The Purposes of God Cannot Be Frustrated

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The title is from DC3:1.  Today’s guest post is from Bouvet and is in reference to this year’s Doctrine & Covenants manual, Lesson 4 is Remember the New Covenant, Even the Book of Mormon
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.

Comments

comments

Comments 20

  1. I agree with the general thrust of your idea that God is in charge despite the failings of his servants, though I disagree with the assessment about Joseph’s carnal desires and other interpretations of details in his history. I’m glad you are in the church though and think that if some people have to take this route to deal with difficulties in church history then that is fine. I feel like I owe it to Joseph to provide the most charitable explanation of his actions that I can find while I do accept the fact that he was a human trying his best to do what he thought God wanted him to do.

  2. I love Jospeh Smith, too. I love what a complicated amazing person he was.

    One of the intereting aspects of these sections was how “wickedness” was almost a generic concept, covering everything from Martin Harris’ lack of faith and nagging the Lord, to fearing God more than man, to Joseph’s disobedience in the face of knowledge and his carnal desires. It made me think that maybe we are all more “wicked” than we like to think, and that my sins are not any more acceptable than anyone else’s. In a way, this makes God’s mercy and forgiveness all the more powerful. Maybe Joseph Smith is kind of an archetype for the the flawed human being who can overcome with God’s help.

  3. It is interesting to consider ourselves just for a moment in Joseph Smith’s place. I think of him seeing the Father and the Son and how that in and of itself allowed for a greater measure of the adversary to influence and be a part of his life (that was apparent from the experience he had in the sacred grove). I try to imagine the burden that he carried as a 14 year old boy having seen what he had seen and having to carry that at such a young age. Growing up with the stress and strain that came with that knowledge had to be overwhelming. Just consider for a moment someone writing about all the many things you did and have done since you were a teenager and older and publishing it for all the world to see. NO THANKS. The adversary was on Joseph’s tail all the time and I really wonder how much better any one of us would have done if we had to deal with all he was given. He may have done things that people consider “idiotic” but it would be really interesting to have those same people live his life and see just how wonderful they would have done. There is a reason that God says not to judge. It is easy to do while we sit in our nice, cozy house with our pizza in the oven and our TV to sit and watch. Bring a few mobsters to your door, get tarred and feathered and receive a few hefty revelations from God and then we can talk about who’s an idiot and who’s not.

  4. My personal summary of Joseph is: Deeply flawed, but deeply great.

    Excellent post. I might quibble with a few things, but I really like how you approached this topic.

  5. “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.”

    Consider that he needed Emma by his side then for the Lord’s work to continue moving forward, not later. He wasn’t in a popularity contest, he was doing the Lord’s work. I guess if Joseph was deeply flawed what would we consider Nephi? He killed a man, stole his clothing, lied to his servant to get the brass plates and then told the servant to come with them. Most would consider that beyond deeply flawed but we consider him a great man of God. When God does His work, people don’t like the way He necessarily gets it done or who He has do it. WAH.

  6. Thanks for clarifying Ray. I apologize for the WAH, I have been dealing with a lot of whiny adults in confined quarters lately so I am trying to get back to a state of normalcy. I am not an intellectual like many who write on this blog, but I feel that I have been able to learn a lot about the way the Lord works through asking Him…over and over. I know that my comments may go “off thread” (as people call it) and I don’t say the most profound things but sometimes it seems things are being made much more complicated than they really need to be. The Lord said He would thrash the nations with the WEAK things of the world. We then should expect Joseph to be weak (or deeply flawed) right? Why read about every little thing he ever did? Why not ask the Lord to open our eyes, help us to see what He sees, help us to understand His ways? The spirit can teach much better and quicken our minds to the extent that understanding comes in no other way. When that understanding does come it is not something you discuss on a blog, and sometimes I wonder if people are so busy searching for answers in books and from others that they skip over the Lord completely. I am not speaking about you specifically, just from what I have observed in general.

  7. I understand, jen, although I personally think your contributions here have been wonderful and profound. Just to echo what you said, sometimes we just think too much.

  8. JS was so flawed in fact that he was not able to follow the example of his namesake Joesph (who was sold into Egypt). When faced with shaming his name and his wife, he chose to go after Fanny Alger and now the lds church is forever tied to the practice of polygamy which JS used to cover his tracks and make Emma back down. How very Godly of him.

  9. It’s always been interesting to me that people can look at the same set of “facts” and spin them in totally opposite ways. Up until #10 everyone seemed to be trying to outdo each other in expressing their love and admiration for Joseph Smith and then along comes Missionary Stu.

  10. #7–“Why read about every little thing he ever did? Why not ask the Lord to open our eyes, help us to see what He sees, help us to understand His ways? The spirit can teach much better and quicken our minds to the extent that understanding comes in no other way.”

    I read about every little thing he ever did because I want to know everything I can about him. I have been a member of the church 37 years and my eyes have not yet been opened to the extent they need to be to have a “knowledge of the truth”, whether than knowledge comes from a book, the internet or the spirit. Contrary to those members of the church that feel they “know”, I do not. Most testimony-bearing saints would simply say I have not tried hard enough. That’s really not for them to say.

    I have many friends who belong to other churches who feel just as strongly about their beliefs as members of our church feel about ours. I have one client who donates 20-25% of his income to his church. He does that because “he knows” things members of our church do not.

    I am happy for your certainty. I am sure it brings you comfort and peace. The same comfort and peace that members of other religions have.

    I love Joseph. I just don’t know that I believe him.

  11. Bouvet (or anyone, really): I have been thinking a lot about your post. I agree with much of what you have said. But, as a few commenters have pointed out, there are some real issues with Joseph and his “worthiness,” as we would call it today. There are many scriptural passages to support the proposition that God does not work through unclean vessels. How do you think this principle applies in the context of Joseph Smith’s ministry? Is the principle flexible enough to get around Joseph’s faults? Is it subordinate to the principle that the purposes of God are not frustrated? Did Joseph repent often enough to continue being used as an instrument? Do you think there is another explanation? In my view, Joseph’s accomplishments could not have been his alone. So how do you think this worked?

  12. Holden-

    The biggest struggle I have had with the church relates to Joseph Smith. What I wrote above comes after years of great difficulty in my life and has more to do with my own personal experience with the Lord. Remember how He asked Nephi to kill Laban? He could have easily had Laban drink himself to death or fall, hit his head and die. It would have been much easier for Nephi to find him dead than alive. Rather, the Lord expected Nephi to take his life. God wants to know where our hearts are and if we are willing to sacrifice ALL, even when it seems contrary to His laws. I think it is very possible that Joseph was in that position where he was expected to do what the Lord commanded and even though he didn’t want to, he did because of His willingness to give his all to the Lord. That is why, for me, even if his life or some of his choices are difficult for me, or not understandable, I have learned to give the benefit of the doubt because I can see in my own life and in the scriptures that God does place difficult expectations on people at times.

    I know people who seem to get more manifestations than others and they seem to be people who also struggle more in general. From my experience with people like you who haven’t had the truth made “known” to them but they continue to move forward there seems to be a steadiness about them and they continue to be faithful despite their lack of “spiritual experiences”. I don’t know if that makes sense or if you feel it applies to you but there must be something about you that knows you are on the right path or you probably wouldn’t stay on it.

  13. Jen: your struggle is real and shared, but I can’t share your rationale/accommodation with the Nephi & Laban story. The logic you use “God wants to know where our hearts are and if we are willing to sacrifice ALL, even when it seems contrary to His laws” is the same logic used on Nancy Rigdon by Joseph Smith to get her to submit to a polygamous marriage to him.
    It goes something like “what is wrong in one situation can be, and often is, right in another. In one case, God said ‘thou shall not kill’. In another, ‘thou shall utterly destroy’.”

    Ignoring the fact that, as the Lafferty brothers found out, this type of reasoning “God commanded it, so it’s atrocious but ok” won’t hold up in a court of law, I find it highly flawed, easily abused, and totally unacceptable. So the conflict within me as a strongly-believing “saint” continues.

  14. Interestly, after I made my comment here, I noticed that TT at Faith Promoting Rumor is dealing with questions raised by Jen and others, but using the Abraham/Issac story instead of Nephi/Laman story. Good stuff. He even makes reference to the Lafferty’s – oooh, spooky coincidence!

  15. larryco-

    I understand what you are saying and each of us have different experiences and come to know God in different ways. I have come to my own understanding of how God deals with His children and it is not my logic or rationale that brought me to that understanding. You either believe that Joseph Smith was doing the Lord’s will or you don’t. Either God told Nephi to kill Laban or he didn’t. If He did then why would He do that? It is pretty simple if He didn’t. It sounds all nice and cozy to say that God is just one big warm fuzzy but the reality is if you read the scriptures you can see that He has expected His children to do very difficult things. There will always be examples like the Lafferty brothers or Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapper. Guess the conflict will have to continue for all of us……..

  16. Joseph Smith was remarkable and to think what God
    was able to do with him. Just think of what He can
    do with us if we let Him.

  17. Jen,

    You are obviously a very intelligent person, and are very good at expressing yourself. I respect the fact that you believe so strongly in the church and its divinity. I also appreciate that you pointed out in your last post that you believe in JS and the church based on personal experiences and conviction, and not based on a careful consideration of the facts.

    That said, the logic you have used in numerous posts is circular and deeply flawed. It doesn’t do, in my opinion, to continually refer to the scriptures to demonstrate how Joseph’s behavior is in keeping with god’s methods. Of course, if god told Joseph to retrospectively change revelations to suit present purposes; take multiple wives, including women who were already married and then lie to his wife, leaders of the church, the body of the church and the public and command others to lie for him; take the property of hard-working members and convert it to his own personal use; and scores of other “bad” acts, then Joseph was justified in doing them. But to point to numerous instances in the scriptures where god has supposedly done the same thing, as evidence that this is god’s m.o. is fallacious logic. You’re assuming not only that the stories in the scriptures are literal, but also that they are true. This is particularly problematic when you use instances from the Book of Mormon, a book that Joseph produced, to make your point. Isn’t it possible that this is simply the chosen method of charismatic leaders of men throughout history to convince people to overlook any behavior that would normally be considered wrong?

    I will be the first to concede that nothing Joseph did in his life proves that he wasn’t a prophet. But I find it unbelievably naive to write off all of the incidents, and there were many, that in a normal context would reflect poorly on any person’s character, by saying “well, whatever he did, god commanded it, so it was right in that instance.” Are you familiar with Occam?

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