There has been quite a lot of attention, both positive and critical towards Elder Anderson’s suggestion that we should “For now, give Brother Joseph a break!” I thought this was a very valuable suggestion which I heartily endorse. We should look back at Joseph’s life with a lens of charity, a recognition that our culture is dramatically different from his, and a recognition that historical facts can be manipulated and presented in a wide variety of ways. (See Meg’s Faithful Joseph series for an example of one using the same facts that are used to portray Joseph as a scoundrel to show that he was truly a prophet of God).
But the advice that I found most profound in Elder Anderson’s talk was his suggestion a few sentences later, immediately after he bore powerful testimony that “Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Elder Anderson urges us to “Settle this in your mind, and move forward!” This is wonderful advice, not only in regard to the Prophet Joseph Smith, but also in regard to our faith in Jesus Christ, and our relationship to the Church. For it is only when we have settled divine truth in our minds once and for all that we can truly become firm and immovable in our testimony and conviction.
In Joseph’s day, as today, there were many who joined the church only to fall away because they became disillusioned with the Prophet. Some got upset when they saw Joseph make mistakes like misspelling their name, while others concluded that Joseph did not act quite like they expected a Prophet to act (such as playing with children). Many left after the Kirtland Safety Society failure, because they felt that a Prophet could never make bad temporal decisions. Yet, those who stayed despite the trials and challenges were those who settled in their minds that Joseph was a Prophet, and moved forward with great faith. These were the men (and women) who suffered with Joseph in Liberty Jail, wept at his lifeless body after he was massacred in Carthage, and sustained Brigham Young by crossing the plains.
In Jesus’s day likewise, many saw something special in the Savior, but fell away because they became disillusioned with him. Some got upset because the savior preached Sermons that were hard to understand (John 6:66), ate and drank with sinners (Luke 7:34), or did not act quite like they expected the Messiah to act. Many left after the Crucifixion, because they had imagined a conquering Messiah who would solve all of their temporal problems. But the disciples settled in their minds that Jesus was the Christ and moved on with faith. As Peter declared, ” Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:68-69). These were the men (and women) who knelt with Christ in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, anointed his lifeless body after the crucifixion, and sustained Christ’s grand injunction, but spreading the Gospel across the world.
In all dispensations and throughout the history of the world, there have always been people of good faith and good will who are attracted to the beauty of the Gospel and the power of Jesus Christ and his atonement. Yet, they do not allow the message of the Gospel to sink into their hearts and become deeply and centrally rooted in their lives. As President Uchtdorf powerfully described in Priesthood Session, so many “content themselves with observing from a distance, sipping from their cups of skepticism, doubt, and disrespect.” Like Laman and Lemuel, they inquire not of the lord because they do not believe that the Lord can make such things known to them with certainty and power. (1 Ne 15: 8-11). Each commandment, each sermon, each new apostolic calling is another challenge to their faith, because they have not settled once and for all the question of what they know to be true. When questions arise, as they invariably do, they are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.” (Ephesians 4:14). Indeed, for many it is a badge of honor to be considered doubter or a skeptic. And when the sun comes up, because their faith has no root it withers away. (Mark 4:5-6)
But this isn’t what Heavenly Father wants for us. He has promised us that we can know divine truth with a certainty that goes beyond earthly knowledge. We can know that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph was his Prophet, and that his Church is led by a modern day prophet today. This witness is available to all. As President Uchtdorf noted, one of Satan’s greatest deceptions is that this type of belief “is available to some people but not to others.” This is a lie. While not every doubt will be resolved, or every question answered, God will give a quiet assurance and peace to those who truly desire it. But as President Uchtdorf noted “it requires an open heart and an open mind. It requires seeking, in the full meaning of the word. And, perhaps hardest of all, it requires being patient and waiting upon the Lord.”
The pathway of a disciple isn’t easy. Indeed, as President Uchtdorf noted, “[i]t is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give in to doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.” But gaining such a witness is far preferable to living life constantly questioning or plagued with doubts.
There are those in the Church who mock or scoff at the way that members of the Church bear testimony by declaring that they “know” certain things to be true. But that type of knowledge and certainty is what God promises us through his Holy Spirit. When we deny the possibility of knowing, we mock and scoff at the power of God. Instead, let us take the Lord at his word and seek the knowledge and certainty that he promises. Let us seek to become settled in our convictions. Let us settle in our minds once and for all, that this is the Church of Jesus Christ, and move onward and upward on the path of discipleship.