When their temple was dedicated in April 1836, the Kirtland Saints may have hoped their tests were over. After all, this was a period of spiritual outpouring and close friendship.
But the tests were only beginning.
Joseph Smith's mother reports that her son had to travel to the East Coast later that month. On his return trip, "Joseph had a vision, which lasted until he besought the Lord to take it from him; for it manifested to him things which were painful to contemplate. It was taken from before his eyes for a short time, but soon returned again, and remained until the whole scene was portrayed before him."
We would not want to see the trials that await our friends. But we would certainly shudder to behold which of them would prove unfaithful. It is appalling enough to discover bad news in real time. But part of Joseph's prophetic burden was to warn. To do that, he often needed foreknowledge.
His mother says that, after arriving in Kirtland, Joseph spoke to his people in the temple. "I am rejoiced to see you," he said, "and … judging from appearances, one would not suppose that anything could occur which would break up our friendship for each other."
But then came the warning. Selfishness, division and unkind feelings would soon "result in setting many of you … at enmity against me."
The audience was shocked.
His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, describes Joseph "appealing to them in the most solemn manner, until almost everyone in the house was in tears, and he was exhausted with speaking" (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, pp. 239-242).
Numerous accounts from that period trace the events that did, in fact, "break up our friendship for each other."
Nephi's brother Jacob once listed the seven great lineages that would interact with each other in coming generations. But then he presented a much better key to understanding their history:
"I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites" (Jacob 1:14).
Thus, Book of Mormon populations are best understood by their faith rather than race, by their loyalty more than their lineage. Centuries later, a true Nephite was still one who simply loved what Nephi had loved and lived as Nephi had lived.
And then there were the others who didn't pass that test — those who proved unfriendly to their founding prophet.
Are there not haunting parallels? We too have tests that could "break up our friendship" with Joseph. His life and labors are a filter that will eventually test and sift all mankind. We must all face the question, "Will I be, and remain, 'friendly' to this founding prophet?"
Consider the prophet Job. He lost everything — cattle and crops, employees and home, even his children and their families. At last his physical body was struck with a horrid condition (which scholars suppose was elephantiasis).
So then, what of Job's friends? With seeming brilliance, they found fault. Yet, the Lord dismissed all their amassed logic and eloquence as mere "folly" (See Job 1, 2, and 40:7-8).
In a lonely Missouri dungeon, Joseph was told:
"Thy friends do stand by thee. … Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job. And they who do charge thee with transgression, their … prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun" (D&C 121:9-11).
And his true friends still stand by him.
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.