Saturday, May 22, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth III (cont.)


What did our spirit look like before coming to earth?

I have known several independent witnesses who saw the spirit of our infant daughter Adrienne after she died at the age of seven weeks.

They have told me independently that she is an adult spirit in form and looked like the adult version of a “blend” of her older sisters, Allison’s and Melanie’s, physical features.

I believe that is consistent doctrine so far as I can discern from the scriptures, though there is no definitive revealed answer in the scriptures.

In pre-existence our spirit bodies were organized, when we were born as the spirit children of God our Father. Through that birth process spirit element became intelligent entities. The spirit bodies we were given have all the parts of mortal physical bodies.

The best scriptural example we have is the account of Brother of Jared, who first beheld Christ's spirit finger and then his whole spirit body. The pre-mortal spirit of the great Jehovah declared, "I am Jesus Christ. . .  This body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; . . . and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh." (Ether 3:14-17.)

Our infant physical body grows normally into an adult body, unless it is overtaken by disease or deformity of some kind, taking on the precise attributes of our spirit body as we physically mature.

In a classic analogy, President Boyd K. Packer illustrated the relationship between the body and our spirit with a glove on his hand, the hand representing our spirit and the glove our physical body. When we are born our hand (spirit) enters the body, and when we die the glove (body) slips off the hand into the grave, but our hand (spirit) goes on living and looks as it did before it was born into mortality.

If a baby is stillborn, does it get a spirit and is that spirit too pure to come to earth?

This is a serious question, and this sad experience comes to many, many families whom I have known. A mother conceives, feels the life of her infant stirring within her for nine months, then just before delivery the body she was preparing for that infant dies in her womb and is born dead.

I have long believed personally that those precious babies will come forth in the resurrection.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, shares my view in Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 280-281, in these words:

“There is no information given by revelation in regard to the status of stillborn children. However, I will express my personal opinion that we should have hope that these little ones will receive a resurrection and then belong to us. I cannot help feeling that this will be the case.

“When a couple have a stillborn child, we give them all the comfort we can. We have good reasons to hope. Funeral services may be held for such children, if the parents so desire. Stillborn children should not be reported nor recorded as births and deaths on the records of the Church, but it is suggested that parents record in their own family records a name for each such stillborn child.

“The time of quickening is when the mother feels the life of her unborn infant. (Luke 1:39-41). President Brigham Young has left us this explanation of the time when the spirit enters the body: ‘When the spirit leaves them [mortal bodies] they are lifeless; and when the mother feels life come to her infant, it is the spirit entering the body preparatory to the immortal existence. But suppose an accident occurs and the spirit has to leave this body prematurely, what then? All that the physician says is - 'It is a still birth,' and that is all they know about it; but whether the spirit remains in the body [i.e, in its own body] a minute, an hour, a day, a year, or lives there until the body has reached a good old age, it is certain that the time will come when they will be separated, and the body will return to mother earth, there to sleep upon that mother's bosom. That is all there is about death.

“On other occasions, also, President Young taught that we should have hope for the resurrection of stillborn children. ‘They are all right,’ he said, and nothing in the way of sealings or ordinances need be done for them.” (Personal Correspondence; Journal of Discourses, vol. 17, 143).

The Prophet Joseph, after reading Revelation 14 one day, offered the following reflections on the subject of why so many infants die prematurely:

"We have again the warning voice sounded in our midst, which shows the uncertainty of human life; and in my leisure moments I have meditated upon the subject, and asked the question, why it is that infants, innocent children, are taken away from us, especially those that seem to be the most intelligent and interesting. The strongest reasons that present themselves to my mind are these: This world is a very wicked world; and it is a proverb that the 'world grows weaker and wiser;' if that is the case, the world grows more wicked and corrupt. In the earlier ages of the world a righteous man, and a man of God and of intelligence, had a better chance to do good, to be believed and received than at the present day: but in these days such a man is much opposed and persecuted by most of the inhabitants of the earth, and he has much sorrow to pass through here. The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again." (DHC 4:553).

This thought is certainly comforting to those who have laid away their infants and small children in death. Among the Latter-day Saints the assurance that what the Prophet said is true, and that parents shall have their children again if they are faithful, is a wonderful comfort which the world does not possess.

The Holy Ghost:

How did the Holy Ghost get chosen, who is he, and will he ever get a body?

The simple answer is this: I don’t know, and you can quote me on that. I don’t know anyone else who does either.

This is a fascinating question, of course, that has been asked for as long as I can remember.

The best answer I ever saw about it was this one from President Joseph Fielding Smith:

“Answer: There is so much in relation to the gospel that we are required to do and so many commandments to observe and ordinances to receive in order that we may obtain an exaltation in the kingdom of God, that we should have no time to enter into speculation in relation to the Holy Ghost. The third member of the Godhead has been assigned to certain duties which are essential in the plan of redemption. We, the members of the Church, should so live that we may have his companionship and thus have our minds quickened, our knowledge increased, and our salvation assured. Without this companionship we are nothing; our minds could not be enlightened; and our comprehension of the everlasting gospel would be impaired. Why not leave matters which in no way concern us alone, and devote our time in gaining knowledge essential to our salvation through the inspired guidance of the Holy Ghost?” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 146).

Patriarchal Blessings:

Will you please explain a Patriarchal Blessing? (The House of Israel, lineage of Ephraim, etc.)

Your bishop will give excellent counsel as to how you may prepare to receive a patriarchal blessing. When you decide you are ready, the bishop will interview you and discuss it with you in detail. He will explain that this blessing is different than normal priesthood blessings, because this blessing happens only once in your life.

The patriarch will declare your lineage, naming the tribe of Israel to which you belong. It will be recorded then written down, and a copy will be retained in the archives of the Church for future reference in case you lose the original.

He will also explain that it is sacred and personal, and is usually not shared with anyone else because it applies only to you. No doubt he will encourage you to prepare for your patriarchal blessing by suggesting that you fast in order to prepare your mind for the spiritual experience that you will receive.

I have always liked this explanation given by The First Presidency (David O. McKay, Stephen L. Richards, J. Reuben Clark, Jr.), in a letter to all stake presidents, dated June 28, 1957:

"Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient, and also where so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life's mission, it being always made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord, whose servant the patriarch is. All such blessings are recorded and generally only one such blessing should be adequate for each person’s life. The sacred nature of the patriarchal blessing must of necessity urge all patriarchs to most earnest solicitation of divine guidance for their prophetic utterances and superior wisdom for cautions and admonitions." (As cited in Mormon Doctrine, 558).

President Thomas S. Monson said: “The same Lord who provided a Liahona to Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives, to mark the hazards to our safety, and to chart the way, even safe passage — not to a promised land, but to our heavenly home. The gift to which I refer is known as your patriarchal blessing. Every worthy member of the Church is entitled to receive such a precious and priceless personal treasure. . . Your patriarchal blessing is yours and yours alone. It may be brief or lengthy, simple or profound. Length and language do not a patriarchal blessing make. It is the Spirit that conveys the true meaning. Your blessing is not to be folded neatly and tucked away. It is not to be framed or published. Rather, it is to be read. It is to be loved. It is to be followed. Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s dangers.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 65-66).

You also ask about the House of Israel and lineage.  It is a fascinating thing to contemplate how a patriarch is able to declare one's lineage.  When stake patriarchs are called by their stake presidents, then approved for ordination by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, they are given no formal training about genealogy or even how to obtain that knowledge.  They are encouraged to seek inspiration and revelation.  That is the sum and substance of their "training."

When a patriarch lays his hands upon the head of a member of his stake, he is totally dependent upon the influence of the Spirit to direct him in declaring which tribe of Israel that person belongs to.  The vast majority of members of the Church today, belong to either the tribe of Ephraim or to Manasseh, the two sons of faithful Joseph who inherited the birthright covenant blessings from their father. 

However, the archives of the Church where patriarchal blessings are stored contain blessings to members of the Church today representing all the tribes of Israel, indicating that even those who belong to the "lost ten tribes" are being identified. 

On that topic much speculation abounds.  If you want to know where the "lost" tribes are located, keep your eye on the President of the Church who is calling missionaries to go find them.  Watch where they are being sent and you will know of a surety where the "lost" tribes are today.  They are being gathered to Zion even now. 

Revelation 7:1 declares:  "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree." 

Many have wondered at the expression "the four corners of the earth," which suggests a flat square rather than a round globe on which we live. 

The best sources for a definition of that phrase are the scriptures themselves (see D&C 124:3, 128; Isaiah 11:12; 2 Nephi 21:12).  Other places we read about "the four quarters of the earth" (D&C 33:6; 45:46; 135:3; Revelation 20:8; 1 Nephi 19:16), or "the four winds" (D&C 133:7; JS-M 1:37). These phrases suggest figurative language referring to the extremities or ends of the earth. The Church or kingdom of God will go forth in every direction under the direction of the Lord's anointed servants.

It is that season, figuratively "the lull before the storm," in which we now live.  It is the end of the "sixth seal."  (See Revelation 6:12-17; 7:1-17, where the two grand events of the sixth seal are described -- the great earthquake and the sealing of the 144,000).  The gathering will continue in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

Under the direction of Ephraim the gathering of all the tribes of Israel from the vast reaches of the "four corners of the earth" continues to this day.  This is all in fulfillment of the scriptures which have stated in numerous places that in the latter days all the tribes of Israel will be gathered again.  As a young missionary, I was stunned at how many scriptural references talked about "the gathering of Israel," too numerous to list here. 

The reason it is significant to know your lineage in the House of Israel is that if the patriarch declares you are of either tribe -- Ephraim or Manasseh -- your role in mortality will be to do all you can to assist in declaring that the blessings of the gospel are available to ALL of God's children now living on the earth, and to be instrumental in the delivery of those covenant blessings to everyone with whom you come in contact.

Here is an excellent summary of the topic by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve in October, 2006.

As he concluded his talk, Elder Nelson declared:

The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be "brought to the knowledge of the Lord" without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people "shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise."  "Every nation is the gathering place for its own people." The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is "the pure in heart." Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, and congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances, and blessings of the gospel, regardless of their location.

It is estimated by demographers at BYU that 90% of all people living on the earth today (with a sampling error of +/- 5%) are descended directly from Father Abraham, who received the covenant blessing that all his posterity would be as numberless as the sands of the seashore or the stars in the heaven. 

It is the gathering of that scattered posterity in which we are engaged today.

Temple Sealings:

If your parents get divorced who are you sealed to?

This is a question that I suppose I get more than any other question about families, because so many families have experienced divorce.

The most important sealing that will ever happen in your life, of course, is the sealing to your eventual husband or wife. If parents fail to keep their marriage covenants, that does not need to affect your hopes for eternal life, because those hopes are pinned to your companion, not your parents.

We all need to live the gospel and receive the gospel here and now, and prepare our families here and now for the worlds up ahead.

Sometimes through neglect or sin families here on earth are broken up, but key is always repentance – the sooner the better.

Parents are no different than you, only older. For those of us who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel and of marriage in this life, we are required to repent here and now, not there and later on.

For that reason, we partake of the sacrament each week. Only those in the spirit world who never heard the gospel in this life may hope for eternal glory when they accept the gospel in the spirit world.

If they heard the gospel in mortality and rejected it, then later on accepted it in the spirit world, their fate is clear: “And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.” (D&C 76:73-74).

These verses describe those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom. 

Except as noted in an earlier post to a similar question regarding children who who were born under the covenant then strayed, to parents whose calling and election has been made sure, the general rule is as the Lord stated it here.  As always, swift repentance is the immediate and sure answer to all the questions related to covenant making, and resolves all concerns we can possibly imagine.

Christ among the Nephites following his resurrection was plain-spoken, and left little doubt about the meaning of his doctrine: “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 11:33-35).

We have discussed earlier the implications of procrastinating the day of your repentance, and that is never a good idea.

Do not fret too much about who ends up with whom in the sealing links of the priesthood. The key is repentance, and the sealing blessings are promised only to those who are faithful thereafter to their covenants.

You could eventually be sealed to both your original parents if they were to return to their original sealing covenants to each other through repentance or to a faithful parent who remarries and is subsequently sealed to a new partner.

If both parents remarry and are subsequently sealed to new companions (as is the case with my wife’s parents), the sealing link is obviously going to be retained because of their faithfulness, but the details are best left to the Lord, who judges everyone on this basis: “For I, the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (D&C 137:9).

I always remember this quotation that I saw on the wall of Elder Marion D. Hanks’ office, embroidered and framed by a wonderful single sister who was paralyzed in a wheelchair: “To believe in God is to believe that He will be fair and that there will be some wonderful surprises.”

Word of Wisdom:

What about the Word of Wisdom and meat?

Vegetarian diets espoused by so-called “vegans” these days are very popular. Occasionally, one hears some pretty “quirky” interpretations of the Word of Wisdom, ranging from what it means to use meat “sparingly” to forbidding caffeine soft drinks and so forth.

The classic story about meat that always comes to my mind is this one from the Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 204:

Even gospel principles, like the Word of Wisdom, if I might say it discreetly, are undergoing some strange dietary interpretations which I fancy would startle our early leaders and cause even the Omnipotent to smile indulgently in His dwelling place as He contemplates the spectacle of the many uninspired interpretations of His holy laws and speculations on sacred matters which for reasons of His own He has never seen fit to reveal to man. (51-04, p. 5).

I remember a sister who came into my office from a foreign country. She was working in the bishop's storehouse in Logan, Utah. She had gone storming in to Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve and said, "Why, Brother Merrill, they are distributing pork from the bishop's storehouse up there where I have been working, and it is summertime." Elder Merrill very wisely said, "Go in and talk that over with Brother Lee."

So she came in to me and repeated her comment, since I was at that time working with the welfare program. I asked, "Why are you so much disturbed about that?"

"Why," she said, "the Lord said we should not eat pork or meat in the summertime."

I said, "Oh, where did he say that? I haven't read that."

"Why, in the Word of Wisdom."

"Not in my Doctrine and Covenants, it doesn't say that. Will you open the Doctrine and Covenants and read me what you have just said?"

Well, she tried to justify what she had said. I suggested that she read section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and told her I was not sure what a famine was as mentioned in section 89. We should eat meat sparingly, yes, as the Lord counsels. But when we reach a hard and fast conclusion contrary to what the Lord has said, be careful. (61-04, pp. 32-33).

No comments:

Post a Comment