Monday, July 4, 2011

Liberty, Freedom, Repentance and Exaltation

On this 4th of July, 2011, a message of liberation and freedom from sin on this wise: The atonement of Jesus Christ is infinite and eternal and more powerful than any of us has surmised.

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
Second, while we were all focused on Hal and praying for his recovery, brother Drew died in his sleep, ending a truncated life filled with challenges beyond the normal scope of most mortals.

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
The time to fulfill the requirements for exaltation is now (see Alma 34:32-34). President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "In order to obtain the exaltation we must accept the gospel and all its covenants; and take upon us the obligations which the Lord has offered; and walk in the light and understanding of the truth; and 'live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God'" (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:43).

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.

Joseph Smith
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel -- you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave" (TPJS, 348).

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
If the truth were known, as the eldest grandson of Harold B. Lee, and speaking strictly for myself, I came to understand many years ago that I would never measure up -- the mountain was simply too high, the path too rocky and the topography too steep to ascend to his high and lofty station. Certainly, without any doubt, Drew shared similar sentiments. We all did. To be saved in the celestial kingdom alongside our grandfather is to have to chop some pretty tall timber. He seemed to be more than a mere mortal. Even after all these years one cannot tune into any General Conference, any speaker in any session, without a high probability of hearing a quote from 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
As I pronounced the dedicatory prayer over his grave, however, the words of President Thomas S. Monson were still resounding deep within my soul. The funeral cleansed me. The music was heavenly, a violin trio of family members performing "How Great Thou Art" and a male quartet singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

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.


  1. I did not know your brother, of course, but I read his obituary. I can only imagine the immense difficulty of suffering that constant physical pain and even greater difficulty of avoiding prohibited substances for relief. I believe the Lord will be far more merciful to those who live under such stress than those of us who succumb to this temptation or that while carrying a lighter load

  2. Thanks John. His "degree of difficulty" often looked like belly flops, but I believe there will be merciful compensation for the obstacles he faced.

  3. I knew Drew as the slickest liar, user and abuser of people I can ever imagine encountering. He used the gospel and his family name routinely and with great and practiced skill to achieve his many laschievious goals. He criticized speakers as he sat in church, whispering about their poor speaking abilities and his superior intellect, wit, charm and speaking ability. He was, in my mind, the embodiment of evil. G He felt above all laws and all people, planning and plotting to get a temple recommend unworthily. May God bless Katie and Jane for their sweet forgiveness -- they are special, amazing spirits.

    1. Since you have chosen to remain anonymous, let me confirm that everything you have said, while blunt, is precisely and painfully accurate - especially your admiration for Jane and Katie, and let's not forget Chris too. The words "even this" can be reached by the merciful atonement of Jesus Christ, as improbable as it seems to those of us who knew him best.

  4. "I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable [of the laborers in the vineyard], but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines."
    —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Laborers in the Vineyard", General Conference, Apr. 2012