Why Prophets?

Stormy Sea at Night by Ivan Aivazovsky (1849)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

Mormon doctrine emphasizes a combination of radical individual freedom and responsibility on the one hand with an emphasis on obedience to a hierarchy of Church leadership on the other. It’s an unstable tension that is prone to error in two different directions. One extreme can be summed up by the (heretical) idea that “When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.” The other extreme questions why bother having prophets at all if they’re fallible and we have to come to our own conclusions about their teachings anyway.

But we don’t have to pick between the extremes, and Elder Groberg’s talk is a great explanation of why that’s so.

There are those who, through years of experience and training, and by virtue of special divine callings, can see farther and better and more clearly—and can and will save us in those situations where serious injury or death—both spiritual and physical—would be upon us before we ourselves could see.

This is the summary to a story from his life when an experienced sea captain was able to navigate through a narrow gap in a reef in the middle of a nighttime storm by seeing a light that no one else on the boat could see. It’s a great metaphor because it doesn’t presuppose infallibility or imply abdication of responsibility. Prophets see more, but they don’t see everything, and we’re still responsible for heeding their counsel, or not.

It makes sense to listen to prophets because, as Elder Groberg states, “We are in the midst of a major storm over moral values that will get worse before we arrive home.” But listening doesn’t mean letting prophets—or anyone else—lead our lives on our behalf. We are each, as Sartre said, condemned to be free. We can try and pretend to outsource the weighty decisions in our lives, but it won’t work. Like the drummer said, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Listening to prophets is optional.

Being ultimately responsible for our own decisions isn’t.

Check out the other post from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

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