It’s cold comfort when, as a faithful Saint in a situation outside the ideal, you get repeated platitudes about everything being better… after you die. If you’re a sister who is righteous, you will find a husband… after you die (Though Steve P’s scientific demographics cause one to wonder.) If your children are not sealed to you, it will be worked out… after you die. If you have questions that you simply cannot resolve in the hallway outside Releif Society where you sit crying yet again, never fear sister, you can ask the Lord… after you die.
I have to admit, it was with this ever-so-slight tinge of bitterness that I began listening to Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk in the Sunday session of General Conference. Oh no, please…not again. Perhaps it was time to go start the breakfast dishes? Or build another block tower with the kids? Yet there I sat, in my sunbeam on the couch, perhaps from laziness, and I forgot about hiding in the kitchen. I was rewarded as I listened to an apostle of the Lord address me in a way I found surprisingly candid and valuable.
Elder Cook didn’t wade in gradually or frolic in the shallow end of the pool- he opened by talking about the suffering, pain and death of innocents the world over- citing victims of war, natural disaster, evil and human cruelty. He spoke of collective mourning and bearing of one another’s burdens- and I thought of Sunny’s poignant and beautiful post commemorating 9/11.
Among the most frequently asked questions of church leaders are: “Why does a just God allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?” and “Why are those who are righteous in the Lord’s service not immune from such tragedies?”
Elder Cooks knows there are no answers to these questions, as do any of us who have experienced any modicum of life, and he falls back on some very basic Gospel building blocks- enumerating the love of God, the power of the Atonement, and the Plan of Salvation, including the familiar three-act-play, mortality being the middle act. He then give us two historical stories from the sinking of the Titanic, now approaching its 100-year anniversary.
The first story is of a group of Elders returning from missionary service who reschedule their Titanic passage for the following day on another liner, due to their desire to all stay together. They are saved from sure loss, and thanked the Lord for preserving them. Elder Cook points out that it would be easy to assume their preservation was due to righteousness, but we are not entitled to such a presemption. He follows their story with that of an equally righteous Saint who lost her life aboard the Titanic, returning from midwifery school in London, while she passed on the safety of lifeboats to tend the wounded.
“In many ways the sinking of the Titanic is a metaphor for life and many gospel principles. it is a perfect example of the difficulty of only looking through the lens of this mortal life. The loss of life was catastrophic in its consequences but was an accidental nature.”
Sometimes, great blessings come to those who are faithful- this is true, but Elder Cook quickly followed these stories with what I held to be the true meat of his talk:
“Adverse results in this mortal life are not evidence of lack of faith or of an imperfection in our Father in Heaven’s overall plan. The refiners fire is real, and the qualities of character and righteousness that are forged in the furnace of affliction perfect and purity us and prepare us to meet God.”
Oh thank you, Elder Cook! I know this doesn’t give me any answers to keep from wondering what happens…after I die. But it does shine some Apostolic light on the frequent shadow I feel over what must I have done to bring on my less-than-perfect life.
I believe one of the reasons we ask and seek answers to unknowable questions is akin to whistling past a graveyard. If we can turn the person who has painful life events into The Other- into someone who surely must have done something, deserved it somehow- then it allows us to hold tighter to the idea that we are safe. It’s a false comfort, but is born out of the very human desire to waylay the pain and uncertainty of life.
Cutting right to the chase, Elder Cook tells us, in no uncertain terms, while obedience to God’s laws could save us some trials, that obedience is no guarantee or promise of a life without pain or tribulation. It is only the Savior’s atonement that covers all of the unfairness in life.
“With our limited understanding, we lament the things that will be not accomplished and the songs that will not be sung. This has been described as dying with your music still inside you. Music in this case is the metaphor for unfulfilled potential of any kind.”
This is the crux of the human heart, right here. This is why we seek answers- why we fear the loss, why, even those of us that try to live faithful lives, fear our own mortality and our own frailty. We so often lack the modicum of faith required to actually believe that our songs are not, in fact, lost.
And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing. 
There is promise in those words- a promise that is richer, more nuanced and full than any question I could ask. I’ve sung that song dozens of times, and never been particularly struck by it, but that small verse actually holds a promise that answers all of my “…after I die” cynicism. No matter what befalls us in this mortal life, what pain brings us to our knees, or perhaps even takes our very voices; our songs are not lost. I’ll take those words from an Apostle any day, and put them in my pocket for next time I feel like whistling past the graveyard.
 Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today”, No. 227, 1985