I’ve been reflecting on a commonly held belief concerning the Holy Ghost. Among Latter-day Saints the assertion is widely believed that the Holy Ghost will always leave a “good feeling” as the evidence of a message coming from God. This is in contrast with Joseph Smith’s correct description of the Holy Ghost as delivering “intelligence” or “sudden insight” or, to use scriptural language, “light and truth.” The feelings which follow an authentic encounter with the Holy Ghost can be anything from fear and dread to joy and rejoicing. Our emotional reaction to the message can vary depending upon the information we’ve been given. But “feeling good” about something is separate from the Holy Ghost.
When the message from God calls to repentance, the reaction can be best described as anger, or distress, or fear; but is not likely to be described as leaving a “good feeling.” The message of repentance always requires change. It will always confront the error and require you to alter what you are doing.
I have noticed some reactions to what I’ve written measure what has been written against the standard of a “good feeling” and, as a result, some have concluded I’m not worth reading. I suppose against that standard Abinadi would have been rejected. Samuel the Lamanite, too. John the Baptist, Elijah, Christ, Peter, Paul, Joseph Smith, Noah, Enoch, John the Beloved, as well. Certainly Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon and Moroni. In fact, I can’t think of a single authentic message which did not include as its most important content information which violates the “feeling good” standard. I think care should be taken when a standard gets employed. Use a false standard and you risk reaching a false result.
This is one of the criticisms made by Grant Palmer in his Insider’s book. He took aim at a false notion (“feeling good” means the Holy Ghost) and then leveled criticism against the false notion. Though a lifelong employee of the Church Education System, he was ignorant of the correct standard and lost his faith in the Holy Ghost’s ability to enlighten because of it. His criticism was justified, but not the standard. He, like many Latter-day Saints, confuses something which inspires with a witness from the Spirit. You can be inspired by music, movies, plays and thrilling speeches coming from unenlightened sources which bring no light and truth. You may be entertained, but you are not given greater light and truth or intelligence from such thrilling encounters.
The one thing I do know, and the truth I can proclaim is this: Truth will come through and confirm itself when measured against the standard of: 1) imparting truth and light, which is intelligence; and 2) whether the message leads to greater belief in, understanding of and testimony of Christ. These standards do not involve “feeling good.” They do, however, involve enlightenment and edification. Even if the result of gaining more light is to see yourself in a new way, requiring repentance, confession of sin, re-baptism, breaking your heart and becoming contrite in spirit. Anyone who can teach a message which will pass this standard, whether they are high or low, rich or poor, great or obscure, has given something of value.