In recent weeks, events in the lives of two younger brothers have done much to advise my beliefs and buttress my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the gift of personal revelation.
First, brother Hal suffered a massive coronary and the emergency installation of three stents in occluded arteries saved his life. The doctors who attended him estimated he was within minutes of death.
|Lesley Drew Goates|
I have always believed the gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot remember a time when I did not have a testimony. I find as I have grown older the foundation of my testimony remains strong and is deepening and ripening. I have discovered new insights and perspectives I never imagined as new facets of my faith become exposed to the sunlight of truth.
If I were teaching from the Gospel Principles manual about what is required to obtain exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, I would likely lay it out in an outline something like this:
Requirements for Exaltation
|President Joseph Fielding Smith|
To be exalted, we first must place our faith in Jesus Christ and then endure in that faith to the end of our lives. Our faith in him must be such that we repent of our sins and obey his commandments.
He commands us all to receive certain ordinances:
We must be baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
We must receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We must receive the temple endowment.
We must be married for time and eternity.
In addition to receiving the required ordinances, the Lord commands all of us to --
Love and worship God.
Love our neighbor.
Repent of our wrongdoings.
Live the law of chastity.
Pay honest tithes and offerings.
Be honest in our dealings with others and with the Lord.
Speak the truth always.
Obey the Word of Wisdom.
Search out our kindred dead and perform the saving ordinances of the gospel for them.
Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Attend our Church meetings as regularly as possible so we can renew our baptismal covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
Love our family members and strengthen them in the ways of the Lord.
Have family and individual prayers every day.
Honor our parents.
Teach the gospel to others by word and example.
Study the scriptures.
Listen to and obey the inspired words of the prophets of the Lord.
Finally, each of us needs to receive the Holy Ghost and learn to follow his direction in our individual lives.
Why are faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ necessary to become exalted?
What ordinances must we accept in order to become exalted?
What laws does the Lord give us that we must obey to become exalted?
Why must we learn to follow the direction of the Holy Ghost to become exalted?
After We Have Endured to the End
What happens when we have endured to the end in faithful discipleship to Christ? The Lord has said, "If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (D&C 14:7). President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "If we will continue in God; that is, keep his commandments, worship him and live his truth; then the time will come when we shall be bathed in the fulness of truth, which shall grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:36). I would emphasize that everything we receive from God in the end is a GIFT, despite what we may think we deserve through our righteous endeavors under the law.
Drew's final stop on his mortal journey was a modest burial plot in the Salt Lake City Cemetery amid the family members who preceded him in death -- my Grandfather Harold B. Lee, his two wives, Fern Lucinda Tanner Lee, Freda Joan Jensen Lee, Uncle Ernest L. Wilkins, Aunt Maurine Lee Wilkins, my mother Helen Lee Goates, and Drew's infant daughter Julie Goates. As I dedicated Drew's grave I was in awe with the revelation that flowed.
Somehow, in a way I may never fully comprehend, his mortal journey now at a merciful terminal point, Drew is on the path leading toward exaltation through little or no merit based upon his performance under the laws of the gospel as outlined above. He did the best he could, but his performance under the law fell woefully short during his mortal probation.
However, he repented for years through prodigious amounts of pain and suffering. I cannot judge the quality or the quantity of his sackcloth and ashes, but I know it was commensurate every day of his mortal probation with the magnitude of his sins.
It is not my intention here to detail his deficiencies, though they were many. There is no purpose to be served by an attempt to wash the dirty family laundry in this day of cyberspace truth telling. Suffice it to say the list of his sins would be comprehensive and infamous. Contrasted with the life of his illustrious grandfather, the 11th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Drew's individual merits for exaltation would be woefully short of the minimum standard required for exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
|President Harold B. Lee|
Imagine a father, the son-in-law of Harold B. Lee, who was desperate to have his posterity measure up, to never deviate from the gospel plan, to keep the commandments with exactness and honor, to magnify their calling to the high and lofty station to which we were called as his posterity, and to live righteous lives within the fishbowl into which we were thrust by his high and holy calling so the whole membership of the Church could see our shining examples in nothing but good works.
Of course, it was a worthy goal, but proved impossible to achieve.
Imagine a president of the Church who fully understood the challenge, who warned us all that Satan desired to have us. "If he cannot get to me," he cautioned, "then he will do everything he can to get to me through all of you."
We were a small family. Grandfather and Nana had two daughters, Maurine and Helen. Between them ten grandchildren emerged. The results in living the laws of the gospel have been a mixed bag in varying stages of exactness and honor. Would that surprise anybody, knowing what you know about your own families? I will not presume to judge any of them, only to summarize that if we are all to be judged by the law without the sweet accompaniment of mercy, we are all doomed -- and I mean all of us.
We did not measure up. We did the best we could, all of us with our respective talents, tendencies, performances and desires, but I am certain all would agree, none of us deserves the high station through entitlement in the eternal worlds ahead that will be accorded Harold B. Lee. Not one of us.
|President Thomas S. Monson|
President Monson was a surprise visitor to Drew's funeral. He slipped into the Relief Society room just as my father was beginning the family prayer. He greeted us and bore a brief testimony after Dad's prayer had been concluded. He quipped to my perpetually shrinking father (now shriveled to about 5' 2" after starting at 6' 1"), "Well Brent, I'm still taller than you."
Then he stopped at one of the pews as he entered the chapel to greet a little grand-daughter, Jenna, who was standing on the bench watching him. He leaned over, taking her by the hands, "Watch my ears," he invited. They wiggled in matched symmetry, then he whispered with a twinkle in his eyes, "I only do that for little girls." (Not really true, because most of us priesthood men recall a General Priesthood Meeting when he did it for the whole Church).
What a gentle giant of love, unstinting service to all, and unmatched good humor. He spoke at the conclusion of the services for Drew. "I want you to know I feel part of the Goates family, the Lee family, and other families who have shown me the way, and I follow their teaching. They aren't gone, they're just away. I want to strive to be with them, and with Drew and with all, when He calls to go with them on high," he said simply in summary. Really? Did I hear that right? You hope to be with my unworthy prodigal brother someday? Did he just turn the requirements of the law on their ear and shake them all upside down with mercy? Was he saying the unworthy prodigal was now somehow more worthy than all of us who are left behind in mortality still toiling under the law? How thankful I am for a living prophet, the servant of all!
He came unannounced with hope, with love and with forgiveness in his heart to bless our grieving hearts. Such is the man and his mantle. The man is a living prophet, a prophet among prophets, a wonderful gift of love from our Heavenly Father to all His children who will accept him as a true servant, one willing to serve, to love, and to bless even the least among us.
As we now think upon the "awful arithmetic of the atonement" in the sweet afterglow of Drew's funeral, we stand in awe of those who lie buried in that hallowed little plot of dirt in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. There are two more still living whose mortal remains will someday take the last two remaining spots. In it all our hope is renewed that all in the family plot will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection, embrace one another and rejoice in the possibility of eternal life together.
Before that time comes, however, there will be ample opportunity for more sincere and wrenching repentance, for growth beyond the grave, and for progression. Because Drew had finally obtained the strait and narrow path in this life, according to his last bishop who also testified at the funeral, Drew will not fall off it again in the spirit world ahead. Don't think for one minute that grace is cheaply obtained, however. The glories of exaltation are not obtained on the cheap, nor are they offered at discount rates. Before he is resurrected Drew will pay the uttermost farthing in remorse.
But perhaps the most powerful lines came from daughter Katie when she wept, "Daddy, I forgive you for everything, and I hope that someday you will forgive me too."
Repentance and forgiveness -- keys to turn in the lock that release all the demons of hell who keep us bound in chains of guilt and remorse in the darkness of secret sins.
I believe there must be an unwritten law of commensurate suffering that attaches somehow to the infinite atonement, requiring accountability for individual sins, and almost unimaginable grief and sorrow for sins despite the promises the pain can be assuaged through accepting Christ's suffering. (See D&C 19).
In my younger brother I witnessed the fulfillment of the miracle of Christ's atonement, which thing I had never before supposed was possible because I had put unwarranted limitations on its magnitude.
When I see myself for what I really am, the unworthy prodigal rather than the righteous older brother, my vision expands and the light shines more brightly on the path of liberty, freedom, repentance and exaltation.
How grateful I am on this Independence Day to know it is possible for me to see Drew again if I live worthy enough. I want to be an eyewitness of his release from the prison of his broken physical body that entrapped his soaring spirit. Now freed from pain, addiction and sin, as I once knew him when he was an innocent child, I expect to be with him again. I have renewed hope and joy in the fulfillment of that promise.
May each of us realize that blessing for ourselves and those we love most.