This year the lesson manual has abandoned the idea of following the development of the Church and the reception of the revelations through time and instead has moved to a topical format. My knee-jerk reaction is to attribute this to a desire to avoid tough topics in church history and make the teachers stick to some abstract doctrine or principal. The lesson is supposed to be focused on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It covers DC 3 and 10 and a bunch of JS-H.
While I did cover most of the scriptures included in the lesson I went a completely different direction with it. This was the exact lesson I needed at this moment of time. But the real point of the lesson was the fact that the purposes of God cannot be frustrated by Joseph Smith’s boneheaded weaknesses. This is a major and significant lesson.
Joseph was praying for forgiveness the night that Moroni came because he had become a lazy prankster who liked to dig for buried treasure. He knew he was not someone who would be expected to be a Prophet–there was nothing exceptional about him. He was not preparing himself very well for any great work.
But it was OK. God was going to use him anyway. Moroni comes to see him.
Then he meets Emma while employed digging for a long lost Spanish silver mine down by Harmony and instead of getting a real job and making himself respectable, he just dishonors Emma’s family and runs off with her to get married without blessing or permission. This was a selfish and impulsive act contrary to one of the 10 commandments. Can you imagine how he would be lauded in the Church today if he had stayed for a year working on a local farm proving himself to get Emma’s parents permission. But we largely ignore the elopement.
But it was OK. God was going to use him anyway. He gets the plates.
Then he gives the 116 pages to Martin after not taking no for an answer and a lifetime of Father Lehi’s work is gone in an instant. All Lehi’s blood sweat and tears put into his record are thrown down the drain because Joseph is a stubborn and disobedient sod.
But it was OK. God was going to use him anyway. He got the plates back and finished the rest of the book and the Small Plates of Nephi cover the gap in the story (to a certain extent).
The lesson covered the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon, but I taught the lesson of how Joseph kept failing during the process of bringing for the Book of Mormon (I only mentioned the elopement in passing) and how that was OK because he repented and the work of God rolled forward.
One cannot read Sections 3 and 10 honestly and think anything other than Joseph’s falling from his calling was not only possible but might have seemed at times likely. The doctrine of the Prophet not ever being able to lead the Church astray comes much latter. (It is found in the excerpted conference talks by Wilford Woodruff after the Manifesto in the PofGP.) In 1828 and the years following, it probably seemed likely to even Joseph that he would be rejected.
I also find it interesting that he is directly reproved in Section 3 verse 4 for his “carnal desires”. It is no surprise that later it is precisely his carnal desires leading to Fanny Alger and Marinda Knight and so many others that lead so many of the early Church leaders to conclude he was a fallen Prophet and leave his side.
I have a testimony that despite all Joseph’s weaknesses–including being too often a petty dictator and horny lustmonger–he was the Lord’s chosen. He made many mistakes, many serious mistakes. They ended up costing him his life. But his mistakes did not frustrate the purposes of God. The restoration happened, imperfectly, but it happened.
And so today the Church rolls forward. Imperfectly (very very imperfectly) but it rolls forward. Some cannot abide the imperfections. I don’t blame them. Sometimes I want to join them. Often even. But no imperfections, not matter how ugly or pervasive, can stop the work of God entirely. It is too hard for me to remember that truth.
I love Joseph Smith. I want to slap him upside the head for being so often a total idiot. But I love him just the same.
This is where I am at today anyway.