The Book of Mormon has been acknowledged as one of the most influential books in human history. Regardless of whether someone believes the book to be true or false, few people will deny it’s influence. But the question remains: Is it true or is it false? Was it an elaborate scheme or a divine gift to mankind?
Millions of people that have studied the Book of Mormon will tell you that they have a certain witness that the book is true. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people that have studied the Book of Mormon and are convinced that it’s a fraud. Some of the people that are now convinced that the book is a fraud were previously people that bore their testimony that they received a witness that the book was true.
So my question is…how does someone go from “knowing that the Book of Mormon is true” to “knowing that the Book of Mormon is a fraud” so quickly? I’ve come to know that many of the people that once adored the Book of Mormon but now reject it are not bad people. Most of them are really good people that have been shocked to learn things that they weren’t previously taught when they were young or when they were first investigating the church. I know many of them and they are my friends.
But here’s the deal. We’re all learning things! Everyday. From the proverbial least to the greatest. Sunday school teachers, seminary teachers, institute directors, bishops, church historians, apostles, and even the prophet. All of us are learning during this amazing age of research and internet accessibility. I’ve learned so much over the last couple years. Some of the things I’ve learned reinforced the things I already knew, and other things opened my eyes to a different way of thinking. Having the fullness of the gospel with it’s associated doctrine and ordinances doesn’t equate to having a perfect knowledge of all the details.
At the center of all controversy is the question of whether Joseph Smith fabricated or translated the Book of Mormon. The answer to that question is the hinge upon which the truthfulness of the church swings. So it’s natural that there’s a lot of people researching the possible ways that Joseph Smith might have been able to write the Book of Mormon. In fact…for me…that is about all I’ve studied for the past year. When I hear something compelling, I don’t write it off as “anti” and ignore it altogether. I never want to be one of those people that just shuts down all suggestions that contradict my current beliefs.
As a missionary, I always asked people to listen to the things I was sharing with an open mind. I hated when they’d close their ears just because of their unmovable position. Before they slammed the door, if I could get a sentence out, I would sometimes appeal to the biblical proverb that says “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” [Proverbs 18:13] What kind of hypocrite would I be if I shut my ears to everything that didn’t jive with my current beliefs.
So…when I learn that Joseph Smith looked at a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, I’ve got to admit that it’s mind-boggling. I can’t understand it. The skeptic in me starts to wonder. But my incomprehension doesn’t mean it didn’t happen just as he said it did. Just picturing a guy looking in a hat to dictate one of the most influential books in human history by itself can seem strange. Was it just dumb luck? Sheer genius? Or could it be that we just don’t understand the technology that was used to bring forth the Book of Mormon. Sort of the same way people must have felt when Isaiah was trying to describe airplanes and trains to desert tent dwellers. People hated Isaiah and probably called him nuts. But here we are…riding on planes as if they were no different than horse and buggy.
I personally carry with me a smooth stone-like device in my pocket all the time. This device I carry with me shines in darkness and (gasp….) words appear on it! Not only words… but pictures, videos, maps, and apps that talk to satellites and measure heart rates. Talk about incomprehensible. Just recently, I was using a Strong’s concordance app on my phone to get the Hebrew translation of a few words. The screen illuminated out of darkness and I was given the translation. It’s a miracle. We never question the technology we use in our world today, but we balk at the technology that God might have used in the past to communicate with his children. Can you imagine trying to explain your most recent Facetime video call or Skype chat to your backwoods buddy on the banks of the Susquehanna in 1830? He would laugh in your face.
That’s what many people did to Joseph Smith. Laugh. Even his closest associates and scribes devised tricks to see if he was making this stuff up. They always came up empty. They knew him well. They lived in tight quarters. Not many places to hide. No internet. No copy paste for curation of other books. Couldn’t even write a coherent letter. No logical explanation. Never stopping to ask where he left off. Never going back to correct a contradiction. (Because there were none) Spelling out words he couldn’t pronounce. Not knowing of a wall that surrounded Jerusalem, yet knowing so much about Old Testament history. These people couldn’t understand this technology. Joseph didn’t even understand this technology at first. But none of them could deny it.
To those early scribes…there’s no way this guy dictates a book like the Book of Mormon without divine aid. No books, no manuscripts, no ear piece with audio recordings to recite from. No tricks. No gimmicks. No one close to the process reported anything that seemed fishy. They put Joseph to the test for their own peace of mind, and none of them could write it off as fraudulent. None of the journals or testimonies give any indication that anyone else was “in on it.” They only stood by and witnessed what they considered a miraculous undertaking. These people were sacrificing a lot of their time, money, and energy to help that book come forth and none of them wanted to be part of a fraud. None of them wanted their reputation tarnished in cities where everyone knew everyone. They were no different than you and I are today. They weren’t stupid. Ignorant. Knowingly turning a blind eye. They weighed the logic of a frontiersman being able to pull off something like the Book of Mormon in the way that he did and determined it was an impossibility.
I believe that God used technology that turned a farmer into a translator. It was a marvel to those that witnessed the process. It continues to be a marvel to me today.