When Revelation Goes Wrong—Or Seems To
By Ken K. Gourdin
Author’s Note: This was cross-posted at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board at Mormondialogue.com in response to another poster’s question about why a friend of his might’ve received revelation to marry a guy when the marriage later ended badly. I’m afraid I don’t have any experience with marriage (good or bad), so I followed the first rule of good writing: write what you know. I analogized the situation in the question he posed to my own decision to pursue a particular course of study.
Revelation can be conditional. Perhaps a desired, revealed outcome will come to pass … if a person continues to use his or her agency wisely. Revelation to one person does not take away another person’s agency or his responsibility to continue to use his agency wisely. (Perhaps this is unfortunate in some respects! Certainly your friend would have preferred a different outcome.) I hesitate to say that anything good can come out of such unfortunate circumstances, but perhaps your friend learned lessons from this experience that she would not have learned otherwise, and that’s why the Spirit ratified the decision.
I don’t have a reference, but Elder Dallin H. Oaks says that one way to know whether a particular instance is revelation or not is how unexpected it is. The less likely a person would have been to opt for a particular course of action if left to his own devices when he seeks revelation regarding what to do in a given circumstance, the more likely that course of action comes from revelation rather than from one’s own thought processes or feelings. That’s what makes revelation so challenging when it comes to a decision such as whom to marry. Personally, if-and-when I’m ever faced with that prospect, I hope there are plenty of good reasons for me to not marry my prospective mate, so I can be reasonably well assured that any decision to marry her is more likely the result of revelation rather than simply one based on the good feelings one is apt to have for a prospective mate (which one might confuse with revelation).
In my own case, I received what I felt was revelation to pursue a certain course of study. It hasn’t paid off for me in a temporal sense, and candidly, there are times when I doubt it ever will. Does that mean I got my wires crossed in receiving what I felt, at that time, was revelation? Perhaps, but as bad as things sometimes seem in my current circumstances, they could be decidedly worse. There is no shortage of blogs started by people in situations somewhat similar to mine, the sole purpose of which (or at least, the primary purpose of which) seems to be to whine and moan about the uselessness of that particular degree.
As bad as my situation might seem, I can’t understand the allure of whining and moaning about it on a blog (or anywhere else, for that matter: I’m not accusing anyone of this, but there’s no situation that’s so bad that complaining about it won’t make it worse). I have considerable student loan debt, and I responded to a solicitation from the dean of my program for contributions to fund new facilities by telling him (in short) that I would need to get the degree I earned to pay off for me before it could pay off for anyone else, including my alma mater. I could have opted for a much more expensive school, in which case my student loan debt (as large as it is) would be three or four times larger; I could have declared bankruptcy and/or ruined my credit (long-term, if not permanently) by defaulting on my loans; I have done none of those things. Yes, my resources are extremely limited; yes, I depend on the resources of others far more than I would like; yes, my career choices are (or at least, they seem) somewhat circumscribed by my circumstances.
As bad as things are (and as bad as they seem), at least for me, they could always be worse.