FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: How can one reconcile unfulfilled promises in patriarchal blessings?
Question: How can one reconcile unfulfilled promises in patriarchal blessings?
Introduction to Question
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in the power of prophecy: a form of predicting the future. One office among the ranks of church government is that of patriarch. A patriarch gives what are known as patriarchal blessings to members of the Church. During a patriarchal blessing, patriarchs will, among other things, promise blessings to those who live worthy of them. These promises can come in the form of prophecy.
There are times when the promises given in patriarchal blessings appear to go unfulfilled. How would prophecy like that given in a patriarchal blessing go unfulfilled?
This article seeks to answer this question. A lot of these principles apply to reconciling what may appear to be unfulfilled prophecies in general whether they're contained in scripture, general conference talks, or patriarchal blessings. Thus this can be considered a response in part to reconciling unfulfilled prophecies generally.
Response to Question
As a First Principle: We Should Expect Prophecies to be Fulfilled and Be Prepared to Show How they are Fulfilled
Before we dive into all the ways one can look at their patriarchal blessings to understand why certain promises may not have been fulfilled, we should keep a basic principle in mind that applies to all prophecies for Latter-day Saints:
- Latter-day Saints should always expect all prophecies to be fulfilled and be prepared to defend their literal fulfillment if conditions are met for fulfillment
It may seem a bit counterintuitive to say this. Isn’t everyone already assuming this? Well, this article may provide incentive for people to not assume that. Particularly item #5 below. That would be a bad incentive to take from the article because, if we assume something other than the above principle, we might not be attentive to the warnings of many prophecies and take appropriate action. The prophet could prophesy that the world will end in 10 years if we don’t produce more corn. If we don’t expect that prophecy to be fulfilled, then we won’t take action to make sure the end of the world won’t happen! Thus, we need to always expect prophecies to be fulfilled.
We also need to defend the reality of revelation behind prophecies. People who aren’t members of the Church need to know that revelation to prophets and patriarchs is real in order to convert to the Church. They won’t accept a church that isn’t a reliable and real spiritual guide.
With that in mind, we can now discuss ways to view the lack of fulfillment of promises in patriarchal blessings. There are several ways one may view the lack of fulfillment of patriarchal blessings. These are not all mutually exclusive and two or more of these possibilities might be happening at the same time.
1. Certain things happened that you may or may not know about that made it so that the promise could not be fulfilled
The first thing to keep in mind is that many if not most prophecies—including those in scripture—are conditional in nature even if it is not explicitly stated that they are conditional. This means that even if a prophecy states categorically something like "It shall come to pass in the last days that X will happen", that is not a guarantee that such a thing will actually happen. It is only a prediction based off of current circumstances into the future. If those circumstances change, then the future changes. Thus, in order to keep yourself on the path towards those blessings, you need to be praying to receive personal revelation and inspiration about how to conduct your life so that you will be led to those blessings. There are certain prophecies/promises that are much more firm and are much more durable and some even impervious to different conditions such as Christ's continued promises to prophets of a Second Coming and the vengeance he'll bring upon the wicked (Mal. 4:1; 2 Pet. 3:10-12; D&C 29:9; 64:23-24; 101:24-25; 133:63-64). There must be, then, a good practice of discernment among Church members in reading the scriptures and evaluating prophecies.
It may be that you know or don't know what conditions changed so that you could not receive your promised blessings. Keep your faith in Heavenly Father and continue to receive daily, personal revelation and inspiration so that you can know how to receive all other blessings that he may have in store for you.
2. The blessings will come in the next life
The first possibility is that the blessings will come in either the Millennium or in heaven.
Eldred G. Smith explained:
Now some people say, “So and so was given such and such in his blessing and he died before it was ever fulfilled .” Well, so what? That isn’t the end of this life or the end of what can be accomplished as the result of mortality. The purpose of mortality or what we can accomplish here is between birth and the Resurrection. So many things which we should accomplish in this life and don’t get the opportunity to accomplish may be accompanied after death, but before the Resurrection.
John A. Widtsoe taught regarding prophetic blessings specifically:
It should always be kept in mind that the realization of the promises made may come in this life or the future life. Men have stumbled at times because promised blessings have not occurred in this life. They have failed to remember that, in the gospel, life with all its activities continues forever and that the labors of earth may be continued in heaven. Besides, the giver of the blessings, the Lord, reserves the right to have them become active in our lives as suits his divine purposes. We and our blessings are in the hands of the Lord, but there is a general testimony that when the gospel law has been obeyed, the promised blessings have been realized. 
Sometimes someone will worry because a promise made in a patriarchal blessing is not yet fulfilled. … That does not mean that the blessing will go unfulfilled. It is well to know that things happen in the Lord’s due time, not always in ours. Things of an eternal nature have no boundaries. From the premortal existence to our existence beyond the veils of death, our life is an eternal life. 
A patriarchal blessing literally contains chapters from your book of eternal possibilities. I say eternal, for just as life is eternal, so is a patriarchal blessing. What may not come to fulfillment in this life may occur in the next. We do not govern God’s timetable. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
True to the Faith, a publication giving doctrinal explanations from the First Presidency, stated the following:
Similarly, you should not assume that everything mentioned in your patriarchal blessing will be fulfilled in this life. A patriarchal blessing is eternal, and its promises may extend into the eternities. Be assured that if you are worthy, all promises will be fulfilled in the Lord’s due time. Those that are not realized in this life will be fulfilled in the next.
3. The blessings are being misinterpreted
It may be that the blessings are being misinterpreted. In the author’s own experience with their patriarchal blessing, sometimes the blessings are best realized in retrospect rather than in the current moment. We should be patient on the Lord to have those blessings realized as the scriptures teach.
One way we can misinterpret blessings is because they contain accommodated language. We've talked elsewhere on the wiki about the idea of accommodation: the idea that God accommodates his revelations to the understanding of the individual receiving them. For example, in the Battle of Gideon in the tenth chapter of the Book of Joshua, Joshua asks God to stop the sun so that the day was lengthened and Israelites won the battle. Read literally, this story implies that the sun was moving and God made it stop moving. Today, we know that the earth orbits around the sun rather than the other way around. So what's going on? God is accommodating the Israelites geocentric view of our solar system to communicate a divine message/miracle. This is important: culture indeed is embedded into all revelation; but it does not fundamentally override the divine origin of that revelation nor the ability that revelation has to communicate accurate truths about God and the world around us.
A final example might be how Scripture consistently uses the word "man" to refer to "male and female"— typical of ordinary conversation then and now. This has understandably drawn some discomfort from female readers of the scriptures—feeling that this might be an example of soft sexism in Scripture. Of course, the scriptures do mean to include both males and females in their messages when saying "man" or "mankind", but typical linguistic conventions were used to communicate that divine message.
The Doctrine and Covenants itself announces that:
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
4. The blessings are conditioned upon faithfulness
Most patriarchal blessings will condition the fulfillment of blessings on our faithfulness. William Mortimer wrote in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that “[i]t is continually taught in the Church that the fulfillment of patriarchal blessings, as of all divine promises, is conditioned on the faith and works of the individual. Typically, blessings close with such a statement as, ‘I pronounce these blessings upon your head according to your faith and your diligence in keeping the commandments of the Lord.’”
Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 teaches that "[t]here is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."
It may be difficult, but this may be an occasion where he humbly submit to the possibility that we have not been sufficiently faithful to receive our promised blessings.
5. The blessings are withheld to test your faithfulness
- 31 My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom.
If we’re supposed to be tried in “all” things, this will logically include remaining faithful even when blessings don’t come or don’t come in the way we want them to.
This may seem unfair, but these tests and trials are necessary for us. We know that one of the purposes of this life is to be able to learn more about the nature of evil in all its forms. This because we are supposed to learn the law of love as the Savior taught. Love is the very nature of God (1 John 4:8) and we are meant to become like God at the end of this life (Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20). Part of the definition of love is "restoring happiness to a person's life when that happiness or a portion of it is lost." Thus, we and others need to experience these types of pains in order to learn love. This life can properly be seen as "the school of love." We are meant to know and learn pain in all its forms and learn how to transform it into happiness through love.
6. The blessings will yet come in the future
The blessings that we get in our patriarchal blessing may yet come in the future. The Lord encourages us many times in scripture to exercise patience.
7. The blessings may be brought to your descendants
Eldred G. Smith, a patriarch of the Church at one point, said the following about us fulfilling the promises of patriarchal blessings:
Some of the interpretations of our patriarchal blessings may be fulfilled by our descendants. We are now in large part fulfilling some of the outstanding blessings given to the children of Israel by their father. We may not realize all of the blessings in our lifetime. They may be fulfilled after our death or by our descendants…[some of our blessings] will be realized in different ways from what we expect. But as long as we live worthy of our blessings, we have an anchor upon the promise of the Lord that they will be fulfilled.
As an example, BYU professor Alonzo L. Gaskill tells of an experience in the life of President James E. Faust:
President James E. Faust spoke of a promise made to his father (George A. Faust) in his patriarchal blessing. This promise was not fulfilled directly through George nor through Elder Faust and his four brothers. Rather, it was fulfilled through George’s posterity, starting with his grandchildren. Certainly, George Faust’s life choices made it possible for his grandchildren to fulfill the promise; and, had he made other choices, he could have prevented his grandchildren from fulfilling what God had foretold. Nevertheless, Brother Faust was faithful, and the promises made to him came to fruition in the lives of his posterity. Such may be the case for some of us, and the blessings the Lord has promised us in our individual patriarchal blessings.
Patriarchs are under much spiritual labor during patriarchal blessings. They are trying to discern the Lord's word for a person's life. It seems possible that they may say something that doesn't necessarily come from revelation and is mistaken but that didn't need to be corrected given the fact that it didn't affect the overall importance of the message nor general accuracy of it for your life.
An example of this comes from the author's own patriarchal blessing. In it, it is said that the author should commit to memory the 10 verses of the oath and covenant of the priesthood. The problem is its debatable whether or not the oath and covenants is 10 verses long. It may be read to consist of 6, 9, or 10 verses. Why didn't God at least modify the patriarch's assertion? The question asked in response is: Why does it matter? It doesn't affect the overall truthfulness and importance of the admonition to commit those verses to memory.
9. The statement is incorrect, but God chose to not correct it for another purpose that remains inscrutable for now
It may be that there is a statement that is incorrect and might affect something about your salvation, but God decided to allow the mistake to occur for a purpose that might not be understandable for now. Indeed, as the scriptures teach, sometimes his ways are higher than our ways.
10. God may not exhaustive foreknowledge of the future
Another much more speculative option (and one that is likely to be much more objectionable for some) but still possible is that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge of the future. The Church does not take an official position as to how members view God's foreknowledge. They can choose to believe that God has knowledge of all things that will actually happen in the future or that he only has knowledge of a certain amount or degree of future events.
As we can see, there are many faithful ways to view the lack of fulfillment of patriarchal blessings without abandoning belief in the reality of revelation from a loving God. Ultimately, the best answer to this question is to trust that, in one way or another, the Lord “has power unto the fulfilling of all his words."
- Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry, Understanding the Signs of the Times (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1999), 465.
- Eldred G. Smith, “Patriarchal Blessings,” address given at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, January 17, 1964, 5.
- John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arr. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 75.
- Boyd K. Packer, "The Stake Patriarch," Ensign 32, no. 11 (November 2002): 45.
- Thomas S. Monson, "Your Patriarchal Blessing: A Liahona of Light," Ensign 16, no. 11 (November 1986): 66.
- True to the Faith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 113.
- 1 Nephi 21:23, 25.
- Doctrine and Covenants 1:24.
- William James Mortimer, “Patriarchal Blessings,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 5 vols. (New York: MacMillan, 1992; 2007), 3:1066.
- Alma P. Burton, “Karl G. Maeser: Mormon Educator” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1953), 82. Cited in ibid.
- Doctrine and Covenants 130:20.
- Doctrine and Covenants 136:31.
- Doctrine and Covenants 4:6.
- Eldred G. Smith, “What Is a Patriarchal Blessing?” The Instructor 97, no. 2 (February 1963): 43.
- Alonzo L. Gaskill, 65 Questions and Answers about your Patriarchal Blessing (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort Publishing, 2018), 30–31.
- Isaiah 55:8-9.
- James E. Faulconer, "Foreknowledge of God," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:521–22.
- 1 Nephi 9:6.