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Whether or not you believe the account of the First Vision, I believe that a great majority of us can relate to the account. Think of the following phrases and consider whether you relate to any of them now or previously. Perhaps you have felt this way in a crisis of faith, or perhaps you have felt this way when praying about a personal issue occurring in your life.
Great confusion and bad feeling. Strife of words and contest about opinions. Serious reflection and great uneasiness. Kept myself aloof. Desire to be united. Unacquainted with men and things. My mind was greatly excited. Cry and tumult was so great and incessant. All powers of reason and sophistry to prove their errors. Needed wisdom. How to act I did not know.
When we pray, we may not receive a vision like Joseph had, but we will receive something. What can the First Vision teach us about the kind of answer we should look for? There are four main lessons that I want to pull out.
Determination to Ask of God
I know sometimes it feels like we’re not getting answers, especially when we have a faith crisis. We pray but nothing is immediately forthcoming. Our questions may seem overpowering and cause us to remain aloof. Perhaps we’ve already gone and found our quiet place in the woods and prayed vocally, but we did not receive an answer. Or, if there was, we sure didn’t recognize it.
When we speak of the First Vision, we often forget all the work that Joseph must have done previously. He learned all he could about the situation he was in. He attended many meetings. He obviously reflected on it often, and he was studying the scriptures to try and find the answers. I could be completely mistaken, but I’m assuming he had already been praying about this for some time. Maybe he was not praying the exact question in so many words, but he was raised in religion. There had to have been prayer that occurred previously to this. I believe this was a huge process just like the kind of process Heavenly Father has us walk through.
Powers of Darkness
Before Joseph received the answer to his question originally, he felt the powers of darkness. We have to remember that this experience can be a type of things for all of us. Joseph’s darkness may look differently than the powers of darkness you’ve felt.
I feel like the First Vision can be a sped-up parable for our own lives. We may not feel immediately seized upon, but the darkness is real just like the light is.
Perhaps our darkness is more subtle. It may seem so subtle that it’s hard to even recognize it as true darkness. Perhaps we wonder if it’s a natural result of the process we’re going through. If I’m praying about my faith crisis and I feel uneasy, it causes me to want to shy away from the process. It’s uncomfortable, and in some ways, it can be more difficult to manage than Joseph’s immediate darkness because it’s confusing.
Joseph didn’t have to wonder whether the darkness he experienced came from an otherworldly force. We have to question where the pit in our stomachs is originating and what it means.
Like I said previously, the First Vision is a sped-up version of what sometimes occurs in our lives. Though the darkness may not come on all at once, it is a real power that can destroy.
When we’re going through our own faith crisis or question of any sort, it can be hard to sort out the details. I picture it this way. This is usually occurring mentally, but I wanted to give you a concrete visual.
You sit down to write out your thoughts regarding your questions. You want to get it all out and analyze and take a thorough inventory of how you’re feeling. You want to look at all the moving parts in your situation. Which of these parts is necessary to your question? Which parts are unnecessary but still influencing your decision? You are ready to analyze.
However, as soon as you take up the pen to start questioning and writing, you feel a pinprick in your lower back. The pinprick doesn’t break skin. It’s not overwhelming, but it is still uncomfortable. You set down the pen to rub your back, and the sensation immediately stops. You think, “That was strange and uncomfortable,” and then you pick up your pen again. Immediately, that uncomfortable pinprick appears again. You find that every time you reach to try and sort things out, that sensation joins you.
It causes you to want to abandon your process.
When we look at our situations from this perspective, it’s easy to see that the pinprick doesn’t actually answer anything about our situation. That uncomfortable feeling is not an indicator about your choices. The pinprick doesn’t tell you whether or not God is real. It doesn’t answer your questions about church history. It doesn’t actually help you determine what you need to do in your situation. It’s not an indicator of truth or lies, but it does remain a deterrent.
So if the pinprick darkness doesn’t actually answer anything, why is it there? It is there because Satan wants to disrupt the process. Satan has become much more coy and subtle in his approaches to the children of men. Not only does he want to interrupt us from asking, but he wants to make it uncomfortable enough that we don’t want to face the process and grow. Satan threw a whole lot of darkness at Joseph all at once to try and deter the First Vision. With us, he tries to make it subtle enough that we abandon our own process by confusing his power with our own reasoning.
It’s uncomfortable, but take comfort in the fact that Heavenly Father allows it to happen. He let it happen to Joseph, and I can assure you it wasn’t because He couldn’t get His light started. He was very aware just as He always had been. He wasn’t waiting for Joseph to be brought to destruction before swooping in for fun. The Lord is purposeful every time.
I don’t know why the Lord is allowing for your pinpricks, but I do know that He is purposeful. I wish I could give you more answers, but a lot of our answers won’t come until the next life. Simply know that He is aware and watching purposefully.
This is the first time that I noticed this phrase. I don’t know how I’ve missed it all these years, but I did.
Joseph Smith History 1:16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
The darkness was there, and a pillar of light appeared above Joseph. It descended gradually. Overall, we picture the First Vision as a very immediate answer to a prayer given. In many ways, it was in comparison to some of our own answered prayers. However, there was a huge build-up previous to Joseph praying in the grove at all, and then the light descended gradually.
I wonder if Joseph could still feel the power of darkness to a degree when he first saw the light. I wonder if the darkness dissipated gradually as the light descended. I wonder if Joseph could feel the darkness to an extent but saw the light and rejoiced because he knew the Lord was coming to help him.
I also wonder if Joseph originally recognized what a large answer he was receiving. When he was praying and the darkness immediately enveloped him, I wonder if he knew that something as big as the First Vision was coming or whether he was so distraught by the darkness that by the time he was able to function at all, his plea simply came out as “help.”
The parallels to our own lives and questions can be poignant.
Just the Beginning
The First Vision was not some distinct, random event. It was part of the Lord’s gradual plan. He had planned and acted to prepare the world for this vision countless numbers of times. The First Vision was also not the end-all event. In many ways, it was a beginning and in other ways, it was simply a continuation of what the Lord has been doing all along.
So it is with our own lives. You have existed far longer than you realize. You have been preparing for trials and growing pains and crises for eons already, and it’s going to continue on for a long time even past your mortal life. Though it may feel like an end or a beginning, it’s really just a step you’re taking.
The faith crisis or questions you are desperately seeking are steps, not opposition (though they can look frighteningly similar). These moments of soul-searching cause the unnecessary things to fall away and the most important things to shine through.
Do not abandon your process. Don’t let the pinprick determine what you believe or what choices you make. Keep returning to your Heavenly Father. He is the ultimate source of information. He is the One who can answer your questions accurately. It will need to come directly from Him.