Updated: Jul 18, 2022
I'm finding it difficult to continue my Come Follow Me posts in addition to my weekly essays on references to Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. I want to do both. So I've decided to try a brief, 15-20 minute personal response to each Come Follow Me section. I'm not going to try to craft this. I'm just going to put it out there.
For me personally, the most powerful message I currently take away from the incident with the lost 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript relates to plural marriage.
There's so much that is challenging about the doctrine and practice of plural marriage and the spottiness of the record with regard to Joseph Smith that it demands some searching study and reconciling. I have loved ones who lean to an explanation that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God but his institution of plural marriage was an error or a misunderstanding and never represented the will of the Lord. And I have loved ones who reject the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith outright, largely because of plural marriage.
I know Joseph was a prophet. There is too much precious truth in his teachings and the Book of Mormon is too much an anchor to my soul for me to conclude otherwise. So the only question I have to seriously consider is whether plural marriage was commanded of God, or instituted by Joseph in his capacity as a man.
Here's where the lessons of the lost manuscript are instructive. Here is what I learn:
The Lord did not allow Joseph significant leeway to stray. Joseph did not hand over the manuscript to Martin Harris rebelliously. He waited and asked and asked and asked until he got permission. And yet, for not accepting God's counsel and continuously petitioning until he got the counsel he wanted, he lost his gift and his prophetic role until he had deeply and earnestly repented.
Joseph's wrenching experience with the lost manuscript taught him the cost of worrying about others opinions and expectations instead of faithfully obeying instruction and trusting in God. His later behaviour with regard to plural marriage seems to me to reflect that deep learning. He taught and practiced a principle that not only threatened his relationship with Emma, but with some of his counsellors, nearly all his neighbours, and the world in general. It's arguable that plural marriage was the main impetus for the martyrdom. And Joseph was smart enough to see that it would lead there. Yet he taught and practiced it.
To me, those two items are powerful evidence that the doctrine was of God.