Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision is deeply cherished among Latter-day Saints. We are amazed by it, transcended by it, and humbled to live at a time when we can be members of Christ’s original church, restored again in these latter days. Some of us have this sacred story memorized. Most of us have heard it more times than we can count. And all of us marvel at God’s infinite love for his children, and his incredible plan of salvation. Except for Christ’s resurrection and atoning sacrifice, this is the second greatest event in the history of the world.
We love that moment when a pillar of light, brighter than the sun, rests upon Joseph and he sees God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ. We marvel at what they tell him, a young, uneducated boy of fourteen who, until this moment, had thought they were one entity.
But sometimes, in our haste to get to “the good part,” we gloss over the scary part. Satan was fully aware of what was about to transpire, and summoned the literal forces of Hell to stop it. Joseph describes this in just two verses, describing a “power which entirely overcame me,” of such astonishing influence as to bind his tongue. He speaks of “thick darkness,” and of feeling “doomed to sudden destruction.” It’s vivid and real, and was undoubtedly the most frightening thing Joseph had ever encountered. Then, just as Joseph felt he would sink into despair and accept his complete destruction, at that “moment of great alarm,” the pillar of light appeared and Joseph was delivered from this unseen enemy.
To the reader, it seems to happen fairly quickly. But such a terrifying ordeal undoubtedly took much longer than it takes to read two verses. Joseph must have wrestled with the adversary for a long enough time to feel doomed, and nearly hopeless.
Why did God allow him to suffer this agony at all? Surely, if He had wanted to, God could have held Satan at bay, and simply appeared to Joseph the instant that he prayed. But Joseph needed to learn several things about the Adversary. He needed to witness the reality of Lucifer’s power and determination. He needed to know that Satan was furious about the Restoration, and would try to prevent it with all his might. He needed to know, also, that God would prevail, and would rescue Joseph in order to achieve His purposes. That hideous moment of fear, when Joseph was tried to the breaking point, also taught Joseph about Joseph. He learned that he could exert all his own powers to “call upon God to deliver me,” and that God would come through for him.
This experience with pure evil was but a taste of what Joseph would encounter throughout the remainder of his life, as wicked mobs relentlessly pursued him. His ordeal in Liberty Jail, and in other settings, taught not only Joseph, but the Saints then and now, about reliance upon God, Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and the briefness of mortal life. Joseph proved courageous and unyielding in the grove, and was equally valiant in his faith afterwards.
Though we may never wrestle with Satan in the same way that Joseph did, we fight his forces and darkness almost constantly. Problems and hardships arise in our lives, challenges that Satan hopes will break us. Gleefully he waits in the wings to see if we’ll buckle. We work, we pray, sometimes we feel we’re exerting every bit of strength we can summon, to meet the sorrows and afflictions that come with mortal life. And when God rescues us in the eleventh hour, some of us wonder why He waited so long. Why was our anguish prolonged? Why did our prayers seemingly go unanswered for so many years?
When our trials seem to stretch longer than we feel they should, we can think of Joseph in the Sacred Grove. God was in charge of his tutoring. And God is in charge of ours. Many are the lessons that come with adversity: patience, unwavering faith, long-suffering, charity, reliance upon God, and a host of other traits we learn mostly in times of opposition. The refiner’s fire does exactly that: It refines us. And that cannot happen without intense heat. The key is to ask ourselves, during our trials, what lessons we are to learn. It’s not easy, of course; nobody relishes hard times. But if we can learn from every setback, we are always the victor.
Long-suffering also produces a grand list of divine traits, including patience, forbearance, compassion, and understanding. Rushing through our struggles before we can learn from them is not the way God planned to school us. Both hardship and triumph are to be part of mortal experience. When we’ve endured much, we appreciate God’s blessings all the more. We can see His hand in our lives more distinctly. We also learn what we’re made of, and that we can withstand much more than we ever imagined. We have empathy for others who suffer, and feelings of charity become actions of generosity. Perhaps, most important of all, we learn that we can call upon God and He is there for us. When we fall to our knees in prayer and humility, we grow spiritually. We become reliant upon a loving Father in Heaven, and we realize our own limitations.
The story of the First Vision is awe inspiring. Feeling a witness from the Holy Ghost that it’s true, is a key element of a testimony. But we benefit most when we not only know it’s true, but when we find application in our own lives, of the lessons therein. And they are many. And they are great.
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