Most Christians have no difficulty accepting Moses or Noah as true prophets of God. After all, they lived a long time ago and they’re in the Bible. It is
easier to believe that someone who lived anciently is a prophet than to believe someone in your own time is a prophet.
This was a problem faced by many Old Testament prophets, as well. When Noah preached of the flood and repentance, no one outside his own family took him seriously. He was just Noah, a man they saw working his orchards and going about town each day. It was hard to imagine someone so ordinary could be a prophet and so, when he prophesied, they didn’t listen. By the time the rain began, and they realized he really was a prophet, it was too late.
Jesus Christ himself commented on this challenge. He himself was just the carpenter’s son to many. He was too familiar, and without the distance of space or time, He seemed too ordinary to be a prophet and a God to the people who had watched Him all His life. “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4) In other words, He was too familiar to those around Him, including His own brothers until His resurrection.
Today, people note there is a Mormon prophet, but they find it hard to believe a person in their own time could be a prophet. They presume that God is incapable or unwilling to talk to His children today, although they have no trouble believing He could and would talk to His children long ago. Distance lends validity.
God sent prophets to the early Israelites to prepare them for Jesus’ ministry on earth. He didn’t just teach Adam everything and then hope it all got passed down correctly. He continued to bring new prophets after Adam was dead, and they continued to prepare the world for the Savior’s birth. Times change, and the prophets taught practices that applied only to that time period—build an ark, gather manna, or head for the promised land, for instance. Without a prophet, no one would have known what to do in those unique situations.
Periodically, prophets were taken from the earth and the Israelites were left to fumble through on their own, due to their lack of obedience. However, each time, God eventually restored the prophets.
Now, we are preparing for Jesus to come again. Just as prophets were sent to prepare the world for the first coming, prophets have been sent to prepare for the second coming. If we needed prophets to prepare for one, we also need them to prepare for the other.
How, though, do Mormons know Thomas S. Monson is the prophet who has
been sent? Among all those who have claimed to be prophets, how have they identified this particular man as God’s true prophet?
Mormons are taught from their childhood or from the days they are contemplating converting to Mormonism, to find this out for themselves. They’re told that the testimonies of their parents, teachers, or missionaries are only a starting point. They must find out for themselves, and they must get this information from the only one they can completely trust to lead them on the correct path. This, means, naturally, they must ask God. Only God can tell them who their prophet really is.
Mormons believe they can go to God with any question and ask for guidance and wisdom. This was promised in James 1:5 in the Bible. It’s interesting to note many scholars believe the author of this book is the half-brother of Jesus Christ. The scripture reads:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
This is the scripture that launched the restoration of the gospel. After the death of the Savior and the apostles, people began to get confused about doctrine. In fact, it began even before the apostles died, and they often worried about this in their letters found in the New Testament. Joseph Smith, a fourteen-year-old boy, read this scripture in the early 1800s and put it to the test. He went into the woods and prayed to know which church to join. God and Jesus Christ came in person to tell him not to join any of them, because the full gospel was no longer on the earth. There was not to be a new reformation—which may have been why he couldn’t join a church in the interim—but a restoration of truth.
This critical scripture was not written just for future prophets. It is a promise from God for every person with faith. While God and Jesus are not likely to appear to us in person, since we aren’t going to be launching the restoration in the future, we can still receive answers from God, and this is what Mormons are taught to do.
When a Mormon, or someone learning about the Mormons, wants to know what is true, they go to God in prayer. We teach our investigators (people learning about Mormons) to first study and learn from reliable sources, such as missionaries, Mormon friends, and the official Mormon websites. Then they think about it and even test it out. For instance, the best way to find out if the Savior really wants us to love our neighbor is to begin treating others with love and kindness and then see how we feel as we do. It’s often said by Mormon leaders that we cannot do wrong and feel right. If we can feel God’s spirit and feel peaceful and right, we know this is a true commandment.
Answers do not always come immediately. Sometimes a person must pray for many days or weeks to know the answer. Some have even prayed for years. Sometimes we can pray for one small part of the answer and then pray for other parts in other prayers. As our ability to understand how God communicates with us improves, we can better prepare to receive answers to the big questions.
Here’s how this might work in actual practice:
Susan has been talking to her Mormon friend about Mormon beliefs. The prophet topic really interests her, because she’s often wondered why God didn’t care enough about us to help us prepare for the Second Coming. She is encouraged by her friend to pray. However, she’s just not ready to know if Thomas Monson is the prophet. She decides to start a little smaller. She reads about Old Testament prophets and what God has said about them. Then she goes to God in prayer and tells Him she believes He must have sent a prophet at some time in recent years and asks if this is true. At first she feels nothing, because she’s not used to asking for confirmation, rather than physical help. However, she perseveres and trusts God. Soon she feels a powerful, warm, and comforting feeling in her heart. She knows it is from God, because she feels at peace.
In time, she is ready to know who that prophet is and returns to God in prayer. When she receives an answer again, she understands immediately the implications of this answer.
There are some who try to convince investigators not to pray about this. They say we can’t know who is answering the prayer. However, Mormons know God can do anything and that means He is capable of answering us in a way we can recognize. Mormons don’t underestimate God. We know Satan is not the author of peace and true joy. That comes only from God. Knowing this, Mormons are able to know in a way no one can take from them that God has sent us prophets in the last days because He loves us as much as He loved His early Israelites.