As a writer and book lover, I often muse about the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon — especially this year, when the Book of Mormon is on the Sunday School docket.

I've wondered if those handwritten pages were typeset in double columns, like the current Book of Mormon, how many pages would we have? Twenty? Forty?

And before Martin Harris died, why didn't somebody sit him down and ask him detailed questions about the events and characters in those lost pages?

And did forger Mark Hofmann learn to write like Martin Harris so he could "discover" those 116 pages and sell them for millions?

Some questions I've puzzled out on my own. For instance, when Nephi begins the "small plates" — which would replace the lost 116 — he says, "the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God."

I'm guessing that means the 116 were filled with "things pleasing unto the world" —

stories about battles, war heroes, kings and betrayals. If so, the Book of Mormon may be a more spiritual book because those pages were lost.

Still, the one question that troubles many people never troubles me. Joseph Smith pleaded with God several times to let Martin take the 116 pages and was told "no." But Joseph went back one more time and God reversed himself. He let Martin take the pages. And he lost them.

Why would God give his consent to such a debacle?

I find the answer in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember, before he sets out, the younger son goes to his father and asks "permission" to take everything he has coming to him and go into the world. Now, the father is a wise soul. He knows the boy will get out on his own and make a mess of things. Still, he gives his blessing, his "permission." He knows the boy needs something even more important than "success." He needs to learn humility.

I see that same thing in Joseph getting permission to hand the 116 pages to Martin. There were lessons to be learned.

God is a God of forgiveness. But he is also a God of permission. And when he gives people his "permission," that doesn't mean a guarantee for success. Maybe he has something more valuable than success in mind for us.

That's a lesson, I think, we should keep in mind when we feel we've gotten the "go-ahead" from God in a relationship or business or a new calling. He's not saying, "You are on the path to success." He's saying, "You are on the path you need to walk."

Sometimes developing a softer heart and a wiser mind can be more vital than victory.

So it was with the Prodigal Son.

So with Joseph and Martin.

And so with us.

Besides, if I'm right and the Book of Mormon is more spiritual without those lost 116 pages, maybe having Martin misplace the things was simply God's way of editing the book. As a writer, I've dealt with editors. Sometimes their ruthless cuts and trims appear heartless but actually make for better work.

The key is you must put your trust in the editor.

Ditto for life in the world.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.

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