A few week’s back there was a discussion on Issues in Mormon Doctrine regarding the relative number of revelations and signs in the church nowadays as opposed to during the Joseph Smith period. One of the fundamental questions asked was, to paraphrase, why has the initial outpouring of revelation stopped?
I don’t know. To be honest, I am not entirely certain it has. There is Geoff J‘s take and there is Ben S‘s. But, in reading the Book of Mormon today, I came across some interesting stuff.
Let’s start with 2 Nephi 26:13:
13 And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.
This seems pretty straightforward. God’s manifestations are contingent on context, that context being provided by faith. So, if we have the faith to see the miracles, we will see them. However, this seems like a too-easy answer and it is.
To demonstrate, let’s read Ether 12:12
12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.
Now, some people are of a mind that every new day is a miracle. We’ll adopt their approach for the moment. Apparently, they, through their faith, allow God to continue to produce new days. This seems terribly limiting on God. Do we really believe that we have this kind of power? That the power of God is dependent on the faith of his children? Even if you are demanding classical miracles (ie. healings, tongues, etc.), the requirement of human faith (flawed as it usually is) seems to place some sort of human control over divine will.
Here’s another interesting passage, Moroni 7:35 – 38:
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.
Here we see human limitations being placed on the Atonement itself. If there is anything that God wants, it is for His children to return to Him. How is it even possible for human faithlessness to deny God what He most wants? It is hard to reconcile this idea with that of an omnipotent creator.
Unless you have an idea of a self-limiting creator (which we have). The limitations on God are self-imposed as a necessary step in granting us free will. Apparently, there was no other way. As a result, we, by our limited faith in God, create limits on how He can interact with us personally. But there appears to be a way around this.
Faith, as the scriptures above point out, is a means whereby miracles can be wrought. Why? Because faithful prayer gives us access to the mind and will of God and, in those cases, we can ask Him to do for us what he would like to do. The limitation that God has self-imposed seems to be that He can bless us as He would like to do, but we must sincerely ask Him to. If we are willing to seek out His will and ask Him for His help in accomplishing it, our blessings, revelations, and miracles can presumably be limitless.
Regarding the revelation issue from the first paragraph then, if the revelatory nature of the Church has changed, the reasons may be twofold. First, perhaps we don’t have so much revelation because people don’t sincerely want God to weigh in on the matters of the day (think about the internal church discussions over gay-marriage propositions in California). Second, as the church has expanded, the need for a central source to get the kinds of revelations that you see in D&C 12, 14, 15, and 16 has gone away. Perhaps people, in approaching the Lord directly, are receiving these sorts of revelations themselves. So, my guess is that a combination of a lack of desire for institutional revelation and an increased emphasis on personal revelation (perhaps to give the Brethren more time to work on other issues) has brought about the current situation. For better or for worse…