My apologies to any regular Just and True blog readers that are left. This last year has produced a number of events that pulled my attention toward other pressing issues. I now, some fifteen months after the first of several life stretching episodes, feel I have a short respite from the challenges of life before the next onslaught begins.
The topic that has often rested on my mind these last few months has been the way we receive guidance from the heavens. We are taught of a mechanism, given to us, that can be used to receive direction from God; the burning of the bosom (hence the title for this article, my apologies to the Bernie Sanders supporters who may be offended by my use of the tag line) as described in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 9:
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Oliver was told to study the problem, form a solution, and then ask God if it is the correct translation. He, unfortunately, appears to have simply opened his mind and waited for the Lord to provide the translated text. The section has been used often, in a general context, as instruction how we can receive revelation. We are told to ponder the question and formulate a plan which is then presented to the Lord. If it is correct, we can expect to receive a confirmation that is characterized as a warmth in the chest. If our proposal is not aligned with what God would have us do, we should expect to have our thoughts mangled.
Does the gift of being a translator, as Oliver aspired to, something that we are all considered recipients? Consider what Ammon taught of seership found in Mosiah, chapter 6:
13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
We do not have our own set of interpreters and it isn’t clear whether Oliver employed the Urim and Thummin in his attempt to translate, although the device was available in April, 1829 after the loss of the 116 page manuscript. We read here that anyone who used them lacking a commandment would perish but permission of the Lord was given to Oliver.
I would suggest that the attempt at seership by Oliver Cowdery may not constitute an appropriate mechanism of communication for non-seers. With that said, let’s at least consider the topic in the context of our implied common spiritual worldview
Dallin H. Oaks, in the March 1997 Ensign, described what he considered as revelation:
What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.
The burning in the bosom is characterized as a feeling of comfort and serenity by this apostle. I do have some anxiety in presenting the idea of ‘burning’ fitting the description but that does seem to be the prevailing wisdom.
In the June 2014 issue of the New Era, a similar message was presented. In an article entitled “What If I Don’t Feel a Burning in the Bosom,” Rachel Nielsen wrote:
If you’ve never felt a burning in the bosom, don’t worry. There are many people who recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost in this way, but He also speaks in many other ways too, and you don’t have to feel a burning in the bosom to feel His presence. In fact, as you learn the ways the Holy Ghost inspires you and look for them in your life, you may find that He is communicating with you more than you realized.
“The spirit of revelation typically functions as thoughts and feelings that come into our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See D&C 8:1–2; 100:5–8.)”2 The Holy Ghost can speak to you through:
- Feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith, meekness (see Galatians 5:22–23).
- Thoughts that occupy the mind or press on your feelings (see D&C 128:1).
- A desire to do good and obey the commandments (see Mosiah 5:2).
- A feeling that something is right (see D&C 9:8).
- Feelings of comfort (see John 14:26).
- Feelings that “enlarge [your] soul” (Alma 32:28).
- Thoughts that “enlighten [your] understanding” (Alma 32:28).
- A hunger for more truth (see Alma 32:28).
- Feeling constrained (encouraged) to take an action or restrained (held back) from doing something (see 1 Nephi 7:15; 2 Nephi 32:7).
While the author, in this statement, doesn’t eliminate the opportunity to experience a fire in the bosom, it is suggested that feelings of peace, a desire to do good and a feeling that enlarges your soul are characteristic of the communication with the Holy Ghost.
I would note that the above reference to a ‘desire to do good and obey the commandments’ contains a link to Mosiah 5:2 speaking of the people of King Benjamin at the time of their remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Does this suggest, in the mind of the above author, that the baptism fire is an example of the burning in the bosom? I would certainly assert that there is a distinction between the communication of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire but it should be included in the list. Does the communication of the Holy Spirit as we exercise the faith to believe constitute an example as found in Alma, chapter 32? Yes, of course.
In my feeble mind, however, this begs the question: How does one draw the distinction between the guidance of the Holy Ghost, something that is only conferred upon righteous members of the church and the ‘light of Christ’ that is available to all?
According to the Bible Dictionary:
The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 93:2; see John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also “the light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (see D&C 88:6–13, 41). In this manner, the light of Christ is related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong (Moro. 7:12–19).
The light of Christ should not be confused with the personage of the Holy Ghost, for the light of Christ is not a personage at all. Its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ will lead the honest soul who “hearkeneth to the voice” to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost (see D&C 84:46–48).
Here the light of Christ is characterized by some of the same descriptors as the revelation associated with the burning in the bosom, including enlightenment and the feelings of an uplifting and ennobling influence. The New Era article referenced the Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, with this description:
How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit? I don’t think that’s too difficult, really. … Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. If it is dark, sinister, ugly, not good, then you may know that it is of the adversary.
Similarly, President Hinckley’s message suggests that the Spirit of God engenders feelings encouraging us to do good, of doing the right things, of loving and supporting one another. This suggests a somewhat murky line between the light of Christ given to all and the Holy Spirit suggested as a gift only to members. Is a feeling of peace or a desire to do good related to the light of Christ or a revelation through the Holy Ghost?
Recent physiological research also adds to the complexity of understandings the communications with the Spirit discussed here. Jonathan Haidt coined the term ‘elevation’ to describe the uplifting feeling when witnessing acts of kindness. Here is his description from a 2009 research paper coauthored with Sara B. Algoe entitled ‘Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration‘
“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.
The event of elevation is characterized by feelings of a physical nature including a swelling of the chest and incites one to join in doing charitable acts. In another paper published in 2001 entitled Elevation and the Positive Psychology of Morality, Haidt added more to this aspect:
“In the Japanese interviews, as in the Indian interviews, the same elements are conjoined; the perception of compassionate or courageous behavior by others causes a pleasurable physical feeling in the chest of movement, warmth, or opening, coupled with a desire to engage in virtuous action oneself.”
Here Haidt characterized this feeling of elevation with some of the same descriptors as could be applied to the burning of the bosom and other spiritual manifestations I have discussed earlier. In my opinion, his description fits reasonably nicely with both the light of Christ and the experience those who are confirmed members of the Church. They all suggest the experience a feeling of uplift, a feeling of warmth in the chest, a desire to act with charity and do good.
Are we possibly conflating the gift of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost conferred upon members of the Church with the innate response to seeing good, or hearing an inspiring talk recently coined as ‘elevation?’ What is this thing called revelation? How does one communicate with the heavens?
There have been only a handful of cases in my life that I can honestly say were of the caliber of a ‘revelation.’ They could not all be characterized as presenting a question to the Lord and waiting for a confirmation. They were times when I heard what I could best describe as a voice that spoke words that revealed a course of action.
I am reminded of the description in 2 Nephi discussing the doctrine of Christ in chapter 32:
2 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
4 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
These words were recorded after the description where the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost was pictured as the gate to the strait and narrow path. We were told to follow the example of our Savior and be baptized, both with water and with the spirit. This gift described above is a result of employing the doctrine of Christ in our individual lives.
Could the ability to speak with the tongue of angels be the ability to hear and understand angelic discourse? We are told here to feast on the words of Christ that are spoken by angels. We are encouraged to trust in these words as they will tell us all things that we should do. Is that not what revelation should be?
We are all blessed with an innate desire to seek after things that are lovely and of good report. We may call this revelation or the light of Christ but, in the end, we need to seek after the discourse of angels and receive the words of Christ that they have to offer.
What think ye?