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One of the verses that is frequently utilized by missionaries is that of Amos 3:7.
Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.
We use this verse to teach that the Lord has worked through prophets and that He continues to work through prophets.
I served in Indiana which means I got a lot of questions about the necessity of a prophet. Why can’t we go to the Lord directly? Why do we need to work through another person? These questions often came because of misunderstandings about the nature of prophets. We don’t need to work through a prophet to receive forgiveness or revelation for our personal lives. However, the Lord obviously believed we needed them for some reason. So why? Why did He choose to work through prophets?
Let’s look at the alternatives to having a prophet and perhaps that can help us understand why one would be helpful. I really only see two alternatives to having a prophet: the Lord directing the work Himself or the Lord not directing it at all (other than disseminating information to individuals who are listening).
The Lord could come and rule directly
The Lord could come down and stand at the head of His church. He could walk with us, explain all of His decisions, and right all wrongs this very minute.
There are two problems with this alternative.
First of all, we are not prepared to be in the presence of the Lord. He lives in an all-consuming fire so unless we’re going to be transfigured constantly, I simply don’t see that working. He could technically have us transfigured constantly, but then we would run into our second issue.
Having Christ rule on the earth directly would foil the Plan of Salvation. Think of how we grow when we have to weigh options, seek revelation, and have faith. Think of how we have to grow when we have to deal with leaders who make mistakes (or even leaders who are legitimately sinning). Think of how we would be robbed if Christ came and just told us everything we needed to do at any given moment. He’s wise enough to know that being here isn’t what’s going to be best for us. By staying “away,” we grow and all the bumps along the way will be taken care of by His atonement. He lets us make our choices and even make our mistakes, and then His atonement essentially cleans up after us. It takes care of the problems we, as imperfect humans, make along the way.
We could skip the directing altogether
So if Christ isn’t going to come down here and rule, then I suppose He could put no one in charge.
This could work. It kinda worked for a long time. All throughout the dark ages, there were many good people who remained close to Christ despite the lack of a prophet.
If Christ chose no one to lead His church, then people could still go directly to Him to learn. We know that the Spirit can teach us all things. Man could seek out revelation, receive visions, and follow what the Lord wants. This is possible.
In fact, Moses wished for exactly this.
In Numbers 11, there are a couple of men who felt the Spirit deeply and started to prophesy. Joshua tries to get Moses to stop them, but Moses is like, “Don’t feel envious for my sake. I wish that all men were prophets.”
Technically speaking, if everyone were super righteous, we wouldn’t need a prophet. If we all remained close to the Spirit, we could learn everything directly from the Lord.
So I suppose it’s possible for us to not need a prophet.
Unfortunately, it isn’t probable.
There were many people who followed Christ after His death when there was no prophet on the earth, but the only reason they had heard of Christ was because a prophet (Peter) directed the Christians to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
Need on a spectrum
Need is an interesting word. There is a spectrum for the word “need.” For example, I need to take a drink of water right now, but I probably don’t need it as badly as someone who has been lost in a desert for a couple of days.
Needing a prophet can also be found on a spectrum. There are things that are absolutely essential to our salvation (i.e. the atonement), but then there are things that we “need” such as prophets.
Maybe we don’t technically need a prophet; we can technically get everything we need from Him directly. But in the same breath, maybe we don’t need parents to raise us with a knowledge of Christ. Maybe we don’t need the scriptures. Maybe we don’t need church leaders, friends, programs, and activities. We don’t technically need any of that because everything can be given to us directly from the Spirit.
Maybe we don’t technically need any of those things, but I’m sure grateful He gave them to us.
My personal need
I don’t know about you, but I have needed a prophet. Even though I could have technically received everything from the Spirit, I don’t know that I would have. And even if I would have sought out the Spirit, I can’t imagine the sheer amount of time and pain it would have taken me to figure anything out at all.
The words of past prophets have given me a medium through which the Spirit can work with me. It has given me the basics. Instead of asking God, “Who are You?” I can ask, “Are these words true?” It is much easier to receive a “yes” or “no.” Instead of having to decipher copious amounts of descriptions and events, I can read words of prophets that have already been given.
The words of current prophets have helped me navigate my life in modern times. Surely I could have survived my mortal life and remained close to Christ even without the advice of modern prophets, but it would have been that much harder. There are plenty of people who have done splendidly without the the Strength of Youth pamphlet, but alcohol, drugs, and pornography continue to ravage the world with their effects. There are plenty of people who grow up to have healthy functioning relationships even if they didn’t believe in the Law of Chastity. But the number of people I know who wish they had been protected from some of these dangers is no insignificant number. I grew up with friends who were alcoholics by the time they were sixteen, and they had to pull themselves out of that. I grew up with friends who found themselves in compromising situations, and they still bear some of those scars. I’m proud of who they are and what they’ve accomplished in overcoming those obstacles, but can you imagine a world where we didn’t have to overcome those things?
The Lord has given us tools to draw closer to Him. Parents, programs, friends, adversities, and prophets can all work in sync to help us find Him and follow His will.
Every individual in the world could have sought out the Lord on their own and received everything they need. But let’s be honest…they wouldn’t have. And because of that, the Lord knew we needed scaffolding. He knew we needed prophets. We may need prophets in a different way than we need the atonement, but we still need them.
I’m grateful for a Savior who gave us prophets. He could have let us struggle around on our own. He could have expected us to figure out revelation more quickly so that we could understand why we’re even here on earth. He could have stopped giving prophets after Christ, but I’m grateful that He did. I’m grateful that He chose to give me these extra tools. I know that without them, I would not be as close to Him as I am now.