London, England, is steeped in history. Who has not heard of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, or the River Thames? Of lesser renown, yet priceless in value, are the truly magnificent galleries of art situated in this city of culture.
One gray, wintry afternoon I visited the famed Tate Gallery. I marveled at the landscapes of Gainsborough, the portraits of Rembrandt, and the storm-laden clouds of Constable. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the third floor was a masterpiece that not only caught my attention, but also captured by heart. The artist, Frank Bramley, had painted a humble cottage facing a wind-swept sea. Kneeling at the side of an older woman was a grief-filled wife who mourned the loss of her seafaring husband. The spent candle at the window ledge told of her fruitless, night-long vigil. The huge gray clouds were all that remained of the tempest-torn night.
I sensed her loneliness. I felt her despair. The hauntingly vivid inscription that the artist gave to his work told the tragic story. It read: A Hopeless Dawn.
How the young widow longed for the comfort, even the reality, of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Requiem”:
For her and countless others who have loved and lost dear ones, each dawn is hopeless. Such is the experience of those who regard the grave as the end and immortality as but a dream.
The famed scientist Madame Marie Curie returned to her home the night of the funeral for her husband, Pierre Curie, who was killed in an accident in the streets of Paris, and made this entry in her diary: “They filled the grave and put sheaves of flowers on it. Everything is over. Pierre is sleeping his last sleep beneath the earth. It is the end of everything, everything, everything.”
The atheist Bertrand Russell adds his testament: “No fire, no heroism, no integrity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave.” And Schopenhauer, the German philosopher and pessimist, was even more bitter. He wrote: “To desire immortality is to desire the eternal perpetuation of a great mistake.”
In reality, every thoughtful person has asked himself this question: Does the life of man continue beyond the grave?
Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and often it hushes the laughter of little children. Death is one tragic fact that no one can escape or deny.
The venerable, perfect, and upright man named Job, centuries ago, pictured death in these words: “As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:
“So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:11–12).
But Job, like multitudes of his fellow men, rebelled at this conclusion. Turning away from the depressing spectacle of death’s seeming victory, he uttered the triumphal cry: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
“That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
“… In my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23–26).
And who can help but be inspired by the clarion call of the Apostle Paul as he declared: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
Perhaps no statement in scripture more dramatically reveals a divine truth than Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Frequently, death comes as an intruder. It is an enemy that suddenly appears in the midst of life’s feast, putting out its lights and gaiety. Death lays its heavy hand upon those dearest to us and at times leaves us baffled and wondering. In certain situations, as in great suffering and illness, death comes as an angel of mercy. But for the most part we think of it as the enemy of human happiness.
The plight of the widow, for instance, is a recurring theme throughout holy writ. Our hearts go out to the widow at Zarephath. Gone was her husband. Consumed was her scant supply of food. Starvation and death awaited. Then came God’s prophet with the seemingly brazen command that the widow woman should feed him. Her response is particularly touching: “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kgs. 17:12).
The reassuring words of Elijah penetrated her very being: “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
“For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail. …
“And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah. …
“And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail” (1 Kgs. 17:13–16).
This same widow then lost her precious son to the enemy death. But the God of heaven heard her plea and, through His prophet, restored to her the lad.
Like the widow at Zarephath was the widow of Nain. She too lost her son. She too had him returned to her and to life—whole. A gift from the Lord Jesus Christ.
But what of today? Is there comfort for the grieving heart? Does God remember still the widow in her travail?
Not far from the Salt Lake Tabernacle lived two sisters. Each had two handsome sons. Each had a loving husband. Each lived in comfort, prosperity, and good health. Then the grim reaper visited their homes. First, each lost a son; then a husband. Friends visited, words brought a measure of comfort, but grief continued unrelieved.
The years passed. Hearts remained broken. The two sisters sought and achieved seclusion. They shut themselves off from the world that surrounded them. Alone they remained with their remorse. Then there came to a latter-day prophet of God, who knew well these two sisters, the voice of the Lord, which directed him to their plight. Elder Harold B. Lee left his busy office and visited the penthouse home of the lonely widows. He listened to their pleadings. He felt the sorrow of their hearts. Then he called them to the service of God and to mankind. Each commenced a ministry in the holy temple. Each looked outward into the lives of others and upward into the face of God. Peace replaced turmoil. Confidence dispelled despair. God had once again remembered the widow and, through a prophet, brought divine comfort.
The darkness of death can ever be dispelled by the light of revealed truth. “I am the resurrection, and the life,” spoke the Master; “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
This reassurance, yes, even holy confirmation of life beyond the grave, could well be the peace promised by the Savior when He assured his disciples: “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).
“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 … that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1–3).
Out of the darkness and horror of Calvary came the voice of the Lamb, saying, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). And the dark was no longer dark, for He was with His Father. He had come from God, and to God he had returned. So also those who walk with God in this earthly pilgrimage know from blessed experience that He will not abandon His children who trust in Him. In the night of death His presence will be “better than a light and safer than a known way.”
The reality of the Resurrection was voiced by the martyr Stephen as he looked upward and cried: “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
Saul, on the road to Damascus, had a vision of the risen, exalted Christ. Later, as Paul, defender of truth and fearless missionary in the service of the Master, he bore witness of the risen Lord as he declared to the Saints at Corinth: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; … he was buried, and … rose again the third day according to the scriptures: … he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
“After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. … He was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
“And last of all he was seen of me” (1 Cor. 15:3–8).
In our dispensation this same testimony was spoken boldly by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he and Sidney Rigdon testified: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).
This is the knowledge that sustains. This is the truth that comforts. This is the assurance that guides those bowed down with grief out of the shadows and into the light.
Such help is not restricted to the elderly, the well educated, or a select few. It is available to all.
Some years ago, the Salt Lake City newspapers published an obituary notice of a close friend—a mother and wife taken by death in the prime of her life. I visited the mortuary and joined a host of persons gathered to express condolence to the distraught husband and motherless children. Suddenly the smallest child, Kelly, recognized me and took my hand in hers. “Come with me,” she said, and she led me to the casket in which rested the body of her beloved mother. “I’m not crying, Brother Monson, and neither must you. My mommy told me many times about death and life with Heavenly Father. I belong to my mommy and my daddy. We’ll all be together again.” The words of the Psalmist echoed to my soul: “Out of the mouth of babes … hast thou ordained strength” (Ps. 8:2).
Through tear-moistened eyes, I recognized a beautiful and faith-filled smile. For my young friend, whose tiny hand yet clasped mine, there would never be a hopeless dawn. Sustained by her unfailing testimony, knowing that life continues beyond the grave, she, her father, her brothers, her sisters, and indeed all who share this knowledge of divine truth can declare to the world: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps. 30:50).
With all the strength of my soul, I testify that God lives, that His Beloved Son is the firstfruits of the Resurrection, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that penetrating light that makes of every hopeless dawn a joyful morning.
Though death is sometimes seen as an angel of mercy in situations of great suffering, most people see death as an enemy of human happiness, leaving us heavy-hearted, wondering.
But the Lord has given us many holy confirmations of life beyond the grave. The scriptures are filled with experiences that can replace turmoil with peace, despair with confidence.