Friday, March 9, 2012

A Very Personal Reflection about Joseph Smith (and Other Prophets)

I have absolutely no personal knowledge, based on actual experience, of how I would act or what I would do if I had the type of vision Joseph claimed to have had - especially if I had it when I was 14 years old. That experience can be analyzed in many, many ways, but I personally believe Joseph believed he saw God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ. I believe he really did have a vision as he described - even as the details he shared were different throughout his life.  I have had to learn to be humble when it comes to my beliefs and opinions. I've had to learn to not get compulsive and obsessive about some things about which I feel strongly - and that's something I haven't mastered yet. I am more defensive of Joseph than some, because I see myself in him in many ways - and I see myself making many of his mistakes (and worse) if I had been in his shoes and his situation.

I don't mean that arrogantly in any way. I don't mean that I am something special - or that God would call me to be a prophet or lead a new religious movement. That very concept scares me more than I can express - and I have no delusions that I could handle it. I'm quite sure I would have flamed out young and hard.

However, I KNOW I would have tried my hardest and been sincere throughout my successes and failures. I only hope I would have been as dedicated and resilient as he was - that I would have "endured to the end" as he did.

I'm not trying to convince anyone in this thread that Joseph was a prophet of God. Honestly, I'm not. That's not the point of this post. My reaction isn't to someone who says, "I just can't see it. I just don't think he was a prophet." This post primarily is to people that take someone in whom I see so much of myself and focus SOLELY on his weaknesses and mistakes and failures and shortcomings. It's not that I take it personally, per se, but rather that I want to defend someone for whom I feel a kinship of sorts - especially from descriptions that simply miss the chaotic nature of his time and reflect perspectives that simply didn't exist for him.

Let me say it this way: 

I don't think Joseph would be a good apostle right now - but I also am convinced that Pres. Hinckley and Pres. Monson would have been even greater failures in Joseph's shoes. Those men as they are now would be totally inappropriate for the founding of a new religion. Founding a new religion, especially amid intense persecution in a wild, frontier environment, requires exactly the type of man Joseph was - and God has to use those who can do what needs to be done in the time it needs to be done. Likewise, I believe Brigham Young couldn't have filled Joseph's role or Gordon's / Thomas' role, and not one of them could have filled Brigham's role.

I simply think we do each and every one of them a tremendous dis-service when we compare them to each other, because we generally miss their unique contributions in the focus on their weaknesses and over-estimate their abilities to be someone other than they are / were. Part of my view of Joseph (and Brigham) as a prophet is my recognition that he just might have been the ONLY person available at the time in that location who could have done what would be required - and my even deeper recognition that I need to thank God every single day that it wasn't me who was in that situation. I'm fairly certain I would have failed miserably - and, honestly, I'm not sure I know ANYONE closely in whom I am confident in their ability to succeed in doing what was required of Joseph and Brigham - and, by extension, Pres. Hinckley and Pres. Monson.


Howard said...

To me a brief order of magnitude comparison is useful to deconflate and put things in perspective. JOSEPH, Brigham and the others.

Papa D said...

I can't argue with that much, Howard.

I know it's a bit different, but there probably won't ever be another Vince Lombardi for the Green Bay Packers or another Don Shula for the Miami Dolphins. However, I also really do believe that sustainability would have been a real issue if Joseph had lived much longer than he did - and that's true of lots of highly charismatic, visionary leaders who are willing to "experiment" and push the limits like he did.

Paul said...

Papa D, nice thoughts.

I remember something my mission president taught. He was going home shortly after I did, and so he began preparing the mission for the day he would leave.

He regularly taught that the new preisdent would be different than he was, and that missionaries should not get too excited by that. He said he expected the new president would be better in many ways. He said that didn't mean he didn't do well, but that the Lord moves on, and calls better and better people as time moves on.

While I appreciated what my MP taught, I think I like your description a little better than his -- namely that God calls the right people at the right time, and times change and so different skills and types of leaders may be required.

Great insight.

Nora Ray said...

'God has to use those who can do what needs to be done in the time it needs to be done.' I know this is true about the leaders who are called to preside over our Branches, Wards and Stakes but I hadn't considered it in relation to the Prophet Joseph. Thanks!

Stephen said...

Very interesting perspective.