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Why did Joseph Smith have to return the plates?

Visitor Sunde asked a question on the post “Why do Mormons believe in works?“, that I think deserves broader attention.  It’s a very good question that many looking at the Mormon faith might ask.  I thought I’d make a dedicated post out of it, allowing us to carry on the conversation in it’s own area.

Question:  “Why did Joseph Smith have to return the
gold plates to MORONi? If the Book of
Mormon is true, wouldn’t the continued
availability of the gold plates help the cause
of “truth.”

My original answer:

Thanks for asking!

Joseph Smith had to return the plates because God asked him to.

I assume he was asked to return them because God’s approach is seldom one of providing irrefutable proof for “sign seekers”. He has nothing to prove, so proof is not his goal. Instead, his goal is to try our faith, to distinguish the believers.

Consequently, he continues to architect means whereby man is given the opportunity to encounter truth and choose to believe or not.

So, throughout time, he has sent prophets to teach his word (Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing save he reveal his secrets unto his servants the prophets”).

The same is true in our day, from Joseph Smith down to the current prophet. Whether men choose to believe them, is what he wants to see.

And so, with His goal being to try our faith, it seems to make sense that he would ask for the plates return. They’d served their purpose, bringing to our knowledge the scriptural record of the ancient inhabitants of America (the “Other sheep” who “must hear my voice”).

Having served their purpose, it fits within the template of precedence to leave the rest to faith.

It would likely convince many if the tablet containing the ten commandments were on display in some Museum, having been verified of their authenticity. But that too would destroy the purpose – to try our faith.

Reply from Sunde:

Thanks for the reply. I must say that a thoughtful,
inquiring skeptic can better understand the missing
Ten Commandments from thousands of years
ago. Rational thinkers do, and ought to, have a harder
time accepting the “missing” gold plates right after the
publication of their supposed contents to the world in 1830.
Especially, since so much of what Mr. Smith claimed the gold
plates revealed would seem to fly in the face of Scripture.
Is my thinking somehow logically flawed on this point?

See my answer in the comments below…

Rusty