Many years ago while working as a counselor, I encountered a single mother who was struggling to rear three teenagers. We had met for several sessions, and she seemed to be making some progress in communicating more love and concern to her children. She came in one afternoon particularly pensive. I sensed that something of substance was weighing on her mind and asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said: “I have a big decision to make.” She then reminded me that her husband had been killed in an automobile accident exactly one year ago.
“What’s the dilemma?” I asked.
“I need to decide whether to do his temple work,” she responded.
“Why is that even a problem for you? Didn’t you love him?”
“Yes,” she said. “I adored him. He was a remarkable human being—a terrific father, a loving husband, a scouter in the community, a little league baseball coach, an all-around great guy.” She paused a moment and then added: “But he was not a member of the Church. He was very supportive of me and the children, was a moral and upright man, didn’t smoke or drink, but he never took the restored gospel very seriously.”
I asked again: “Well, what’s the problem? Why don’t you do his work?”
She then told me that one of her religion teachers had discouraged her from doing so. As I recall, his words went something like this: “Look, he didn’t accept the gospel here, and so he won’t accept it hereafter. To go to the temple in his behalf would be a total waste of time.”
I was stunned but attempted to hold my composure, especially because the teacher she quoted was well known in the community and his word was highly regarded. She then asked what I thought. I said: “Oh, I’d probably take a slightly different approach.”
“I would go to the temple this afternoon if I could.”
“What do you mean?” she followed up.
I then explained that we are simply not in a position to judge, to know what’s in a person’s heart—what they feel, what they believe, what they know. We do not really understand what constitutes a valid opportunity to hear the gospel, when the witness of the Spirit has been felt, or whether the message of the Restoration was even presented in a manner that was intelligible or truly inspirational. As I recall, she did her husband’s temple work a short time later.
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Amulek did teach that the same spirit or disposition we have in this life will be with us in the world to come (Alma 34:31–35), and the principle is true enough. Continuing in an evil habituated course makes it awfully difficult to change. But is it impossible? We must never deny another person the opportunity to change. People change here. Why can they not change hereafter? President Joseph F. Smith beheld in his vision of the postmortal spirit world how “the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.” Now note this interesting verse: “Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:31–32; emphasis added). This same principle is echoed in the words of President Wilford Woodruff: “I tell you when the prophets and apostles go to preach to those who are shut up in prison, thousands of them will there embrace the Gospel. They know more in that world than they do here.”1
So many things can weigh upon an individual’s mind and heart, pressures and challenges and crosses that only God can see and comprehend. Why does a person reject the gospel? Why does a child wander? Can we see the whole picture? Are we in a position to pass appropriate judgment and close the doors to future recovery and reconciliation? I have a conviction that when a person passes through the veil of death, all of those impediments and challenges and crosses that were beyond his or her power to control—abuse, neglect, immoral environment, weighty traditions, and so on—will be torn away like a film. Then perhaps they will, as President Woodruff suggested, see and feel things that they could not see and feel before. …
The Eternal Perspective
As a personal aside, several years ago my wife and I were struggling with how best to build faith in all of our children and how to entice wandering souls back into Church activity. A caring colleague, sensing the weight of my burdens, happened into my office one day and simply asked this question: “Do you think our Heavenly Father wanders throughout the heavens in morose agony over His straying children?”
Startled a bit by the question, I thought for a moment and said: “No, I don’t think so. I know He must feel pain, but I honestly can’t picture Him living in eternal misery.”
Then my friend responded: “Ask yourself why He does not, and it will make a difference in your life.”
I didn’t get much work done the rest of the day, because I spent many hours pondering the question. When I arrived home that evening, I asked my wife, Shauna, to sit down and reflect on the same question. She answered as I did, and then the two of us set about a prayerful quest for the next several days to understand how it is that our Eternal Father deals with His pain over His straying children.
In time it began to dawn on us that the Lord knows the end from the beginning and that, as Joseph the Prophet declared, all things—past, present, and future—are and were with Him “one eternal now.”2 Perspective. Eternal perspective. That was the answer. God deals with pain through and by virtue of His infinite and perfect perspective. He not only knows what we have done and what we are doing, but he also knows what we will do in the future. If in fact, as the prophets have taught, many who are heirs to the blessings of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will either in time or eternity be reconciled to and reunited with the covenant family, then all we need to do for the time being is to seek through fasting and prayer for at least a portion of our God’s perspective, His omniloving patience, His long-suffering, His ever-open arms, and a glimpse of the big picture. Not only will such a perspective serve us well here, amid our sufferings, but it will also empower our souls and fashion us into the image of our Master, who is the personification of charity (see Moroni 7:45–48).
And so, because we are mortal, because we are human, because we cannot see the end from the beginning, when a loved one strays, we fret and ache and sometimes despair. But there is hope smiling brightly before us, hope that springs forth from the elevated perspective provided by the power of the gospel covenant. President Gordon B. Hinckley, in addressing the Saints in Great Britain, said: “May there be … a sense of security and peace and love among your children, precious children every one of them, even those who may have strayed. I hope you don’t lose patience with them; I hope you go on praying for them, and I don’t hesitate to promise that if you do, the Lord will touch their hearts and bring them back to you with love and respect and appreciation.”3
And so we pray, we fast, we plead, and we implore. And, perhaps most important, we love those who wander, and we never, never give up hope. There is a God in heaven who is our Eternal Father, and He lives in the family unit. Our Heavenly Father knows us one and all by name and knows, perfectly well, of our sorrows and our soul’s deepest longings. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, will go in search of the lost ones. The gospel covenant is broad and deep and penetrating as eternity, and there are righteous forces at work that are beyond our capacity to perceive or comprehend. I know, with all my heart, that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman] availeth much” (James 5:16), and that both in time and in eternity our God shall wipe away all tears (see Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
In today's world, it's easy for men to become distracted or confused about their divine worth, purpose, and mission. But those who have chosen to bear the holy priesthood must have a clear understanding and vision of what it means to take on the Savior's name and serve His children. In so doing, they can not only fulfill their God-given responsibilities but also find peace and confidence in walking a godly path.
This book explores specific principles and how they relate to the men in the Church, including prayer, faith, marriage, and the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Drawing on scripture, the words of the prophets, and personal experience, Millet offers guidance on how men can better act on their desires to be loving husbands and father, generous friends and neighbors, and dependable representatives our Savior—in other words, to be men of God. Available at Deseret Book and deseretbook.com.
1. Cited in Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 206; emphasis added.
2. Joseph Smith, “Baptism for the Dead,” 760.
3. Gordon B. Hinckley, fireside address, in Church News, September 2, 1995, 4; emphasis added.