“knowledge, and power, by revelation”

I just learned that a twenty-two-year-old friend of our family died in a car accident this morning. I was immediately wrenched back seven years to when my nephew died. I can still hardly talk about it. I wrote this short piece after I came home from his funeral. In the time since I have researched and written on related topics, I’ve had two more children, and the pain still smolders. God be with my friends as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. May they know that they are never alone.

A month ago I came home from teaching seminary and I was met by my wife. She told me to sit down. It was my first day teaching and we spent the early morning discussing the “Plan of Salvation,” or as I told my students, “Mormon Cosmology.” In retrospect, it was a gift to have had that morning. The following day we left for Utah and I spent the thirteen hour drive considering various details of that cosmology.

Michael was twenty-two years old. He married his wife just a month earlier. And I wept. I laid down and I didn’t want to get up. I thought of his mother and father. I thought of his new wife. I thought of my own two sons. He was closer in age to me than only one of my four siblings. I saw him grow from baby to man and I loved him.

Mormon funerals have the reputation of being joyous. We memorialize a full life well spent. The release of death is the culmination, and we are confident in the cosmology which promises the persistence of our sociality. As we drove through the Cascades, I thought about the intersection of Joseph Smith and those recent days. I thought of Joseph’s sermons for the dead. It was perhaps fitting that Joseph’s greatest sermon was occasioned by the death of a man when a bucket fell on his head. As we drove through the eastern deserts of Washington and Oregon, I found no reason to celebrate; his life was not spent.

In the Blue Mountains, I thought of Joseph’s funeral sermon for Judge Adams. He mentioned the “vicissitudes of life, and of death; and the designs and purposes of God, in our coming into the world, our sufferings here, and our departure hence…[and] that it is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter[.]” Then Joseph made a bold assertion: “Reading the experience of others, or the revelations given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things, can only be obtained by experience in these things, through the ordinance of God set forth for that purpose.”

I have not asked God for an explanation. I’m not sure that I need or want one. I am content to be comforted by the measures that I have received – tying the robes of the priesthood on his broken, lifeless corpse, and feeling the power of God; sitting with my extended family and talking, even laughing; walking through the cemetery, nestled in the Wasatch Front, and naming the dead. These are perhaps a revelation. We are anointed, as Joseph said at Adams’ funeral, “to receive the keys of knowledge, and power, by revelation to [ourselves]” and over those few days, I needed every bit.


  1. J., this brought me to tears. Thank you. After teaching a similar lesson it occurred to me that this sort of doctrine, if uninformed by the weight of grief and loss, may fall on stony ground. That there is a link, possibly inescapable, between trauma and wisdom.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    That is a really important comment. Thanks, Steve.

  3. Perhaps another way of saying what Steve is getting at is captured in the Gospel observation that Jesus didn’t speak like one of the scribes, but as one having authority. Truths can be trite when spoken by people whose experience has not qualified them to speak. (“Experience” seems an inadequate word here…) It takes human relationships to render the ground less stony.

    Thanks, J.

  4. Right, Jason. But also that there is no urgency to the concepts of temple work or eternal families unless you are confronted with the reality that those people you love are going to die, and those associations you treasure will be lost.

  5. … which (unpopular though this comment will be) also goes a long way to explaining Elder Packer’s call for making the teaching of the plan of salvation a part of funeral services. You’ve just noted the urgency and the softness of heart that comes at these times, if ever.

    This brought back memories of my own nephew’s death at age 24, also following an automobile accident. Tender times, J.

  6. Sorry for your loss, J. Death is a teacher.

  7. These are some moving thoughts, J.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts, J. May God help others to feel the joy and assurance of the gospel.

  9. I needed this. I am trying to process and find meaning in David’s death. I can’t even write about it yet. I write about everything, and yet this… I am frozen, like a mosquito in amber.