes. Christ is the only man who has ever lived upon the earth and lived a perfect life. He is the only one to have loved perfectly, to have received revelation perfectly, to have taught perfectly.
So friends. How do we reconcile some of the doctrines that we’ve talked about today? How do we question and obey the prophet? How can a man be imperfect but be expected to speak for God and lead His church?
How do we reconcile?
There are a million ways that members have tried to reconcile this idea in their mind. On the one hand, some have turned the prophet into a god unknowingly. When criticism pops up on social media or someone asks us about things directly, we prefer to look the other way and sweep it under the rug. When our children ask probing questions, we push them to learn to be obedient and not listen to the world rather than helping them learn how to receive revelation. Some have argued that there are times when the prophets are speaking for themselves and times when they are speaking for the Lord; this is true, but sometimes those lines feel blurred to many who are earnestly trying to follow the gospel and yet, find themselves struggling.
So what is the solution that answers for every question? Who fulfilled justice and extended mercy? Who makes up for the wrongs that have happened to us? Who fills in the cracks and will eventually make up for everything?
Christ. The answer will always be Christ.
When mistakes are made and feelings are hurt, it is Christ who can bind up the broken heart and turn hiccups into mountain-moving faith experiences. That’s what He does. He turns past problems into teachers. When mistakes have been made, it is Christ who can lead us through until the church is one day perfect.
When you made a mistake in the past and repented, what happened? Christ erased the sin, but left you with the lesson. There have been hiccups in our history, just like any healthy, improving, sincere history, and Christ has the power to erase the hurt and bring us back stronger than ever on the other side.
But why make such a focus on their mistakes?
As I was thinking about this article, I kept circling back around to why all of this matters. Why would I prepare an entire lesson on the idea that prophets are imperfect? Surely when we all take time to think about it, we can acknowledge that they’re not perfect. We also love them so deeply for how they bring us closer to Christ that a lot of us are very willing to overlook any mistakes they might make.
So why bring it up? Because those are the facts, some people struggle with those facts, and we need to be prepared if we’re going to help them. When we try to cover things up or get defensive, people usually respond by thinking we’re brainwashed or unwilling to believe despite the facts. When we’re willing to say, “Yup. That happened,” then those we love can see that it’s possible to disapprove of some of these mistakes while still loving and following the prophet. It lets them know that we see reality AND we still believe.
Second reason. We become responsible for our own salvation. If God were to come down right now and start giving orders, it would be very easy to just fall in line and be obedient without ever questioning or learning or growing. God is perfect and so that’s a good enough reason to simply obey. But Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to just be obedient; He wants us to become like Him. That means we have to understand the ins and outs of righteousness. We have to understand how the world truly works. When God chooses to work through an imperfect prophet, it places the responsibility back on us to seek revelation and answers about what the prophet teaches. It forces us to learn for ourselves.