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What Earthly Good Are Heavenly Beings?


Earth life often seems to be long stretches of darkness punctuated by rare pinpricks of light.
Some years ago my dear father was giving me a tour of the Church Office Building where he worked. As we walked along a hall, a short man stepped out of an office into the hall. We paused and stared. We were face-to-face with Spencer W. Kimball. He might have dashed off to important business. Instead he came to a young gawker and greeted me warmly. I am still warmed by the blessing of greeting a prophet.

Yet must mortality be so spiritually barren that we count ourselves lucky if we have a single encounter with a prophet in an entire lifetime? Who among us would not love to spend an hour with one of our heroes? Who would not like to be personally instructed by Gordon B. Hinckley? Who wouldn’t want to spend time with beloved ancestors?

I have sometimes wished I could spend an hour with my great-grandfather. In 1879 he immigrated from England to the United States, following his girlfriend whose parents had joined the Church. As he sold Bibles across Utah, Latter-day Saints opened the scriptures to him. He joined the Church, served a mission, struggled to find his niche, and ultimately became a spokesman for the Church, serving as chief of the Bureau of Information on Temple Square for 27 years. I would love to sit at his feet and have him tell me about his spiritual journey and life lessons. I would never miss another family home evening if I knew I could be taught by great-grandfather Ben.

Heavenly classes

I would also love to spend time with Elijah. After showing a great manifestation of God’s power to assembled Israel, he hoped to turn the spiritual tide for the nation. But Queen Jezebel put out a death warrant for the disturber of her apostate religion. Elijah shrank to the desert, begging the Lord to take his life. God invited Elijah to trek 40 days across desolation to Mount Horeb where Elijah learned that God was not in the wind, earthquake, or fire; He was in the still, small voice. I would love to have Elijah teach me in periodic training sessions about finding God’s power in our lives.

I would love to spend an hour with Mary, the mother of our Lord. That sweet, devoted, faithful woman who, when asked to do the impossible, replied: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). She never quite understood everything that she saw. But she had the faith to keep “all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; cf. 2:33, 2:51). I don’t think that I would have any questions for Mary. I would love to simply feel her faithful spirit as she recounted those days of wonder as mother to that remarkable boy.

Elisha is one of my scriptural favorites. In his life and ministry there is an amazing theme of seeing rightly (see 2 Kings 6:8–22). His helper saw enemy warriors but failed to see the heavenly protection all around them. “And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). So Elisha approached the Aramean army that had come to capture him. He closed their eyes so that he could lead them into Israelite captivity. When the king of Israel found he had enemy hostages, he was ready to kill them. Elisha taught him to see the opportunity to minister to his captives, thereby making them into friends. I would love to have Elisha keep me company and teach me about seeing as heaven sees.
There are so many others! I would like to sit at the feet of Moses and be taught about the lessons he learned in Egypt, the desert, at the edge of the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. I would love to have Adam share with me about making the journey through thistle and briar in companionship with such a spiritual giant as Eve.

I would love to have the unnamed woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee describe the experience of being lifted from despair to peace by the Prince of Peace. I would love to have an hour with my departed father to get his counsel and one more father’s blessing. I would love to have an hour with my maternal grandfather, Harold E. Wallace, to learn about his lifetime of family and community service.

I cannot number all those whose eyes could restore my soul, whose words could stretch my faith, and whose stories could enlarge my appreciation of God. Yet as I reflect on this yearning, I realize that our heartfelt wishes are clues to eternal possibilities. Someday I hope to be taught by others who have gone before me in this journey and who have been true believers.

Maybe in the eternal worlds I can enroll for Making Room for God by Emptying Ourselves of Ourselves by Alma the Younger. I would like to pre-register for Advanced Rejoicing by Ammon. I would wait centuries for the chance to take Learning by Experience to Know Good from Evil by Mother Eve.

We could spend eternity learning from those Great Souls who have written the history of this world with their love and faith. How will we fit it all in? Eternity will be packed with learning—not only from those giants who fill the pages of scripture but also those unnamed thousands, nay, millions, who have struggled against spiritual odds and kept their eyes single to the glory of God. How will we find time for it all?

Time and eternity

Alma gives us an answer. He taught that “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). Time binds us to mortality but disappears in eternity. Since time is not an issue in the eternal worlds, maybe we will not have to crowd into a vast coliseum to hear Joseph of ancient Israel teach about Keeping Faith During Twelve Years in Prison. Maybe we can be mentored and tutored individually. Imagine— we could sit with Joseph as he teaches us how he resisted Potiphar’s wife and, more amazingly, how he kept growing spiritually while incarcerated unjustly for year after year. I would love to hear him tell about the ways he kept himself spiritually fit and energized.

Maybe when time is no more, I can spend ten years (whatever that means in eternity) being trained by Elisha on Seeing Correctly: The Mountains Are Filled. I would like to spend one hundred years with Joseph Smith learning about Being Tutored by Immortals. He was the master of that subject.

Lucy Mack Smith reported that Joseph “would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them” (History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, p. 83). How much we could learn about spiritual sensitivity from Joseph Smith.

I would love to spend time with Nephi studying Being Naïve Enough to Trust. Nephi regularly chose simple faith over complicated sophistry. There is much that we moderns could learn from him.

Traveling across time

Some of these great lessons are available to us now as we study the accounts in scripture and seek the insight that heaven gladly grants. Anyone who has had the scriptures come to life before his or her eyes knows the miracle of having the “eyes of our understanding opened.” In fact, maybe immortals stand ready to whisper words of counsel to us even now. Maybe we can call on ancestors to look after, teach, and bless members of our families who are struggling. Maybe we can be taught and comforted by those who have an eternal perspective. Maybe we open our eyes to eternity.

A few years ago I made a list of those places in the history of this world that I would like to see. The list did not include the big historical moments such as the parting of the Red Sea; they were more personal. I wanted to be there on July 13, 1929, when Ben Goddard was honored at a reception after almost thirty years of serving on Temple Square. I wanted to see admiring friends and beloved family greet my dear great-grandfather. I wanted to see my father, who was then 12 years old, serve refreshments to guests. So I studied Ben’s life, work, and documents. I studied his patriarchal blessing and letters. I found a quiet time to imagine that scene. I went there. Because I have taken part in his life, Ben continues to be a blessed inspiration to me.

I testify that heavenly beings, eternal truths, and scenes from the history of this world are more available to us than we ever supposed. May the Lord open our eyes. The mountains and plains are full of eternity.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Charmaine January 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I teach people the importance of writing their personal family stories and spiritual experiences. When we do this we create an opportunity for our posterity to walk with us even after we die. You are a master of this Wally. I wish we all understood that the only thing we can really leave are our words. Hasn’t the scriptures taught us this? Do we think our testimony is any less important than Nephi’s or Joseph Smith’s? When we write we become truely immortal.

  • Reply Kristen January 3, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Thank you. This was beautifully written. Some of the Great Souls I would like to take classes from are Abraham (I think he could teach everything), Jacob (Nephi’s brother), and the Apostle Paul. And there are other Great Souls like you pointed out: the grandparents I never knew, the older brother who died when I was young, my parents and aunts I didn’t learn enough from while they were here. I pray the Lord will help me open my eyes and take time to ponder their words and my memories of them.

  • Reply Claudia January 20, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I was trying to explain to a family member just the other day how family relationships continue past this life, as my relationship with my mother has continued to grow and flourish, even since her passing.

    I also related the same idea to a woman who is in the process of losing her mother. She said my ideas rang true to her and brought her much comfort.

    Thank you, Wally, for sharing with all of us through writing the truths we already know in our hearts, but perhaps have not put into words. It is wonderful to have them put into words to share. I think about how I can do so much better in this regard, though sometimes the sheer volume of the media available to us can be overwhelming. At the heart of my reticence may be what Charmaine alluded to — the fear that our words won’t be important enough, or convey anything new. But certainly this is not the case.

    I also love the scipture you quoted by Alma about time. I had not thought of time in quite this way before, though it makes perfect sense once said. Haven’t we all had experiences where time stood still or didn’t seem to matter? I think that is what eternity will be like, where time ceases to exist as we measure it. Claudia

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