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JUNE - Tell me about Joseph Smith and polygamy. I can't seem to put it to rest. I would like to feel at peace about it. I know I wouldn't
be here today if it hadn't have been practiced.
JOEL - God has asked his saints as a group and as individuals to do some pretty hard things in the past to demonstrate their obedience to him. Think of Moses, Lehi, Noah, Job, Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, and others. For the members of the 19th century it was polygamy and persecution.
A few verses from D&C 132 which explains it says:
"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—
For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else." (D&C 132)
If we accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God we have to accept that he received this commandment for the saints to live at that time, which helped to quickly increase the numbers of saints as mentioned in Jacob 2: 30:
"For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things."
When Joseph first instituted the doctrine of plural marriage we don't really know for sure at what level he was practicing it. We do know that most of the women he was sealed too were for eternity only; not for this life. And for others we have no proof that he physically consummated any of the other marriages, since there have been no offspring identified. The full definition of plural marriage didn't really start until the time of Brigham Young.
While we in the 20th and 21st century are spared from the test of having to live the principle now, we nevertheless have to accept that it was God's will at other times in history. We can take comfort in the fact that in our day God will not ask us to kill our children; He will not ask us to build an ark; he will no longer ask us to live the principle of polygamy as He did Abraham (Gen. 25:1-6) and Joseph Smith. You will not have to share your husband with another woman. There will be other hard things that He does now and will in the future ask us to do to show our obedience to Him.
We all have different personalities and are affected by such things in different ways. Some find it easier to accept than others. I think more women in our day would have a hard time agreeing to live that principle now compared to those in the 19th century(although it was hard for them as well). We also tend to try and understand what people did 200 years ago using a 21st century context and mind thought, and that just doesn't work well. You had to have lived back then to really understand why many of those particular people were able to accept and live it.
God will not test us harder than He knows we can handle(Alma 13:28-29). Perhaps He knew they could handle this principle back in the 1800's, and in Old Testament times, but not in our day. Therefore He tests our obedience with different things that He thinks we can handle today.
The Gospel Topics section on plural marriage says:
"Despite these hardships, plural marriage benefited the Church in innumerable ways. Through the lineage of these 19th-century Saints have come many Latter-day Saints who have been faithful to their gospel covenants as righteous mothers and fathers; loyal disciples of Jesus Christ; devoted Church members, leaders, and missionaries; and good citizens and prominent public officials. Modern Latter-day Saints honor and respect these faithful pioneers who gave so much for their faith, families, and community." (Gospel Topics)
There are lots of things that God has caused to happen or has commanded in the past that have been hard to understand or accept, that are a test of our obedience and faithfulness to Him. When we have a hard time understanding why, all we can do sometimes is remember the scripture, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." (Isa 55: 8)
There are so many other wonderful and beautiful things about God and His gospel, why dwell on the hard things that our mortal finite minds can't fully comprehend, especially when we personally are not asked to do those things?