I was gifted a reprinting of the Book of Mormon from 1973 by my sister-in-law this Christmas. It is a replica of the original printing, meaning it is formatted more like a novel than a book of scripture. Having never read the Book of Mormon in that way before, I started reading it this morning and have found already a unique experience and new insight.
What struck me right off the bat is the copyright information contained on one of the first pages inside the cover. It details the legal language and certifications that I assume were required of all published materials at the time. It references copies being sent to the Library of Congress and contains a statement from Joseph Smith, Jr., who is referenced in multiple places as the “Author” or “Author and Proprietor.” Even more interesting is the Preface contained thereafter, which is a statement from Joseph about the purpose of the printing and, specifically, why the 116 previously translated pages are not contained therein.
There isn’t anything particularly revelatory about the text contained in those first pages of this copy of the Book of Mormon. But there was something about the way it was printed (font that looks reminiscent of old-time newspaper—common, I’m sure, to printing presses of the 1830s), and the language used, that reminded me of a truth I often overlook—Joseph Smith, Jr. was just a human like the rest of us. He was just an average guy (maybe less-than-average, in terms of education and socioeconomic status), trying to do his best at the immense and intimidating job he’d been given.
In that sense, I can relate. I, too, have had experiences where I was asked to take on a project or accomplish a task that was well above my pay grade and which I had no idea how to complete. I’ve felt entirely unprepared and unqualified for assignments I’ve been given. I’ve dreaded and regretted accepting commitments that I felt were too much for me. I know that feeling.
I can only imagine how Joseph must have felt; a young man with limited education and poor reputation, trying to navigate the legalities of publishing a book with only a small financial investment and no editorial team to handhold or ease the burden. Sure, he had the knowledge that the original text was inspired and that he had accomplished the work of translating by the power of God, but I am sure that “imposter syndrome” was just as real back then. I’m sure he faced uncertainty and doubt concerning his own imperfections and feared how those may have interfered with the text as it might otherwise have come forth. That concern is evidenced by the assertion repeated at the beginning of each copy of the book:
And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgement seat of Christ.Title Page, The Book of Mormon
I wonder if the words he had just recently translated were able to offer him some encouragement. I wonder if he’d had the chance to reread and study them, or if they stuck in his mind for him to ponder and revisit during that time.
…And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.1 Nephi 19:6
Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.Jacob 4:7
…behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.Alma 37:6-7
And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for it they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
…And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.Ether 12:27, 37
I’m encouraged to think about the example of Joseph Smith, Jr. I am encouraged to recognize that one does not have to be perfect—or even extraordinary—to be useful and successful in accomplishing the will of the Lord. My own weaknesses and flaws and failings are nothing that Heavenly Father can’t work with or overcome.
And perhaps most significant of all, as I read and am strengthened and fortified by The Book of Mormon, I realize that my imperfections will not prevent Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ from touching the lives of others through my actions—so long as I can muster the courage to act and fulfill the commandments and promptings that I receive. It may be scary, it may be intimidating, but it is worth it.