07 May 2006

Blindly Following the Prophet

“You shouldn’t just do what the prophet says without studying it out in your mind and searching for a confirmation that it is right. To do otherwise is blind obedience.”

What is wrong with this statement?

Consider two examples:

Example 1
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman comes to the prophet to be cured of leprosy. He is given unimpressive instructions which, after some hesitation, he nevertheless follows. Upon complying, Naaman is healed.

Example 2
Adam, in Moses 5, is commanded by the Lord to offer sacrifices. He doesn’t understand the commandment, but observes it anyway. When questioned by an angel, Adam confesses his ignorance and the angel (and the Holy Ghost, see vs. 9) explains the commandment to him.

The first example is relevant to our question and the second is not. In both cases, the central character is naive until after obeying. The difference is that Naaman is being asked to follow the prophet, whereas Adam is following the Lord directly. The statement in dispute is admonishing people to follow Adam’s example: get your commandments directly from the Lord. Naaman’s story, however, is opposed to such a view.

What does Naaman’s story teach about blind obedience?
Robert C. Oaks suggests an alternative to the term “blind obedience.”

“The philosophical standard of the world holds that unquestioning obedience equals blind obedience, and blind obedience is mindless obedience. This is simply not true. Unquestioning obedience to the Lord indicates that a person has developed faith and trust in Him to the point where he or she considers all inspired instruction—whether it be recorded scripture, the words of modern prophets, or direct inspiration through the Holy Ghost—to be worthy of obedience” (“Believe All Things,” Ensign, July 2005, 30).

Remember that Naaman sought the prophet’s help, and then wanted to reject it. He must have had some reasons to seek the prophet, but those were forgotten in the face of undesired counsel. Naaman acquiesced once the absurdity of his decision was pointed out to him (vs. 13).

Consider the plea by N Eldon Tanner, “Let us listen to the prophet’s voice and follow him, not blindly but by faith” (“The Priesthood and Its Presidency,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 100). Naaman’s obedience was not blind or—to translate the metaphor—uninformed. Rather, we could make the argument that his initial defiance was irrational, but his subsequent obedience showed careful thought and consideration.

I suggest a slightly different phrase than that proposed above by Oaks. I call this “faithful obedience,” where faith here describes a loyalty to a prior witness. The source has been tested before and found trustworthy, so it is unnecessary to test the source again.

“Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see” (Boyd K. Packer, “Agency and Control,” Ensign, May 1983, 66).

I would correct the statement at the beginning of this post, in this way:

“You should do what the prophet says because you have already searched for and received a confirmation that he is a prophet. To do otherwise is blind to your own faith.”

How often does a prophet fully foresee the outcome of the commandments he is giving? Is this “blind prophesying”?


Aaron said...


Faith is the substance of things not seen... Among other things faith is confirmed belief. I follow the prophet because I know he is the prophet, that question has been answered, I am no longer blind.

I don't think a prophet is blindly prophesying when he gives direction he doesn't know the outcome to. He has already proven his faith in the source of the information.

BrianJ said...

See this related post, The Thinking Has Been Done.

Robert C. said...

Great post Brian (sorry for just barely noticing it!). I added a link and summary to this at the wiki here--I hope I didn't misrepresent the main ideas in my very brief summary.