A prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6 promised that Elijah would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Due to this prophecy, the Jews didn’t recognize Christ when He came. They were too busy waiting for Elijah to show up first.
After determining that John the Baptist wasn’t Christ, the Jews asked him, “What then, are you Elijah (the KJV says “Elias” which is Greek for Elijah)? Are you that prophet?” John answered that he was not (John 1:19-21).
Later, when Christ was on the cross He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” He was calling out to God, but the Jews thought he was calling Elijah. They waited a moment to see if Elijah would show, but he didn’t (Matthew 27:46-49). They looked beyond the mark and missed the Messiah.
To this day they save a seat for Elijah each Passover. Meanwhile, Mormons claim Malachi 4:5-6 was fulfilled when Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple.
Both groups are blissfully unaware that the prophecy was fulfilled in an unexpected way. In Matthew 17 Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration. At the top they saw Moses and Elijah. They saw Jesus transfigured and heard the Father call Him Son.
On the way down, the disciples asked why the scribes always said that Elijah must come first.
Jesus answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.”
(Matthew 17:11-12 ESV)
The disciples then realized He was speaking of John the Baptist. This coincides with Luke 1:17 where the angel told Zacharias that John would “go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (ESV)
The point is, God didn’t fulfill the prophecy the way people expected, and Mormonism falls into the same trap. The LDS church has a preconceived formula for how a spiritual witness works.
Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9 gives an example:
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Mormons typically equate a burning in their hearts with feeling the Holy Spirit. This feeling is a sign of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission, and the authority of the LDS church.
However, there’s a lot of gray area in the spiritual realm. I couldn’t see it because I was knee deep in the delusion that Mormonism was true. The red flags were there all along. Any religion that tries to force God into a box or a magic formula surely doesn’t know Him.
This is the story of how I received visions as a Mormon, and how they eventually destroyed my testimony.
Like a Fire is Burning
In my dream President Hinkley was on TV. With a solemn voice he proclaimed that the end of the world was at hand. I ran outside as tornadoes touched down, destroying everything in their path.
I ran for my life as debris flew everywhere. I took refuge in a building with large windows. A crowd was gathered there, staring in awe at the storm outside.
I began singing. “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning.” Other voices chimed in with me. “The latter day glories begin to come forth.”
More people joined in until everyone was singing. The despair faded as we sang vigorously, “We’ll sing and we’ll shout, with the armies of heaven ‘Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Let glory to them in the highest be given henceforth and forever, amen and amen!'”
The storm abated and sunlight filled the sky. I awoke feeling an overwhelming burning in my heart. That was shortly before I left on my mission. When I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah I was amazed to find that one of the buildings resembled the one from my dream.
I believed it was a sign that I was where God wanted me. But then a slew of other dreams came to me, and I struggled to understand their meaning. I knew God was telling me something, but what?
While serving in Anaheim California, I dreamed I was debating an Evangelical in his home. I showed him verses in the Bible that disproved his position, one after another.
He flipped desperately through the pages searching for something to stop the onslaught, but I was merciless. Suddenly, he stopped turning the pages. His eyes grew wide as he read a passage aloud. “Mormonism is not true.”
I awoke with a gut wrenching feeling. Should I be concerned? Was there doubt in my mind, or was it a spiritual attack from Satan? I consoled myself with the fact that the Bible contained no such phraseology.
The dream was probably the result of spicy Mexican food the night before, and nothing more.
In a second dream I was being interviewed by a priesthood leader at church when a grizzly bear emerged and came after me. I picked up a pole and stood to defend myself. My priesthood leader shouted tactics which I followed diligently, but nothing worked. With each strike of its paws, I could feel the pole weakening.
I had the impression that I needed to trust more in God. I threw down the pole and was filled with an ungodly power. I was able to catch the bear’s paws in my hands, as if I were boxing a toddler. The threat had been neutralized.
I awoke to the Spirit surging through every faculty of my being. I felt like God was telling me I was relying too much on my leaders, and needed to balance that with faith in Christ.
After my mission I dated my first wife. I was noncommittal and wanted to avoid marriage until I finished school and had financial success. Then one evening as I sat in a priesthood meeting, I had the sensation that Heavenly Father was sitting next to me on the pew.
I could feel His words in my mind. “Where are you on marriage?”
I said in my heart that I wasn’t ready. I needed a few years to get my act together first.
“You don’t have to wait that long,” He replied. My reservations melted away. I tried one last argument. I told Him I was happier being single.
“No, you’re not.”
In my mind’s eye I saw a vision of the future. My girlfriend was now my wife. She played piano in our snug little home while the children and I sat around singing for Family Home Evening. Euphoria filled my soul at what I saw.
“Everything will be alright,” God assured me.
I ran and told my girlfriend what happened and a few months later we were married in the San Antonio temple.
The third dream came a couple of years later. We’d been unable to have children and because of financial problems, we were forced to move in with her sister. Her sister and her husband had just had their first child. I envied their excitement. I wondered why God hadn’t deemed me worthy of having a child.
While I struggled with those feelings, I dreamed I was on the temple grounds at night holding my crying niece in my arms. I walked to the top of a hill and held her up to the sky. “Here you go, Lord,” I called out. “She’s all yours!”
A blinding pillar of light shot down from the sky and in an instant she was gone. I skipped away happily, more light hearted than I’d been in months.
Upon waking I decided God was telling me to go to the temple. It was the only place my troubled soul could find peace.
No matter the spiritual experience, it always bolstered my faith in the LDS church. After all, Mormonism was true and the Spirit could do naught but validate it.
But over the years my faith shifted and I found myself relying on Jesus instead of religion. Not long after leaving Mormonism, I finally understood the meaning of my dreams.
In the dream with the grizzly bear, I only succeeded when I stopped listening to my leader. His advice was worthless. It was Jesus, and Jesus alone who deserved my trust.
My other dream gave the same message. The temple stood far in the background when God took away my problems. Peace wasn’t found in a man-made structure. It came directly from God.
The worst part of my transition was being abandoned by my wife. She wanted me to wait in the wings while she dated other men, just in case she matured during the process and decided to stay married. When I protested, she said we had to divorce.
Heartbroken, I asked if she ever loved me. “I love your paychecks,” she responded.
I wondered why God convinced me to marry a narcissist and endure an emotionally abusive marriage for nearly a decade. Was He so short-sighted that He couldn’t anticipate this? If so, what right did He have to promise me everything would be okay?
Maybe God was a monster. Maybe He told me to marry my first wife because He wanted me to suffer.
As time went on, I realized the truth. God was neither powerless nor a monster. Rather, I misinterpreted one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
That meant one of two things. Either God couldn’t communicate reliably past human fallibility, or the whole experience was a figment of my imagination. If God couldn’t communicate to us, then I couldn’t trust myself or prophets to interpret the Spirit. If it was my imagination, then there was no way to differentiate between feelings and revelation.
As a Latter-day Saint, I wanted a spiritual event so badly, that my subconscious mind manufactured one. And if that experience was suspect, so was every other experience I used to validate the LDS Church.
I used to believe the restored gospel was like a chariot of fire, taking me to heaven. Now I only see wreckage. The chariot is rusted, missing wheels and lying decomposed in the dirt.
If you are a Latter-day Saint, I implore you to consider my story and the experiences that contradicted the restored gospel.
You may think I misinterpreted the Spirit or that Satan deceived me somehow, but that’s a double-edged sword. If it happened to me, it could be happening to you.
Experience is as flimsy a standard as they come. If you need a burning in the bosom to know your church is true, then it probably isn’t.
I pray the God of Israel will open your eyes before it’s everlastingly too late.