Q&A: Questions and Answers


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

“If they’re keeping records on the other side, why do we spend so many inefficient hours at it here, especially in genealogical work?”

Answer/Elder Theodore M. Burton

The best answers to questions are those found in the scriptures. If answers are not found there, you can be quite certain that they are not pertinent for us to know at this time. I chuckle when I hear the Lord’s answer to Moses when he wanted to know all about the universe, how it began and how it was organized. (See Moses 1:30.) The Lord simply said:

“For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.” (Moses 1:31.)

In answering some questions, we could well ask: “What difference does it make?” In some cases it makes a great difference; the Lord recognized this when he told Moses that he would give him information on every question that he needed to know as a result of his life here on this earth. God said in explanation:

“But only an account of this earth and the inhabitants thereof give I unto you.” (Moses 1:35.)

Now the student who has asked the above question has asked an important question that does pertain to this earth. God, accordingly, through a prophet, has given us an answer, which I now quote:

“And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. [Rev. 20:12]

“You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.

“Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the ordinances on their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead.” (D&C 128:6–8.)

I have underlined two words which I feel are important. We are responsible for the members of our own family to see that their work has been done. As a result of the four-generation program my brothers and I have hired professional researchers at considerable cost to check every step on one of our ancestral lines. We had long thought the work had been done by our parents and grandparents, for we are four-generation Mormons on all four of our ancestral lines. We found that our dear grandmother and her sisters had never been sealed to their parents and our sweet great grandmother, who was the first to receive the gospel, which has provided us one-fourth of our spiritual heritage, had never been sealed to her husband nor had her children sealed to her.

True there are records in heaven, but what good are they there at present? Temple work cannot be done in heaven but must be done on earth. There will hardly be enough time during the thousand years of the Millennium to take care of the special cases of those whose records have been destroyed or overlooked. We should remember that out of approximately 6,000 years of time when billions of people have come and gone on the earth, we have records for only about the past 400 years. Much of the Millennium must therefore be reserved for those who need proxy work and who lived in times when no records were kept or for which records do not now exist. Then, also, the Ten Tribes have to bring their records too for their own temple work. That will also take a high priority in the Millennium.

The use of our approximately 400 years of records and the use of temples must be a training ground for us, preparing the Church for the time when this temple work will be our major assignment using the experience already gained.

As to records being kept on the other side, the Lord never did work that man could do for himself. “Man’s ways are not my ways,” said the Lord. He could have held up the pioneers for a hundred years and brought them across the plains in air-conditioned Cadillacs, but that would not have tried their faith nor built the strength now found in their descendants. I think there is a parallel here for the pitifully small amount of genealogical work most of our Latter-day Saints are now doing. We could and should do more to exercise our obedience to the Lord and our willingness to make sacrifices because of the faith we have developed.

We must do all we can here and now to do this genealogical work, which sometimes does appear to be inefficient and expensive, but which the Lord, through Joseph Smith said was the “summum bonum” (or the greatest value or the most important part) in the use of the powers of the priesthood. (D&C 128:11.)

Assistant to the Council of the Twelve

What about using playing cards?”

Answer/Elder William H. Bennett

We should not use playing cards because the prophets of God have counseled against it. That in itself should be sufficient reason to leave them alone. There are, however, other reasons we could consider. The greatest loss of power that we have in this world is the loss that results from the failure of individuals to reach their potential. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps one of the most important is failure to use time effectively.

Life is short at best. Furthermore, no matter who we are, we pass through life but once, and whatever record we make is made forever. Unless we put purpose into our living, the hours can slip by and get away from us without our having very much to show for them. Let us think for a moment or two about the letters of the alphabet. There are only 26 of them in our English alphabet. We can repeat them all frontwards and backwards, but they have no meaning when so used because they have not been put together with purpose or direction. The result is quite different when they are creatively put together, however, and the end product may be great poetry, prose, songs, hymns, scientific papers, and so forth.

Ernest Hemingway once said that he found it necessary to rewrite the opening chapters of his books 45 to 50 times before he felt they were ready for public consumption. By working at it in this way he wrote “easy reading.”

Robert Ripley, the “Believe It or Not” man, once pointed out that “a plain unfinished bar of iron is worth five dollars. This same bar of iron when made into horseshoes is worth $10.50. If made into needles it is worth $355. If made into pen-knife blades it is worth $3,285, and if turned into balance springs for watches, that identical bar of iron becomes worth $250,000.” (Gore Michael, “How to Organize Your Time,” Personal Success Program [Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1959], p. 3.)

As it is with this bar of iron, so it is with time. Many people are able to make horseshoes out of each golden hour of time, but very very few have the ability to make of it balance springs for watches.

Let us keep these things in mind as we think about playing cards. Such an activity can take up a lot of time. When we use our time that way, are we using it effectively? There is some fellowshiping in association with others to be sure, but aren’t there better ways for us to use our limited time?

Let us not overlook the fact that some of life’s greatest accomplishments have been made by men who have used their so-called spare time to develop special talents that they possessed. Einstein was a student of mathematics, trained to be a university teacher. But he could not land a teaching appointment, so he took a job as a routine examiner of patent applications in the patent office of Berne, Switzerland. This allowed him ample leisure time. He devoted it to his special talent for mathematics and in 1905 startled the academic world with the most influential thesis since Newton’s laws of gravity, his special theory of relativity. Buttressed by three other papers that he published at the same time, he reshaped the world’s fundamental approach to physics and fathered the intellectual revolution that has made possible the achievements of nuclear science. He let his talent be his guide. (“How to Use Your Spare Time Effectively,” Personal Success Program [Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1963], pp. 8–9.)

Alexander Graham Bell began as a teacher of teachers of the deaf and thus became interested in the mechanics of speech. When he became professor of physiology at Boston University, he pursued the study of electrical transmission of sound in his spare time and invented the telephone. He had an original idea and devoted his free time to perfecting it. (John S. Bonnell, “Putting Purpose into Your Life,” Pageant, January ca. 1963, p. 100.)

John S. Bonnell wrote an article that was published in Pageant Magazine a few years ago under the title “Putting Purpose into Your Life.” He began by asking the question, “Why do so many people fail to catch hold of the abundant and happy life?” He stated that there are really three reasons: (1) They lack purpose. As Voltaire put it, they are like an oven that is always heating but never cooking anything. (2) They lack staying power. At the first taste of success they begin to slow down, to turn aside, or to falter. (3) They make no genuine effort to correct their faults. (Bonnell, p. 100.)

We all have the same amount of time at our disposal each day we live—24 hours. How are we going to use it? We make that choice because we have our free agency. Let us not squander or waste our days away, for if we do, we will end up with many blanks in our lives where there could have been a rich harvest of worthwhile, satisfying living.

Assistant to the Council of the Twelve

“Why is fasting so important and how do you make it work?”

Answer/ Stephen R. Covey

Many of us “repent” of the same sins again and again, but we don’t repent of sinning. For instance, we may be lazy or selfish or cowardly or prideful or bad tempered or impure or irreverent or whatever, and from time to time temporarily feel sorry and repentant over the unhappy consequences that follow, but these habits and tendencies may still persist. Unless we change our life-style by rooting out of our nature these deeply imbedded habits and dispositions, we will continue on in a self-deceiving, circular process of making and breaking resolutions to change and improve.

We simply can’t repent of our sins unless we repent of our sinning, unless we change our life-style, our basic habit patterns. In other words, we need to change our method of changing ourselves. We need a power source to help us, one that is stronger and more penetrating than the strength and depth of these habits.

The gospel is that power source, and fasting is one gospel practice that, I believe and have found for myself, helps immeasurably to open up and release those divine powers on our nature.

Why so, you ask?

I believe this happens in three ways. First, voluntarily going without food and water is very physical, very concrete. It represents a break in eating life-style itself. We take charge of our own appetites, which in my opinion is a first step in mastering our passions and in placing our own spirit under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. After 40 days of fasting Christ’s own first temptation was to his appetites—then to his passions (pride, vanity) and ultimate desires and motives. The body is a good servant but a bad master. President McKay continually taught self-mastery as a characteristic of true spirituality—“Spirituality is a consciousness of victory over self. …”

Second, fasting humbles and subdues our spirit. We become aware of our limitations, our dependency on our Creator and his creations (food) for life itself. As the Holy Spirit works on us, we become more sensitive to the unseen realities; our awareness of our shortcomings and true spiritual nature enlarges; our sense of need for a Savior and faith in Christ as our Savior increases; our desire and ability to fully confess and repent deepens.

Third, these spiritual endeavors will focus and unify our thinking and feeling so we can renew our covenant relationship with the Lord. When our minds are truly made up, we keep the promises we make. The sacrament is the ordained, divine channel to express these promises and commitments—to renew our covenants. We witness or promise to take upon ourselves his name and to keep his commandments, which would include both his general commandments given through his prophets, ancient and modern, and his personal commandments given through his Holy Spirit to our conscience.

As we promise or covenant, the Lord covenants. He promises us his Spirit, which is the key to every good thing in time and in eternity. Such a releasing of the powers of godliness into our lives through faith in Christ, repentance through his power, and covenant making with him will enable us to overcome deeply imbedded habits and dispositions and to gradually become a partaker of the divine nature.

I believe that just as the Lord told his disciples that certain spiritual blessings can only come by a faith born of both prayer and fasting (see Matt. 17:14–21), so also certain malignant sinful dispositions and cancerous habit patterns can only be broken by a faith and faithfulness inspired by both prayer and fasting.

Just as we can be, in one sense, active in the Church without being active in the gospel, so also can we fast and not receive the above-mentioned benefits. I offer four suggestions regarding how to fast.

1. Divine purpose and spirit. Prepare to fast. Pray for the true spirit of fasting. Think about your spiritual needs and/or about others’ physical and spiritual needs. Fast in order to come unto Him; to be more like Him. Fast from worldliness as well as food, from anything that causes static in your spirit.

2. Prayer. This means two-way communication. Listen as well as express. Be very open and receptive to the still, small voice. Dialogue. Don’t counsel the Lord how to bless you as much as desiring to take counsel from him.

3. Feast. Feast (savor, treasure, meditate, adore, worship) on His love and His word. Prayerfully ponder the scriptures when you otherwise would be eating, or at other appropriate times.

4. Serve. In various ways get outside yourself in love. (Study Isa. 58.) Give of yourself. Pay your fast offerings (cost of two missed meals minimum) to the poor through His priesthood channel. Bear testimony at fast and testimony meeting. Express love and appreciation to your loved ones, leaders, and teachers. Forgive. Make reconciliation with any offended or offenders.

Remember—getting bogged down in a lot of introspective self-analysis will serve to undermine the spirit of resolute and devoted service.

Two cautions:

1. Avoid extremism in fasting. Sometimes it’s easier to try to work on our relationship with God through fasting, prayer, and scripture study than to love and serve his other children or to repair broken human relations. Just as we can sometimes avoid confronting our real spiritual need to change and repent by intellectualizing about gospel principles, so also can we escape dealing with pulsating spiritual needs and service hungers by theatrical and/or excessive fasting. Unless otherwise directed by the Spirit to fast more frequently, we can gain the blessings of fasting by following the Church practice of fasting for two consecutive meals once a month on the designated fast Sunday.

2. Don’t take fasting lightly. Fasting and prayer with the Spirit can literally release the powers of heaven in our lives. We shouldn’t toy and play games with it or it will turn to our condemnation, and then we will harden to the principle.

When we really want to change or to undertake any worthy project requiring fasting and prayer for God’s help, we’d better be prepared for things to happen according to our needs and his will in his time rather than our wants and our will in our time. We may be given very difficult and trying experiences, but if we stay true and faithful, all things will work together for our good, and we will come to a divine perspective and see how the Lord was fashioning us to his service, was making us “fishers of men”.

Finally, let us remember that any time we break our addiction to anything, whether it be drugs, certain foods, or habits, we will go through a certain painful withdrawal process. For instance, when we fast, we may experience headaches caused by withdrawing from certain foods to which we have become addicted. We then may become edgy and irritable and lose the whole spirit of the fast. But if we are aware of the forces at play and “stick with it,” we can experience a degree of physical cleansing and breaking of the food addiction in addition to conquering a naturally bad temper.

These physical illustrations have many spiritual parallels in my opinion. Never abort second birth processes because of the labor pains.

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Business Management, Brigham Young University