I have been thinking about the Church as a whole as I have been pondering Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In verses 11-12 the Lord says in reference to the Book of Mormon, “proving to the world that the scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever.”
As I pondered these verses in light of what people are saying today in our secular world about not only leaders of our faith, but of all faiths in general, I had to think to myself, what would people have said about Moses in his day? How would people have responded to Peter? At issue is the fact that God does in fact choose human beings to do His work.
Later the Lord will say to the Church, “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:5). Listening to flawed mortals is tough stuff. Clearly Joseph Smith faced this challenge as he did his best to work with not only the weaknesses of those the Lord gave him to work with, but with his own shortcomings as well.
We know of some of the struggles those closest to Joseph Smith had in dealing with what price had to be paid to lay the foundation of the restoration. But we do not know much about the reactions of those closest to the prophets and apostles of long ago. Did Peter’s wife think him a little impetuous at times? I am certain that she saw his flaws better than anyone alive in her day. Did the apostles sometimes see each others’ weaknesses? D&C 64 seems to indicate that they did. I am confident that just like today, those leaders Heavenly Father chose to do His work were every bit as human as they are today.
Yet through all of our weaknesses the Lord will use us to further His work and save His children. I once heard a friend relate an analogy comparing the Church to a Roman mosaic. A Roman mosaic is a beautiful piece of art consisting of hundreds if not thousands of colored tiles put in just the right place so that when the viewer of the art looks at the entire picture as a whole they can see a wonderful image. When you look at the imperfect small stones up close, you are able to see all of their odd shapes and flaws. When you step back, the entire beautiful picture comes into focus.
Sometimes I think that happens when looking at the church. We can spend a lot of time focusing on the imperfections in the people, past or present, instead of stepping back and looking at the miracle that was achieved. It is so easy to look at the imperfections of many of the individuals who were so integral in the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, yet through their imperfections God was able to do a marvelous work.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said:
“Those who criticize us have lost sight of the glory and wonder of this work. They are so busy finding fault with us that they do not see the greatness of the Lord’s work. From a vast amount of information our critics appear to select and write about those items which demean and belittle some men and women of the past who worked so hard in laying the foundation of this great cause.
“My plea is that as we continue our search for truth- that we look for strength and goodness rather than weakness and failings in those who did so great a work in their time.
“We recognize that our forefathers were human. They doubtless made mistakes. Most of them acknowledged making mistakes. But their mistakes were minor when compared with the marvelous work that they accomplished.
“There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much.” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, The Continuing Pursuit of Truth, Ensign, April 1986)
I continue to be amazed by the scholarship that supports what Joseph Smith taught. How did a farm boy from upstate New York get anything right? Yet there are scholars today–even non LDS scholars–who talk about and debate those principles that were revealed through Joseph Smith.
I’m sure that all of the church leaders had flaws and even may have held beliefs that were not accurate. Looking at our current wards, we all know there are members who have flaws, and I count as one of those with flaws.
Those of us who are married know that our spouses may have flaws. The question becomes what we focus on. If we focus on the good things, we will see them, and it will lead to a long lasting marriage and happiness. If we focus on the flaws, we will see those, and it will lead to bitterness and divorce.
While looking at a Roman mosaic, I could choose to focus on slightly broken imperfect stones, or I could step back and see the beautiful picture in its total form. It really is my choice. Do I want to look for the beauty or for the flaws? What will I focus on?
Our youth today have this same choice before them. When one of their youth leaders says something that offends them, are they going to choose to not participate based on that one comment, or are they going to push past the offense and look for the good in the overall character of their leader? I once heard of a story where someone told Joseph Fielding McConkie of how they were offended by someone at church. His response was to get in line- that he had been told numerous times that his father was in error for teaching certain things… many individuals had offended him and he chose to get over it and get on with the work. It truly is remarkable to see what the Lord can accomplish with so many imperfect stones when we let Him organize us according to His vision for what the Church should become.