June 27, 2008
As I mentioned in the post recently forwarded to you, your latest email has sparked quite a bit of conversation as to the best strategy in answering your investigator's questions. I needn't go into who recommended what. You don't need any prompting from me to figure that out, considering the participants on the family list. I also definitely don't need to remind you of what you know and practice so well, and have been for the past twenty months.
However, I do feel the need to be of some use to you and your investigator, so have posted on our family journal blog Uncle Alan's references, as well as updated our "Learn About Our Religion" and "Ask A Question" links with sites which may help answer his questions about Joseph Smith. Hopefully, he will realize that quotations can be distorted to seem the opposite of the intent when quoted out of context. Also, I think the best thing for you to do is refer him to Internet sites where the discussion is fair and truthful, rather than get caught up in a battle of wits, rather than invoking the Spirit in your discussions. He (or anyone you like) can use our blog as a jumping-off point, if he likes: http://amormonfamilyjournal
All that said, the discussion both with you and the family has again roused subjects of my own contemplation, and, especially since I've been praying for missionary opportunities, I thought I should share them with you. Thanks for allowing me to spout at you. I know it's a tough job, but someone has to do it, and, lucky you, it's your turn.
First, on prayer: for the past couple of months, since Dallas' wedding, Grandpa's illness, and everything attendant with all that chaos, my temple attendance has been next to nothing. Considering that I had previously been going at least every two weeks, if not every week, I deeply felt the absence in my life but was at a loss to do anything about it. Fortunately, things have settled down again, all my energy isn't poured into getting from one day to the next, and Sister Connors and I have started up again. The difference is indescribable.
During that spiritual dearth, I felt myself slipping into numbness — the best way that I can describe it. My hunger and thirst for righteousness gradually receded. My callings suffered, my scripture reading became sporadic and then stopped, as did my prayers, until I got to the point where I actually did not want to get down on my knees. I avoided making that connection because I knew the results before I experienced them.
I have recently finished reading the Book of Mormon, and the last letter Mormon wrote his son, Moroni, is truly disheartening and tragic, and up until recently, I felt unfathomable. I could not understand how a people so blessed, having not only faith but knowledge of our Lord and Savior, having countless witnesses' accounts of all they had seen and heard when they thrust their hands into his side and bathed the scars on his hands and feet with their tears — when they knew what it was to be moved by the Spirit — how could they possibly turn away from the blessings of the Gospel so firmly within their grasp? How could they commit such atrocities and abominations and embrace the darkness as thick and binding as was brilliant the light in which they once had dwelt? I could not understand it.
But then, I caught myself thinking, 'I don't want to say my prayers. I'll just be prompted to do the things I'm not doing.'
My son, I have had some excruciatingly intense experiences while on my knees, pleading for my Father's blessings and invoking the name of His Son, as is my promised right. I have received confirmation of the Spirit for which there are no words to describe. It cannot be spoken or written because those are physical means of communication, while this surety and rejoicing and humbling experience was spoken spirit to spirit.
I know you know of what I speak, as I know you have been blessed with equal certainty of our Father's infinite love for you. I know your soul has been tuned to the spiritual with the utmost care, and for this I will be eternally grateful.
I had had that experience and countless others in which I knew my prayers were answered, I recognized the promptings of the Spirit which guided and instructed me as our Father's direct response to those prayers, and yet, I did not want to say my prayers out of sheer laziness. I did not want to read my scriptures because the instruction I knew I would receive would be counter to what I wished to do.
Then, it was Sunday and everything seemed to center on prayer and personal revelation, and I knew the Lord was attempting to instruct me through physical conduits, since I had shut off that spiritual, or, at the very least, cranked it down to a trickle. The lessons of the books of Mormon and Moroni returned again to my mind, and I began to understand. How quickly and how easily would the Adversary take over my life if I shunned the light because I felt the Lord asked too much of me, or the promptings of the Spirit were inconvenient?
The Brother of Jared presented to my pondering as another example. Already a prophet of God, he knew the Lord's plan to punish the wickedness of the people of Babble, and I am certain prophesied amongst them by way of warning. When that failed, he pleaded with the Lord to spare from the curse first his family and then his friends, and to lead them into a land more choice than any other. He had that much confidence in the Lord, of the same magnitude and certainty as Jared had confidence in the worthiness of his brother to approach the Lord. The Brother of Jared asked, and because of his righteousness, because he prayed for so long and so well, the Lord blessed him for his faithfulness. (Ether 1)
The Brother of Jared had all that, then prospered, yet, after they had been lead by the Lord for years and reached a land of bounty, he ceased to pray. Why? Surely because he was comfortable. The status quo was good enough for him and his people, and if he should pray, perhaps the Lord's instruction would be inconvenient and difficult, which we know it was.
But the Brother of Jared endured the remonstrance of the Lord with humility and sorrow. He repented and proved his faith so mighty that the Lord could not keep the veil from his eyes. (Ether 3:6-16) His faith ceased because it became knowledge. (Ether 3:17-20) His surety so much prevailed, the faith of his people had grown so strong, that they willingly surrendered themselves to the protection and mercy of God as they thrust ships without rudder or sail into the sea and then sealed themselves inside. For their faith and obedience, the Lord poured out blessings upon them such that they became the greatest civilization the world had yet known. (Ether 6:4-12)
And so, I contemplated these things and knew the Lord was reproving me in his own gentle, loving manner. However, to reiterate the point, for the next couple of days, in Relief Society, in various meetings, every time someone looked around for someone to give the prayer, their eye fell upon me. I took the hint and have already been blessed, as I know blessings will continue to flow as I allow the Spirit to guide me.
I guess I'm writing this because I've also gained a wider vantage in respect to investigators. Often times, I hear "they won't commit to pray" about the truthfulness of the gospel or of the Book of Mormon, and I think, why ever not? I believe that often the answer lies in their comfort and convenience. Perhaps they apprehend a positive answer with all its attendant implications, and it simply is not convenient or simple to make such dramatic changes in their lives. It is quite simply easier to refuse asking and thus avoid any answer, than to ask and then defy the answer given of the Lord. Perhaps this also sheds a bit of illumination as to why people hesitate in reading the Book of Mormon.
On to Joseph Smith.
Indicative of my own self-doubts, rather than any uncertainty of the Gospel, in the past I have frequently wondered if I would have found the Church if I had not been born into it. As you know, I am a very cerebral person. I am also a very stubborn and overly self-confident one. I don't like to give way in my opinions. Admitting myself in error equals humiliation, as much as do less than perfect scores on any type of exam, test, or just-for-fun quiz.
Knowing that about myself, I would find myself wondering, should I have been raised a Catholic or Baptist, or Buddhist, for that matter, how I would act should the missionaries knock on my door. Would I politely listen long enough for the Spirit to speak to me, or would I simply treat them as any other door-to-door salesman pestering me with product I have no use for, or probably worse? If the Spirit did move me, would I heed it? Or would I simply discount it or dismiss the prompting because I was perfectly comfortable as things were?
Too often I surmised that I would have turned away the missionaries, and fearing that about myself, was ever more grateful to Heavenly Father for not making that requirement of me. They say that the Lord will not ask of you anything that you and he cannot accomplish together, and I often pondered the idea that my pride and reliance upon my intellect would be an obstacle too great to overcome, and so he allowed me to be born into a family active in the Church, so that the Gospel would be firmly established in me as I matured.
But, no matter how I was raised, there came a time when I had to develop a testimony of my own, when I had to ask the hard questions and seek my own personal answers from the Lord. I had to learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit, not only rely upon the testimonies of others. Such a flame as that cannot illuminate a soul, as it too soon flickers out when removed from the sustenance of another's fire.
As I have grown older, as I have strengthened my spiritual muscles, as it were, as I have come to understand so much more about life and religion and all the traps and pitfalls the Adversary sets in the way of us all, I have reached the certainty that I would have found the Gospel. There are quite simply too many ambiguities and contradictions in other creeds, too many questions left unanswered, and I know I could not have accepted no answer at all as the definitive response to my searching.
What is more, my spirituality is an aspect of my life of infinitely greater import than my intellectuality, and that is as vital to me as breathing. I have to be learning. I have to be seeking and finding. My brain requires the exercise, but without the sustenance to my soul which the Gospel offers, I know I would be driven to seek it out. Knowing who I am, knowing my relationship to my Heavenly Father and my brother, Jesus Christ, defines my sense of self. In the absence of that surety, I know I would feel the message of the missionaries fill that great void in my life and I would hunger and thirst for it. I would feast upon the bounty they offered me.
Truth is truth. It rings in my soul, and I cannot imagine not knowing what I know. I cannot fathom a life without faith and hope.
And all is based upon the Book of Mormon.
The scriptures are there in defense of the Gospel. There are explanations and disambiguations enough to clarify the misinformation and disprove the lies with which adversaries of the Church bombard the Internet and other media. Studies enough offer proof that no one of Joseph's age, education, and background could have possibly written the Book of Mormon. Allowing for context answers every concern, especially when one reestablishes one's perspective from 21st century post-modern society to one of Joseph Smith's contemporaries.
The era in which history played out when the Church was restored is entirely foreign to our own. The boundaries and language may be the same, but one must consider the vernacular, social mores, society and culture in which Joseph Smith lived. One must allow for a youth growing into manhood and struggling with all the challenges fulfilling the role the Lord assigned him. Only then can one even begin to assess him fairly.
But, none of it matters. Nothing proves the Gospel except for the Book of Mormon, and nothing can prove the Book of Mormon but the Holy Ghost.
I have seen it posted that the Church cannot even produce the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was said to have been translated, and this in itself is proof of the fallacy. That question has more than once crossed my mind as I wondered why the Lord did not allow the plates to remain with Joseph and thus prove he spoke the truth. The response that the Lord requires the exercise of our faith seems a pat answer, a catch-all for everything yet to be illuminated, but when one truly considers it, the truth is, it would have made absolutely no difference at all.
Should President Monson call a press conference tomorrow and announce that the Church has been in possession of the plates all this time, and that the time had at last come to reveal them to the world, should he offer them up to be examined by independent panels of scholars and scientists, should all that investigation prove the translation of the Book of Mormon accurate word for word, it would not matter.
Consider: first, there would be a huge lawsuit between the Church, the Community of Christ (the reorganized church), and the Native American tribes indigenous to upstate New York as to whom exactly actually owned the plates. After a decade of legal proceedings, the linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists and theologians would battle for the right to examine them, as has been done with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then, after everything, they would simply become an archaeological and anthropological treasure, and their great worth would be in the evidence of an heretofore unknown North American culture with some Judeo-Christian influences in their traditions and legends.
All that would not more prove that Jesus Christ visited the Nephites following his resurrection than the Bible proves he was resurrected at all. The Israelites fled from the Egyptians on a dry path through the Red Sea, but they still built an idol to worship in God's stead. Many of the Pharisees and Sadducees themselves witnessed the miracles performed by Christ, but they crucified him even still. History is laden with examples of men denying the proofs offered, turning away from the truth it better suited them.
Those prone to disbelief would disbelieve still because all the evidence in the world cannot replace the Light of Christ which dwells in us all, and cannot begin to counterfeit the testimony borne to us by the Holy Ghost. Only he, as the third member of the Godhead, can provide us with the proof and certainty that we need to sustain our faith.
As long as fifty years ago, brass and copper plates inscribed and bound in rings, dated to Lehi's time, began to be unearthed in the Mediterranean, Africa, and North America. Archaeological evidence emerges on a regular basis to resolve questions and anomalies which have been offered in the past as proofs of the fallacy of the Book of Mormon. Anthropologists and linguists trace evidence in the Book of Mormon to middle eastern societal norms unknown to the western scholars in the early 19th century, let alone unsophisticated day workers born and raised in the virgin frontiers of an emerging country. Professors of religion independent of Church influence have stated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is nearest to that established by Christ himself, but — but.
But, one has to believe the Book of Mormon is true. One has to believe that Joseph Smith translated it and therefore he really did see God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, the Angel Moroni showed him where the plates and other ancient artifacts were concealed, and he was directed from on high to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Which I know he was and he did, because I know beyond doubt that the Book of Mormon is true. Each and every time I read it, the Spirit witnesses to me of it's verity, of the truthfulness of the Gospel it illuminates, and of the divinity of Jesus Christ, that he truly is the Son of God and that he lived, he suffered and died for our sins, and that he rose and lived again. I know these things. Even as I write them, the Spirit again burns within me, further strengthening my testimony and recalling to my mind those experiences testifying of the same which have nigh well overcome me with their intensity and power.
Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. He established this Church under the direction of Jesus Christ, who stands at its head. The heavens are not barred against revelation. Thomas S. Monson is his anointed this day and holds the keys and powers necessary to act in Christ's name. The Lord is no respecter of persons, and those spiritual gifts with which he blessed his children in biblical times are ours by right, under the same conditions of faith and obedience.
The Book of Mormon is true, its purpose to testify of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my lord, my savior, my brother and my friend. Of these things I testify in His name, and with all my love.