The Purpose of Mourning (Heber J. Grant Lesson 5)

My heart goes out to each individual who bears the burden of mourning. I share my feelings of empathy and sympathy. The separation imposed by the departure of a loved one evokes pangs of sorrow and shock among those left behind. The hurt is real. Only its intensity varies. Even though we understand the doctrine—even though we dearly love God and his eternal plan—mourning remains. It is not only normal; it is a healthy reaction. Mourning is one of the purest expressions of deep love. It is a perfectly natural response—in complete accord with divine commandment: "Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die." (D&C 42:45.)

Moreover, we can't fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.

The grief that we feel is not unknown to the Lord. It was he who said, "Blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." (3 Nephi 12:4; see also Matthew 5:4.)

Where can we turn for peace? We can come unto the Lord Jesus Christ. With consummate love, he said: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27.) His peace differs from that offered by any other. His is the peace provided by our knowledge of the resurrection. His gift of life after death applies to all mankind.

His gift includes the opportunity of dwelling again with him and with his Father. He said, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:1-2.)

Grief is assuaged as his peace enters our lives. It brings true understanding and calm assurance that all is well. "The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7.) Peace comes when we go directly to our best friend—the Prince of Peace. We find solace when we lose ourselves in service to him and to our neighbors.

Though we mourn today, tomorrow we will wish to bring comfort to others. Instead of being ministered unto, we will become the ministers of soothing "balm" in the "Gileads" of our own neighborhoods. (See Jeremiah 8:22.) Our experience with sorrow will make us more compassionate and capable in our desire to ease the suffering of another.

Teaching of eternal perspective will be an essential part of our aid. The Prophet Joseph Smith conveyed that point of view when he spoke at the funeral of a loved one. He offered this admonition: "When we lose a near and dear friend, upon whom we have set our hearts, it should be a caution unto us. . . . Our affections should be placed upon God and His work, more intensely than upon our fellow beings." fn

Divine purpose is fulfilled in mourning and in receiving ministrations of those who proffer assistance. Moreover, any who provide comfort to those in mourning will receive their own reward. Recognition of this desire is one of the prerequisites for baptism and admission into the Church: "Now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;

"Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?" (Mosiah 18:8-10.)

In that spirit, the converted Christian commits his or her life to help others and to lighten the load of thosewho mourn.

Bounds and Conditions of Mourning

The divine sanction of mourning has necessary limits, however. Just as overdoses of needed medication can be toxic, so limitless grief can go out of bounds. We understand the need for boundaries in sports activities such as football, basketball, tennis, or golf. Boundary lines are equally important in the game of life and in regulating grief when mourning for the loss of a loved one. "Unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions." (D&C 88:38.) The law that promises blessings to those who mourn is no exception. Its boundary lines may not be as clearly marked as they are on the playing field. But they are discernible. We should recognize them and protect ourselves against those hazards.

Out-of-bounds warning signs may first be detected if one should presume to counsel the Lord. That, in turn, could lead to a vicious cycle of forgetting him, then contending with or even cursing against him. These cautions are so important that they need to be carefully considered by those who mourn.

Presuming to counsel God is a common pitfall. We may have heard questions asked such as, "Why did God do this to me?" Or "why did this innocent child, this promising youth, this young mother with children to raise, or this young man at the height of his career, have to be taken now?" Or a comparative question may be considered, even with a tone of anger: "Why does such a promising andproductive person have to die when old Mr. is ready to go and can't?" Or "Why does such a virtuous person die when 'the wicked live, become old, yea, [and] are mighty in power'?" (Job 21:7.)

Scriptures have also recorded and warned against such presumption to counsel: "Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?" (Job 4:17.) "Shall any teach God knowledge?" (Job 21:22.)

Job suffered much misery, yet he only pleaded that his heavy "grief were thoroughly weighed, and [his] calamity laid in the balances together." (Job 6:2.) To me, that seems to be a reasonable request.

Scripture speaks of one who would mistakenly "curse God" (Job 2:9) because of afflictions of the flesh. Some of us have seen grieving souls who seem to have forgotten that very God who gave life to the person for whom they mourn. How ungrateful! Shall we receive only what we wish from him—and that only when we are receptive? (See Job 2:10.)

We cannot presume to instruct those who mourn, but we can try to understand what they feel. It is difficult for them to express all they feel. Indeed, they often close off their deepest emotions. I doubt if Job wrote everything he felt. I am grateful for his expression of steadfast faith:

"I would seek unto God, . . . [who] doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number: Who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields: to set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety." (Job 5:8-11.)

Gratefully we need to remember that God grants life and everything that sustains life. Each marvelous moment is both a mystery and a miracle. While mourning, may we not take life's wonder for granted. King Benjamin taught: "I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, . . . I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (Mosiah 2:20-21.)

Those in distress may find it hard to understand the need for further faith. Even early disciples of the Lord were subject to that challenge. After the Redeemer was resurrected, "he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen." (Mark 16:14.)

Great blessings are promised to those who overcome the sin of unbelief: "Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief.

"Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.

"Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief . . . then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel." (Ether 4:13- 15.)

Worse than unbelief is contention with the Lord. Worse than to contend with God is to curse him, because that has long been a worrisome sign of spiritual death.

On the other hand, keeping grief within bounds allows the spiritually attuned to weep for the loss of their loved one. Moreover, they shall receive a blessing from the Lord if they have a thankful heart in all things. They acknowledge the goodness of their Creator and the divinity of his plan. They express gratitude for life and all that sustains life. Especially do they thank God for granting life to the beloved one for whom they mourn.

The Psalmist said, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving." (Psalm 69:30.) We also honor him by our worship and obedience, by our service and gratitude.

Those who mourn will be consoled as they reaffirm their trust in God. We should not seek "to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, [we] know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works." (Jacob 4:10.) Neither does the faithful person contend with "an appointed time to man upon earth" (Job 7:1), but he or she begins to understand that triumphs, tribulations, and death are part of life. Just as Abraham was commanded to offer up his only son, each of us may be required to part with a beloved son, daughter, or companion. That is part of the divine process of chastening, refining, and sanctification. (See D&C 101:4- 5.) In that spirit of resolute commitment to God, a contrite Job so stated: "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10.)

Faith and trust in God are manifested by service to him and to neighbors near and far. Samuel said, "Fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you." (1 Samuel 12:24.)

That faith is constantly reinforced by recollection of divine love for all mankind. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17.) That was not an easy thing for Heavenly Father to do. Neither was it easy for his Beloved Son. But they did it! "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.) Jesus did this for us—voluntarily!

Grieving is the work of enlarging our understanding. It can be made more tolerable by following the pattern of divine example. When we feel sorry for ourselves, we may recall these words of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith: "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 122:8-9.)

The Prophet endured much grief. When he prayed for relief, he received this divine instruction: "All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (D&C 122:7.) Just as there is purpose in pain, so the ability to endure will come with an understanding of God's eternal purposes.

Gateways are needed. They are part of the Lord's plan of salvation and redemption. Our duty is to prepare worthily for that time of transition through the gateway of death, just as we pass through the gateway of birth and of being born again through baptism. "Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God." (D&C 22:4.)

Retained within proper bounds, mourning is neither a sign of weakness nor is it to be avoided. It, too, is an important part of God's great plan of happiness. Not only that, it provides opportunity for others to give comfort. That will bless their lives as well. Mourning is the lubricant of love at the gateway.

Note

1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City, 1938), p. 216.

(Russell M. Nelson, The Gateway We Call Death [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 22.)

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