From the Valley of Despair to the Mountain Peaks of Hope


From the Valley of Despair to the Mountain Peaks of Hope

The Church’s position on war—and inspired words to those who serve in the military and to those who are left behind—are the sum of this month’s very important “Message.” Early in the summer, President Harold B. Lee of the First Presidency and Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve were the featured speakers at a memorial service honoring Latter-day Saints who have lost their lives in Vietnam or who are being held prisoners of war. Widely heralded, the two addresses are reprinted in full.

This is to me a most significant occasion and a most difficult assignment about which I have prayed most earnestly that I might have the proper spirit and inspiration. The purpose of this service is not to glorify war, but, from the Lord’s own declaration, to set forth clearly the position of the Church with regard to war. We do not wish to enter into a controversy as to the rightness or wrongness of war, but to set at rest the torments of those who have loved ones engaged in the ugly conflicts of war.

We are not here to open old wounds in hearts that have been torn with the devastation that comes with the sense of loneliness because of the loss of loved ones. We are here to help lift the eyes of those who mourn from the valley of despair to the light upon the mountain peaks of hope, to endeavor to answer questions about war, about the promises of patriarchal blessings, and about broken marriage ties resulting from death in war. Finally, we are here to bring peace to troubled souls, not as the world giveth, but only that which comes from the Prince of Peace. We are here tonight to lift all of us out of the shadows into life and light.

In our generation the true Christian’s position on war is clearly set forth by a declaration in which the Lord says, “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace. …” (D&C 98:116.)

What is the position of the Church with respect to war? A declaration of the First Presidency given during World War II is still applicable in our time. The statement said: “… the Church is and must be against war. The Church itself cannot wage war unless and until the Lord shall issue new commands. It cannot regard war as a righteous means of settling international disputes; these should and could be settled—the nations agreeing—by peaceful negotiations and adjustments.”

There is a scripture that has direct bearing here: “And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them.

“And the law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.

“Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;

“And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.” (D&C 98:4–7.)

Note particularly that the revelation is directed to members of the Church. Therefore, it is applicable to persons of all nations, not just those in the land we call America.

There are many who are troubled and their souls harrowed by the haunting question of the position of the soldier who in combat duty kills the enemy. Again, the First Presidency has commented:

“When, therefore, constitutional law, obedient to those principles, calls the manhood of the Church into the armed service of any country to which they owe allegiance, their highest civic duty requires that they meet that call. If, hearkening to that call and obeying those in command over them, they shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill, beyond the principles to be mentioned shortly: for it would be a cruel God that would punish his children as moral sinners for acts done by them as the innocent instrumentalities of a sovereign whom he had told them to obey and whose will they were powerless to resist.” God is at the helm.

I will paraphrase this next statement from the message of the First Presidency in order to make these words more applicable today. The whole world seems presently to be in commotion. As the Lord foretold, we are in a time when men’s hearts fail them. There are many persons who are engaged in wars who are devout Christians. They are innocent instrumentalities—war instrumentalities, for the most part—of their warring sovereignties.

On each side, people believe that they are fighting for a just cause, for defense of home and country and freedom. On each side they pray to the same God, in the same name, for victory. Both sides cannot be wholly right; perhaps neither is without wrong. God will work out in his own due time and in his own sovereign way the justice and right of the conflict. But he will not hold the innocent instrumentalities of the war—our brethren in arms—responsible for the conflict.

Another question often asked is, Why was not my son or brother or husband or fiancé protected on the fields of battle as were others who testify that they were miraculously spared? People who have lost their loved ones are ofttimes troubled by faith-promoting incidents of those who have been miraculously spared. They may say “Why did it have to happen to my boy (or my husband or my brother or my fiancé)?”

While this question may never be fully answered in this life, we are given some illuminating observations from sacred writings. Eternal law does apply to war and those who engage in it. This law was declared by the Master himself when Peter struck off the ear of Malchus, who was a servant of the Jewish high priest. Jesus reproved Peter, saying, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matt. 26:52.)

In other words, those who are the perpetrators of war shall perish by the destructive forces that they have unloosed.

In the Book of Mormon record, we have the words of the prophet Moroni, mistakenly reproving Pahoran for his seeming negligence while his enemies were murdering thousands of his brethren. Moroni wrote to Pahoran:

“Do ye suppose that, because so many of your brethren have been killed it is because of their wickedness? I say unto you, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain; for I say unto you, there are many who have fallen by the sword; and behold it is to your condemnation;

“For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.” (Alma 60:12–13.)

The sin, as Moroni of old has said, is upon those who sit in their places of power and “in a state of thoughtless stupor” (Alma 60:7), in a frenzy of hate, who lust for unrighteous power and dominion over their fellowmen, and who have put into motion eternal forces that they do not comprehend or cannot control. God in his own due time will pass sentence upon such leaders.

Therefore, let us endeavor to banish all bitterness from our hearts and to rest judgment with God, as did the apostle Paul when he wrote, “… Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19.)

There is another question that is often asked: Why did he or she have to die? What is the purpose of life if it is to be so ruthlessly destroyed?

To the prophet Moses, the Lord answered this question in one sentence: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)

Immortality is a free gift to all mankind, but eternal life must be won by deeds done in the flesh. One may live but a moment or live to the age of a tree and he will have gained immortality: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22.)

As the apostle Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Cor. 15:19.)

Recently I received a letter from parents in California whose son had written home just before last Christmas, and then shortly thereafter his life was taken in the war in Vietnam. This is part of what he wrote: “War is an ugly thing, a vicious thing. It makes men do things they would not normally do. It breaks up families, causes immorality, cheating, and much hatred. It is not the glorious John Wayne-type thing you see in the movies. It is going a month without a shower and a change of clothing. It is fear creeping up your spine when you hear a mortar tube in the jungle. It is not being able to get close enough to the ground when coming under enemy fire; hearing your buddy cry out because of being ripped with a hot piece of shrapnel. You men be proud of your American citizenship, because many brave and valiant men are here preserving your freedom. [This letter was written to his priesthood quorum back home.] God has given you the gift of a free nation, and it is the duty of each of you to help in whatever way you can to preserve it. America is the protector of our Church, which is dearer to me than life itself. [And then this young man said this very significant thing:] I realize now that I have already received the greatest gift of all, and that is the opportunity to gain exaltation and eternal life. If you have this gift, nothing else really matters.”

It is that hope and that faith that has sustained our Latter-day Saints in the military, both the living and the dead. This hope is declared in the scriptures: “… therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.” (Alma 12:24.)

President Joseph F. Smith, father of our present prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, made an enlightening comment on this subject. He said, “Many things occur in the world in which it seems very difficult for most of us to find a solid reason for the acknowledgment of the hand of the Lord. I have come to the belief that the only reason I have been able to discover by which we should acknowledge the hand of God in some occurrences is the fact that the thing which has occurred has been permitted of the Lord.” (Gospel Doctrine [Deseret Book Co., 1939], p. 56.) It was not the will of the Lord, but it occurred by permission of the Lord.” (Gospel Doctrine p. 56.) It was not the will of the Lord, but it occurred by permission of the Lord.

George Washington is quoted as having once said, “This liberty will look easy by and by when nobody has to die to get it.”

No doubt many of you fathers have said in your hearts, as did King David when the sad news of his son Absalom’s death was brought to him, and as did Elder Hugh B. Brown when word of his son’s death was carried to him, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam. 18:33.)

And you mothers may have reacted as did that sainted mother of the young Royal Air Force pilot who was lost in an ill-fated flight over the North Sea. Here are the words of Sister Zina C. Brown when her young son, Hugh C., was killed. This lovely wife of Elder Hugh B. Brown, our beloved associate, wrote this, perhaps, as she remembered the words of the Master in Gethsemane:

“Forgive the clouding doubt that one instant hid Thy face from mine.

With my face toward the light I shall walk by faith until my summons come.

Dear Father, through Thy Son I pray and praise Thy Holy name.

And with full heart, made glad by Thy redeeming love, I humbly say, ‘Thy Will Be Done.’”

Another question often asked is, When death from war occurs, what of the promised blessings of the patriarch upon that person’s head? Why are his blessings not permitted to be realized? I think now of a distraught father and mother who had just received that ominous and tersely worded telegram from the government, informing them of the death of their son. They came seeking an interview to see if some light and understanding could be given to ease their aching hearts and to bolster their faith. Just home from a mission for the Church, he’d been inducted into military service. Before leaving, he had received a patriarchal blessing in which he was promised that he would have a posterity of sons and daughters. Had the patriarch’s words been inspired? Why did this promise fail? asked the parents, since to their knowledge their son had lived worthy of every blessing promised to the faithful.

Akin to this is another incident of a sister who had filled a mission and had contracted tuberculosis. Shortly after she returned home, she passed away. I was asked to speak at her funeral service. She had received a patriarchal blessing in which she had been promised that she would be a mother in Israel. The family said that certainly no one had lived a more saintly life than had she. I spoke of this, as it troubled me. The patriarch of the stake spoke at the funeral also. He said, “When a patriarch pronounces an inspired blessing, such a blessing encompasses the whole of life, not just this phase we call mortality.”

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” said the apostle Paul. If we fail to understand this great truth, we will be miserable in time of need, and then sometimes our faith may be challenged. But if we have a faith that looks beyond the grave and trusts in divine providence to bring all things in their proper perspective in due time, then we have hope, and our fears are calmed.

“… faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” declared the prophet Alma; “therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21.) Life does not end with mortal death. Through temple ordinances which bind on earth and in heaven, every promised blessing predicated upon faithfulness will be realized.

One of our friends said to me recently, “I can’t make my wife believe that the Lord always answers prayers; even when he says ‘no’ he’s answered our prayers.”

There is another vital factor in rendering the final judgment, which only an infinite judge can take into account, as to the rewards to be meted out to one who is taken in death before the proverbial allotted time, three score and ten years. You may recall the incident when the Prophet Joseph Smith saw in a vision his father and mother and brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom. Alvin had died in 1824, six years before the Church was organized. Joseph marveled as to how Alvin could have been in the celestial glory, since he had not been baptized. Then the voice of the Lord came to him and said, “All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God … for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, and according to the desires of their hearts.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 380.)

“Let not your heart be troubled” were the first of the parting words of the Master when he said, “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 14:1–3.)

And then 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.)

Having gone through some similar experiences in losing loved ones in death, I speak from personal experience when I say to you who mourn, Do not try to live too many days ahead. The all-important thing is not that tragedies and sorrows come into our lives, but what we do with them. Death of a loved one is the most severe test that you will ever face, and if you can rise above your griefs and if you will trust in God, then you will be able to surmount any other difficulty with which you may be faced.

One of America’s most gifted writers, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote of this after his wife had died three years before; he longed for her still. Time had not softened his grief nor eased the torment of his memories. He had no heart for poetry those days. He had no heart for anything, it seemed. Life had become an empty dream. But this could not go on, he told himself. He was letting the days slip by, nursing his despondency. Life was not an empty dream. He must be up and doing. Let the past bury its dead.

Suddenly Longfellow was writing in a surge of inspiration, the lines coming almost too quickly for his racing pen; and I will read only three verses of this immortal and inspired message to those whom he loved:

“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
“Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
“Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.”

Longfellow wrote these verses, “The Psalm of Life.” He put the poem aside at first, unwilling to show it to anyone. As he later explained, “It was a voice from my inmost heart, at a time when I was rallying from depression.”

The immortal words of Abraham Lincoln come back tonight for us to ponder: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to … bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan—to do all which may achieve … a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.)

The blessing to be found in pain is a right-here, right-now blessing, taking place in the very midst of suffering.

As a result of his many experiences with suffering, that great humanitarian, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, gave this advice: “Don’t vex your mind by trying to explain the suffering you have to endure in this life. Don’t think that God is punishing you or disciplining you or that he has rejected you. Even in the midst of your suffering, you are in his kingdom. You are always his child, and he has his protecting arms around you. Does a child understand everything his father does? No, but he can confidently nestle in his father’s arms and feel perfect happiness, even while tears glisten in his eyes, because he is his father’s child.”

May I now take you to a sacred scene, portraying one whose all seemed to have been slipping from her grasp, and let you feel her strength in a fateful hour! Huddled at the foot of the cross was the silent figure of a beautiful, middle-aged mother, with shawl drawn tightly about her head and shoulders. Cruelly tormented on the cross was her firstborn Son. One can but feebly understand the intensity of the suffering of Mary’s mother-heart. She now faced in reality the import of old Simeon’s doleful prediction as he had blessed this son as a tiny infant child:

“[He shall be] a sign which shall be spoken against;

“Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.” (Luke 2:34–35.)

What was it that sustained her during her tragic ordeal? She knew the reality of an existence beyond mortal life. Had she not conversed with an angel, a messenger of God? She undoubtedly had heard of her son’s last recorded prayer before his betrayal, as has been written by John: “And now, O Father,” he had prayed, “glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.) This sainted mother with bowed head heard his last prayer murmured from the cross through tortured lips: “Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), thus inspiring her with resignation and a testimony of reassurance of a reunion shortly with him and with God, her Heavenly Father. Heaven is not far removed from him who in deep sorrow looks confidently forward to the glorious day of resurrection. It was a wise man who said, “We cannot banish dangers, but we can banish fears. We must not demean life by standing in awe of death.”

Remember the story of Job. After his torment his wife came to him and said: “[Why don’t you] curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9.) And in the majesty of his faith, Job said, “… I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

“And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

“Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” (Job 19:25–27.)

So to you who have lost loved ones, to you who know the pangs of loneliness, some of us have also gone through the fire and understand what it means. We say to you that faith can lift you beyond the sordid trials of the day and point you to the glorious tomorrow that can be yours if you too, like the prophet Job, can say, “I know that my redeemer lives.”

I leave you my blessing, to bring you the peace that can come only from this knowledge and from the witness that you can receive if you will put your trust in your Heavenly Father.

I know that God lives. I know that he has opened the doors to the glorious resurrection. He is biding the time when he shall come again, when the trump shall sound, and those who are ready to come forth in the morning of the resurrection shall come forth to be caught up in the clouds of heaven to meet him.

God grant that we may live to be worthy to be among those who will be with him, I pray, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[illustration] War illustrations from 18th century French manual of war