Sunday, February 28, 2010

Joseph Smith and false prophecies

All right, so my YouTube friend asked me "if Joseph Smith spoke a false prophecy in the name of the Lord, would you still uphold him as a true prophet?" I'm going to attempt to draw you into the process my thoughts went through as I worked with the question.

I didn't instantly jump to one answer or the other, and I think doing so, to either answer, would be wrong. I try my best to think through things, weigh the arguments on both sides and then work with what I know to come up with an answer.

I'm really big into criminology, and the brain and how people think fascinates me; working off the interest I listed first there, I drew a comparison to this guy's question: If a man told me, honestly, that he had killed someone, could I support him if he was pleading innocent? This may very well be an extreme example, but I think they're beneficial for really bringing out the true thoughts of a person. My answer, and yours, I hope, is no, I could not. Now, while Joseph Smith was no murderer, if I somehow was privy to information that proved - not through argument or such - that he was truly a false prophet, then no, of course I couldn't stand behind a state
ment to the contrary.

When I read this question, I assumed (because I do that a lot) that this information I was being privy to was from the Lord, not from a man. This would require that I have some kind of intense authority, even over that which Joseph Smith claimed to possess, and which our Prophet, Thomas Monson holds claim to.

I think I'm getting a little bit too deep here, so let's back out for a bit. Three things come to mind when I think about people claiming Joseph Smith was a false prophet based on some of his prophecies which didn't "come true." First I think about how limited I am by my mortal mind, then about how limiting the human definition of the word "prophecy/prophesy" is, and finally I think of my understanding of how the human measurement of time is not God's time. Let's go through these three, then go on from there.

Firstly, the limitations of my brain. My siblings would love to see me write exclusively on this subject, so for now I'll humour them. To demonstrate this, I'm going to ask you to think about eternity. Do it. Now. H
ow's that working for you? Can you actually imagine an infinite amount of time? Something that neither begins, nor ends? Can you imagine what the edge of space looks like? Does space have an edge? It doesn't actually take much until we feel like our brains are on the frying pan. I think sitting through an advanced physics class would push my brain to the edge. In that case I'd just be diving into the pool without testing the waters first, but the questions before that, about space and eternity, those questions are, thus far, unanswerable, inconceivable.

Next, to explain my second point. When I think of the word, "prophecy/prophesy," I think of it's definition. Some may think of various prophets (Adam, Abraham, Moses) but not me, and this is because I'm an English major. So what I think, is of how limited the definition of the word is, and how it's defined by the average person. To prophesy today is, some people think, equivocal to prediction. If someone is prophesying, then it's thought that they'r
e predicting the future. I don't know about you, but I contend that this is a pathetic definition of that word. Prophesying is so much more than that, and because of my major, I looked up the origins of the word. Prophecy is the action of prophets, and "prophet" comes from the Greek word "prophetes," which means an interpreter or spokesperson, especially with the gods, or God. This in turn comes from "pro", meaning "before" and the root of "phanai," which is "to speak." I like it. One could turn around and say, "this shows that prophets are predictors, because they are 'before-speakers,' speaking before something happens." I'll still disagree. They're getting their "before-speak" from God, who knows and understands all, is the same before, now and forever, so I argue that "before" is a synonym for God. Under that context, prophets are God-speakers. The only definition of prophecy that I truly accept as being full, is "to speak as a mediator between God and humankind, or in God's stead." This includes any "predictions," as well as other guidance the Lord gives his people, without being so narrow as the typical definition as to exclude anything other than predictions of the future.

OK, and now to show that God's time is not our time. I think the best way this is illustrated is through the use of countless predictions of Christ's coming in the Old Testament, as well as in the Book of Mormon. How long did Jews wait for their Redeemer? I think a better question is how long did humanity wait for their Redeemer? Genesis 4 talks about Cain and Abel offering sacrifices to the Lord; Abraham was to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, and Moses even demanded of Pharaoh that he let them offer sacrifices - they're even commanded to and build a tabernacle, or temple, in the desert so they could perform those sacrifices! So, why all the sacrifices? Why did the Lord want all these burnt animals? There has to be a good reason, especially if Moses was commanded to build one. Scripture provided by the Latter-day Saints explains that because Jesus Christ hadn't come and performed the Atonement, the sins of the people had to be cleansed some other way. This other way was through burnt offerings, and in some cases through the use of a scapegoat, or Yom Kippur, as the ceremony is called. To answer my own question, how long has humanity waited for their Savior? Since the Creation, since the time of Adam. Moses and Adam, they knew a Savior would come, but they didn't know when. God had appointed a certain time for Jesus Christ to come to earth, despite the fact that I'm sure these prophets of old prayed mightily for the Savior to come, what was to them, soon. Another perfect example is the Second Coming. When is it? No one but God knows.

And to think, these were just some of the things that went through my mind, but this man asked me to take a full day, so instead I've turned it into a (so far...) three-part blog-posting blitz!

If I want to emphasize anything here, it's that in this hypothetical situation the information I was receiving of Joseph Smith being a false prophet was from the Lord, not from man.

All right! Whoo, we've come a long way! And this is where we'll stay for now. In my next post I think I'll go over some scriptures that "define" a prophet. One scripture I'll spend some time on is used by loads of anti-Mormons to "prove" that Joseph Smith is a false prophet. I'll also demonstrate that although God doesn't change, man does, and therefore the prophecies given by prophets can, and as we'll see, do change.


Seth R. said...

Most of the time when critics of the LDS Church talk about "false prophecies" of Joseph Smith, they are actually talking about something that wasn't a prophesy to begin with.

Like instructions to early Church members to do things they ended up never doing. Not a prophesy.

Another common one is that Joseph predicted Christ's second coming to happen in 85 years or something. But if you actually read the D&C passage in question, it says no such thing. Rather it says that IF Joseph were to live to that age, HE would see Christ again. From this, Joseph concludes that he doesn't think the second coming will be sooner than that time period. But he refused to put a time-cap on it, and obviously he died long before the words could be tested.

Then there's just dumb crap like that whole "moon men" thing where someone pretty-much took a campfire speculation of Joseph's and tried to dress it up as full-fledged prophesy when it was nothing of the sort.

You have to be careful about taking these criticisms all that seriously. A lot of them are actually quite shallow, and rely on merely taking unsuspecting Mormons off-guard for most of their effectiveness.

Onhech said...

My answer to the Question would be "yes". This is not from logic or scriptures, but that is not my first source.
As much as I love the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Thomas S. Monson, my first and unconditional source is the things God tells me, for they are truly my only Primary Source, everything else relies on the transmission through others, the scriptures have been written and persevered through men and as such are fallible. The Lord has told me, that Joseph Smith is a prophet first hand, it is something I cannot deny, even if in the book of Mormon, or in his personal diary it said "I(or Joseph Smith) am not a prophet" I would still believe he is.
With that foundation when such issues would arise such as a false prophecy or the above written down in his writing, or anything challenging that claim it would not change my answer, but it would force me to alter my view of Joseph Smith, of his role, the role of a prophet. The only thing that could tell me that he is a false prophet is God himself, for he has already told me that he is, and there is none I trust more than Him. No word of man will make me deny the word of God.