Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More on the Word Vs. the Spirit of God

I was struck lately by the Book of Mormon's reconciliation of that age-old false dichotomy between following the Spirit of God and following the Word (Law) of God in the very first few chapters. In these first chapters, Nephi kills, lies, steals, bullies and coerces, all in the name of listening to the Spirit. It would be easy to see how to use his example to justify doing whatever you like and citing the Spirit as a reference. People throughout history have done just that. You don't even need to appeal to the Devil. However, there are a few good things to keep in mind when following the Spirit.

  1. The Spirit does not contradict God's laws.

  2. Of course, the trick to that is knowing God's laws. First and foremost is to bring about the salvation of man. Nephi's actions accomplished these things. Less ultimate laws such as "do not kill" and "pay tithing" are created to serve that law, not for it to serve them.

  3. Ultimately, you will have to answer to the Lord for your actions.

  4. In other words, you'd better make sure of yourself before acting on an impulse. You'll note that Nephi had a bit of a scuffle before he finally followed the Spirit's drastic promptings.

  5. Lastly, be cautious when the Spirit is prompting you to do something counter to what the prophets have advised.

  6. Rare is the time you will have to go to the measures Nephi did. You'll also notice he exhausted all other options, first. If it's scripturally shady or downright black territory, especially if you WANT to do it, chances are good you're deluding yourself.

There is no real conflict between following the Law of God and the Spirit of God. Neither extreme will apply to all situations. You'll find, as with many things in the Gospel, that the truth is not so easily pigeonholed.


  1. I think we have a bit of a problem with Nephi killing Laban. How can we get around murder being against God's laws?

  2. Because the law to not murder was created to serve the higher law of the exaltation of man. It is just as the Spirit told Nephi - it was better for one man's time on earth to end than for thousands, perhaps millions, to live their lives without the gospel.

    In this case, Laban had to be killed because the law of salvation was more important than the law of life. You'll notice that Nephi wasn't happy to kill. He didn't do it unthinkingly. Additionally, they tried everything possible before it came to that, but Laban had shown that there was no other way.

  3. Thanks for this post, SilverRain. Your concluding paragraph clearly states why most of us have problems in this area.

    The whole "I got a revelation we should marry" scenario, where emotion and hormones may drown out whatever the Spirit is truly whispering, is a prime example of how hard it can be to discern when the Spirit may be telling us to do something, and when we are listening to other voices.

    I tend to have a "rule keeper" type of personality, but I have definitely seen instances where the Spirit has directed people to break rules (if not commandments) for the greater good of others involved.

    However, I have also seen a tremendous amount of harm come to many who were too quick to think that, as you put it, "the Spirit is prompting you to do something counter to what the prophets have advised."

  4. I have thought lately that those who are exceptions to the rule (of the law) likely don't *want* to be. That is one lesson I get from that story with Nephi. If we WANT to be an exception, I think we will be more likely to try to justify something we shouldn't. :)

  5. The Spirit does not contradict God's laws.

    Of course, the trick to that is knowing God's laws. First and foremost is to bring about the salvation of man. Nephi's actions accomplished these things. Less ultimate laws such as "do not kill" and "pay tithing" are created to serve that law, not for it to serve them.

    In the example of Nephi, the Spirit actually does contradict God's laws. It seems like what you're arguing for is the superiority of some laws over others. How does this not lead to the conclusion that we can do anything as long as it leads to the "exaltation of man"? Or is that the point you wanted to make?

    In other words, I don't think the dichotomy between the Spirit and the law is as false as you would like to think it is.

  6. Smallaxe - well, most would agree with you. I don't.

    It's a concept that is tricky to apply because we (especially we of Western thought) want to believe that if something is true, it applies equally to all situations. Therefore, if Nephi kills Laban because the Spirit told him to and that is not a sin and does not transgress God's laws, then Joe should be able to kill Mike if he thinks the Spirit tells him to and it should not be against God's laws. The missing piece is that the Spirit did not actually tell Joe to kill Mike, but he did actually tell Nephi to kill Laban.

    This is not something that can apply to laws of man because those HAVE to apply equally to all. Those administering man's law do not have a perfect knowledge. However, God's laws are administered by One with complete and perfect knowledge. He knows whether or not Nephi actually listened to the Spirit or if he was rationalizing and creating a Spiritual experience in his own mind.

    To apply this to our own lives is easy: you'd better be completely sure it's the Spirit before you do something that seems counter to the words of the Prophets. Otherwise, you'll answer to God. As I said before, it's a good rule of thumb that if you WANT to do it and it runs counter to the prophet's words, it's most likely not the Spirit. That's not a hard and fast rule, but you'll not get many of those in reality.

  7. Also I should say that we can't judge the truth of another's experience like this without a confirmation of the Spirit. We just simply don't know God's ways unless He tells us. But, in the end, all those who rationalized away God's laws will find themselves answering for that. It is not something to do lightly.

    And, obedience to God's laws cannot exempt you from the law of man. That's the nature of the world we live in.

    It's also interesting to remember that Nephi's killing of Laban was lawful according to the law of Moses. It was not considered murder like it would be today.

  8. If I understand you correctly you're creating a distinction between the laws of God and the laws of man. The former can vary from situation to situation, the latter must apply universally to all. God's laws seem to be contradictory from our limited perspective but they are in reality not contradictory--he has complete knowledge while we don't.

    Let me know if I'm getting this correct.

    If this is the case, I don't see how this wouldn't create a problem for us epistemologically. In other words how can you claim that "the Spirit did not actually tell Joe to kill Mike, but he did actually tell Nephi to kill Laban"? It would seem that we would have to withhold judgment in both circumstances. In other words we cannot know if the Spirit told either party to do it, all we can know is that they both broke the "laws of man".

  9. Smallaxe - basically, yes. I would clarify that the laws of God only seem to vary, but they don't when put into an eternal framework.

    If Nephi were to kill Laban today, he would have to be tried and imprisoned if found guilty just like any other killer. "The Spirit told me to do it" does not exempt anyone from the extent of the law. If I were given that prompting, then, I'd have to decide whether I preferred following the Spirit at the expense of my freedom and possibly my life or to deny the Spirit and live out my life in peace. When looking at it this way, the most poignant illustration that comes to mind is that of the friends of Daniel. They chose to follow the Spirit over men's laws, and were willing to suffer the consequences of that choice.

    Spiritually, we are obligated to withhold final judgment as to whether or not one who claims to be led by the Spirit truly is. We can, of course, gain confirmation or denial of that through the Spirit, but we cannot judge it of ourselves. Temporally, we are obligated to uphold the laws of the land, even if to our detriment.

  10. It sounds like you're saying that things that we would normally consider "commandments" are the constructions of human beings and not the laws of God because his only law is to bring about the eternal life of human beings. So the commandments are only valid inasmuch as the bring that about. Is this correct?

  11. I never said His only law was to bring about the exaltation of man, but that all other laws and commandments are created to serve that law. Therefore, where they don't serve that law, He is free to command His children to do otherwise without being inconsistent.


Unfortunately, I've found it necessary to screen comments. Unless your comment violates the commenting policy, it will show up as soon as I can approve it.

Popular Posts