For the remainder of the hour, Elder Fowler and I wound Buddy Van Rijk in an increasingly constrictive net of dogma, woven from strandseven by Christian standardsof ever more tenuous logic. It was the type of snare that can only constrain a willing captive; one misstatement on our part, one question or concern unsatisfactorily addressed, and the whole careful construct falls away like trick ropes from an escape artist.
Elder Fowler explained the role Jesus Christ plays in the Plan of Salvation, negating through His sacrifice the effects of death and sin that would otherwise prevent us from returning to God's presence. (Being a sports fan, Van Rijk was surely familiar with the supporting New Testament verseJohn 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son"that Fowler asked him to read aloud from the family Bible.) I described the process by which God makes the Plan known to His children: instructing prophets to pass His words along to all the Earth's inhabitants, which come to us as scripture. Relating an abbreviated version of Joseph Smith's First Vision as anecdotal evidence, Elder Fowler affirmed that God continues to speak to prophets in our modern day and age. Then I put forth the Book of Mormon as one of the premier fruits of Joseph's holy calling, and briefly summarized its premise and contents.
In these latter parts of the discussion, we painted Joseph Smith for our investigator the way weak sunlight paints a stained-glass saint for the parishioners inside a cathedralwe rendered him beatific and blessèd, aglow with a numinous radiance, yet for all that curiously flat, distant, and inscrutable. We applied no brushstroke that might have brought life to that colorful rogue, teased out no overlooked detail that might have shed light on his enormous charisma (a force so powerful that Mormons still love the man fiercely and recklessly more than a century and a half after his death). In our singleminded quest to prove both Joseph and his magnum opus modern witnesses of Christ, we certainly recounted no tale like the one I'm about to tell. But stories like these are as great a part of the appeal of Mormonism as the doctrine of eternal familiesto long-standing members, perhaps even more so. Check this out:
It was probably late in 1812 that typhoid fever swept through Joseph Smith's family. The previous year his parents had settled with their six living children in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where, after a series of financial disasters, they had begun at last to regain their footing. Joseph would have been nearly seven when he and his siblings, including the new baby Catherine, took sick. All seven children eventually recovered, though Joseph's older sister Sophronia nearly died and Joseph himself developed a painful abscess (what he called a "fever sore") in one shoulder.