Why the need to learn about Joseph Smith?
Around August last year, I had a feeling come into my heart that I needed to learn more about the Prophet, Joseph Smith. This struck me as different because Joseph Smith hadn’t been on my mind. I’ll also admit that, in the past, I had known that it was important for me to gain a stronger assurance of Joseph Smith’s mission but I hadn’t gotten around to doing it.
So if I was going to learn more about the Prophet, how would I do it? Naturally, I thought I should get a book about him. Over the years, I had heard of a particular book called “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” The book is a compilation of Joseph Smith’s prophecies, thoughts, and insights that his grand nephew put together. I bought the book and began reading.
Around the same time that I bought the book, October rolled around, which means, as a member of my Church, I get to listen to General Conference, an event where I listen to our leaders help me understand God’s will. Towards the end of the Conference, Russell M. Nelson, our current prophet, asked members to learn more about Joseph Smith. When I heard this, I knew it wasn’t a coincidence that I’d felt that particular prompting a couple months back – God was trying to send me a message that I needed to learn more about this man.
Quick sketch on Joseph Smith
So who exactly was Joseph Smith? He was born to a humble, God-fearing family in 1805. He grew up during a period of time known as the Second Great Awakening. This was a period of time characterized by a religious fervor sweeping different parts of the country – many people had anxiety about the welfare of their own souls and Joseph was very much affected by this – he had a keen interest in understanding which church to join. He ultimately came to the conclusion that he needed to ask God to receive a satisfactory answer.
In the Spring of 1820, Joseph Smith went to a grove of trees not too far from his family’s homestead to ask God about which church to join. While he was praying, a miraculous event occurred. God, the Creator of the Universe, and his Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the young boy in what is referred to as “The First Vision.” During this experience, Joseph asked God and Jesus which church was correct and was instructed to not join any of the current churches. He was told that the true Church of Christ was not yet on the Earth but that it would be made known to him at some future day.1
In subsequent years, God chose Joseph Smith to be the person through which His gospel would be restored to the Earth. The restoration of the Gospel included the legitimate authority to act in God’s name, referred to as the Priesthood, a new book of scripture, known as the Book of Mormon, and other divine laws necessary to operate God’s kingdom on the Earth.
Some takeaways from the book
As I read this book, one of the things that occurred to me was how very much “in over his head” Joseph was in restoring Christ’s gospel. Joseph was quite young, and unlearned, when he was called to put into motion the necessary things to restore Christ’s church. Due to the utter magnitude of his calling, to have any degree of effectiveness, he had no choice but to constantly seek God’s will while, at the same time, developing his own judgement – no simple task. And while he had a few individuals in his life who he could call close friends, I can’t help but wonder how alone he must have felt sometimes – no one could really relate to him and his mission.
Joseph’s life was in a constant state of flux – sometimes violently so. From keeping himself worthy to receive God’s revelations to leading a fledgling church to trying to cope with corrupt government officials and mobs to being in a constant state of worry for his own life, the roller coaster never stopped. In the book, he laments how difficult it was for him to find peace.2 He aptly points out how many prophets before his time were either killed or forced to flee hostile environments. He would continue receiving fierce persecution until finally being murdered at the age of 38.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from reading the book was how much Joseph Smith revolutionized the core concepts of mainstream Christianity. He solved the age-old mystery of the nature of God – he taught that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings. He revealed that not only is there life beyond death, but that the human race will self-perpetuate into the eternities, as family units, and that this privilege can only be enjoyed by those who enter into agreements with God and keep his commandments. He taught that everyone, no matter when or where they lived during the Earth’s existence, will receive the opportunity to hear Christ’s gospel whether in this life or the next and to receive its blessings. He taught that God still uses the same pattern that He did in the Bible to reveal His gospel to the Earth’s inhabitants, through prophets, and that these prophets have been given the authority to establish God’s Church. These, and many others principles are discussed in the book.
A normal person just like everyone else
One morning, when I was nearly done reading the book, a thought came to mind. It occurred to me that Joseph was really a normal person like all of us. He had his problems and insecurities like everyone else. He was fighting through life trying to figure things out. And just like every follower of Christ before him, he had to experience trials to draw closer to God. The point I’m trying to make is that God uses normal, sometimes unlearned people to accomplish his purposes. God appears to prefer this method. Nearly two thousand years earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” 3
After I realized that Joseph Smith was a regular individual trying his best to magnify God’s will, it gave me more hope in my own journey. I’m certainly a regular person and could use God’s hand in my everyday life. I like to think that if God was willing to do that for a humble farm boy in 1820 then he can certainly do that for me or anyone else that seeks after Him.