I have been taught about Joseph Smith’s First Vision for as long as I can remember. It’s a story I’ve grown up with and know by heart. That is why I was shocked to hear during lecture of our last class period that Joseph Smith’s first recorded account of the First Vision is actually different than the one we are so familiar with, recorded in the Joseph Smith History. It is true that an individual’s account of an event changes slightly with each retelling, but how could something so important, so true, be at all different?
Learning about the Second Great Awakening helped me gain a new perspective and understanding of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The Second Great Awakening was an immense religious fervor that swept across the young nation of the United States in the early nineteenth century. As observed by our textbook, this religious movement “stressed the right of private judgment in spiritual matters and the possibility of universal salvation through faith and good works.” The role of the individual in religion was redefined, opening a whole new realm of ideas and possibilities. Especially significant was the growing trend that ministers needn’t attend a prestigious educational institution and earn a degree to preach religion. Any individual had the right to speak and believe as they felt and to establish their own religious and moral universe.
I am in awe of the connection this has to our beliefs. Because of this trend, this time period of religious excitement provided the absolute best possible opportunity for the Restoration of the Gospel. Joseph Smith at this time resided in New York in what came to be known throughout the Second Great Awakening as the “burned-over district.” Joseph Smith was obviously affected by the movement’s emphasis on the right of private judgment in spiritual matters. He had the right to question which of all the churches he was to join.
What I found extremely interesting was his first recorded account of the First Vision. It differs from the account we read in the Joseph Smith History, because we are only told what pertains to us as a church. In addition to receiving an answer to this question, Joseph Smith received personal revelation from the Savior. In the account we are familiar with, we are told Heavenly Father introduced His son, but not told what Christ said to Joseph. That the timing of the Second Great Awakening and the First Vision coincide is definitely not a coincidence. I am so eternally grateful that Joseph Smith felt the need to discover what spiritual beliefs really were right for him and to question. This new perspective provided me with an even greater appreciation of the First Vision.