Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Mormon's Really Believe: Did a 15 Year-Old Boy Really See God?

In 1820 a young man of 15 years old found himself confused. 

"There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, 'Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some fr the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

"For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faith expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued - priest contending against priest - and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions."

Though four members of his family opted to join the Presbyterian faith, this young man was more inclined associate with the Methodist sect, but even this did not bring him much peace. 

"My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

"In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?"

This young man had been raised on the words of the Bible, and turned to them repeatedly for answers. One day he read in James, chapter one, verse five: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

"Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."

After much studying, pondering, and prayer, the young man at last decided it was time to ask of God, as was encouraged in the scripture that so touched his heart. Little did he know what was to follow.

"I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

"But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction - not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being - just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!'"

Many stories have been told of Joseph Smith, Jr, the man who brought forth the restoration of the Lord's Church in this day and time. Some of those stories are true, others are not. For one to understand the truth of what we, as Mormons, believe it is important to read the words of the man who we believe was a prophet of God. He was a young man, confused by the words and beliefs of mankind and their interpretation of scripture, of the seeming hatred between each church, and the claims of each of them being God's one true church. He prayed, as each one of us are encouraged to do, in order to discover the truth as promised us by the words James taught.

We can learn much through his example: read the Bible. Study the words out in our minds. Ponder over what is being taught. Decide on a question to be answered. And pray with a sincere desire to know the truth.

Because of one prayer some precious truths were taught. First, that Satan is a real being. Joseph Smith, at 15 years old, was about to start on a journey that would be fraught with hardship and happiness, a journey that would shake some of the foundations of Christianity. The second truth we were taught - that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ stood side-by-side, that they are two distinct individuals, and that Heavenly Father is pleased with what His Son had accomplished.

One more thing we learned in these brief moments: God the Father knew Joseph's name. Just as He knows all our names. Just as He knows each and every one of us, and has a plan in store for our lives. Though Satan may howl and bring us low, he has no more power than that - God's power, the Lord's power, that is strong than anything Satan can throw our way.

I testify of this experience, one we refer to as 'The First Vision', as having happened. Like unto Joseph, I have read the Bible as well as other scripture that has been brought forth. I have pondered on the words, I have decided on particular questions to ask, and with a humble heart and a sincere desire to know, I have prayed about each point related to you today. And I have received a witness of it's truth, just as you can receive that same witness. 

However, if you desire no more than to simply understand what we believe Joseph Smith experienced in the hopes of knowing why we believe in him as a prophet, and another reason as to why we believe Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two separate beings, then I hope I have done at least a little of this today.

If you would like to read more about the beginnings of this Church in Joseph Smith's own words, you can go to Joseph Smith-History and read more.

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