Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Parable of Life

Helen and Brent Goates, 1975
Continuing his semi-annual tradition of a Conference missive to his former missionaries in the old California Arcadia Mission, my father writes this time about life and football:

Welcome back, dear October –

My, how we’ve missed you! Renowned for more than just General Conference, October’s refreshing breezes with a slight bite to them proclaim it is also football season. You can smell football in the air.

Maybe it’s just the surcease from the hottest summer ever recorded in Utah, but those delightful cool breezes invite the thought of a sizzling hot dog while we can now enjoy being outdoor spectators again.

As October warps into November, it brings childhood memories back to me of kicking multi-colored leaves underfoot, as I held tightly to my sports editor father’s hand (he carried his portable typewriter in the other hand) and he guided me up the ramps of the University of Utah stadium to the press box. That set up a pattern that would continue, and I never missed a “U” home game from the press box until I was old enough to leave for the mission field. In those days we would never think of having Thanksgiving dinner until after the rivalry Utah vs. Utah State football game was played.

But those days are near forgotten memories now. The cherished days of brisk but delightful afternoon football games have all but disappeared, victims of the money-driven dominance of television schedules that are insane. Last year in Provo, Utah, for example, we had 65,000 BYU fans acting like Eskimos, trying to survive a game that started at 11 p.m. and lasted well into the Sabbath. 

University of Utah's faithful 45,000 came to a night game in a snowstorm which finally relented well past midnight. 

When Utah State plays Colorado State this year on November 23 in Logan, you can bet your sheepskin boots it will be more than nippy. If famous canyon winds arise, you know there will be 25,000 numbed fans taking on the appearance of human icicles.

Where have common sense and the “good old days” gone? Soon an entire generation of sporting fans will never have known how wonderful football games can be in the brisk, warming afternoon sun. This is, in my opinion, too high a price to pay for allowing television to command the ubiquitous rising costs of collegiate athletic expenditures.

BUT – what would you think if you saw a football game being played between the white helmets and the black helmets in the most absurd conditions imaginable, including all the natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires? In these terrible, sloppy conditions of wet and cold, the teams surged back and forth, neither one winning or losing, but taking turns leading and then falling behind again.

You see a player injured, hauled out of the battle on a stretcher. The ambulance crew comes and you hear them say, “It’s too late; he’s gone,” and immediately a replacement comes to take his place. Similar replacements keep coming and coming, and the struggle continues. It all seems so aimless. So you go to the Head Coach and say, “Stop it! It’s so senseless. No team is winning or losing, so why do you let it go on?”

But the Head Coach answers by calmly pointing to a long, long bench of players as far as the eye can behold, and says, “All of these players have a right to have their time on the field of battle, so they can be tested under conditions both favorable and unfavorable, of winning or losing. They are all growing and shall only be able to perfect themselves under game conditions where they can participate against the stern realities of forces both good and bad.”

Now that you understand the purpose of the game of life and the plan of the Head Coach, why do you get so upset about the way the game is being played? It now seems somewhat more reasonable why God would place us in a world that permits so many forms of evil and why we would have willingly agreed in the beginning to enter such a violent world.

"First, we must remember that the divine creative process is ongoing. The record of creation in the Book of Moses describes the creative cycle twice, the first a spiritual creation and the second physically. However, day seven, the day that follows the completion of creation and God’s rest, is described only once. So day seven in real time has not yet arrived. We still live in day six, when the creation of humanity is unfinished. This helps me to understand the continued existence of chaos and injustice and helps also to alleviate my resultant tensions.

"Next, it is important to comprehend that many virtues linked to the plan of salvation are such virtues that depend upon the prior existence, or even the coexistence of a vice. I can forgive someone only if I have first been sinned against. Likewise, unless I am allowed to sin against my brother, I will never have the opportunity to experience forgiveness from him. Think of the attributes praised by Jesus in the Beatitudes and those required for membership in the Church by Alma at the waters of Mormon. They are virtues whose very existence depends upon the pre-existence of vice. We cannot bear each other’s burden if such burdens didn’t exist. We cannot be comforted if we didn’t know sorrow. We can be generous only if there is someone in need. Mercy can be granted only to someone who is undeserving. Peacemakers can exist only in a world of conflict. Reconciliation can occur only where there is contention. Even though these virtues are the pillars of Christianity, they depend upon the coexistence of vices. Remove the evil and the suffering or the injustice from this world, and these virtues are all but lost." (John Sutton Welch, “Why Bad Things Happen at All”BYU Studies 42, no. 2 [2003] 75 - 90).

In these times of hardship we are drawn to God for help, comfort and support. Pain and agony allow us to empathize with each other, draw closer to one another and serve our fellowmen. It also changes our perspective of God. Instead of seeing Him as a cruel schoolmaster, we know He is a loving parent, willing to support us, sharing our successes and disappointments, even like Jesus did with Lazarus’s sisters, and be assured that adversity and chaos are just a part of this creative season. Order and justice will be established in day seven ahead in the millennial or celestial age.

Of His ultimate triumph over Satan and the elimination of his opposition in all things we can be assured. Let us prove faithful to the end, ever-believing, ever-faithful, and ever anxious to lift the burdens from those suffering in this intentionally embattled world.
Always, your friend,
President L. Brent Goates


  1. Grandpa Brent has always had his way with words. This is masterful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I always look forward to receiving a copy of Heart Lines from Pres. Goates. Again, I was not disappointed. :) And now, seeing this picture of Pres. and Sis. Goates, my memory and heart are thrust back 35 plus years to my wonderful experience with them in the mission home, and their influence that forever changed my life. Oh, how I love that man!

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