Plan of Salvation: Shark Edition

As I was reading chapter 3 the Joseph Fielding Smith manual for tomorrow, I came across the awesomest sentence fragment I have ever read in a Teachings of the Prophet manual. It also happens to be the awesomest example ever used to explain resurrection. As he describes the universality of the resurrection, Pres. Smith writes:

Every fundamental part of every body will be restored to its proper place again in the resurrection, no matter what may become of the body in death. If it be burned by fire, eaten by sharks, no matter what. Every fundamental part of it will be restored to its own proper place. [Emphasis added.]

Seriously: sharks. To illustrate that no damage is too bad for a body to be resurrected in its perfect form.

I mean, fire I get. Fire’s both seriously destructive and not uncommon, especially in the dry west. But Salt Lake is relatively landlocked and, as I read it, I wondered why Pres. Smith chose sharks as his illustration.[fn1]

My initial thought was that sharks were on peoples’ minds because of the 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks. Sure, New Jersey’s a long way from Salt Lake, but the Salt Lake Tribune seemed to cover the attacks pretty extensively.[fn2]

There’s a potential problem with claiming the shark reference was inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks, though: the paragraph comes from volume 5 of  Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions. And the five volumes of Answers to Gospel Questions were published between 1957 and 1966.

Those shark attacks could still have been on Pres. Smith’s mind, of course. He was about 40 years old when they happened so, while not formative in his life, he would have certainly been aware of the news. Still, somewhere between 40 and 50 years after the fact (and a decade or so before Jaws was released), 1916 seems a little attenuated to be the impetus.

Then a friend pointed out the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.[fn3] That 1945 tragedy led to possibly the most shark attacks on humans in history. That fits better into the timeframe that Pres. Smith would have been answering, and would be more likely to have been on people’s minds.

Of course, it could equally well have been something else. Still, whatever the reason that Pres. Smith invoked sharks to assert the universality of resurrection, I will always be grateful that he did.

[fn1] Besides the obvious fact that sharks are awesome, of course.

[fn2] Okay, not enough words for all the links. See also here and here. What I’m trying to say is, the news made it to Utah.

[fn3] Go about halfway down the article for the sharks to show up.


  1. Nice eye. Upon reflection, “eaten by sharks” does seem to be a somewhat bizarre choice.

  2. Holy crap that’s a horrifying story. I remember it from Jaws, but didn’t realize it wasn’t hyperbole spun for the movie.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    I imagine he wanted a response to the question of what happens to our parts when they are incorporated into the flesh of another being (the medieval Christians were all over this stuff). So the question then is what would consume a person? Mountain lions would have been more proximate, but do they eat people or just attack those that get in their ways?

  4. Pres. Monson used the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis to his own rhetorical purposes a few years ago:

    And I remembered having heard a first-hand account from a veteran here in Utah, and found this really harrowing account:

  5. J., I’m sure that’s right. Still, on first reading, using sharks seemed really dissonant, and made me wonder if he was answering in the wake of some sort of shark-attack publicity.

  6. Christopher J. says:

    A bit of searching suggests the early 1950s actually witnessed several isolated shark attacks — certainly nothing on the level of the 1916 Jersey Shore or 1945 USS Indianapolis episodes, but probably enough to gain some national press:,_unprovoked_shark_attacks_in_the_United_States#1950s

  7. Is this post the start of shark week at BCC?

  8. He served his mission in Great Britain and would have traveled by sea. Maybe he had heard about shark attacks and thought about that while on his way to serve. Maybe that was reinforced by the later events mentioned in the post.

    I appreciate the reference and the background. There often is more of interest to be found in the lessons than we realize upon a quick read – or no read and just a lesson in a classroom.

  9. I shared the quote with a friend. His response:

    “Better hope you’re not a transplant recipient if the donor is resurrected before you die.”

  10. So this is the quote that led to the evil “every molecule” folk doctrine!

  11. melodynew says:

    Ray’s friend for the win.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    I actually imagine that this was part of the reticence of some Mormons towards organ donation in the 20th century.

  13. J. Stapley says:

    I just did a quick search. When BY addressed the Saints after the grave-robber Jean Baptiste was revealed, he discussed the resurrection and the implications of proper burial, including sharks:

    We are here in circumstances to bury our dead according to the order of the Priestood. But some of our brethren die upon the ocean; they cannot be buried in a burying ground, but they are sewed up in canvas and east into the sea, and perhaps in two minutes after they are in the bowels of the shark, yet those persons will come forth in the resurrection, and receive all the glory of which they are worthy, and be clothed upon with all the beauty of resurrected Saints, as much so as if they had been laid away in a gold or silver coffin, and in a place expressly for burying the dead.

  14. melodynew says:

    This post, with ensuing discussion, is among the reasons I love being LDS . . . I remember having conversations as a young woman with LDS peers about how we could possibly get all our “parts” back when resurrected. Now, as adults, we move to subtleties of prophetic commentary on the same subject. Delightful. Really. Thanks for writing, Sam.

  15. sharks. cool.

    How about the underlying thought though? I guess I struggle with how well would it hold up scientifically when considering that our body constantly regenerates, so when resurrected, which of those instances of ourselves are we talking about zipping through the cosmos and literally combining our new and glorified bodies? Can I pick my 20 year old heart, my 30 year old brain, and on and on?

    I suppose expressions about our bodies literally being resurrected provide some peace and comfort, but once I’m gone, count me on the side being just fine with a new and glorified body – whether or not each individual glorified cell was with me while I was alive.

    I seem to remember something about a softening of the official stance on cremations as of late as well? Maybe a change or omission in the new handbooks.

  16. “not a hair of the head will be lost” – so what does one exactly do with all that hair (since we lose so much hair just in the course of living)? Knit a sweater?

  17. Interesting, J., thanks. So maybe Pres. Smith was engaging in inter-prophetic dialogue.

  18. Chris Kimball says:

    You cause me to read the manual. What a novelty! This could be a great discussion that could occupy the rest of the year:
    >“eaten by sharks”: What is a fundamental part of the body? (I have three kidneys; my son has one ear.)
    >”We are all members . . . able to advance and progress and gain eternal family units of our own”: Do we understand a universal plan of salvation? Universal (God’s) family? Universal Church? For all races? Genders? Sexual orientation?
    >”The Fall was an essential part of man’s mortal probation . . . all of the vicissitudes of mortality . . . pain . . . sorrow . . . death”: And off we go on theodicy.
    >”[J]ustice demanded that [Adam], and none else, should answer for the sin and pay the penalty with his life”: So why couldn’t Adam answer with his life? Are “pay the penalty” and “atone” and “undo” synonyms? Is the Anglo-American legal system a good metaphor? Doesn’t it fail in exactly the place atonement enters?
    >”A man walking along the road happens to fall into a pit”: What if I’m a good rock climber? What if we build tools and dig out? What if we work together, standing on shoulders or building a tower? If these alternatives wouldn’t work, what does that about man’s work vs God’s work?
    >”we must have faith . . . repent . . . be baptized . . . be born again . . . endure to the end”: And off we go on faith vs works (or faith with works, or works through faith).
    >”We came into this world to die.”: How should we value life? Our life? Another’s life?
    >”Some men inherit wealth . . . but . . . worth more than all . . . is the inheritance of eternal exaltation.”: Mormonism as a “chosen people” teaching–atonement for all, exaltation for the chosen(?)

  19. huh. I guess I assumed it was left overs from his time in Hawaii as a missionary. I wonder if he knew people who had encounters with sharks.

    I have wondered about my ligaments in my knee-one from a pig and one from the back of my knee. That hurt. how is that going to be? I have this image of body parts flying all over to get to the right body. My husband has the image of the recipient delivering it back to the donor to thank them. I like that…even though the flying body parts is fun

  20. Now that the Sabbath has passed and we’ve all been edified, here’s an interesting derail that puts the rhetorical fear of sharks in perspective:

  21. Chris Kimball, all that theological stuff might be interesting in your world, and I’m glad you’re reading the manual. But you’re missing the point. This is all about sharks. :)

    Seriously, though, this should in and of itself be enough to put paid to issues with things like cremation and organ donation, although Ray’s friend’s imagery of my donated heart bursting out of the unfortunate recipient’s chest to join the rest of me at the moment of my resurrection has a certain grisly appeal. That would go over well with the Teacher’s Quorum, I’m sure.

    Unless we think that the issue with cremation is the respect shown for the body at death, burning being seen as “pagan” or “undignified,” rather than concern about the inability of an omnipotent God to find the required atoms and molecules, or reasonable substitutes, to reconstitute us. I suspect it’s that. Most Christian attitudes about burial were formed through centuries, and centuries in which burial was the decent thing to do and cremation was the thing that was done to impure or diseased bodies, in the event of plagues and such (a necessary and unfortunate expedient), or done by those pagan Hindoos and heathen Norsemen, and so on.

    Given the unpleasant nature of decomposition, to say nothing of the chemical issues of embalming and the remarkable extent of preservation possible with modern technology, the formation of adipocere under certain climatic conditions, sealed vaults, and so on, I’ll take a good clean flame (or at minimum, a chem-free, cardboard-box green burial) any day. No sharks, please, unless we’re already at sea.

  22. Chris Kimball says:

    Sorry to go serious on you (but it was the first time I read the manual in . . . . years!) Let me add a hearty YES to the organ donation point.

  23. I seem to recall, and this may be my imagination, that the issue of organ donation was tied in relatively recent years to the endowment. Specifically, that endowed persons should not be organ donors. By relatively recently, I’m talking about the 1970s or 80s.

  24. Interesting exploration of why or why not to cremate from the 1972 New Era:

    SC, there’s no statements in the General Handbook of Instruction from that period that correlates with that line of thought concerning endowed members donating organs. The message has been fairly consistent in leaving it up to the individual and their family.

    Whether certain General Authorities might have differed or taught otherwise I cannot say though this article in the Ensign by Cecil O. Samuelson who has been a personal physician to some of the current Twelve and is now President of BYU gives a sense that even back in the 80’s it was still a personal decision.

  25. Chris Kimball says:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints recognizes that “the donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit …The decision to will or donate one’s own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member’s family.” (Handbook 2: 21.3.7)

  26. Just think of all those carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, etc., atoms released from human decomposition floating around in the water and atmosphere being incorporated into all those vegetables and grains, which we eat, which we subsequently incorporate. Will these atoms be ripped from our cells, our DNA? Or do we just rent the atoms?

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