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God or the Devil?
Years ago my great-great-grandfather Willard Richards picked up a copy of the Book of Mormon for the first time. He opened it to the center and read a few pages. He then said: “That book was either written by God or the devil, and I am going to find out who wrote it.” He read it through twice in the next ten days and then declared: “The devil could not have written in – it must be from God.”[i]
To the contrary, some have argued that the Book of Mormon is not an either/or proposition – either the work of God on one hand or the work of the devil on the other – that somehow there exists room for middle ground and hence the reference to the Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction.” To me, however, such a proposition is logically impossible under the given circumstances, or as C.S. Lewis might say, “nonsense.”
Either the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith as claimed or he did not. Either there exist gold plates containing the actual history of the Nephite civilization or such a representation is a total fraud. Either Nephi, Alma and Mormon were real historic figures – prophets of God as testified by Joseph or it is all a lie. Either Christ appeared to the Nephites and ministered to them as corroborated by all our prophets or such event is a fabrication. Where is the middle ground on these issues? Are we to somehow believe that God “inspired” Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets to lie about the reality of Moroni, the gold plates, the appearance of the Savior, the existence of ancient prophets, and the entire history of the Nephite civilization, yet somehow the work is still divinely directed.
One might as well claim that there is middle ground on issues such as whether or not God exists, or whether or not there is life after death, or whether or not Christ was the literal Son of God. Some issues don’t leave room for middle ground, and the inspired nature of the Book of Mormon is one of them. Once Joseph crossed the line and said the angel was real, the plates were real, and the history and doctrine were real, then all middle territory vanished. And that I believe, is exactly how God wants it to be – no lukewarm believers (see Revelation 3:15-16). Like the premortal existence, there are to be no fence sitters on this issue.
C.S. Lewis addressed a similar proposition with regards to the divinity of the Savior: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish things that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ [In other words, the claim by some that there is middle ground on the issue of whether or not He is a God]. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. . . You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. . . But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[ii]
Likewise, how can one say that the Book of Mormon is a fine moral treatise on one hand and yet at the same time believe there were no golden plates, no angel Moroni, no Nephite prophets and no visit of Christ to America, all as represented by Joseph to be true. That would be a fraud, and a fraud does not produce a final moral treatise.
Evidences of the Divine Nature of the Book of Mormon
If the Book of Mormon is the work of God, then what witnesses do we have to that effect? Fortunately, we have many witnesses, both intellectual and spiritual. There exist multiple Bible prophecies of its coming forth.[iii] There are about 200 statements from the 11 witnesses, men of honor, who repeatedly confirmed their testimony of its truthfulness even under conditions threatening their lives or questioning their integrity. But they never folded, never recanted, whatever the pressures may have been. In addition, time is on the side of the Book of Mormon as additional archaeological evidences are unearthed, such as the discovery of ancient metal plates, cement and domesticated barley, all of which the critics claimed were anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, until they were later discovered to exist in Book of Mormon times. Likewise we have the divine eloquence of the Book of Mormon – one masterful quote after another – scores of them – such as “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25) or “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Most of us would be pleased in a lifetime to have two or three memorable quotes that would be savored by family and friends. The burning question then becomes: How did Joseph Smith at age 23 produce this litany of memorable phrases and sage counsel. The answer – he didn’t. They were revealed by God.
But one of the most compelling witnesses to me is the incredible, staggering doctrine found in the Book of Mormon, particularly with regards to the Savior’s Atonement. It is in this book that we learn of the infinite nature of such Atonement—its retroactive as well as prospective powers, the incomprehensible depths of Christ’s suffering, and of His ability to not only cleanse us but also perfect us. There are over 25 doctrines that I have counted for which the Book of Mormon clarifies or gives us additional insights to those found in the Bible. It is a goldmine of doctrinal truths—many of which were contrary to the teachings of the then existing Christian world or simply unknown to it. Are we now to believe that Joseph Smith, on the edge of the frontier, newly married and trying to eke out a living, just dictated these thought-provoking doctrines off the top of his head. Hardly!
There is no credible historical dispute that Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon, over 500 pages in length, without any notes over a period of about 65 working days. There was but one draft with minor corrections – mostly grammatical. When I finished my book entitled, A Case for the Book of Mormon, my secretary asked me, “Do you know how many drafts you had.” I replied, “No.” She answered, “Seventy-two.” It took me several years and 72 drafts to write a book less than half the size of the Book of Mormon, and much less meaningful. And people want to tell me that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon without any notes in approximately 65 working days. It reminds me of the observation made by Hank Smith: “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an opinion.”[iv] And my experience, both intellectually and spiritually, clearly tells me that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon but rather was an instrument in the hands of God to translate it.
The Certain Test to Determine Its Truthfulness
Some years ago a friend of mine left the Church. Among other things he could not accept the Book of Mormon as true. Once you leave this Church, however, it ruins you for any other church because you know too much. And so it was the case for my friend. Unable to find the “true” church for which he was seeking, he reinvestigated our Church with an open mind. He said, “One day, while reading the Book of Mormon. . . I paused and knelt down and gave a heartfelt prayer and felt resoundingly that Heavenly Father whispered to my spirit that the Church and the Book of Mormon were definitely true.” He then added this profound insight, “Initially, I wanted the Book of Mormon to be proven to me historically, geographically, linguistically, and culturally. But when I changed my focus to what it teaches about the gospel of Jesus Christ and His saving mission, I began to gain a testimony of its truthfulness.” At the time he made this observation he was serving as the Elders Quorum President in his ward.
While every aspect of the Book of
Mormon bears witness of its divine origin—culturally, linguistically,
archaeologically, and doctrinally — there is no greater witness than the
spirit. Any honest seeker who applies
the promise of Moroni (see Moroni 10:4-5) will discover the truthfulness of
this book by the power of the Holy Ghost and realize that there is no middle
ground on this issue. It is as God
Himself declared, “as your Lord and your God liveth it [the Book of Mormon] is
true” (DC 17:6). And so it is – from
beginning to end.
[i] LeGrand Richards, Marvelous Work and a Wonder, 79.
[ii] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 40-41
[iii] See Genesis 49:22-26; Deuteronomy 33:13-17; Psalm 85:11; Isaiah 29:1-18; Ezekial 37:15-17; John 10:16, and Revelation 14:6-7.
[iv] Excerpt from various talks given by Hank Smith and confirmed to the writer in an email dated Sept. 1, 2017.