At a certain threshold of knowledge, it seems that the more we know, the less God wants us to say. Possessing such knowledge creates temptation to share it, saying or revealing more than we should. If we, lacking spiritual permission, indulge in that temptation, we essentially repeat Lucifer’s actions in the Garden of Eden, in that we are disseminating knowledge that we are not authorized to give.
Let me restate in a much fuller way.
Point 1) God does reveal things that are not public knowledge, but those to whom He reveals them are also not authorized to share them publicly. This is the plain meaning of Alma 12:9, which occurs in a temple context.
It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
As an example, it is frequently stated that no one can receive revelation for the Church except the President of the Church. The accuracy of this statement depends on how we understand it.
a)One can receive or learn information, truth, or doctrine that is not publicly revealed or declared, that affects the whole Church. (Heck, if it’s Truth with a capital T, it affects everyone, right?) Source:
If the Lord Almighty should reveal to a High Priest, or to any other than the head, things that are true, or that have been and will be, and show to him the destiny of this people twenty-five years from now, or a new doctrine that will in five, ten, or twenty years hence become the doctrine of this Church and Kingdom, but which has not yet been revealed to this people, and reveal it to him by the same Spirit, the same messenger, the same voice, the same power that gave revelations to Joseph when he was living, it would be a blessing to that High Priest, or individual; but he must rarely divulge it to a second person on the face of the earth, until God reveals it through the proper source to become the property of the people at large. Therefore when you hear Elders say that God does not reveal through the President of the Church that which they know, and tell wonderful things, you may generally set it down as a God’s truth that the revelation they have had is from the Devil, and not from God. If they had received from the proper source, the same power that revealed to them would have shown them that they must keep the things revealed in their own bosoms, and they seldom would have a desire to disclose them to the second person.
– Journal of Discourses, 3:318 and Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 338.
b)As for binding instructions or inspired counsel, you can receive those only for those within your area of responsibility. Thus, only those who are responsible for the whole Church can declare binding instructions for the whole Church. This is the usual sense of “only the Prophet can receive revelation for the whole church.”
I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21.
c) Once again, in terms of knowledge or doctrine, we all have potential access to everything that has been revealed to the head of the Church. Source:
God hath not revealed any thing to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve & even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to-bear them.
Words of Joseph Smith, 3.
Summary so far:
Some, by study and obedience, may learn truths that go beyond the stated position of the Church, but this does not authorize them to speak officially for the Church or to present their views as binding on the Church. There are many subjects about which the scriptures are not clear and about which the Church has made no official pronouncements. In such matters, one can find differences of opinion among Church members and leaders. Until the truth of these matters is made known by revelation, there is room for different levels of understanding and interpretation of unsettled issues.
–Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Doctrine.”
Point 2) If we violate God’s trust after He reveals something to us of this category, God will quit telling us things.
God doesn’t talk to blabbermouths.
-Attributed to Elder McConkie by a BYU professor I trust.
I do not tell all I know. I have not told my wife all I know. I have found that if I tell everything I know and explain every experience that I have had, the Lord will not trust me.
-Elder Marion G. Romney, as quoted by Elder Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 326, Elder Alexander Morrison, Dawning of a Brighter Day, 61.
Point 3) Expanding these principles beyond revealed knowledge, it is tempting to share any knowledge that is deliberately limited. Whether a person has given me an unpublished paper in trust that I won’t share it with others or God has revealed something to me, the end result is essentially the same. I now have knowledge I didn’t before and that most others don’t.
Personal example: I have learned some interesting things about Temples from my studies, from the scriptures, and from spiritual experiences, as well as unpublished papers, one unpublished book, and one particular unpublished (for the time being) talk and discussion with a current high-ranking General Authority. I would characterize some of these things as Truth, and therefore inspired.
As one who teaches and aspires to be a teacher, I’m torn between two fundamental contrasting principles.
Principle 1) If I receive it, I can’t share it. (What good is knowledge that doesn’t get shared, beyond my personal benefit? Especially knowledge that could help someone spiritually? )
Principle 2) If I share it, I receive no more. (Gah! Who in their right mind would deliberately kill the informational Golden Goose?)
Now, in the various classes I’ve taught, I have sometimes touched on these things I’ve learned as I feel appropriate. I have ocassionally really wanted to say more. How do I determine what I should say of these things?
a) The Spirit. “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation” D&C 63:64.
b) Motivation. President Benson taught that “Our motives for the things we do are where the sin is manifest.” (“Beware of Pride.”) If pride or ego motivates me, I’m probably in trouble.
I confess that this is a common temptation. It’s the feeling, greatly exaggerated, of “I know things, secret things, hidden things! I possess arcane wisdom you do not! I am the servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!” Ok, Perhaps not quite that maniacal, but certainly you get the point. Like name-dropping, revealing that you know such information elevates you above those who don’t. In socio-linguistic terms, it puts you in the “one-up position.”
On the other hand, if the Spirit so moves, and it’s for the good of the student, I feel more secure in discussing at least the ideas, if not the sources. I think. There’s nothing quite so rewarding as a teacher than watching a student “get it” or have an “aha!” moment. When teaching spiritual things, such moments can really be rewarding. (It makes up for the low or no pay 🙂
Perhaps this post has inaccurately maximized the tension between these two principles. In the end, it comes down to a case-by-case basis for me, walking the line differently based on circumstances and inspiration.
Edit for anyone reading for the first time: I include in this third category of deilberately-limited information all kinds of things: Personal revelation, temple information, spiritual experiences, unpublished books or papers, personal conversations that, if shared, would probably qualify as gossip, in short anything that is sensitive but potentially share-able.