Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of having firsthand spiritual knowledge. If the best way to gain spiritual knowledge is directly from the source, then why do we need intermediaries at all? Why does God send prophets?
The obvious reason is because we’re not there yet. A feature of this life is that we are no longer in the presence of God and we can’t remember the time when we were in His presence. So we need someone to teach us about Him and to help us learn to connect with Him.
Here’s how Alma explained it: By partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve introduced physical and spiritual death into the world. They became mortal and they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. This life became a time for them to prepare to return to God’s presence. But because of their lack of access to Him, they didn’t know what they needed to do to prepare for that event. Recognizing that they needed more information, God sent angels, who taught them about His plan of redemption and gave them instructions to enable them to follow the plan (Alma 12:22-37).
Mormon later explained that God sends different types of messengers: angels and prophets (Moroni 7:22-23).
Actually, the Hebrew word for angel—malak (מֲלְאָךְ)—can refer to either heavenly beings or to mortals who bring messages from God. (See Genesis 19:1, 15.). The last prophet in the Old Testament was named Malachi, which means “my messenger” or “my angel.” So when he quotes God as saying, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me” (Malachi 3:1, 3 Nephi 24:1), the original Hebrew word in that passage is his own name: “Behold, I will send Malachi, and he shall prepare the way before me.”
And that’s what prophets do: they prepare the way for us to approach God. They do this by teaching us true principles about God, by encouraging us to take actions which will bring us closer to God, and by providing correction when we are distancing ourselves from Him. They are our guides along the path. They are not a substitute for direct experience with God, but they provide valuable guidance and encouragement as we follow the path back to His presence.
When Jesus Christ visited the American continent, He introduced Himself in the context of the messengers who had prophesied of His coming: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world” (3 Nephi 11:10). These people were able to understand who He was because they had been prepared by the messengers who had preceded Him.
Today, I will be grateful for prophets who help me become closer to God and who prepare me to return to His presence. I will remember that God wants to communicate with me, and that He does so through multiple channels. I will strive to hear and follow the messages I receive through the scriptures, through the words of modern prophets, and through the words of my local church leaders. I will remember that these words can form a scaffolding for me as I learn to hear and follow the direct messages the Lord sends to me through His Spirit.