Interpreting Prophecy

I wonder how prophecy shapes our world and how believing in prophecy can contribute to its fulfillment. Is something more likely to happen because I believe it was foretold to? Does believing in something influence my choices in a way that consciously or subconsciously contributes to the actualization of that thing? How often do we blind ourselves to possibilities because of what we’ve been told?

I had the thought the other day that perhaps I’ve been misinterpreting Moroni’s oft-quoted prophecy to Joseph Smith, about Joseph Smith. As recorded in Joseph Smith History, verse 33:

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”

Generally I have heard and believed that this meant that people would use Joseph’s name for Good (correctly) and Evil (incorrectly). The more I’ve learned about Church history, the more I’ve come to realize and believe that many of the ways that Joseph’s name is used for evil seem to be historical facts (though interpreted unfairly). I think I was thinking about Carol Lynn Pearson’s argument that Joseph is somewhat of a Greek tragic hero, when it hit me that perhaps I had been looking at this verse all wrong.

Maybe what Moroni was saying was that Joseph would do God’s work and also some terrible things. Perhaps Moroni was playing the prophetic or oracle role in Joseph’s Greek tragedy, warning him from the very beginning of what was to come. The point wasn’t that people were going to misinterpret Joseph’s legacy, but rather that people would on all sides would only see part of the truth.

Pretty wild to say, I know, but I think it’s worth thinking about. And thinking about the other ways in which we have closed ourselves off to prophetic possibility. All too often our human thirst for certainty brings us to limit possibility and to make choices and decisions based on singular, limited, defined interpretations of prophecy and scripture and life.

There’s value in this, but there’s also value in stepping back and seeing the multiplicity of meanings that is available.

After all both Harry and Neville were the Chosen One and Voldemort sealed their respective fates by the choice that he made. Who’s to say what could have or would have been had he acted differently?

Who’s to say how Joseph Smith would have acted if Moroni had not delivered this prophecy as he was beginning his role as the Prophet of the Restoration? What would it mean of us if we re-interpreted this prophecy as affirming and canonizing the fallibility of prophets from the beginning of the Restoration, rather than creating an us vs them mentality against all that say evil things about Joseph Smith? What would Mormonism look like? Do we want that?

I’m not quite sure what all or any of that means, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the possibility, so there you go.

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