Monday, August 24, 2009

Money (Last Thursday's Overdue Post)

Joseph Smith tells us in his 1838 history (the one we keep in the Pearl of Great Price) that Moroni warned him specifically that Satan would use the "indigent circumstances" of his father's family to tempt him to use the plates to get rich. (JS-H 1: 46) Moroni neglected to mention that publishing the translation of the plate's text would cost more than Joseph had ever owned in his life. He also didn't say anything about how that significant publication cost would only be the beginning of a long succession of financial demands that revealed projects would place on Joseph and those who believed the Book's words.

While we're intellectually aware that the early church was pretty poor, I don't know that we modern saints often consider how that constant back-of-the-mind gnawing of money worries may have influenced Joseph Smith. He does not appear to have tried to scale back plans from what he thought the Lord wanted because of a shortage of resources. He may have made some unwise choices, though, in trying to make the means sufficient for the visions he cherished.

A few thoughts:

-Was Joseph worrying about who would fund the printing of the Book of Mormon when he asked God again and again whether he could lend the 160 pages to Martin Harris? It's one matter to take "no" for an answer. It's quite another to wonder if you're going to alienate the only person with any significant financial means who believes in what you're doing. Did Joseph stay up late worrying about how his relatively wealthy friend Martin Harris would feel if he kept saying no? Did he pray a little too insistently before falling back asleep?

-The Saints sacrificed a great deal to contribute toward the building of the House of the Lord in Kirtland. Was Joseph trying too hard to generate money in other ways to fund church projects after the temple's dedication? Certainly, he appreciated sacrifices, but were there ever points when he wished he could stop asking people for money? Or when he figured they'd sacrificed enough and should be able to live in greater prospertity already?

-The Saints, under Joseph's direction, had refused to sell land after they were driven from Jackson County in 1833--they felt that to do so would be denying their faith in God's revelation of Jackson County as a sacred place. By 1838, they were settled outside Jackson County and facing pressure to move again. Joseph was still trying to pay debts left from his failed business ventures in Kirtland. Did he want too desperately to stay in a place where he hoped to establish prosperity and let some saints go too far in trying to protect it?

I don't know to what extent these are accurate and productive readings of each situation, but I do think that Joseph's complicated relationship with money deserves some attention in the way faithful Latter-day Saints think about him and the kinds of challenges he faced.

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