Why I cringe when someone says “of course I’ve never seen an angel, but…”
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we believe in ongoing miracles. It shows up in three of our thirteen articles of faith. Moroni waxes eloquent on the subject. Nephi castigates Laman and Lemuel for asserting that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto” them. Miracles, visions, and revelations are definitely part of our doctrine.
However, there is a habit among many members of the church to explicitly assume that no one they know witnesses “big” miracles. Some miracles—prayers resulting in knowing what to do, for example—are treated as being almost ordinary. But most other miracles are treated as happening only to “other” people. Phrases like “of course I’ve never seen an angel, but…” and “I’ve never had a vision, but…” preface comments in Sunday School on an almost weekly basis. I recently asked a room of twenty-five elders how many of them believed that someone else in the room had had a doctrinal revelation and only three raised their hands. There is a firm line drawn culturally: promptings and healings happen to us, other miracles happen to “significant people.”
Part of this cultural distinction is due to an important principle illustrated by an experience Lorenzo Snow had in his youth. After receiving a significant doctrinal revelation he “did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet had taught it.” A personal miracle is, well, personal, and sharing it too freely can be mistaken for boasting, can open one up to ridicule, and can disturb the faith of others.
That sharing revelations too freely can disturb the faith of others deserves some explanation. It is one thing to be given a revelation that helps you understand truth. It is another altogether to be given a revelation and the words to express it that will help anyone who hears it to understand truth. I am convinced that one reason for the Lord’s establishing lines of stewardship and restricting the introduction of new doctrinal understanding to a few ordained prophets it to help curb a proliferation of misunderstood revelations.
A side effect of the hesitation of those who receive “big” miracles to share those revelations with others is a false image of few miracles occurring. With that image of few miracles comes the expectation that miracles are not going to happen. Like Laman and Lemuel, we think we know that “the Lord maketh no such thing [manifest] unto us.” Because we think they don’t happen, we don’t seek them out.
The Lord places no limits on what He will give his faithful followers. Let us drop the unnecessary “I’ve never”s (and especially the incorrect “of course”s!) that we may stop implicitly encouraging others to limit themselves.