Two Views of the Prophet

In this missive, I will make a number of assumptions.

The first assumption is that Our Heavenly Father is real, that there is a God. I say assumption even though for me it is a proven reality, as much as anything can be proven to we mere mortals with all our faults and failings.

The second assumption is that Our Heavenly Father is concerned for our welfare. Again, I say assumption even for me this is without a doubt true. Our Heavenly Father cares about his children.

The third assumption is that Our Heavenly Father, because of His concern for us, seeks to benefit us by imparting to us His wisdom. This is for me the definition of revelation, Our Heavenly Father attempting to benefit us by imparting to us His wisdom. Revelation from Our Heavenly Father is not exclusive to Prophets of old, or even Prophets of today, but to each and every one of Our Heavenly Father’s children. Our Heavenly Father attempts to impart His wisdom to each and every one of us on a continuing basis.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I use the word Prophet to refer to the leaders of the Church so designated as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, but I also use the word “prophet,” in this missive, to refer to any leader of a religious movement that purports to receive inspiration from Our Heavenly Father, by whatever name they call their leader or their God, or Gods. Presently in the conversation of Latter-day Saints, the phrase “the Prophet” would refer to the current President of the Church, Russel M. Nelson.

What are the two views of the Prophet that I’m referring to? By “view” I’m referring to the two basic conceptions of or attitudes toward the Prophet held by the members of the Church. I am not referring to the various doctrinal formulations, whether scripturally based or not, of what a Prophet is or is not, but how everyday members, if there are such things, view the Prophet. Of course, there are more than two distinct conceptions of or attitude towards past prophets and the present President of the Church, but I do think it is useful to think of two distinct views even if upon closer inspection the distinctions may not hold up completely.

The first view of the Prophet is of someone who unerringly states the will of Our Heavenly Father for His children and is unfailingly accurate as to the nature of divinity. Essentially, the Prophet is infallible.

The second view of the Prophet is of someone chosen by Our Heavenly Father to lead the Church. The Prophet is neither unfailingly accurate nor infallible but as a faithful member, amongst so many faithful members, chosen based on experience and a well-developed relationship with Our Heavenly Father to lead the Church at a particular time.

Members who view the Prophet as infallible as well as those who do not can and have found rich blessings in listening to and studying the words of the Prophets. One does not need to feel an individual never makes a mistake to gain wisdom in pondering the individual’s words. This applies to any individual, as well as the Prophets.

The significance of the view a member holds of the Prophet comes into play when it inevitably is manifest to the member that Prophets are in fact not infallible, but fallible like the rest of us.

Arriving at the conclusion that Prophets past and present are fallible should not come as a surprise to anyone well versed in the scriptures. The scriptures themselves pointed out many times when the Disciples proved themselves to be fallible. Just a few examples were the Disciples arguing amongst themselves about who was greatest (Luke 22:24), the Disciples falling asleep not once by twice in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark14:37-40), and Peter denying he even knew the Savior three times (Matthew 26:69-74). The Savior himself stated to his Disciples if they had faith as small as a mustard seed they could move mountains with a word (Matthew 20:20). None of his Disciples then or since has been able to move mountains with a word, at least literally.

If we conceive of a Prophet as infallible, or a Prophet portrays himself as infallible, then the supposed Prophet’s inevitable failings preclude the individual from being a Prophet, of being someone worthy of following as head of the Savior’s Church. Doubt cast upon the Prophet casts doubt upon the Church as a whole and perhaps even upon the Savior.

If we conceive of a Prophet as being like ourselves, a mere mortal prone to mistakes and human weaknesses, then we can accept a Prophet’s inevitable failings and still accept the individual as worthy to lead the Church, at least to some degree. With this view, one’s faith is in the Savior, not the Savior’s anointed.

Whether one considers the Prophet infallible or infallible, praying to understand the words of the Prophet is indispensable. Reading and studying the words of the Prophet, or scriptures in general, does not replace the need for inspiration, or continuing revelation, to understand and appreciate their true meaning. Only through the Holy Ghost does the true nature of divinity and Our Heavenly Father’s will for us become manifest.