Today marks 170 years since Joseph Smith was martyred at Carthage Jail in Illinois. It’s been a long time. To put it into perspective, the United States has only been a country for 238 years, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence seems like it was forever ago.
What has happened in 170 years? Did Joe Smith’s little band of followers–those darn Mormons–just fall apart and disappear without him, as I assume his assassins hoped might happen?
We all know the answer to that is a big fat NO.
According the 2013 statistical report given in last April’s General Conference, there are now over fifteen million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Over 100,000 missionaries–including full-time and church service missionaries–are currently preaching the gospel and serving communities in need. 141 temples dot the globe with several more in various stages of completion.
The stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” of which Daniel once spoke continues to fill the earth. “The God of heaven” has “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed.” Indeed “it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
Joseph Smith restored God’s kingdom to the earth. With his First Vision and subsequent visits from divine messengers, he opened the last dispensation. He received the necessary priesthood keys to provide each of us with the ordinances of salvation. What a great responsibility! What a sacred and honored duty! “Hail to the Prophet” indeed!
But here’s the thing. Even as we praise him, we acknowledge that Joseph Smith was just a man. We often hear him referred to as “the boy Joseph”; he was so very young, after all. Even this hymn of praise does not paint him as anything but what he was: a hero, a martyr, a prophet, yes, but at the end of the day still just “Brother Joseph.”
He was a man like any other man. He made mistakes and struggled under the weight of his calling and wondered, as we all sometimes do, “O God, where art thou?” (see D&C 121). This makes it easy for skeptics to find fault with him, claiming that such a flawed mortal could never have done what he claimed to do. Why would a perfect God use an imperfect man to restore His gospel? How can the church be true if Joseph Smith himself was not above reproach? Why do we believe in a prophet who is just so…human?
To anyone who asks such questions, I respond as Alma does:
Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37:6-7)
God does great things with imperfect people like Brother Joseph. Like you. Like me. Those statistics I cited above are not the result of wishful thinking or magic powers. A great deal of sacrifice from so many of God’s children has gone into building His kingdom in these last days.
Joseph Smith’s legacy gives me hope that I too can play a role in this great work. I may never commune with Jehovah in this life, and I certainly wasn’t “blessed to open the last dispensation.” But I do have a purpose here. I believe I was foreordained to accomplish amazing things. I believe you were too. If we can fight in the “conflict of justice” with the same faithfulness Joseph Smith showed, we too can “mingl[e] with Gods” and be “crowned in the midst of the prophets of old” someday.
Each of us has divine potential. Each of us has a place in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the saints, and redeeming the dead. Each of us has something to contribute, however small or simple.
After all, a 14-year-old boy who was willing to ask the right question at the right time has helped bring about the salvation of millions.
So what small and simple things will you do today?