Critics of the Mormon Church are delighted when events make Mormon prophets and apostles look like average, every day men, men who can be fooled. Such is the case with the Mark Hofmann forgeries. Critics reason:
How is it that church leaders could meet several times with Mark Hofmann and never discern the dark spirit inside him? How could they not recognize the devil within their midst? Mormon prophets, seers, and revelators were unable to see and discern that they were in the same room as a liar, forger, and soon to be murderer.
Did Mark Hofmann fool Mormon prophets and apostles? It appears he did. Is that surprising? It shouldn’t be, but there is a notion that prophets and apostles should be infallible because they are on the Lord’s errand.
Where did this notion start that prophets and apostles can not be fooled or deceived? Do the scriptures teach that the prophets and apostles can discern the thoughts, intents, and motives of every person they come in contact with? No, the scripture do not teach such a principle. In fact, the scriptures teach that prophets and apostles can be fooled. The Lord taught Joseph Smith:
But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous… D&C 10:37.
The key word here is “always”.
Do Mormons believe in the gift of discernment? We sure do (D&C 46:27, 63:41, 101:95). My missionary companion and I both experienced the gift of discernment. We were saved from what could have been considerable difficulty.
We learned that the gift of discernment can be manifest to a couple of everyday missionaries when the Lord wills it. And as we learn with Mark Hofmann, the gift of discernment can be withheld from prophets and apostles, when the Lord wills it.
We are setting ourselves up for disappointment when we assume that the gift of discernment will be manifest whenever men reason that it should be. The Lord’s will, not man’s, determine the manifestations of the Spirit.
Yes, it would have been faith prompting if the prophets and apostles would have discerned what Mark Hofmann was really up to and broke off contact with him. But those who understand the workings of the Spirit know that is not how the Lord does things. The Book of Mormon provides examples that help create understanding.
Alma the younger gave up the office of Chief Judge so he could preach the word of God. He traveled about the land teaching. He was well received in some places and not in others. The people of one of the cities, Ammonihah, rejected him. They spit upon him and cast him out of their city. What do we learn here? Is the Lord concerned about His prophets being embarrassed, even humiliated? I’m sure he is, however, Alma apparently needed to have this experience. Alma followed the Spirit and ended up having success doing the Lord’s will in Ammonihah.
One other example, the four sons of Mosiah went among the Lamanites to teach, as the Book of Mormon described, a wild and ferocious people. Things went well for Ammon, but not for Aaron and a certain number of his brethren. They were cast into prison and suffered many things. Why? Where was the gift of discernment that could have prevented their difficulties? The answer isn’t known. What is known, is that the Lord delivered them out of prison by revealing to Ammon they needed help (Alma 20:2). They had set backs, but ended up having success among the Lamanites.
The story is the same with the Mark Hofmann experience. The prophets and apostles had setbacks, but ended up having success. How? Mark Hofmann’s evil design to damage the church came to an abrupt end.
The Lord promises the prophets and apostles saying, “That no weapon formed against them shall prosper; that he who diggeth a pit for them shall fall into the same himself” (D&C 109:25). It’s been 30 years since Mark Hofmann dug a pit to upend the Mormon Church, Hofmann fell into the pit he dug. He is now a lifer at Utah State Prison.