Which answer do I mark? I wondered. The history book in my junior high class taught that the first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, was taken out of Carthage Jail and hanged. That was one of the answers on the multiple choice test before me. But I had been to Carthage Jail, had touched the bullet holes in the door, read and fairly memorized countless accounts of Smith's martyrdom and knew for a perfect fact he had been brutally shot, which was another answer, presumably the "wrong" one, on the page before me. I didn't care if my grade suffered. I answered that he had been shot.
I have rarely come across any historical figure so often lied about as the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I seek as he did "to disabuse the public mind" in reference to the most important aspect of his history - the defining of who and what this Joseph Smith person was.
Often people have simply written him off as a liar. Allow me to relate a story from his youth in which he proved his inward metal. The tender age of seven found Joseph in need of an operation which consisted of cutting into his leg and removing the infected part of the bone. The only type of painkiller available was alcohol and Joseph believed it was morally wrong to indulge in such things on moral grounds. He insisted on having the operation with nothing to shield him from the agonizing pain. Such was his conscience and devotion to moral decency. Was he a perfect man? No. But can a rational person believe that such a child would 31 years later voluntarily lay down his life to defend fabricated lies? Certainly not. Whatever else, he believed with his whole soul that his story was true.
One may argue that he was an honest man but had lost his mind. I appreciate personally the kindness attached to that idea, as it excuses this great man from ill doing. But is it rational? I would invite such a one to read his own language, to read the Book of Mormon and tell me if a madman could have written with such perfect simplicity, consistency, and power. I know of no account of Joseph raving, lashing out, or engaging in strange, erratic behavior from his birth to his martyrdom.
Well, if he was honest and in his right senses, surely he might have been deceived by the devil. A passage from the Book of Mormon reads, "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:26) Can a man led by Satan write such passionate words describing a full devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ? The entire Book of Mormon is devoted to testifying of the divinity of Jesus Christ and defending the Bible to an ever increasingly faithless people.
What answer remains? I do not do this often on my blog but I would like to bear you my witness that I know perfectly that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, called and ordained by the Master Himself, and guided to bring forth the Book of Mormon for the benefit of mankind. I have always instinctively known this and even as a child I hungered to learn about Joseph, for the feeling of light and peace proved always overwhelming. Basking in the truthfulness of his testimony was delicious to my soul from my infancy, and as an adult I have furthered my study of him and found more proof than I can pour into a simple blog post arguing the reality of his mission. Were I to lay all this before you I can still convince you of nothing. But there is Someone who can. Allow me to give you another passage, this time from the Bible, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith...." (James 1:5-6)