Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wife Rule #135: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) Chapter Eleven: The What-About's, the What-If's, and the Justice of God

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.
--Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540.

The story of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly a marvelous work and a wonder (see 2 Nephi 27:26). The doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are are beautiful beyond description. The blessings available to individuals and families in the latter-day temples are of unspeakable worth. When the truth of this latter-day work sinks into the soul of a person, that person is changed forever: priorities which may have been haphazard come into sharp focus; the great picture of eternity begins to reveal itself; the veil begins to thin; and man's great questions--Who am I, Where did I come from, Why am I here, and Where am I going--begin to be answered, giving rise to even grander questions and ponderings never before imagined; for without the gospel framework such a person never could have conceived of such glorious precepts and principles and implications.

And into the heart of such a person comes an unmistakable conviction: all must know!

My children, I feel this conviction. I feel it deep in my soul. Every line and precept added to my understanding only increases my anxiety to share what I know with my own family and with the world, my extended family.

For that is what the world is: one great family. Every person on earth--no matter how young or old, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how near or far, no matter how common or strange, no matter even how good or evil--is a beloved child of God. Each is created in His divine image. Each has divine potential. And each has already accepted the plan of the Lord Jesus Christ in a former life, now hidden by the veil of forgetfulness that enshrouds us here, accelerating our learning and growth. Each only needs to be reminded of the truth they once knew, and that familiar, comfortable Spirit of understanding will slowly, gently coax their minds and hearts open until they allow Him to fully illuminate their souls.

This knowledge is encouraging when we face the daunting task of trying to communicate the precious things of the Spirit to a world that is consumed with the flesh. We mortals are all on the same side. We were all meant for the same glorious end. All must know. It is only fair that all be given the choice to accept or reject the truth. And so we go forth.

The missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is every bit the marvel that ancient and modern prophets foretold. I was part of it--one of fifty thousand full-time missionaries in my day. You children will each be part of it too, whether serving a full-time mission as the boys and perhaps some of the girls will, or whether simply letting your light shine to the world as you strive to be an example of the believers (Matthew 5:16, 2 Timothy 4:12).

If you take upon yourself the lifelong mantle of a missionary, the world will be so much the better for you having been here. You will never regret your efforts to share the truth of the gospel.

But a just God could not rest knowing that even with all of His disciples striving to share the gospel message, a majority of this complex, crazy world will still never hear the full message in mortality. Certainly it is a privilege and blessing to hear the truth now, when sacred ordinances such as baptism and family sealings can be received, and covenants can be made and kept. But what of the vast throngs--the billions--who lived and died in ignorance of these exalting truths?

Thus the Lord has given priesthood keys to the latter-day prophet to oversee the great work of salvation for the dead--a work enormous in scope and imperative in importance, yet lost from the knowledge of the world for centuries between the time of Christ and the restoration of all things in this final dispensation.

The Bible has traces of this doctrine; precious evidences preserved over the centuries include Paul's use of baptism for the dead as an argument for the reality of the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:29), and Peter's teachings of the missionary work in the Spirit world (1 Peter 3:18-20). But the broader meaning of these passages was obscured until the full picture was again restored through new revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith and his successors (see, for example, D&C 128 and D&C 138).

The latter-day temples of the Lord are for receiving ordinances and making covenants--but not only for the living. So important are the requirements to be baptized and confirmed (John 3:5), to be endowed and sealed as couples and families (D&C 132:15-21), that God has provided for the living to act as proxy for the dead in receiving these ordinances in the temples. Thus, we can stand in the place of our ancestors--our brothers and sisters--who never had the opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel in mortality, and provide a way to escape from the limitations placed upon their agency by never having entered into these ordinances and covenants.

Of course, the choice remains theirs, whether to accept or reject the work we have done for them. Our role is to search them out, to discover family relationships, and to perform the ordinances. This unlocks the door for them, allowing them to use their agency to receive the blessings of exaltation should they choose. Thus we find further fulfillment of the prophecies that the hearts of the fathers and the children would turn to each other (Malachi 4:6) and that saviours would stand upon mount Zion (Obadiah 1:21).

Isn't that the divine likeness we take upon ourselves--that of the Savior--when we vicariously stand in the place of another to do that which he cannot do for himself: to receive ordinances that satisfy the requirements of the law? Isn't it wonderful to emulate the great vicarious work that the Savior of mankind accomplished when He stood in our place to receive our punishments and satisfy the ends of the broken law? Can you begin to see why temple work is a holy, sanctifying work? Can you see why it purges our selfishness and sinful nature from our souls?

When we do vicarious ordinance work in the temples, we act in harmony with the spirits of faithful, deceased elders in the Church who are now, even as you read this, preaching these same truths to those who have passed on and are now in spirit prison. This prison is not constructed of cement or steel or stone, but of ignorance, rebellion, regret, and missed opportunities--opportunities which you can now provide in the temples of the Lord. You, in a very literal sense, hold one of the keys to the door of this prison for those within your power to discover and liberate through temple work.

Thus, God has provided a way that all may partake of the ordinances of the temple; that all may be sealed as husband and wife, as parents and children; that all may be bound together eternally in love and life that never ends; that all may have the hope that your mother and I share, and which gives us such great joy now and in the future. All may love as your mother and I love each other.

God is perfectly just. He makes no mistakes. He forgets no one. None of His children will "fall through the cracks" and be denied a fair opportunity to accept or reject these ordinances, no matter when or where they spent their brief sojourn on earth. This work for the dead will continue, as Joseph Smith said, until these glad tidings have "sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done." The gospel plan is all-inclusive.

But what about the covenants? Receiving the ordinances is only a part of the process. It takes wise, consistent use of agency to progress into the people we were meant to be. The covenants must be kept, and that is where each soul's individual responsibility complicates things a bit.

What if we fail? What if our families fail? What if your spouse doesn't keep his or her side of the bargain? What if you find yourself as a single parent? What if, despite your best efforts, you never marry? What if your children let you down? What if your parents let you down?

And what about those who die unmarried, who spend a long life alone? What about those whose mental, emotional, or physical handicaps preclude marriage or family, or make it hard to trust in a loving God? What about those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender disorientation? What about those who are abused or neglected, who are battered and broken by their fellow humans' poor use of agency, until they become jaded and skeptical of marriage and family and all that is good?

What if, my children, the trials and tribulations and temptations of life hit you so hard and sternly that you are shaken to the very cores of your souls? What if those you rely on and trust seem to be falling around you? What if you feel that you stand alone, that your convictions are threadbare? What if, as the Lord posed to the prophet Joseph, "the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee?"

Here is the Lord's answer: "Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 122:7-9)

Experience. For thy good. God shall be with you. Hold on thy way. Never turn your back on the Lord, no matter what. He has thought of every possible problem and has provided a way to escape, because He experienced each and every one of our burdens when He suffered an infinite atonement for us (see Alma 7:11-13). His sacrifice is not only for our sins, but also for the effects of others' sins on us, and all the negative effects of living in a fallen world. He knows our situations. He knows our needs. He has covered it. All of it.

Through His prophets, the Savior has promised us again and again that no blessing will be denied to any worthy individual. The prophet Howard W. Hunter explained:

"The atonement that Christ wrought was in behalf of every individual. However, each must work out his or her own salvation, for we are not saved collectively. The worthiness of one’s friends or family will not save him or her. There must be an individual effort. While it is true that worthy couples will obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom, each man and each woman sealed in an eternal relationship must be individually worthy of that blessing.

"An eternal marriage will be composed of a worthy man and a worthy woman, both of whom have been individually baptized with water and with the Spirit; who have individually gone to the temple to receive their own endowments; who have individually pledged their fidelity to God and to their partner in the marriage covenant; and who have individually kept their covenants, doing all that God expected of them.

"May I hasten to add that no blessing, including that of eternal marriage and an eternal family, will be denied to any worthy individual. While it may take somewhat longer—perhaps even beyond this mortal life—for some to achieve this blessing, it will not be denied."
(Howard W. Hunter, “The Church Is for All People,” Ensign, Jun 1989, 75)

I cannot write here exactly when or how these blessings will come to the faithful, because I don't know the details. It may be as different a way for each individual as his or her circumstances require. But this I do know: the blessings will come to the faithful. As the prophet Spencer W. Kimball encouraged, "please know that our Father in Heaven is aware of your anguish, and that one day he will bless you beyond your capacity to express." (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 103.) There are no circumstantial "what-if's" or "what-about's" that take a precious, beloved child of God beyond the reach of His compassion and power to save. Only we can deny His saving grace by using our own agency; and if we choose to do so, our Father will be ever reaching after us, beckoning us back to Him.

If we prove faithful--faithful in receiving the Lord's ordinances, keeping our covenants, following the Savior with our whole hearts, and utilizing His grace in our lives--then when all is said and done, when the troubles of this life are but a distant memory, when the last specs of dirt and grime have been purged from our souls, we will at last understand what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

My children, you have the truth. You have a Savior. You are free to choose your path, regardless of what anyone around you may choose. Your agency is fully operative and you can claim our Father in Heaven's highest blessings and secure a glorious eternity. Don't let anything or anyone get in your way.

Your mother and I will do all in our power to prepare you to achieve the fullness of your potential. We love you. You are precious to us. God loves you. Now choose to love yourselves enough to seek the Lord and follow His path, all your lives. Lose yourselves in the Lord's work. Make use of what you have been given to bless others. Proclaim the gospel. Search out and redeem the dead. Serve diligently in the Lord's church. Care for the poor and needy. "Wear out" your lives in the love and service of God and our fellow brothers and sisters (D&C 123:12-13). The world needs you. Be part of the solution. Commit yourselves to the Lord's team--the only team that will be left standing when the Great War is finally over, when the Savior comes again to rule and reign on Earth in glory, which He surely will.

Let's make sure that our whole family returns to our Father who created us--and that means you helping your very imperfect earthly father. And let's bring as many of our brothers and sisters back with us as we can. If we give God our very best efforts, repenting when we fail, then when the great judgment day comes we will each look Him in the face with the confidence of an obedient child. And with covenants fulfilled, we will enjoy eternal life with Him as a family, forever: your mother and I with our parents, grandparents, and so on, and each of you with your spouses and children and so on, in a never-ending chain of love and family that extends without end. And that, my children, is a goal worth living and giving our all for.

And that is why I love your mother.

Part eleven of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue

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