Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine.

“What is the function of the Granite Mountain Records Vault?”

Answer/ Theodore M. Burton

One gasoline bomb thrown at an archive during a spontaneous riot or in a spirit of mad revenge may destroy priceless records that can never be replaced. A hurricane may blow devastatingly across a continent’s coastal regions or a typhoon may attack an island. A sudden night fire caused by a defective lighting system may make ashes of records that have been handled with tender care for hundreds of years. Vandals may pillage a parish church and dump priceless record books in a field to be destroyed by the elements. A riot or revolt caused by political agitators may lead to the burning of a library’s precious collection in the city square. And threatening still, as in all ages of mankind, are destructive wars.

The need for safeguarding the world’s vital records, original manuscripts, histories, biographies, and other genealogical records has long plagued mankind. Where and how can records be protected from destruction by the elements, the ravages of time, and the destructions of man?

Through microfilming, copies of original documents are being made in every corner of the earth; and thereby, copies of millions of pages of records are presently being stored safely and securely. The Church’s Genealogical Society is engaged in one of the most active and comprehensive genealogical programs ever known. Microfilming is the heart of this multi-million dollar genealogical operation. Microfilm photographers are filming records daily in locations the world over. Such documents as land grants, deeds, probate records, marriage records, cemetery records, parish registers, and other records known to be of genealogical value are being filmed. Over three-quarters of a million rolls of microfilm have been accumulated thus far, and several thousand new rolls are processed each month. The present collection of microfilmed records represents the equivalent of more than three million printed volumes of three hundred pages each.

To be lasting, the microfilm copies must be preserved under ideal storage conditions in an area offering protection from the violences of earth and man. High in the rugged Rocky Mountains of western North America, such a storage facility has been constructed. Protected beneath hundreds of feet of solid granite and high above the valley floor, safe from spring floods, a genealogical storage complex has been built by the Church. Safe storage is now being provided for millions of microfilm copies of priceless vital records.

The protection the Granite Mountain Records Vault affords cannot be equaled in an outdoor structure. There is nearly 300 feet of solid granite above the vault’s laboratory and office area and 700 feet above the six huge vault storage rooms. The storage area has three access tunnels faced with heavy bank vault doors in very strong encasements. The large door in the center tunnel weighs more than fourteen tons, and the narrower doors in the east and west tunnels weigh nine tons each.

The microfilming program was initiated in 1938 to help Church members have access to the records needed to identify their ancestors. The program is expanding each year as archivists of church, municipal, county, and state record repositories become aware of this undertaking and recognize its value. Upon request and according to planned schedules, the Genealogical Society microfilms records at no cost to repositories. A positive copy of the microfilmed records is usually donated to the repository for the privilege of microfilming.

It is the desire and goal of the Church to gather and preserve copies of the world’s genealogical information recorded through the ages into one central storage area where they will be safe from the ravages of nature and the destructions of man. This worthwhile purpose is being realized as each day cameras click in archive repositories the world over. The magnificent complex machinery is in motion, and in an efficient, businesslike manner, page by page and book by book, these records are being stored as priceless treasures, securely protected in the tops of the mountains.

Assistant to the Council of the Twelve

“When Christ appears again, will people actually be ‘caught up’ to meet him, actually lifted up from the earth like the people in the city of Enoch?”

Answer/ Sidney B. Sperry

The answer to this question is a simple yes. Let me illustrate it with a few citations from scripture. In the Doctrine and Covenants, in a context dealing with our Lord’s second advent, notice these words:

“And the saints that are upon the earth, who are alive, shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him.” (D&C 88:96. Italics added.)

Notice also these words in Doctrine and Covenants 27:18:

“… and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also.” [D&C 27:18] (Italics added.)

In another passage of scripture, in some respects even more remarkable for its clarity, the Apostle Paul makes this observation concerning the second coming of the Savior:

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thes. 4:16–17. Italics added.)

Although it thus appears perfectly clear that there will be people literally “caught up” to meet the Lord at his coming, it does not follow that all people on the rolls of the Church will have this blessed privilege. Even as those who are heirs of telestial glory “will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud” (D&C 76:102), so a large proportion of Church members will not be “caught up.” Such is my opinion and for the following reasons. First of all, notice these scriptures:

“And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.

“For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.” (D&C 45:56–57. Italics added.)

“… in the day of the coming of the Son of Man.

“And until that hour there will be foolish virgins among the wise; and at that hour cometh an entire separation of the righteous and the wicked.” (D&C 63:53–54.)

As the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matt. 25) makes clear, many members on the rolls of the Church will have no oil (or very little) in their lamps when the bridegroom comes, and they will not be in a spiritual condition suitable to be caught up to meet him.

Finally, it should be noticed that the Lord says that those who are of the Church of the Firstborn (D&C 76:54) are “they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people” (D&C 76:63). Isn’t it therefore reasonable to believe that only the most spiritual and righteous of the Saints on earth will be worthy to be caught up into the heavens and return to the earth with the Lord’s Church of the Firstborn? As a matter of fact, relatively few Saints have been sealed up unto eternal life, thus to become members of the Church of the Firstborn. Nevertheless, there are many who are keeping holy covenants made with the Lord, Saints who, if they remain faithful, will eventually become members of it. The Lord may permit a goodly number of these to be caught up to meet him. Our knowledge is incomplete in this respect.

Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Languages and Literature Brigham Young University

“What was the ark of the covenant, and does it exist in any form today?”

Answer/ Edward J. Brandt

Shortly after the children of Israel had been led from bondage in Egypt, Moses was commanded to prepare a tabernacle—a portable temple—to be used by them until they were settled in the land of promise. (D&C 124:38.) In consequence of the unfaithfulness of the people, the fulness of the priesthood and its ordinances were taken from them and a lesser order of priesthood established among them. (D&C 84:17–27.) The tabernacle was then adopted as the sanctuary where the ordinances of this lesser priesthood were to be exercised. Its design and furnishings were revealed from God, and once completed, it was dedicated to the Lord and his service. Thereafter, this portable edifice was transported and cared for only by the authorized priesthood in Israel.

The most important of the furnishings of the tabernacle was the ark of the covenant, which is also spoken of in the scriptures by other names—ark of the testimony, ark of the Lord, and ark of the covenant of the Lord. It was a chest made of shittim (acacia) wood, approximately 4 by 2 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet in size, that was overlaid with gold. Rings were set on the corners so that gold-covered poles might be used to carry the ark. Also made of gold and completing the ark was a lid or covering (called the ‘mercy seat’) with two cherubs positioned upon it facing each other. (Ex. 25:10–22.) Within the ark were placed the second tables of stone, which included thereon the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 25:16; JST, Deut. 10:1–5.) Other sacred memorials were also stored there from time to time. (Heb. 9:4–5; 1 Kgs. 8:19.)

The ark was placed in the most sacred compartment in the tabernacle—the Holy of Holies. It stood as a continual reminder of the atonement to be carried out by Jesus Christ. The highest ordinances of ancient Israel under the Mosaic law required the high priest of the Levites to annually enter the most holy place and symbolically effect the atonement in behalf of the priesthood, who in turn represented the people. The mercy seat as a covering for the chest symbolized the atonement itself, which is a covering of the sins of the repentant. In addition the lid was the place where God would come to direct and be with Israel. From above the mercy seat within the sacred chamber he would appear or speak to his representatives. (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89) As the presence of God is veiled from mortal man, so the ark, the symbol of God’s presence was veiled when outside the tabernacle. As an emblem of God’s direction of Israel, the ark was carried at the head of the people whether in travel or war. For ancient Israel, the ark of the covenant was a significant emblem that represented the power, goodness, mercy, and direction of God unto his chosen people.

The ark was transported from Sinai to the land of promise. The miraculous crossing of the Jordan River (Josh. 3:3–17) and the fall of the city of Jericho (Josh. 6:1–21) evidence the importance of the ark of the Lord to the Israelites. Once in the land of promise the ark was cared for in various places until its place of permanent rest, the temple, was constructed. During the reign of the Judges, the ark was found at the town of Bethel. (Judg. 20:27.) While Samuel was the prophet and until the war with the Philistines, the ark was located at Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:9, 3:3); during the war it was taken to the battlefield called Ebenezer, where it was captured. For seven months the Philistines were plagued and severely smitten because of their unauthorized possession of the ark. This caused them to return the ark to the Israelites, which they did at the village of Kirjath-jearim. (1 Sam. 4–6.) Here it remained some twenty years, ignored by King Saul except for one battle when its presence had been requested. Finally King David brought the ark to Jerusalem, and after some years his son Solomon constructed the long-awaited temple.

Through the years of war and conflict that followed, the ark of the covenant remained among the people of Israel in the Kingdom of Judah. The last mention of it is made during the days of the reform of King Josiah. From this point on, the scripture is silent as to the location and existence of the ark. The Jewish historian Josephus records that the temple of Herod in Jerusalem at the time of Christ did not contain the ark. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, bk. V, v. 5.) Jewish traditions suggest that either Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the ark along with the temple in his conquest of Judah, or that before the destruction of the temple, Jeremiah, the prophet, hid the ark in the mount from where Moses had centuries before viewed the land of promise (Mt. Nebo), and there it was to remain until God gathered his people again. Its final end or even its possible existence today has not been revealed. Latter-day Saints do, however, sing of the ark in the sacramental hymn “I Stand All Amazed.” (Hymns, no. 80.) In the third stanza it states, “I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,” recognizing the ark as a memorial of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The story of Uzzah, who aided the men of Israel in the transport of the ark to Jerusalem, illustrates an important lesson for Latter-day Saints. The Lord had specified that the ark was always to be carried by the poles and only by duly authorized persons. The chosen representatives of all Israel were assembled as an escort, and Uzzah and his brother were given the responsibility for the cart. En route to the city, one of the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, shaking the ark. Uzzah put forth his hand to “steady the ark” and was smitten by the Lord. The ark represented God’s direction of Israel and his presence among them, which they had chosen to ignore. The disregard for the Lord’s established order brought judgment upon Israel and Uzzah.

In our time we have been warned of the condemnation and judgments that will come upon those who attempt to “steady the ark”—upon those who attempt to give self-assumed guidance to the kingdom of God or any of its parts. (D&C 85:8–9.) The Prophet Joseph Smith said of the direction of the Church in difficult and turbulent conditions and times: “… men cannot steady the ark—my arm cannot do it—God must steady it.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 20.)

Salt Lake Institute of Religion