The Come, Follow Me material for the next two weeks is focused on Easter, and preparation for a unique General Conference, which will commemorate 200 years since the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This week, I wish to focus on the restoration.
One of the most memorable talks on this subject was given by Hugh B. Brown, describing a conversation he had on the subject of God speaking through prophets.
“Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?”
“Do you believe, sir, that after Jesus was resurrected, a certain lawyer—who was also a tentmaker by the name of Saul of Tarsus—when on his way to Damascus talked with Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, resurrected, and had ascended into heaven?”
“Whose voice did Saul hear?”
“It was the voice of Jesus Christ, for He so introduced Himself.”
“Then, my Lord—that is the way we address judges in the British Commonwealth—I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to man.”
“I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era.”
“Why do you think it stopped?”
“I can’t say.”
“You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?”
“I am sure He hasn’t.”
“There must be a reason. Can you give me a reason?”
“I do not know.”
“May I suggest some possible reasons? Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power.”
He said, “Of course that would be blasphemous.”
“Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.”
“No,” he said, “God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.”
“Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.”
And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war—“Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.”
My answer was: “He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him.”
As inspiring as this reasoning was, and having reflected on the reasons God would not speak to men, and the need for modern revelation, after I heard this I was still left with a conundrum.
If God is able and willing to speak to men, and if men have a need to hear His voice, then how could God have allowed the apostasy?
If like me, you accept the divinity of Jesus Christ, and his guidance among the Apostles of the early church… and also his miraculous and revolutionary appearance to the prophet Joseph Smith… then how do you explain more than a thousand years in which God seemingly abandoned men?
To understand this apparent problem, I invite you to consider 3 points:
God frequently gives us what we want
Jesus was not speaking in abstract platitudes when He declared, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” God answers “yes” to so many things.
Consider this: have you ever asked God to grant you or a loved one health or improved life? Have you ever asked God to alleviate suffering for yourself or someone else? God’s answer to you is YES. While there are some well-meaning individuals who suggest that God sometimes answers “not now” – there is no meaningful difference between “not now” and “yes”… particularly when the recovery and relief and improved life that He will ultimately bring will be permanent.
Of course, the Lord’s tendency to answer requests is a two-edged sword. This is what we can learn in the experience of Martin Harris and the 116 lost pages, or in the experiences of the children of Israel after the exodus when they longed for meat, or for idols, or to be like other nations.
This is also the case with apostasy. If a people want God to leave them alone… if they want Him to stop sending prophets… if they want to live without His blessings… eventually, He will let them.
God still tried to speak with men
Men gave their lives so the Bible could be translated into the English language, and that it contained the books it did. Many of these men were inspired by God himself. Christopher Columbus was inspired by God to go across the sea and begin a colonial effort that would ultimately bring religious individuals with their English Bibles to the American continent. Some of these individuals would be inspired to develop a limited government that protected religious freedom.
God spoke to a great many people to set up the circumstances in which Joseph Smith, in spite of poverty, would be able to read for himself in the Bible those priceless words: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.“
“How could God have allowed the apostasy?” could just as easily be asked of individuals such as Judas Iscariot or Balaam or Gehazi or David or Solomon or even us.
How could God allow an individual to leave him? The answer is sometimes more intuitive on a smaller scale. Of course, people are free to do as they wish, even if it breaks the Lord’s heart.
The same is true on a grander scale. The apostasy is not over for everyone. There are Christians who do not accept the reality of living prophets and apostles. A multitude do not accept the divinity of Christ. Others still do not accept the prophetic call of Moses. There are even people who are still under the influence of apostasies that sprung shortly after the flood in the days of Noah.
And who can say, but that you were sent to help one of His children, somewhere, find Him?
So perhaps the question is not “how could God have allowed the apostasy?” but rather, how will you allow apostasy? The restoration may have begun 200 years ago… but with your help, it continues today.
- Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020, March 30- April 12.
- “Keys of the Priesthood” -Elder Russell M. Nelson, October 1987
- “Apostasy and Restoration” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 1995
- “Why the Church” -Elder D. Todd Christofferson, October 2015