Friday, January 2, 2009

Discernment and the Ministering of Angels: A Response

Note: My buddy Adam posted some thoughts on December 16 that I'm just now getting around to reading. I started to respond in his comments box, but since I'm so full of hot air, my response got longer and longer. So I'm posting it here instead.

I would suggest reading his post first before reading mine. That will place my thoughts in their proper context.

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My second mission president taught me that we, as Latter-day Saints, don't focus as much as we should on developing the gift of discernment. Since then, I've consciously tried to focus on what discernment means in this spiritual context. I think it begins, as Mormon teaches, with a knowledge of the light of Christ because this universal gift allows everyone who tunes into it to discern the difference between the forces of light and darkness, good and evil. In the same sermon, he adds to the light of Christ the ministering of angels, a gift also given to men and women from the beginning as a means to help them increase their faith in Christ. This relationship becomes reciprocal, as he says later, because these angels only "show[... or reveal] themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness." In other words, once once these angels or ministering spirits have spoken the "words of Christ" to us through "the power of Holy Ghost," whispering them in our ears, as it were, we can begin to exercise greater faith until the time comes when they reveal themselves unto those with strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.

Yet, such a revelation, as Elder Oaks suggests here and as Elder Holland suggests here is not always a visual manifestation of the kind mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 129. These grand keys, as Adam mentions, give us the means to empirically discern whether or not a personage is resurrected--and thus a body of flesh and bone--or still a spirit.

As Adam also alludes to, there is a way (perhaps more powerful than a physical manifestation) to spiritually discern the difference between angels that may appear to us and, what's more, to sense the presence of unseen hosts, whether good or bad. In his outline of the gifts of the spirit, Moroni says that it's given to some to behold angels and ministering spirits and, in the Doctrine and Covenants,the Lord extends this gift beyond visual manifestations to spiritual discernment (something that would have been helpful had the early Latter-day Saints applied it in this situation).

Once we understand this and approach the ordinances and covenants of the Gospel (especially the sacrament) from this perspective, we can become like Nephi, the brother of Timothy, whose faith was so great "that angels did minister unto him daily." Since developing this view of angels and ministering spirits, I can't feel the Holy Ghost without sensing the presence of multiple beings surrounding me, buoying me up (as here, though minus the horses and chariots).

I felt this most poignantly for the first time in the mission field when my zone was giving an elder a blessing after he'd learned that his father had unexpectedly passed away. As I started the blessing, I felt a presence beside me and noticed that the words were coming to my mind as if from this elder's father, who had, I'm convinced, been allowed to join the circle as a way to comfort and reassure his missionary son. Since then, I've never doubted the presence of angels in my life and I've been a fierce advocate (when the opportunity arises) for the development of discernment as a means to attune ourselves to the ministry of angels.