The investigation is a balance between constant re-evaluation and learning, and not conceding what I already know. And, unfortunately, it's fraught with potential for misunderstandings and offense. I've posted obliquely about how there's an interplay between knowledge and faith, certitude and unsupported confidence, but the question always seems to return: how do you know? One small part of the puzzle is living prophets. I find comfort in prophetic guidance when I see so many people making different decisions for their lives in the name of being true to themselves. It's a bit of a puzzle to know how to respond when people claim to have reached an entirely different God-sanctioned direction for themselves than I think God has indicated is appropriate.
The interplay between rationality and faith, between personal confidence and informed skepticism, is always tricky. I think I'm on the right track even while I note what I think are mistakes in the approaches of others. Many apologies for the indecency of assessing such a thing. I know some will take it to be judgmental, but I find it a decidedly important part of determining how to live one's life (and how not to). In terms of revelation, I found the following information from an old professor of mine to be helpful:
Joseph Smith taught early in his ministry that God has a system, an order by which he communicates with his children and with his prophets; that to claim to receive revelation which in fact does not come from God, to speak in the name of the Lord when one is not authorized to do so, is essentially to take the name of the Lord God in vain ( Doctrine and Covenants 63:62). Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have studied the tenets of their faith and the principles and doctrines associated therewith have come to know that:
- A person claiming a revelation from God must be acting within the realm of his or her own stewardship. That is, one may receive revelation from God for himself or for those under his charge, but “it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or anyone, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves” (TPJS, 21). In short, the early Saints learned that “revelations of the mind and will of God to the Church, are to come through the [First] Presidency. This is the order of heaven and the power and privilege of this Priesthood. It is also the privilege of any officer in this Church to obtain revelations, so far as relates to his particular calling and duty in the Church” (TPJS, 111).
- A person claiming a revelation from God should be worthy to receive the same. That is, he or she must be living a life that is in keeping with the standards of the Church, must be in good standing before God and God’s people.
- A supposed revelation must be in harmony with the teachings of scripture, prophets, and the law and order of the Church. If, for example, someone were to come to me and indicate that she had received a revelation to be dishonest in order to improve her financial situation, I would know at once that such a solution, though practical, was not inspired. If a person were to say to me that God had instructed him that the Church should go in a different direction entirely and that he was the one to lead the Church in that direction, I would know that the purported oracle was not of God. What, then, about such unusual scriptural commands as Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac? My suggestion has always been that we as rank-and-file members abide by the rules and leave the exceptions to the called and ordained prophets. A modern apostle, Boyd K. Packer, observed that “there are those who claim authority from some secret ordinations of the past. Even now some claim special revealed authority to lead or to teach the people. ... “There have been ... too many ordinations and settings apart performed before too many witnesses; there have been too many records kept, too many certificates prepared, and too many pictures published in too many places for any one to be deceived as to who holds proper authority. Claims of special revelation or secret authority from the Lord or from the Brethren are false on the face of them and really utter nonsense!” (CR, Apr. 1985, 43; see also Doctrine and Covenants 42:11).
- The revelation will build one’s faith in Jesus Christ, in the Church and kingdom, and in the constituted authorities of the Church. That is to say, God will not work against himself