Not too long ago, I sat through an Elders Quorum lesson about the First Vision. The teacher, who I like and who generally does a good job, was leading a paint-by-numbers sort of discussion (Q: “What do we learn from The First Vision”; A: “God has a body”). As usual for this topic, the lesson had its share of omissions (no mention of the other accounts) and historical missteps (“No one else in 1820 believed that God and Christ were separate beings”). All in all, it was a fairly typical meeting and, to be honest, I was zoning out.
But then, quite unexpectedly, the lesson took a decidedly more interesting turn. The instructor focused on one seemingly minor detail of Joseph’s account that, despite having read it dozens of times, came as a surprise to me: “He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” (JS-H 1:20).
To be honest, I had totally forgotten about Joseph’s private conversation with God. Of course, the notion of God forbidding his prophets from writing down something he has told or shown them is not new. But what makes this 15-word passage (which is not mentioned again in the History) particularly interesting is that Joseph never was shy about sharing what he felt had been revealed to him. Furthermore, as far as I know, he never revealed what “other things” God had told him during that experience.
The teacher then posed a question, which I now present for your consideration: what unwritten things do you think God said to Joseph at that moment?
Since that lesson, I have given quite a bit of thought to what God might have told the 14-year old Joseph. As far as I know, Joseph never clarified this ambiguity. In the absence of such an explanation, here is the best I can do:
For us looking back, the purpose of the First Vision was the restoration of the Gospel — the re-opening of the heavens, the beginning of the last dispensation, the kingdom of God once again on the Earth, etc. But for Joseph, all of that was well in the future. For him, the experience was of a much more narrow and personal scope — God forgave his sins and answered his prayer (a point made even more prominently in the earliest versions of the experience). What was to come in subsequent years likely was far beyond even his wildest dreams at the time. God, on the other hand, knew what was in the cards for his chosen Prophet. With that in mind, I like to imagine that this “off-the-record” time was a moment when God stepped out of his role of “Restorer” and into his role as “Father.”
I have three daughters and, many times, I can see danger ahead long before they do. Countless times I have pulled their bikes out of the path of approaching cars, yanked their hands out of doorjambs, and scooped them up before they left the sidewalk. I’m no superhero, that’s just part of the job of being a father. Perhaps in that moment, as Joseph stood on the precipice of a brand new life as God’s “chosen one” — a life filled with suffering, loss, and persecution culminating in his murder — God took a brief sidebar to warn his child of the dangers ahead, to express his appreciation for him, and to tell him, “I love you.” Speaking as a father, that makes a lot of sense to me. Speaking as a fellow child of God, that brings me peace.
Your speculation, of course, is as good as mine. What do you think?