A word to the teachers out there. I know what you are thinking. Something like, “Ugh. I got the death lesson?!” So, if you have a family event in another ward that might precipitate trading this week, always a good plan. But for you unlucky suckers who drew the short straw, here goes!
Joseph Smith had a lot of experience with grieving. The lesson lists his bereavement resume in a jumbled order, so here it is chronologically:
- 1810 – brother Ephraim died (JS age 5)
- 1823 – brother Alvin died (JS age 18)
- 1828 – lost first son, Alvin (JS age 23)
- 1831 – twin children Louisa & Thadeus died (JS age 26)
- 1832 – adopted twin son Joseph died due to exposure from mobbing incident (JS age 27)
- 1840 – father Joseph, Sr. died (JS age 35)
- 1841 – son Don Carlos died and brother Don Carlos died (JS age 36)
- 1842 – other unnamed son died (JS age 37)
Q: How did Joseph’s life experiences influence the revelations he received and the foundational concepts of the restored church?
How to Give Comfort
I feel disposed to speak on the subject in general, and offer you my ideas, so far as I have ability, and so far as I shall be inspired by the Holy Spirit to dwell on this subject. (1844)
So, he is not making a pronouncement of doctrine or revelation. He just says that he feels moved to speak because he has experience. Perhaps, there’s a bit of counsel here for all of us – if you don’t have experience with grieving, you don’t need to speak about it. At times, people seem willing to chip in their two cents because they understand the Plan of Salvation, but they may do it in a ham-fisted way because they really don’t have experience with actual grieving. So, mourn with those that mourn. But if you don’t have mourning experience, shut yer trap. (Since I have very little personal experience, I fall into the latter camp).
Q: Many people join the church because they seek comfort at the time of grieving. How can we offer lasting comfort and not just empty platitudes?
How to Understand Truth
I want your prayers and faith that I may have the instruction of Almighty God and the gift of the Holy Ghost, so that I may set forth things that are true and which can be easily comprehended by you, and that the testimony may carry conviction to your hearts and minds of the truth of what I shall say. (1844)
He doesn’t specifically say that all he is going to say will be true, just that he wants to share truth and a hope that individuals will be able to feel the conviction of what is true in their hearts and minds.
Q: Why is it important that Joseph acknowledged he wasn’t always speaking doctrine or revelation, but sometimes just an opinion?
How to Live & How to Die
And may we contemplate these things so? Yes, if we learn how to live and how to die.
This has been a warning voice to us all to be sober and diligent and lay aside mirth, vanity and folly, and to be prepared to die tomorrow. (1843)
For some reason, the highlighted phrase sounds like the Klingons (sorry, non-Trekkers) saying, “Today is a good day to die.”
Q: What does this counsel mean to you?
“The Dead” vs. Death
I have a father, brothers, children, and friends who have gone to a world of spirits. They are only absent for a moment. They are in the spirit, and we shall soon meet again. The time will soon arrive when the trumpet shall sound. When we depart, we shall hail our mothers, fathers, friends, and all whom we love, who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1844)
When we lie down we contemplate how we may rise in the morning; and it is pleasing for friends to lie down together, locked in the arms of love, to sleep and wake in each other’s embrace and renew their conversation. (1843)
This makes death sound more like a slumber party than being torn from our loved ones, or like Brigadoon. Joseph does not talk about death conceptually at all; he only speaks of “the dead,” those people whom we love, with whom we have shared our lives, and with whom we will commune once more. This is another insight into Joseph’s views on the communal nature of worship and salvation, that we covenant with other seekers of Christ, and we bear one anothers’ burdens, and rise together and greet one another with joy in the resurrection.
Q: Why is it significant to speak of “the dead” rather than “death” in LDS doctrine? What is the difference?
Parents Grieving for Children
He told us that we should receive those children in the morning of the resurrection just as we laid them down, in purity and innocence, and we should nourish and care for them as their mothers. He said that children would be raised in the resurrection just as they were laid down, and that they would obtain all the intelligence necessary to occupy thrones, principalities and powers. (Mary Isabella Horne remembering Joseph’s words in a statement she gave in 1896)
Q: How does this idea provide comfort to grieving parents?
Joseph made a lot of these statements in 1844, right before his own death. How was Joseph an example of someone who knew how to live and how to die?
What are your thoughts on this difficult lesson? Anything particularly resonate for you? Any additional words of advice for those teaching it?