I do not remember the first time I knew that God was real. It seems to me that knowing Him is something I've come to over a life of fighting to reach out to Him, an infinite series of small miracles and preponderance of evidence. I know He has spoken to me, typically, through thoughts and feelings, sometimes through the actions of others, sometimes in still and mighty words.
Debate over the authenticity of the Book of Mormon has been rampant since before it was even removed from the stone-covered box in the side of a hill. I've read and heard it all, how it "cannot be true" because of ABC, and how it "cannot be explained as a lie" because of XYZ.
Despite many people saying "no one can know," I assert that their declarations are useless, for under their definition, no one knows anything. I know that it is true because after extensive testing, after seeking knowledge and pitting that knowledge against the hard rock of experience, I have heard the "song of redeeming love," and tasted God's power.
Elder James A. Cullimore spoke about "The Importance of a Personal Testimony" in each of our lives. One quote caught my attention more than any other.
"The Twelve Apostles are special witnesses of the Savior. I don’t know how many of them have actually seen a personage. They don’t talk about it. But they don’t have to, to receive their special witness that can come by the Holy Ghost."
The older I get, and the more I experience life, the more I have come to understand the things that are said by the Apostles and in scripture. When I first read about Joseph Smith's different methods of translating the Book of Mormon, I knew it was true and of God because it was exactly how God has guided me through understanding.
I don't question whether or not the Book of Mormon was a direct, verbatim translation of the words of ancient prophets, or nothing but "imaginations" out of Brother Joseph's head, because the question to me is irrelevant. I have been the tool of God for disseminating revelation through me to another person, so I know the answer is "yes" to both. Granted, my experience was a microcosm of Joseph's, and I don't expect anyone who has not experienced it to fully understand. I'm not claiming to anything special, just the same relationship with God that any of His children can achieve as they humble themselves and wrest their souls before Him.
My best attempt to describe it is something like tuning into a radio station, and trying to explain what it is saying to someone who couldn't hear it and speaks a foreign language. Or trying to translate sign language into words. When God chooses a mortal to be His messenger, that mortal becomes part of the message. It is meant to be that way. Truth is only enhanced by the medium in which it is expressed.
I am not bothered by Joseph's mistakes in life, because I have made so many of my own. I see how God is able to turn my weakness and folly into a finely honed tool for His work. His work and glory is through us, not in spite of us! The age of the Apostles matters little to me, because I see how a lifetime of desire to serve God is changing and shaping me, and I see the marks of the same tools in the eyes of those men.
The idiocy of members of the Church is hard to survive at times, but ultimately it makes no difference since I see my own idiocy and how it hurts others.
The flaws, the impurities, the lack of clarity are all part of the beauty of this mortal life. That is how it is meant to be. We are meant to be uncertain, and choose to act anyways. We are meant to make mistakes, and make them anyways. We are meant to be fallen, and trust that our Savior can save us from ourselves.
That is repentance.
That is forgiveness.
That is the Atonement in action.
Without the messiness, there is no gospel.