The First Vision, the Apostasy, and You
Here is a quote from the study questions area of the David O. McKay lesson that we will be studying in my ward this coming Sunday (at least in Priesthood; we have somehow gotten out of synch with the Relief Society).
In what way is the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith the "foundation of this Church"?
This is in reference to a quote by Pres. McKay earlier in the chapter:
The appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith is the foundation of this Church. Therein lies the secret of its strength and vitality. This is true, and I bear witness to it. That one revelation answers all the queries of science regarding God and his divine personality. Dont you see what that means? What God is, is answered. His relation to his children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious first vision. (Gospel Ideals, 85.)
I suppose it is good to know more about God (He and Christ being separate beings and all that), but what is most significant about the First Vision to me is the active role in human life that it envisions for God. God cares enough to sit down and chat with us about the confusions of life (everyday or otherwise). He is manifestly a God who interferes in the doings of his children on earth. Perhaps not on a daily basis, but often enough to keep the whole project progressing.
A while ago, there was a discussion on T&S regarding whether or not we have a real doctrine of the Apostasy. The discussion was interesting but, to me, it seemed to skirt one of the more fundamental issues. Where was God during the Apostasy? If I believe that people today are not more or less worthy of God's active participation in their lives than the folks of circa 1000, why don't we have records of people engaging in the type of "dialogic revelation" that we believe Joseph Smith did (at least according to Givens) in that period?
The thing is that people did. I would argue that it is the most natural form of address that we use with God. In his Confessions, for instance, Augustine describes his conversion in terms that invoke the conversion of Alma the Younger:
28. Now when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. That I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that even his presence was no restraint upon me. This was the way I felt at the time, and he realized it. I suppose I had said something before I started up and he noticed that the sound of my voice was choked with weeping. And so he stayed alone, where we had been sitting together, greatly astonished. I flung myself down under a fig tree--how I know not--and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities." For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: "How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?"
29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
I guess the point is that if Augustine can feel the Spirit and experience the Atonement via this kind of dialogue with God (being one of the parties most likely responsible for the prolongation of the Apostasy), why was the First Vision so revolutionary?
But I can't deny that it was and is. It created a literal church of prophets. We believe that every person has just as much right of access to God as the Pope, the Prophet, or the President. And we encourage people to make use of that right from Nursery onward, in spite of the possibility of confusing results. We, as a church, believe in the First Vision and insist on making it a model of how we ought to approach God. I don't believe that there is another way to put it.
So, getting back to the original question of the post, how foundational is the First Vision to your beliefs? Why? And, as a corollary, do we give enough credit to this experience when it is found amongst members of other faiths?