Sure, revelation and inspiration are different. You knew that. But if somebody asked you how those two phenomena are different, could you deliver a solid answer? The late Elder Richard G. Scott could, and did. He told the whole world the difference between revelation and inspiration during General Conference back in April, 2012.
Elder Scott says a lot about revelation in his talk, called How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life. It was obviously something he’d become well-practiced in during his life. Here’s the definition he gives:
The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. When it is crisp and clear and essential, it warrants the title of revelation.
Wow. What a loaded statement! Go back and read that quote a few more times, very slowly. Let it sink in.
Elder Scott’s definition of revelation could be restated as follows: Revelation is crisp, clear and essential information the Holy Ghost communicates to us to guide us in our mortal journey.
Crisp. Clear. Essential. Can you think of any examples from the scriptures where someone receives crisp, clear and essential information from the Spirit?
And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
Remember the qualification for revelation as stated by Elder Scott? Crisp. Clear. Essential. In the above example, the Spirit tells Nephi that he’s going to have to take Laban’s life in order to retrieve the brass plates. Was the prompting from the Spirit crisp? Sure. Was it clear? Definitely. Was it essential? Absolutely.
What other obvious examples can you think of? When an angel visits Alma the younger and his buddies angelic visitation; when the Lord reveals Lamanite troop movements to the prophet; when the Jaredites are commanded to build barges. As you read the scriptures and go about daily life don’t just pay attention to what the Spirit communicates. Pay attention to how the Spirit communicates.
What revelatory experiences have you had lately? If you need to, revisit this question after we learn more about revelation’s counterpart—inspiration.
Alright. Now that we’ve mastered the definition of revelation (crisp, clear and essential), let’s see what Elder Scott says about inspiration:
The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. … When it is a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, for the purpose of this message, it is inspiration.
Oh, this just keeps getting better and better. Again, go back and read that quote line by line, even word by word.
Elder Scott’s definition of inspiration could be restated as follows: Inspiration is a series of promptings the Holy Ghost communicates to us that guide us step by step to a worthy objective.
Inspiration can be much harder to identify than revelation because, unlike revelation, it is not crisp, clear or essential. It may lead to a more essential revelatory experience, but is not (for the purposes of Elder Scott’s message) dramatically critical in the moment.
Let’s revisit Nephi’s trip back to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates. To illustrate revelation we looked at Nephi’s clear prompting to kill Laban. To illustrate inspiration we need to rewind just a few verses:
And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban. And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.
Did you catch the difference? Remember, inspiration is a series of promptings that guide us step by step to a worthy objective. In Nephi’s case, step by step was literal. He had no idea what he was going to do or where he was going to go in Jerusalem, but he knew he was led by the Spirit. That is inspiration.
Oftentimes we don’t recognize inspirational experiences until we’ve reached the “worthy objective,” but when we stop and look back we realize we were guided by the Spirit throughout the experience.
Think back on your life. Can you identify times when you were guided step by step to a worthy objective? Maybe an experience where you just ended up at the right place at the right time? I have a hunch that those moments are much more common in our daily lives than we ever realize.
A final look at Elder Scott’s definitions
For the sake of repetition, comparison and to save you scroll-time, let’s take one last look at our definitions:
“The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. …”
Revelation: “When it is crisp and clear and essential, it warrants the title of revelation.”
Inspiration: “When it is a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, for the purpose of this message, it is inspiration.”
Inspiration is often referred to by church leaders as revelation because, indeed, it can be categorized as a type of revelation. For example, in the following video featuring Elder David A. Bednar of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he likens one form of revelation to a gradual sunrise. Elder Scott might more specifically define this as inspiration, as Elder Bednar then addresses.
Why is all of this important? Here’s why:
- The language of the Spirit is complicated, but knowing the difference between revelation and inspiration helps us categorize and organize spiritual messages. They give us beautiful insight into how the Spirit operates in our lives.
- As we start to recognize revelation and inspiration more and more in our lives we’ll gain a greater appreciation, understanding and sense of gratitude for those promptings. We’ll also gain a greater desire to follow those promptings when we recognize them.
- Finally, a prophet of God said it in General Conference. That means God wants us to know it. It’s up to each of us to figure out why.