Though I have not yet had the pleasure of reading the totality of Terry’s Givens’s The Pearl of Greatest Price, I was delighted by the review written by Richard Bushman, which is in the most recent issue of BYU Studies (59:4).
Where the Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants were intentional scripture, largely or entirely created and published as scripture during the life of Joseph Smith, The Pearl of Great Price assembles a collection of writings by Joseph Smith that was originally assembled as a pamphlet in Britain by Franklin Richards in 1851, long after Joseph was dead. The collection was canonized in 1880 as President John Taylor was sustained as the new President of the Church. It may be worth noting that the text now known as The Book of Abraham and the Articles of Faith were originally published in the Times and Seasons during the spring of 1842, when Willard Richards (Franklin’s brother) was residing in the Times and Seasons building and John Taylor was effectively running the operations of publishing the Times and Seasons (though Joseph was titular editor at that time).
Richard Bushman points out how radically Joseph’s doctrine departed from what had become “Traditional Christianity.” Though Bushman doesn’t reflect on this, I imagine Terryl Givens in his text may make mention that Joseph’s doctrine does, in fact, hark back to the teachings of the original Church fathers, those who had learned Christianity from the Savior or those who themselves had learned at the feet of the Savior.
I recommend Terryl’s book for your consideration. But any reading this blog post surely have time and ability to take in Richard Bushman’s review of Terryl’s book. Please read it.
One point Terryl apparently makes, with which I will take some exception, is the idea that the universe existed before God and that God appears powerless over aspects of that universe, specifically the free willed actions of individuals. A God who actively chooses to allow us free will is not the same as a God who lacks the power to take away our free will.
As I contemplate what it means to be like God and His Christ, I see how hard They work to teach us Truth and guide us into wise decisions. In becoming like Christ, this is an aspect that I try to emulate. But when I contemplate an omniscient and omnipotent God who respects our free will, this is to me more powerful than a God who simply can’t thwart our free will. As a mere human, it is possible for me to take away the free will of others. And therefore, God must also be capable of stripping us of free will.
Saints understand God, though raining down truth upon us, to not force our will. At this time of COVID and availability of scientifically validated mitigations, this alternate reading of the God of the Pearl of Great Price gives me insight into why communities dominated by Saints have reacted as they have.