Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why I Believe--Evidence Five: Joseph Smith Excelled At Answering Spiritual Questions

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Five: Joseph Smith Excelled At Answering Spiritual Questions© 

I like reading graduation or commencement addresses.  Recently I read one by a self-proclaimed “non-believer” who teaches piano at the college where he was giving the commencement address.  He said the following:
“For one such as me, as for my secular siblings, the doubt is my reality, the need to accept the answerless questions of ultimate importance.”* 
He did not say what the “answerless questions of ultimate importance” are, but he implied they had to do with the existence of God and of the meaning and purpose of life.  This, of course, is a fairly common notion on college campuses and among intellectuals.  His attitude was that those religionists who claim to have answers are self-deceived and deceivers.  For Mr. Mayerovitch, it is a given that some questions of ultimate importance are answerless. He was in reality justifying his “otherness” and arguing his case that those with certainty should be more accepting and tolerant of people like him.  I didn’t sense a great deal of tolerance on his part for those who have fewer doubts than he does.  Rather, I came away from reading the speech, and I suspect there were those there that day who had the same experience, thinking that I should feel like a fool because I am a believer.  Any really educated and intelligent person knows better than to believe in God and Heaven. 

One of the things that I greatly admire and love about Joseph Smith are the many superlative spiritual gifts he possessed in super abundance.  One of the best was that he excelled in answering spiritual “questions of ultimate importance.”  There are many examples, but today lets consider just three plus one.  They are the questions many people have asked through the ages.

During our service in the California Roseville Mission, I read one well-read general authority who advised Church members to read some poetry regularly.  Poetry has always been difficult for me and I have tried it many times throughout my life without a great deal of success.  However, upon his advice I decided to try it again.  I learned that a poet named Edwin Markham, someone whom President David O. McKay quoted occasionally, was once the poet-laureate of California.  So I found one of his books in an online used book consortium.  In it I found this eloquent example of asking the unanswerable in a poem titled “Man the Questioner”:
The cattle never look before nor after,
Nor have they moments of immortal laughter.
Man is the Thing that knows he has a tomb,
Explores the secret out beyond the hearse,
And probes the mystery before the womb:
Man is the searcher of the universe.**  
In thought provoking verse he verbalized two of the three great questions: 1) Where did I come from?  2) Why am I here?  3) Where am I going?  Markham did not ask the second of the three.

Well informed Mormons know that the answer to these questions are the core of the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and are among the early things missionaries teach investigators.  I am not going to burden readers of this column with a recital of those well-known answers. I will simply point out that in what we refer to as the “fulness of the Gospel” we have more detailed and complete answers to those questions than any religion on earth– far transcending and more satisfying than the answers that Christians typically give to them.

I suggest, however, that there is another question which should be added to these “top three” and here too Joseph Smith excelled in answering it.  The question is, “Now that I know where I am going, how do I get there?”  I give but two answers among many that can be found in the scriptures produced by Joseph Smith and in his personal teachings.

First, is the simple but profound Third Article of Faith:  "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."  I have spent the last six years studying the question: "Why ordinances?"  I am not exaggerating when I say that in that simple Article of Faith lay the seeds of a doctoral dissertation or two.

Second, the same morning that I read Markham’s poem I also read Alma 42 in the Book of Mormon which Joseph translated when he was 24 years old.  I recorded these reactions in my journal:
“I had an experience that reaffirmed my testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  During the reading I became aware that the concepts in the chapter were deep and profound.  I found myself asking how Joseph Smith at age 23-25 could have known some of the detail he put in that chapter, how he could have written so deeply and profoundly [at his age].”
That single chapter of scripture deals with the following:
  • The Fall of Adam.
  • An explanation of temporal and spiritual death.
  • How the plan of mercy can satisfy justice through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
  • The role of repentance in the plan.
  • The relationship of law to sin, justice, mercy, punishment and blessing.
  • The resurrection brings man back into the presence of God for judgment.
  • Agency is given to man; we are not compelled to come back to God.
When I compared in my mind Alma 42 with Markham’s poem I wrote:
“The Spirit of the Lord again rested upon me and testified that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is true.  Alma 42 is as masterfully woven together as Edwin Markham’s poem, but infinitely more profound. Markham was not unique in asking the deep questions he did.  They have been asked by many before him, and many since.  He was original only in the language in which he formulated his questions.  Alma 42, insofar as I know, is totally original.
Thank God for Joseph Smith.  Lets think together again, soon.

*Robert Mayerovitch, “The Challenge of Otherness,” Baccalaureate address, Baldwin-Wallace College, 7 May 2006, in Vital Speeches of the Day 72 (June 2006), p. 552, emphasis added.

**Charles L. Wallis, Poems of Edwin Markham, (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1950), p. 5, emphasis added.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a great read. Love your thinking!