It was well past midnight, and well past my usual bedtime. Coming home late and tired, the events of the day and loom of waking early the next morning prodded in the back of my mind. Yet there I sat at my desk. I reluctantly opened The Doctrine And Covenants, convinced that a different book I’d been fascinated by would be a better use of my valued reading time.
It was the 22nd verse of the 5th section that stopped me in my tracks.
“And that you be firm in keeping the commandments wherewith I have commanded you; and if you do this, behold I grant unto you eternal life, even if you should be slain.“
Hold up. Even if you should be slain? This revelation was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith somewhat early in his ministry in 1829. Verse 23 goes on to record how Martin Harris stood in the Lord’s eyes (after losing the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon). This was likely a more pressing matter on the mind of Joseph at the time, but did he not stop, as I did, and realize the bomb that God had just dropped? The hint that he might have to die for all of this?
At this point the Prophet had to have known at least fairly well the personality of God, and that when He repeats things in scriptures, it’s usually important and could be considered a prophecy. No more than a month later the revelation was recorded, “And even if they do unto you even as they have done unto me, blessed are ye, for you shall dwell with me in glory” (D&C 6:30). Perhaps Joseph recalled the recently translated Alma 60:13: “For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgement may come upon the wicked; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.”
With dramatic irony present as I considered Joseph’s perspective, 15 years passed and I was placed in the shoes of a fearful Saint in 1844, reading the announcement of the martyrdom of the Smith brothers in section 135. This fear soon turned to faith with mention of “the best blood of the nineteenth century” (vs. 6) being spilt to seal the testimony of the Book of Mormon.
Did Joseph know, in 1829, that he would die for the sake of the gospel? Maybe he knew it was a possibility, and just took it as it came. Whatever his perspective in 1829, he certainly did not fear death in 1844. On his way to Carthage, several days before his assassination, he said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me- he was murdered in cold blood.” Let it be said: he knew he was to die, and he died innocently in cold blood.
My knees soon found the floor as I had to ask, would I die for this gospel? Would I stand by my testimony through all persecution, even if I was slain? I was able to conclude that I would allow the Lord’s Will to be done. I could not comprehend what manner of persecution I would endure until my eventual martyrdom, if that ever became necessary, but, I decided, I would take it as it comes.
Such an answer reflected more faith than I supposed myself to have. Thereafter I was asked, “What if your family died by your words? What if your friends were slain for their testimonies of your words? What if your future wife and children, all innocent, were also persecuted and slain for their connection to you and your beliefs?” Challenging questions indeed for a 17 year old who had previously been more occupied with semester finals than a future family.
I am not suggesting the likelihood of my martyrdom. Nor am I presenting my unlikely willingness to experience such, or the requirement of such to be granted eternal life. I am simply grateful to have seen a glimpse of the Prophet’s perspective, and to be able to share it. My recount of the above questions are not to heed warning or strike discomfort to the hearts of any tentative answerers, for we are all tentative when those hard questions are posed.
I only provide these thoughts because I find it valuable to study Joseph Smith. Not Joseph Smith the Prophet, not Joseph Smith the historical character, but Joseph Smith the person. He was real. He was 17 once, an “obscure boy” who worried about many of the same things as me and would’ve hesitated at the possibility of his death for the gospel.
When we study prophets as imperfect people instead of scriptural superheroes, we liken them unto ourselves more. We realize that we too can have incredible faith and walk hand in hand with God, because why not?