A Retelling of the First Vision

I don’t think the First Vision really happened; I think it is a later story that was meant to bolster the rest of Smith’s claims. Regardless, fictional stories have the ability to make us reflective on what we value and why. While fictional, I still think the First Vision fable has value. Today I decided to revisit it for myself.

As many know, there are many accounts of the First Vision Some are nearly identical and some vary quite a bit. After studying with Community of Christ a couple months ago I learned that many folks just glaze over it and say Joseph Smith simply had “an encounter with the Divine” in the grove. I thought that was interesting; that is what happens in the story, it speaks to the beliefs of CoC folks, but it wasn’t really written in that way. What they did is they re-told the fable to fit their current understandings. If its all just a story, why not give yourself the freedom to retell it like any other fable? Disney’s versions of fairy tales are a good example of how stories were told but in a way that spoke to more modern sensibilities.

Today I decided to do the same thing. I wanted to make a version that spoke to the things I value, while also incorporating elements from many different versions of the First Vision.

Without further adieu, I present to you my retelling of the First Vision:

When joseph Smith was in his early teenage years people were talking a lot about religion. Joseph realized that this was the time for a favorable afterlife, and wanted to learn what was necessary for it. He didn’t want to leave obtaining a favorable afterlife up to chance since he would likely spend eternity there, so he began to study the scriptures.

He went to many different denominations, but they all claimed to be the one true church and contradicted each other regarding various topics. Additionally, many did not seem to teach what was in the scriptures and taught what would get people to convert and keep people in their church. It was very confusing, but Joseph still wanted to know which church God approved of and which to join. He was filled with anxiety about making a decision of which church to join, if any; he didn’t want to make the wrong decision and risk having an unfavorable afterlife.

He turned again to the scriptures to try and find how he would know which church was the one true church. When he read James 1:5 he realized that he could just ask God for the answer. This revelation relieved him of his anxiety and filled him with joy. He felt as if a light had shone on which path to take.

He went to a grove near his house and knelt down and prayed. Darkness seemed to come closer and closer to Joseph, which tempted him to stop praying. While Joseph was spooked, he continued pray. Joseph poured out his soul and detailed all of his anxieties to God. Eventually this darkness left his mind entirely. Then Joseph saw a bright light descending from above – a light brighter than the sun at noon. As it came nearer it grew brighter. When it reached the top of the trees the entire area was filled with this brightness. He feared that the trees would catch on fire, but the light was not hot.

Joseph’s mind was altered to where he paid no attention to his surroundings, and instead saw the heavens. He was filled with an unspeakable joy when a voice spoke to him and told him that his sins were forgiven. He was told that those who follow the advice of the Divine have eternal life, but many people decline to do so. Many people say they are close to the Divine, but in reality are not. The voice said that none of the churches which Joseph was considering joining were the one true church. This voice said that in time Joseph would learn for himself how to gain a favorable afterlife.

The vision ended and Joseph was left weak, but indescribably filled with love, joy, and peace.

I like this version a lot for several different reasons:

  1. It doesn’t unnecessarily and long-windedly go into the background of the story. This makes it easier for you to put yourself in the shoes of the character
  2. It doesn’t say that all religions are “abominations”. I like being able to find bits of truth from everyone. One perspective may be more insightful to me than another, and I like giving myself permission to not tie myself down to any one way of thinking.
  3. It shows a responsibility to do your own research. I like that in this version Joseph came up with a question, asked experts, did his own research, and then made a determination.
  4. It leans into how anxiety-inducing a faith crisis can feel. Not knowing about the afterlife can fill a person with dread. I talked a little bit about that yesterday. Joseph seems to be frantically unsure of things right up until he had a Divine encounter. The Divine gives a message that Joseph hadn’t quite considered: don’t worry about it too much. This message leaves him feeling pretty good. I think that’s a pretty great message.
  5. “Joseph’s mind was altered” – its no surprise that the entheogenic guy would choose to phrase it this way 😉 For real though, some of the accounts are very nearly worded this way. I think using terms and concepts that we are more familiar with today can help portray the story.

Anyone have any thoughts?