Robert Millet: How the Constant Companionship of the Spirit Works
After nearly 40 years of teaching religion, Robert Millet still had some questions regarding the Holy Ghost. For example, how does our doctrine regarding the Holy Ghost differentiate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other religions? Or what does the right to constant companionship of the Spirit really look like? It was this curiosity that led him to begin researching and eventually writing his latest book, “The Holy Spirit." On today’s episode, he shares the unique insights he found along the way.
Something as fundamental as God and Christ and the Holy Ghost really just cannot remain a mystery. 'This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17:3). If it's life eternal to know God, heaven help us if we don't even have the means of coming to know God because God is in some ways pushed off the stage, because Jesus takes center stage.
You can find Robert's new book, "The Holy Spirit," here.
Follow our new "All In" Instagram page by clicking here.
Read the presentation Robert mentions giving on "The Gospel and Psychotherapy," delivered in 1981, here.
Read an excerpt from "The Holy Spirit" here.
Find Robert's book, "Whatever Happened To Faith," here.
Find the talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Morgan referenced at the end of the episode here.
2:15- "Like fish who discover water last"
9:20- The Holy Ghost or the Light of Christ
11:24- Avenues of the Spirit
16:29- My own voice or the voice of the Spirit?
23:27- Still learning, more than 40 years later
29:37- Inextricably linked to every facet of the gospel
33:36- How is His influence felt everywhere?
36:11- Baptism of fire
38:08- The differentiator
39:47- Why three separate and distinct Beings matters
45:32- Inability to feel the Spirit amidst depression
46:16- How understanding the Spirit can change our lives
48:51- What does it mean to be "all in" the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones: The Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Do we understand their individual and distinct roles and how they simultaneously work together to save us? Roman Catholic scholar Richard John Neuhaus said, "It is not an angry Father punishing an innocent Son, with the Spirit on the sidelines helplessly watching. No, it is the Father, Son and Spirit conspiring together to save us from ourselves." After nearly 40 years of religious educating, Robert Millet shares on this week's episode what he has learned about the Godhead and specifically how recently writing a book about the Holy Spirit has changed his life.
Robert Millet is the former dean of religious education at Brigham Young University. He is a professor emeritus of ancient scripture. He received a bachelor's and master's degree from Brigham Young University and a PhD from Florida State University. He and his wife Shauna are the parents of six children.
This is All In, an LDS living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be "all in" the gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I'm so excited to have Robert Millet with me today. Robert, welcome.
RM: Thank you. Nice to be with you.
MJ: I guess we should say that Robert told me to call him Bob.
RM: That is correct. I will not respond to Robert.
MJ: So if I sound informal, it's because he's insisting that I call him Bob. But I am so grateful for this chance to talk with you. I have read this book and been so inspired by it. But I also have to tell you the other night I had dinner with a friend of mine who attended BYU, and I mentioned that you were coming in for an interview and she said "That man changed my life," and I feel like...here's the thing, you're making a face like you're surprised. But I think that there are probably quite a few people that feel that way and people that you've touched their lives. So I'm so, so honored to have this conversation.
RM: Well, it's my pleasure, I'm happy to do it.
MJ: So you have this new book that's all about the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, and this is a member of the Godhead that we maybe don't talk about quite as much in depth. We talk about feeling the Spirit, but we don't necessarily talk about the personage of the Holy Spirit as much as we talk about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. And I want to start our conversation with a quote that you have in the book that's by Stephen R. Covey, who said, "I believe sometimes, that as Latter-day Saints, we are like fish who discover water last. We are so immersed in the element that we are unaware of its presence. We have been immersed in the revelations of the Lord in this dispensation. No dispensation can compare to this one. It's possible to be given a gift and receive not that gift." I wondered if we could kind of kick off this conversation by talking about how this statement that he made is especially relevant to our appreciating and using the gift of the Holy Ghost.
RM: I think what Brother Covey was getting at was that because we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost following baptism and confirmation. And because we pray for the Holy Ghost constantly, we asked for the spirit to be with us. We do that so much. I don't know that we fully appreciate sometimes what we have. I didn't appreciate that really, and I mentioned this in the book, until a young man who had been a member of the Church but he and his wife left, came to me and told me about it and we talked for some time. He wrote me later and said, I'm listing all the things that I learned in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and especially the things that I miss, and it was a pretty long list. But one stood out: "I miss having people tell me that I have the right to receive personal revelation." He didn't know how much he missed it till he lost it. And so I think it's, it's easy for us who have the Spirit with us most of the time to not think much about it. And unless we lose it, unless we do something really stupid and the Spirit leaves us, then we notice, but if we go about our business, keeping the commandments etc. We don't notice that very often at all. And so something as simple as the Sacramental prayer, "that we may always have His Spirit to be with us." That's a powerful statement—always have the spirit to be with us. And we renew that every Sunday. So when I thought about doing the book, I thought, "What could I come up with? What are some things that are scriptural or prophetic that point to the singularity of the Latter-day Saints believing in a constant companionship of the Holy Ghost?
MJ: Hmm. That's fascinating. And I think, you know, you mentioned the Sacrament prayers and I think that's a perfect example of us kind of being like a fish in water. We're hearing it every Sunday. And maybe we don't appreciate what it's talking about, because we're hearing it so often.
RM: If I can give you an example—as a religious educator and teaching at BYU for ever, and I've said this to religious educators and seminaries and institutes, if there are some occupational hazards one of them is you're so much involved in teaching the gospel, having the Spirit to present important messages that you don't notice it. So much so that not uncommon that I would go to class, teach my classes, come home, and my wife would ask "How'd it go?" And I'd say, "Well to be totally honest with you. I was bored to death, they must have been dying." Because I didn't think it went very well. Only to receive four emails or two notes saying "That idea changed my whole perspective on the gospel." I didn't remember anything about that. In other words I didn't feel anything in particular, but they did. Do you know what I'm saying?
RM: And part of it for me may be I do this so much. Or Latter-day Saints do the work of the kingdom so much that we don't appreciate what we have. One other story if I may?
MJ: Yes, sir.
MJ: Yes, please.
RM: Years ago...when I was the institute director at Florida State University.
MJ: Go Seminoles right?
RM: Yeah, go seminar. It's a bad time for them now that football's dying. I had done a bachelor's and master's degree in psychology and when I got there, one of the members of the stake presidency and I became really close. He was a professor of psychology at Florida State. And he had his own clinic. And he and I met together all the time talking, chatting. Out of the blue, we received a phone call from a professor at BYU, Alan Bergen, Professor of Psychology. I knew him well, asking if he and I, Charlie's his name, and I would be willing to attend the American Psychological Association meeting. It was going to be in Los Angeles and make a presentation on religious values in psychotherapy. Well, we were thrilled, of course. Now, my friend, Charlie, brilliant, absolutely brilliant. But he's about as disorganized as any person I know in terms of doing things in some orderly way. So within a few days, I called him and said, "Charlie, when you want to get together and talk about this, this is important." "Yeah, yeah, we need to do that. Give me a few more days." Nothing. No word. Three weeks pass. "Charlie, when can we meet?" "Oh, I'm pretty busy. We're going to do this." Long story short. We're on our way flying from Florida to California and I'm saying, "Charlie, can we please talk about...We have an hour and a half, what are we going to say?" And so he reaches in his pocket and he literally pulls out an envelope. And he makes two or three notes on the envelope. That was our outline. Okay. Now we went to the meeting, we made a presentation. If you were to say, "How do you think it went?" I would say, "Hey, a B- at best," okay? It was okay. But when the meeting was over, a flock of people around us. "Oh, my goodness, that was so good." One lady said, Could I get a copy of your presentation? I thought I might tell her, "Xerox the back of that envelope."
MJ: Yeah, yeah. "Let me, one second please." No.
RM: I came away from that. He and I talked about this, that we didn't feel anything particular. It wasn't particularly fascinating to us it. I didn't think it was well done. But they felt something. They felt something. I don't think we appreciate that we carry with us a spirit that others pick up on. And sometimes for us because we live in it like fish in water, we don't notice.
MJ: Yeah. That brought so many thoughts to my mind, but one in particular is something that I've kind of been chewing on recently. And it's this idea of in the scriptures where it talks about being past feeling. And I feel like this is something that we, in our society today, we kind of I don't want to say belittle the ability to feel but maybe don't appreciate it as a gift from God. And that that's a way that God communicates to us is through our feelings. Do you have any thoughts on that?
RM: Yeah, I think you know, when you think of past feeling that can certainly come because I'm in a serious state of sin, right? But it can also come because "I'm distracted. My mind is elsewhere. My heart's elsewhere. Oh, I'm doing the work of the Church, I'm just not very serious about it." You know? And so past feeling to me, there's an interesting distinction that the Lord makes in scripture, the difference between the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost. You notice how many times in the Book of Mormon especially during wicked times, the Lord's language is "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." Now, strive is related to the word strife, which means "battle." My Spirit in this case, talking about the light of Christ, the light of Christ strives with us. It works with us. It beats on us. It does everything in the power it can to help us feel and know and grow spiritually. But the Holy Ghost is more sensitive, the Holy Ghost will leave us. If we do something that just isn't quite right. The light of Christ continues to work on us. If we get to the point to where I don't think we'd ever get to the point where the light of Christ has no influence. But if we get to the point where we're not picking up on those small impressions and revelations, then we're getting past feeling.
MJ: Yeah. You have a chapter in the book where you talk about the different ways that we can receive revelation. And I think this is something that's very top of mind for many Latter Day Saints right now, because President Nelson has placed such a focus on revelation and our ability to receive revelation and recognizing specifically the way that the Spirit communicates to us that different people are more receptive of the Spirit in different ways. And one of your chapters talks about these different I think you call it what do you call it avenues of the Spirit? And so can you kind of touch on some of these different ways that the Spirit can communicate with us?
RM: I think we can do some damage rather than than help if we overemphasize one of those to the exclusion of others. For example, as I grew up, you would have sworn the only way to get inspiration is burning in the bosom. Burning in the bosom.
RM: Well, I met a lot of my students at BYU who said, "I've never had a burning in the bosom. Now I have had this." "Yes." "And I've had this." "Yes." Somehow they came away with the idea of if you don't have this, you're not getting revelation.
MJ: It's kind of like crying in testimony meeting.
RM: Right. Right. You're not crying, you don't have testimony. Well, for example, I think there are as many ways of receiving revelation as there are people to receive them. Illustration, dreams have played an important part of my life. But my stake president in Tallahassee, Florida, maybe one of the holiest men I've ever known. He and I were chatting one day and I mentioned this and he said, "I don't even know what you're talking about. I've never had anything like that." Now he had about 100 spiritual gifts that I didn't have. But dreams weren't one of them. You know, what I'm saying?
MJ: Mm hmm.
RM: And I have I have friends who have spiritual gifts, I would love to have. But I, I'm not as prone to that gift as he is. So whether it be by dreams, whether it be by visions, whether it be by the quiet, the still small voice, that's the phrase that's used in the Doctrine & Covenants. And interestingly, I decided to look up other translations of that, other Bibles. And you get, you get this: instead of still small voice that Elijah the prophet is talking about. It says total silence or a quiet whisper or a soft wind. I don't know which of those it is. Still small voice and we use voice in a rather figurative way. Sometimes people hear a voice. Other times they just get a sense an inner sense of a direction they need to take. Nobody said anything. You didn't hear it in your ears. But we hear the voice in the sense that we feel the movement. We feel the direction and so there's so many varied ways. Burning in the bosom. Yes, peace. I've prayed about something, I prayed about something and all I get is peace. Well, guess what? It's telling you something, you know, and so on. They are as different as people are different. It's like years ago, Elder Ashton, Marvin J. Ashton, in general conference gave a talk, in which he said, don't suppose that the spiritual gifts listed in the Doctrine & Covenants, and in the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon, are the only gifts there are and then he named all kinds of things like the gift to listen, the gift of patience, the gift to be sociable. I mean, clearly each of those some people have those gifts. They do it so easily, so well, it comes to them naturally. So it just, there's not one major way to get a revelation or to get impressions. There are just many ways.
MJ: Yeah. That reminds me of a conversation that I had a couple of weeks ago with a friend of mine, one of my best friend's moms. And she has several kids that have struggled in various ways. And she was telling me that she one day was saying a prayer. And she said, you know, please bless my kids. And she, very clearly in her mind, heard a voice that said, "When you pray for them, I'm bound in some way to do something." And so he's like, "Whether they hear a song that reminds them of some memory, or whether they have a conversation with someone. In some way, I'm bound to communicate or to intervene in their lives." And I've thought about that so many times over the last couple of weeks, just how the spirit is so multifaceted, and can communicate with us in so many ways.
RM: It suits itself to the individual.
MJ: Right, exactly. So as a follow up, though, to the things that you were saying, I think one of the most commonly asked questions when dealing with the Holy Ghost is how do I distinguish between my own voice and my own thoughts, and the voice of the Spirit?
RM: I think if I've been asked a question 1000 times it's that one.
MJ: Yeah, I'm sure.
RM: Because it's a very good question. Years ago, I went to a priesthood leadership meeting and the visiting authorities were Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Russell M Nelson and Elder John Groberg of the Seventy. Great three or four hours, magnificent teaching. In a Q&A time, one of the local bishops asked Elder Packer he said, "I have a question for Elder Packer, Elder Packer, how do I come to know the difference between my thoughts and God's thoughts? And Brother Packer gave an answer that at first shocked me a little bit. Elder Packer said, "That is so easy." And the guy said "Easy? How is it easy?" Brother Packer said, "It's simple. You practice." And at that point, I have to be honest and say I thought, "That's a cop out." But the more I thought about it, the more I looked at my own life, I thought acquiring the Spirit, understanding and grasping the messages the Spirit's trying to convey to you. It does take practice. It takes working in such a way that you begin to recognize eventually a voice like you would recognize any other voice. I give as an illustration. In my case, I made a decision a lot of years ago, if I'm speaking or teaching the gospel, and if an idea comes into my head, and if it's not something just absolutely bizarre. I'm going to talk about it. And I'd have to say, I've never had a disappointing experience with that. Do you know what I'm saying?
MJ: Yes, sir.
RM: So I've come to appreciate that it does, it does require practice. And I think that means one other thing. It means we need to begin responding to the small promptings, the light of Christ, responding to a conscience that's saying, "Help your wife with the dishes," or "Why don't you go out and work on the lawn," or "Why don't you take the garbage out?" or whatever it is, something really small. I mean, I'll give it as an example. If I were if I were prompted to go help my wife with the dishes, and you know, the feeling was, "You ought to go help your wife," and I argue with it and say, "No, I don't want to do that. She's doing fine. She's really good at it." Then how ironic is it for me that evening to be kneeling beside my bed, pleading with the Lord, to give me inspiration and revelation and understand a difficult situation in my life. I almost could picture the Lord saying, "Oh, really? Well, I tried working on you earlier today."
MJ: With an easy thing!
RM: With an easy thing! And I think the principle is the same one that the Lord gives in the parable of the talents. Remember how He rewards them, he says, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things." I think that's the principle. We respond. We begin responding more to our conscience and doing things the conscience tells us to do and before long were able to recognize that the Holy Ghost is working with us. Does that makes sense?
MJ: Yes, it makes complete sense and it reminds me, I think President Thomas S. Monson is such a great example of that, where I think over time he had proven himself to the Lord that He would act on promptings so much so that it was that...it was "You've been faithful over these things. I'm going to make you faithful over many things."
RM: Well it made him a prophet.
MJ: Yeah. It doesn't get any better than that.
RM: Yeah, no, I mean, few people we know have had that many occasions where he was impressed to go and visit a particular person. I'm married to a woman like that. My wife Shauna, we'll be talking, chatting. She'll say, "I'll be back in a little while." "Um, why? Can we just finish our conversation?" "Yeah, yeah, I'll be back and she'll just have had some feeling she needs to go visit sister so and so." And of course Sister So-and-so was in deep despair and needed someone to talk to. That's just a part of her life, that comes so spontaneously to her and it's more labored with me. I've gotta work at it a little more, but her it's just, she's lived such a pure life that it just comes to her and she doesn't think anything about it. She just responds, that's all.
MJ: Yeah, I definitely need some work in that department. That's something that I've been trying to work on. But man, I've got a long way to go.
RM: There was something, one more thing, there was something said, I'm having trouble remembering who gave it but one of the sisters in general conference commented on this, that Sister Kimball had taught her a great lesson. She had an impression she should go over and do something nice for someone. And once she did it for her, Sister Kimball, she said, I'm sorry if I disturbed your or maybe I shouldn't have done this. And the response was, don't ever neglect to do a good thing that you're prompted to do. It will always be the right thing.
MJ: Never suppress a generous thought.
RM: That's it! Never suppress a generous thought. That's an example of...you say, well, that's nice, but it's no big deal. It is a big deal. You've just been given a little revelation, respond to it. And if you do, then you're going to pick up on something a little better next time.
MJ: Yeah. I want to touch on one other thing that you said before we move on. I loved how you mentioned the idea of practice. And I think you're right it's like anybody, you come to recognize their voice. It reminded me of I served a Spanish-speaking mission, and never got super good at Spanish. I was in the United States. I was never immersed in it. And it was not a strength for me. But it was interesting because I found that the people that I got to know, I would understand their Spanish better because I recognized the way that they spoke. It was like I had become a custom to their voice and then I could understand them better. And I think the same is true of the voice of the Spirit. I think, you know and with anyone, the more that we come to recognize their voice, the more, the closer, it means that we're forming a relationship with that person.
RM: That's a great example.
MJ: Bob, I want to there are so many questions I have for you, but one as you were working on this book, you've taught for how many years now?
RM: Well, I started teaching Seminary in 1975. So 25 to 2014 is what? 39 years. 40 years.
MJ: Wow. Amazing. And I'm sure you've taught a ton about the Holy Spirit. But in working on this book, what were some of the biggest things that you learned?
RM: Good question. I found that there were two or three areas that were specially fascinating for me. I'm going to start with the most negative, okay? I'd always wondered about sons of perdition more. I have a chapter called quenching the spirit and the tail end of that deals with the most serious way of quenching the spirit is, is having had major revelation, major vision open to you, and sin against it, you know? So that was one of those areas. Others, the whole idea of vision, I found myself fascinated with how in almost every case a person that is given a vision. The language that's used is something like "the eyes of my understanding were enlightened." And I began to think what does that mean? I began to link it with the idea that's used in The Book of Mormon, the phrase, "the eye of faith." When people have difficult challenges, maybe doctrinal challenges, historical challenges, we solve that by approaching it best, we solve it best by approaching it with an eye of faith. We don't come at it with an eye of challenge. So being able to learn more about this, the eyes of my understanding were enlightened. And it isn't just a vision, that that is involved with, when suddenly the Lord begins to show you things you didn't really appreciate before. And suddenly you're sitting there you say, "Oh, that's what that's about." So, I began to sense more and more on this. The need for better understanding is the eyes of my understanding. Other things just...oh, this whole matter of, I wrestled with this through the years. It's the question of constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. We define the Holy Ghost as the gift of the Holy Ghost, as the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, based on faithfulness. Constant? And so I found myself doing some serious research on that. It's a phrase that used a lot. President Eyring's used it quite a bit, President Nelson has used it, we've got to get the point where (it is) constant. One of the things that I came to appreciate is this. You can have the Holy Ghost with you and not necessarily feel the Holy Ghost at that time as much. It's so it's it's beyond feeling it's not feeling as one way. But it's one thing to have the Spirit, it's another thing to feel it. In the same way that a teacher doesn't necessarily feel that he or she is doing a very good job but people are touched. You know? The example I mention briefly in the book, and I mentioned in other books before was this fascinating story of Mother Teresa, who had spent 50 years laboring in the trenches of Calcutta, India with the poorest of the poor she called them. And it isn't until she's long gone and dead, that it is learned by a bishop who had worked closely with her that for 50 years, she never felt God's love, never felt God's appreciation, never felt a closeness that she longed for so deeply. That got to me in terms of being related to the Savior's words, and I talked about this in the book. When the Savior's talking to Nicodemus in John 3, he says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof but thou canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth." Now, taking the King James language away. What he's saying is, the Holy Ghost is not something that's always predictable and the feelings associated with the Holy Ghost are not always predictable. So I tried to explore this whole thing of what does it mean then that there are times where we feel like we're void of the Spirit when in fact, years later, we look back and realize God was working with us all along, you know what I'm saying? So this thing of feeling versus reality that the Spirit's with you. I had a heart attack in 2001. But before that, almost as a warning, in 2000 in October, I went into a deep depression for many months. I had never been depressed in my life. I had sat as a priesthood leader as a bishop and a stake president with people who were telling me about the depression. And if I were honest, I was saying inside myself, "Oh, come on, get over it. Come on, tighten your belt. Life is tough. Just move on." Until it hit me. And one of the things that happened and I've discovered this is so true with other people as well. I didn't feel the spirit. I couldn't feel the spirit during those months. Now, that's terribly inconvenient as a stake president. Okay. And so feeling it, and having it are not always the same. You see what I'm saying?
RM: I would give talks in stake conference. And of course, people would be deeply moved and touched and I would walk away saying, "Well, I wasn't." That is one of the effects sometimes of a depressed or anxious condition. You literally can't feel the spirit.
MJ: But it doesn't mean that the Spirit can't work through you.
RM: I reached the point where I searched my soul enough to where I said, "Look, in my head, I know I'm living the Gospel. In my head, I'm really doing okay, I'm not into anything bad. And so it's like there's an intellectual understanding, as well as a feeling understanding I had to, I had to appreciate that I won't always feel it in the same way. And so constant companionship doesn't mean we will always be overwhelmed with the workings of the Spirit. There'll be times when it's quiet, almost imperceptible, but it's still working. That make sense?
MJ: Yes, sir. I feel like we probably I should have asked this earlier. So now it feels like we're backtracking. But that's okay. I've loved the things that we've talked about so much, but what would you say are the most important base doctrines that you wish people understood about the Holy Ghost and the personage of the Holy Ghost?
RM: Well, I think what I what I tried to do with the book was to have people come away when they laid it down, after reading it, saying, "Wow, I had no idea He was this involved." I came away with this impression. You have your work cut out for your finding any facet of the Christian life, in which the Holy Ghost is not inextricably linked. Name one for me. I can't think of anything we do in the church that the Spirit isn't a part of, you know? I mentioned in the book, suppose we had full church organization, apostolic authority, 75,000 missionaries, and books of scripture. But there was no gift of the Holy Ghost, then what? None of that would matter very much. What good does it do to have the keys of the priesthood, the sealing power, if in fact, there's no Holy Spirit of promise to seal that marriage? And so I came away with the realization that the Spirit has a monumental role in the plan of salvation. The Prophet Joseph Smith said everlasting covenant was entered into by three personages before the foundations of the world and it pertains to their dispensation of things on the earth. They are God, the first the Creator God, the second Redeemer, God the third the witness or testator, and what I became aware of is how intimately connected all three are in the work of salvation. We often think of God and obviously we think of Christ as the key to salvation. But try getting saved without the Holy Ghost. In other words, the overwhelming thing when I had finished the book was "My gosh, He's involved in everything." And consequently, one of my dear friends, Joseph McConkie, at a time when he and his wife were called to preside over a mission in Scotland. They were going to leave and we were good friends. And so my wife Shauna and I went to dinner with him one night, and Joseph and I were chatting. And I said, Well, have you been through all the material you were sent? No, listen to all the tapes you're supposed to listen to. He said, "Yeah, I have," he said but "You know, I've been trying to distill, somehow distill it all into a neater package, so that we take that white missionary handbook and we say, yeah, that's the Book of rules, but can we distill it?" And here's what he came up with and he said it almost became a mission motto and it was this, "I would never do anything that would cost me the influence of the Spirit of the Lord." Can you imagine what the Latter-day Saints would be like in terms of spiritual power if that were our motto, and our way of life? I would never do anything that would cost me the influence of the Spirit. That's the other thing. I came away from the book saying, "I don't want to do anything to lose this. It's too precious."
MJ: Yeah. You bought in. If you weren't bought in already after 39 years of teaching.
RM: I believed it at this point.
MJ: Well, one of my favorite things to do when I'm prepping for these interviews just because I don't...I feel like my perspective is limited because I'm just one little girl. And so sometimes I'll ask people on Twitter if they have any thoughts or questions, and we did get a couple of questions for you. One was they said, "the Holy Ghost is probably the member of the Godhead we have the most interactions with but know the least about (and we've worked on that today) but it says, "How is His influence felt everywhere? Yet He is only one person?"
RM: Yeah, very good question and I have a chapter on that, namely, the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit, let's call them either one is a personage, a spirit male personage. He can only be in one place at one time. But the influence of that Spirit, He can send throughout the universe. Elder McConkie said it this way once, it's as if the Holy Ghost is broadcasting but the audio waves are the light of Christ. The Holy Ghost draws upon the light of Christ to dispense spiritual gifts all over the world, to dispense light and understanding and spiritual thoughts and so forth throughout the world. So you have do what Elder Talmage said, you need to distinguish between the person and his functions. People say "Well, I thought the Holy Ghost was dwelling in me?" Yes, his influence is. His Spirit is, but not the person. We don't have the Holy Ghost inside people. We have that influence within. So He is a person and He has functions. And it's those functions that we distinguish from His person. Does that makes sense?
MJ: Yes, perfect.
RM: And so, knowing what He does, and knowing just how closely connected He is to this light of Christ, which is not a person, it's not a personage. It is not something that has agency. It is not something...it's acted upon. It doesn't act, but it is a manifestation. The light of Christ is a manifestation of the glory of God the Father, and it's through all the world. It's really the power of God, it's called the light of Christ for us or the Spirit of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon because Christ became the chief advocate of the Father's plan. Same reason the gospel, it's the gospel of God the Father. But Christ is the mediator. And so it becomes the gospel of Jesus Christ.
MJ: Right? That makes perfect sense. Another question that we got on Twitter says, "How does baptism of fire go with the Holy Ghost? And a related question, what does it mean to be baptized with the Holy Ghost, do they both mean the same thing?"
RM: They do. Baptism by fire is is used again and again in the Book of Mormon, but also in the Doctrine & Covenants. And I know members of the Church who've tried to say no, you've been baptized and you've been confirmed and you have the Holy Ghost but you haven't had the baptism of fire. And they try to imagine some kind of an overpowering influence that a person... no, the Holy Ghost works quietly. The Baptism by fire is the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which means a person receives the gift of the Holy Ghost and he begins working upon an individual. An example of this—we say, speaking broadly and lightly, we're baptized to wash away our sins.
Well, the fact is, that's only half true. Why? Because you really don't get any remission of your sins by water baptism, why? The Holy Ghost is the sanctifier. And if a person, if a family, is taught the gospel, baptized properly, and Saturday night and they're supposed to be confirmed on Sunday, but they decide to take a vacation for three months, they don't have the gift of the Holy Ghost, they don't even have a remission of sins yet. Joseph Smith says you might as well baptize a bag of sand as to baptize a man without giving him the Holy Ghost. It is not a complete baptism. So the baptism of fire is it's a figurative expression to describe, "I've received the Holy Spirit in my life and it is burning out of me all of those impurities that prove to be destructive to me." That's the baptism of fire. That's the baptism of the Holy Ghost. That is the workings of the Spirit upon an individual.
MJ: I feel like right now everyone's like, taking notes for the next time they're asked to give the talk on the Holy Ghost at a baptism. I'm like, "Note to self refer back to this." You open the book, Bob by talking about how president Martin Van Buren asked Joseph Smith, where the church differed from other religions of the day. Joseph Smith said that the mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands contained all other considerations. In what ways would you say the Holy Ghost is the biggest thing that differentiates our church from others by your estimation?
RM: That is really a good question, because that's what I was asking myself as I began the book. I wanted to make that point early on, and then I wanted to figure out why it's true. And here's what I came up with. Because the gift of the Holy Ghost is so central to everything we do, including the work of the priesthood, right, you know what I'm saying? When a person performs an ordinance, the Spirit needs to be there. You know? And so, the spirit is so intimately connected with every facet of our faith that not having melchizedek priesthood holders, who can lay their hands upon a person's head, confirm them and say unto them, receive the Holy Ghost, not having that most of the blessings we enjoy in this Church, we would not enjoy. And so what Joseph's really saying I'm persuaded is this: We have the melchizedek priesthood, which allows us to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. You follow me?
MJ: Yes. That's interesting. I kind of related to that. I couldn't help but think as I read your book about how one of the things that differentiates our doctrine from the doctrine of other Christian churches is our belief in there being one God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, but still believing that they are three separate and distinct beings. Why is this doctrine so important to us as Latter-day Saints?
RM: You know, the doctrine of the Trinity begins to take hold and take effect following the Nicean Council in 325 AD. And it descends for hundreds of years, takes little amendments here and there, but the whole of the Christian faith with but few exceptions, are Trinitarian. They believe that they are three persons, but one being. Now there isn't a soul on earth that understands what that means. I have read 60 books on this. I've spent hundreds of hours with people of other faiths trying to get them to explain to me how they can be one being. One time just in a light moment I said to my friend, "Okay, look Rich, tell me, if my wife and I were to invite the Godhead to dinner, how many places does she need to set?" And it's a silly question but it's getting at the issue. And so people will say to us, you guys are polytheistic. And my response is, "No, we aren't. We're monotheistic, meaning we believe in one Godhead." And so if I were to state the Latter-day Saint position as given in the Book of Mormon, and to some extent the Doctrine & Covenants, it's this: we believe there are three persons who constitute the Godhead the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We believe that each of those persons possess the attributes of godliness in perfection, nothing they're lacking in. Third, we believe that the love and the unity that exists within that threesome is of such magnitude that the scriptures often speak of them as one God. One God. Now, when you're reading along and you're in, say the 17th chapter of John, where Jesus is praying in that great high priestly prayer, that they may be united. I mean, his language is "Bless them, that they may be one as we are one." Now if in fact Christ and the Father are what we would say ontologically one, meaning if they're the same being, is Jesus praying for the 12 to be one being? I don't think so. In other words, I think that's a flaw in the doctrine of the Trinity. And so we need to know what we believe about this and what we don't believe about it. And so most of the Christian world believes in the Trinity. I think the other reason why it's so crucial we look at this properly, I'm concerned that the bulk of Christianity has basically lost the Father. Now, by that I mean, particularly the Protestant world, it's me and Jesus. It's me and Jesus. Other than the name of the Father that might be quoted in the Nicene Creed, which some churches memorize and have the members stand and repeat Other than that, everything is Jesus. So I think if we're not careful to understand the separate and different functions of the three members of the Godhead, that they are distinctive beings, then we're not going to appreciate how much the Father is involved, and how much the Holy Ghost is involved. Yes, Jesus is a central figure. But the work and glory of God to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life is carried out by three persons, three beings. And so an aberration in that or taking that doctrine and misunderstanding it, we're going to misunderstand the work of the Spirit, we're going to misunderstand the work of our Father. Does that make sense?
RM: It will cause you to misunderstand the nature of the Godhead. And if I were the devil, and I wanted to cause an apostasy you know where I'd start? The Godhead, which is exactly what happened. Okay, mess with the Godhead and all the doctrinal dominoes fall one after another.
MJ: Well, first of all, it makes me feel a lot better that you said you've read so many books and still don't completely understand it because I, that's something that I've always struggled to understand. But the way that you put it really is helpful.
RM: And I'm not being critical because I think in many, many cases, these were good men that came together, and they're trying to ask hard questions like, how can we present the Godhead in a way that the Jews don't think we're polytheistic, we worship many gods, right? And the answer is, we need to somehow create one being with three persons. And it is, as my friends have said to me, "Bob, I can't explain it. It's a mystery." But something as fundamental as God and Christ and the Holy Ghost really just cannot remain a mystery. "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." If it's life eternal to know God, heaven help us if we don't even have the means of coming to know God because God is in some ways pushed off the stage, because Jesus takes center stage. Make sense?
MJ: Yeah. Thank you. Before we wrap up, I have two last questions.
RM: You sure have a lot of questions.
MJ: I'm sorry. That's my job, you know? But I am curious about how writing this book and coming to study and know the the Spirit in this way and you've touched on so many different things that have come up in previous podcasts that I think are so interesting, like depression and inability to feel the Spirit during that time.
RM: By the way, I didn't appreciate how broad that situation was until Jane Clayson Johnson asked me to read her manuscript and to tell my story. And I began to read these cases where people are saying, I didn't feel the Spirit. I said, "Okay, I'm not the only one in the world like this."
MJ: It's not just me. Yeah. And honestly, that's one of the goals of this podcast is we...my hope is that no one feels like they're alone. And so for you, Brother Millet...Bob, in working on this book, how has this changed your life and brought you closer to the Spirit?
RM: It's caused me to be ever more cautious about what I watch on TV, what I listen to, how I spend my time. Why? I don't want to do anything to lose the influence of the Spirit. The whole exercise, all 300 pages of it, it bears on me that this is critical. You can't, you can't blow this. You know, the Holy Ghost is too important. And so I'm trying to find ways to...the language on the closing page of the Book of Mormon, "come unto Christ and be perfected in Him" and the language that the Lord uses that what we can do is deny yourselves of all ungodliness. I am praying constantly that my conscience will work stronger and that my discernment is better so that I recognize spiritual distractions when I see them. One example. last conference, President Nelson chastised the brethren in priesthood meeting about spending a whole day watching ballgames. And the wife and the family being neglected.
I felt like somebody'd hit me with with a hammer, okay, why? Because I love football. And sometimes my Saturdays have been from 11 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night. Now, I've never felt good about that 11 o'clock at night. But it occurred to me when I heard that he's absolutely right. Now I talked to my wife about it. She said, "Well, I don't want you to quit watching because I like to watch 'em too." "Well, we're going to watch a couple. I'm going to watch BYU and maybe Utah and I might watch LSU you because I lived in Louisiana. But after that, it's just not good for me." And so I've been praying the Lord help me to recognize those points of ungodliness. Not necessarily nasty, dirty things as it is subtle things that keep me from feeling the Spirit, sensing the Spirit, utilizing the Spirit. Life's too important, so that's what I came out of it.
MJ: Yeah. Well, we've got a big game coming up between the Cougs and the Utes. We won't bring that into the conversation or we might lose the Spirit, but our last question for you, Bob, is what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
RM: You know, to me, it means I'm in for the long haul. Sadly, and unfortunately, I've met too many people in the last five to seven years who've left the church. They didn't like this or they didn't like that, or this bothers me or this bothers me. I had never appreciated what the phrase meant when Heber C. Kimball years ago said, be careful because there will come a time, a day of sifting. I didn't know what sifting was, I was a city boy. I didn't know what you did with grain to sift it. But I know now because I've watched people, dear, dear friends and loved ones be sifted.
And so for me, John Taylor and Brigham Young had a phrase they would say "It's the kingdom of God or nothing." And I've even said in comical moments, you know, what, if Jeffrey Holland and Dallin Oaks and Henry Eyring and Russell Ballard are going to go down, I'm going down with them because they're not bad people to hang out with. Okay? And in other words, my wife and I, we have one greatest desire, it's to live and die firm in the faith. And if I were ever asked by a leader of the Church or the Lord, where do you stand? I want to be able to say, I've been loyal to church leadership. And I've tried to be loyal to the Lord. I don't think you can do that if you're only two thirds of the way there. And all in for me means you buy the whole package. You buy the whole package, and that comes...the Church with its members and their flaws. As Elder Holland put it beautifully God working with people who are flawed, "It must be terribly discouraging for him," he said, "but he deals with it. And so much we," and so with me it's the kingdom of God or nothing. It means I don't have anything that I'm not willing to do to build up the kingdom of God if I'm called on to do it, that's what it means to me.
MJ: Thank you. That reminded me of one of my favorite Jeffrey R. Holland talks is the one where he talks about for the duration of the war. I don't remember which talk that's in. But I have always thought about that, that it really is it feels like, especially right now a little bit of a battle for our souls. And I personally want to be in it for the duration.
RM: Let me share one quick thought, may I?
RM: When I wrote the book, "Whatever Happened to Faith?" One of the thoughts that bore down on me was this. I began thinking about the singing of hymns. And there are certain hymns I just have trouble getting through, okay, they just moved me too deeply. They just get to me. One of them, interestingly enough, is "Firm As The Mountains Around Us." Every time I sing that and I come to the words of the chorus, "And we hear the desert singing, Carry on, carry on." In my case, I don't see the desert. I see my grandfather who joined the Church in the 1930s saying to me, "Robert, carry on." I see my dad who gave everything for the Church saying, "You Carry on, carry on." I don't want to face them hereafter, and have slipped up somewhere in a serious way. So it's the kingdom or nothing.
MJ: Thank you. Thank you so much, Bob. It's been a pleasure to have you here.
RM: My pleasure to be with you.
MJ: We are so grateful to Robert Millet for joining us on this week's episode of the podcast. You can find his new book, "The Holy Spirit, His Identity, Mission and Ministry," in Deseret Bookstores now. We also want to say a big thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 studios for his continued assistance in making this podcast run. Thank you for continuing to listen and for sharing this podcast with your friends. We love you for it and we'll be back with you again next week.