This week has been rippled by sadness as some of my friends have announced their departure from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the reasons cited was the unveiling of the seer stone, a tool supposedly used by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to translate (Click here for the official Church announcement).
Superficially, the idea of a man using a stone to translate sounds peculiar. Why wouldn't God just tell Joseph Smith what to write? Why would he have to rely on a rock to bring to pass the great and marvelous purposes of the Supreme Creator?
The transparency of the Church's revealing of the seer stone has unsettled the testimonies of some of my friends and I imagine many others. However, any Jew and Christian should be able to process and believe this with peace and acceptance. Why?
Let's simplify the concepts. God sets apart an inanimate object and asks His servant(s), the prophet(s), to use said object to work a miracle.
Of the multiple instances throughout the scriptures in which such a situation occurred, the prime example that comes to my mind is Moses.
Moses was called to be a prophet for a people who once hated and feared him. In his encounter with the burning bush, Moses wrestled with the Lord, saying "Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto they servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Exodus 4:10). As evidence of this as well as a tool, the great Jehovah blessed Moses' staff and sent him into the heart of Egypt to liberate the captive children of Israel.
Through his witness, Aaron, Moses taught of the divine love of God for His chosen people. The Egyptians scoffed and scorned the brothers. To prove the reality of his heavenly appointed mission, the staff was transformed into a snake. Yet the magicians of the pharaoh's court were able to mimic the miracle. In their attempt to discredit and undermine the brothers' testimony, their snakes were consumed by the serpent of the Lord (Exodus 7:12).
This rod soon thereafter turned the Nile River to blood, decimating the fish population and contaminating water sources throughout Egypt. It summoned frogs and lice, which the sorcerers and wise men attempted to debunk through their own imitations. In desperation, they pleaded with the pharaoh to acknowledge that "this is the finger of God," (Exodus 8:19).
But the pharaoh would not listen.
Then the flies came. The cattle were smitten with plague. Due to one of the punishments of God (boils) "the magicians [literally] could stand before Moses" (Exodus 9:11).
Thunder, hail, and fire rained down from heaven. The crops were choked by pestilence. Locusts of the east wind swarmed and darkness blanketed the earth as the enemies of God and those who opposed Moses ate whatever food scraps remained.
Every now and again, pharaoh would recant and acknowledge that Moses represented divinity and would beg Moses to entreat his God to take away the fruit of His fury. However, treachery and deceit would immediately return as the pharaoh would betray the children of Israel again and again.
Ultimately, Jehovah instituted the Passover. Through a ordinance which may baffle modern observers, the children of Israel sacrificed their best lambs and witnessed their faith by marking their doorposts with the animal's blood.
After losing their eldest sons, the Egyptians allowed the followers of God to depart. Yet just when the children of Israel thought they were safe, the hosts of the Egyptian armies converged upon them in a numerous swarm of chariots.
With nowhere to turn, the Israelites were backed against their wall of faith, the Red Sea. In the potentially most widely-known miracle performed by an Old Testament prophet, Moses used the staff to part the huge expanse of water, delivering God's people and obliterating their enemies.
Back to oversimplification. God gave Moses a stick that defeated the greatest empire of the age.
An inanimate object was used by a prophet of God to bring to pass His great and eternal purposes.
So if you are a Christian or a Jew, you believe in the Old Testament, and therefore that God can use small and simple things to confound Satan and those who uphold his work. By that same token, it would not be impossible for a raccoon to have scurried up to Joseph and squeaked the transcript into his ear (can you imagine? "I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents" ...but I digress); God has already proven that He can open the mouths of animals in Numbers 22:28.
In reality, those who try to discredit the prophet Joseph Smith because he used a stone to translate the Book of Mormon are not simply trying to destroy faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They are trying to harden hearts against Jehovah.
This anti-Christ propaganda will continue until the last days, when men's hearts will fail them.
However, as Elder Uchtdorf has admonished us, we must doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith. As we are asked to trust in things we don't fully understand or that may go against our better judgement (from the staff of Moses to the stone of Joseph, from the sacrifice of favorite lambs during the Passover to the sacrifice of homosexual relationships), we will be delivered from the chains and afflictions of this world.
I have to believe that if to "whom much is given much is required," then to whom much is required much will be given. God will test our faith by choosing imperfect, mortal men and other instruments to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men.
Keep the faith.