I got an email asking about different answers received by different people to their prayers on the same subject. Two of the subjects were multiple mortalities and plural marriage. In response I wrote an email back that stated the following:
Probably would be better as a discussion rather than an email. It is worth taking some time to run through the issue and the way it manifests itself in scripture.
-An answer to prayer is often based on the question asked and the frame of reference in which the question is framed. Oftentimes we do not yet know enough to frame the right question.
-God deals with each of us where we are at the moment we approach Him. He does not always tell us something we haven’t yet prepared our minds and hearts to receive. So when He gives an answer to a partial, incomplete, and unfocused inquiry, while the answer will be “true” it is an answer inside a context.
-At one point in life we want to know what we should be doing as a first priority and we are told “get a spouse.” Well that answer might be a good one when you are unmarried and young, but if you take that as the continuing, enduring and last commandment from God on the subject you may decide you need to be acquiring a second spouse, then a third, and so on.
-Often God speaks in symbols, not in definite meanings. For example the vision or dream of Lehi concerning the tree, pathway, iron rod and building filled with mockers. If you read his vision you may get any number of meanings from it. Nephi asked for the same thing, and although there was a tree, fruit, iron rod, pathway and building there was also so much more and different than what his father saw that you could easily conclude it was a very different answer. If you were to decide Lehi and Nephi conflicted, and then developed an argument to prove they disagreed it could easily be done. But that would be contrary to what Nephi’s record stressed.
-If you read the talk from Ephraim about Christ as the prototype of the saved man you will see that there are many stages of development required before anyone attains to the resurrection. These are called “estates” in scripture. The phrase “multiple mortalities” is non-scriptural. The concept of reincarnation was denounced by Joseph as a false doctrine. But there is something true about the doctrine of “estates” in which we are able to be “added upon.” I think a discussion about the subject requires a great deal more care and understanding than the scriptures presently outline. On subjects like this because the scriptures are so inadequate to make it clear it is dangerous to fill in the missing details with what someone said years following Joseph Smith’s death about what they thought he taught in private to a few individuals. To take those statements and put together additional elaborations made by the “insiders” expounding their own thoughts or worse still, a third-hand exponent elaborating on what must be true invites error. It invites speculation and conclusions which are not supportable from the clear statements of scripture. When it comes to this subject, the greatest difficulty I see is that it distracts from the test presently underway. When you take all of it together ask yourself: “So what?” If it is all absolutely true, “so what?” How does that help you pass the test of this estate presently underway? How will it rescue your soul in the challenge faced and the peril of this mortal sojourn? Assuming the insight you gained about being an ancestor who died young is true, so what? How does that rescue your soul? How does knowing that change what you need to do to get through the challenges of this afternoon?
-I know of no way to receive light and truth from heaven but by patient, obedient and disciplined living by everything God has said, commanded or instructed. It is as the Lord told His disciples, some things are not overcome “but by fasting and prayer.” A haphazard inquiry from a proud and hard hearted soul will not likely receive an answer from the same Lord who spent entire nights alone in solitary prayer. Our Lord’s prayers were so private that His own disciples needed to ask Him to teach them how to pray, because He did not display it for them to learn from by overhearing. He went alone, apart and in private, and then prayed for hours, oftentimes overnight. This was Christ. This was He who is “more intelligent than them all.” Yet people expect then can ask in haste about something that shatters their paradigm and, in their pride expect to have everything they always believed be ratified to their satisfaction and what annoys them to be denounced. Until the heart is broken and willing to accept the sad news that they are wrong and God is going to correct them they are not likely to get an answer other than they are right. In fact they’ve been right all along. Answers from a meek and lowly Lord come with the greatest accuracy to the meek and lowly inquirer. There are but few of those living.
It is a big subject. It can’t be covered in a few brief statements and probably not suited at all for email. But I hope these ideas are of some value to you.