Something I’ve noticed in my association with faithful Christians of other sects is that they have an unofficially dichotomous belief regarding the eternal nature of the family. Many of them profess that, scripturally, the family doesn’t last beyond this life. But they often follow that by saying that in their hearts, they’re sure they will see their loved ones beyond the veil, and that they will dwell together in happiness.
C.S. Lewis, one of the great Christian philosophers of our time, wrote a beautiful and heart-wrenching book entitled A Grief Observed following the death of his beloved wife, whom he refers to as “H.” In this soul-bearing account, he says:
On any view whatever, to say, ‘H. is dead,’ is to say, ‘All that is gone.’ It is a part of the past. And the past is the past and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death, and Heaven itself is a state where ‘the former things have passed away.’
Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.
Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back….For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored.
And that, just that, is what I cry out for, with mad, midnight endearments and entreaties spoken into the empty air.
I read this for the first time on my mission, and it broke my heart. I knew that the Church’s teachings on eternal families were unique, but I’m not sure I had recognized until this point just how much comfort and consolation they can offer.
Today’s hymn was written as a song for children, and its simplicity reflects that. But when a child (or anyone, for that matter) sings this song, they are learning and preaching a sacred doctrine unknown to all other sects and churches. Heavenly Father has a plan for us. It is a plan that allows us to be with those we love–those to whom we are born and those to whom we willingly join ourselves–not merely til death do us part, but for the literal expanse of all eternity. The Lord has shown us this path, and it is through His church, His priesthood, His gospel, His temple, and His grace.
If I remain true and faithful to my covenants, I know that everything, eventually, will be okay. My mother and father, my brothers and sisters, my wife and my children–none of them will be lost to me, no matter what cruelties and uncertainties mortal life produces. Of course these blessings are contingent upon faithfulness and obedience; all of God’s blessings are. But if we all do our best, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who is the author and finisher of our faith, Heavenly Father’s plan lets us be forever with our loved ones.
Joseph Smith, writing about baptism for the dead, said that “the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children…[f]or we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect.”
That welding link is the Forever Family. And of this joining of the living and the dead in unbroken connection, he wrote:
Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy.
This simple hymn is that voice of gladness and mercy. Nothing is gone forever, if only we will follow the Plan. And that, just that, is what I cry out in tearful, humble gratitude and prayers of thanks spoken to a listening God.