The scriptures state:
John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
But God does not live on the earth. He is not our neighbor. We do not knock on his door for a cup of sugar or engage him in a chat when we meet him out on a walk.
So how can we know him, as he does not walk among us?
We have many of his words, to be sure. But the knowledge of those words was not sufficient for all of christianity together to find eternal life. All of those words together did not convey enough of the knowledge of God to bring any soul to eternal life from the time of the apostasy until the time of the revolution.
Yet, a small handful of those words taken together brought one soul to eternal life. Joseph Smith read
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
The Holy Ghost carried the full meaning of those words to his heart, and he exercised sufficient faith that the Father and the Son appeared to him in the flesh. He spoke to them. They conversed with him. He came to know something about them in reality.
All the words about heaven and God ever written could not compare to this first hand knowledge of who he was. Here was Joseph Smith, a man coming to know God in truth. Here was a man gaining eternal life.
And we must ask ourselves “Do we know Jesus Christ?”
These days, it is in vogue for everyone to answer yes. But do we know him more than those who do not have the Holy Ghost? Can we say things about him they cannot?
Sure, we can state some doctrines they do not know. We can quote things about the priesthood. We know he is resurrected. We can talk about the restored church. We know doctrines that those without the Holy Ghost do not know. We know lots of facts about the way he does things.
But that is not my question. This is knowledge of the same sort found in the bible. It is knowledge about him and the way he does things in the abstract. It is like a baseball card that lists statistics and has a nice photograph, but it is different than knowing him. My question is, do we know Jesus Christ, through the Holy Ghost, in ways that the gentiles do not?
For the non-members certainly cannot claim to have eternal life, so if we do not know God better than they do, then according to the scripture, neither do we. We cannot say we have the Holy Ghost if we do not know God better than the gentiles do.
Sure, we can think of some of the more bizarre gentile notions put forth, and compare our knowledge to theirs. But when we speak of God, we often do not sound particularly different than when gentile preachers speak of him. Which is interesting, because those in the scriptures often sound very different than we do. We read the verses about the Brother of Jared falling down in fear when he sees the finger of the Lord, and think of how naive he is compared to ourselves. We read about Isaiah crying “wo is me” when he sees God in vision, and are surprised that Isaiah doesn’t know God better than that.
I will pose the question the way Joseph Smith posed the question:
“I want to ask this congregation, every man, woman and child, to answer the question in their own heart, what kind of a being God is? Ask yourselves; turn your thought into your hearts, and say if any of you have seen, heard, or communed with him. This is a question that may occupy your attention for a long time. I again repeat the question–What kind of a being is God? Does any man or woman know? Have any of you seen him, heard him, or communed with him? Here is the question that will, peradventure, from this time henceforth occupy your attention. The Scriptures inform us that ‘This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’
If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being he is,–if he will search diligently his own heart–if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.” (TPJS page 343-344)
Eternal life is gained by knowing God. And we know God only by revelation. He is not here among us. We can only know him by revelation.
We are given the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism. Why? To reveal to us all things what we must do. To bear record of the Father and the Son to us. We must come to know them the only way we can know them at that point. We must come to know them by revelation.
And what do we have now? We have scads of faithful members who don’t think they are supposed to learn to grow into the principle of revelation through the spirit. Sure, it is a handy way to keep everyone in line. But it destroys the gospel. Recall Joseph Smith’s question to the saints in Nauvoo: “What kind of a being is God? Does any man or woman know? Have any of you seen him, heard him, or communed with him?…If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being he is,–if he will search diligently his own heart–if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle.”
How else can they gain eternal life? How can they come to know God, who does not live among them, if they do not grow into the principle of revelation?
When we teach our members that they can speak by the Holy Ghost and teach by the Holy Ghost, as long as somebody else already said exactly what they feel inspired to say, and they can verify that in advance, then we destroy their confidence in the spirit. The spirit wants to inspire them, but the moment it does, they are unsure because they don’t know if someone else already said it.
Even the prophet Jacob, who saw Christ in his youth, said that the Holy Ghost would leave him if he was shaken from his “firmness in the spirit”. He is referring to speaking in the confidence of the spirit. The voice of the Holy Ghost is a confident one. Recall his words:
Jacob 4:18 … I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my overanxiety for you.
Speaking and teaching in the spirit requires firmness in the spirit. The voice of the spirit is a confident voice.
And our teachers with their checklists of “official doctrine” dash that to pieces because they set up stakes for the almighty saying here you can go an no further. They should listen to the prophet:
“I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God.”
We must be teaching our members to grow into the principle of revelation, not to silence and ignore it as unreliable. Sure, mistakes will be made as men and women are learning to see, to walk, and to hear for themselves anew.
But if eternal life is to know Jesus Christ, and if the Holy Ghost must teach us who he is, then far better for them to occasionally misstep, and for some to lose their way, than for the whole batch together to bury their talent in the ground and for the God of heaven to be forced to exclaim “Ye never knew me”. What else can he exclaim if they never grew into the principle of revelation? They don’t live next door to him. If they cut off the principle of revelation, they cut off eternal life, for they can know him by no other means.