By Cassandra Hedelius
It’s difficult to write this post, because the subject is baptism for the dead, and my grandpa is dying, and I love him, and he’s never accepted the gospel. His death from old age isn’t tragic, but it would be if we didn’t have so much revelation from God about His plan. For this, I thank God for prophets.
When Joseph’s older brother Alvin died, a minister preached at his funeral and “intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member.” This was obviously a tactless thing to say to a grieving family, but based on the knowledge that minister had, he wasn’t really wrong! The Bible is pretty clear that baptism is an eternal necessity. What that minister needed wasn’t sensitivity training, but more revealed truth. Let’s take the charitable view that he would have been ecstatic to learn that Alvin was not in fact damned, and that God is perfectly able to overcome paltry obstacles like people dying before having a chance to accept the truth.
Joseph’s exuberance at God’s glory and generosity leaps off the pages of Section 128. A voice of gladness, mercy, and truth! Glad tidings of great joy! Courage! Victory! Rejoice! Eternal praise to King Immanuel! The prisoners shall go free! How glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!
I think his depth of gratitude and joy comes from a heart prepared by bitter suffering. Like anyone living in pre-modern times, he had endured the tragic deaths of children, siblings, relatives, and friends. It makes me choke up to think about losing a child, and to lose as many as Emma and Joseph lost is simply unthinkable. Joseph’s interest in redemption and resurrection weren’t abstract. They were vital, immediate, deeply appreciated lifelines to his grieving soul.
We moderns mostly haven’t dealt with so much grief. The only family funerals I’ve been to are for aging relatives. Which is an immense blessing and I’m grateful–God be praised for inspiring doctors, scientists, and engineers to invent medicines and equipment that make premature death so much more rare. But does that make me less impressed with revelation than I could be? Do I take our miraculous understanding for granted?
After all, I’m one of the little children (the “babes and sucklings,” as D&C 128:18 puts it) who has been learning these truths from the day I was born. I’m delighted to think that maybe Joseph foresaw today’s Primary children swinging their legs and carelessly singing “I Am A Child of God” when he wrote those words. It really is remarkable that we teach our preschoolers glorious revelations that sages and seekers throughout history would have savored. We incorporate it into our overall worldview, tucked next to grocery lists and multiplication tables, maybe never fully realizing how many serious philosophical conundrums our doctrines easily solve.
So I’m grateful for Joseph’s enthusiasm. When tempted to feel blase about the church and its leaders, re-read section 128! The prophets are not bureaucrats, cynical grifters, or whatever other villains our critics make them out to be. They’re literally prophets of the living God, who called them in order to reveal His secrets to them, from them to us, so that we could help redeem the world and gather scattered Israel! We’re blessed to know God’s plan and be able to help in “so great a cause”! They’re holding steady against the world’s lies about humanity and family, and they will “yet reveal many great and important things.”
Section 128 teaches “the salvation of the dead who should die without a knowledge of the gospel.” Its conceptual companion, Section 137, further clarifies that “the Lord will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” I know this refers specifically to people who died before accepting the gospel, but I feel we can also make it personal.
We need to recognize that desires are important. Alma taught that even desiring to believe can be a powerful catalyst for faith. Why would one desire to believe in the gospel? Because he wants it to be true. Why would he want it to be true? Because he values its teachings and promises. By “value,” I mean that we should admire and appreciate them, as opposed to taking them for granted, being cynical about them, or despising them. We’ve probably all known someone who no longer wanted to believe because he came to feel the church’s teachings and promises were worthless or bigoted or harmful or problematic. I’m not disparaging anyone’s sincere beliefs, but those whose basic values are incompatible with God’s are not going to be able to be with God in eternity. And values are not like hair color; we choose what we value.
If we’re only going through the motions of the gospel, showing up out of habit or for social reasons, that’s good, but we’re vulnerable to attacks on our faith. And I think that many if not most attacks boil down our faith to our underlying desires. I know as much about church history as many critics, and it’s perfectly possible to honestly interpret the data in a way that supports the truthfulness of the church. It’s also possible to honestly interpret it the other way. What makes the difference? Those who value the church’s teachings and promises will probably interpret the data in favor of the church. Those who don’t, don’t. What many call a “faith crisis” is, I think, actually a “hope crisis.” If you don’t want the church to be true, if you don’t hope it’s true, life will sooner or later challenge you with a reason to leave and you may seize it.
Our culture presents us with plenty of reasons not to value the gospel–it’s purportedly outdated, bigoted, unfashionable, injurious to mental health, anti-science, and other things. If our mindset is wrapped up in the world now and how everyone thinks now, these accusations will ring true.
But if we dive into the scriptures and grasp the mindset of Joseph and his fellow saints on the banks of the Mississippi, performing vicarious ordinances for loved ones who died far too soon or didn’t accept the gospel for complicated reasons (like Emma’s parents, like my grandpa), we’ll recognize the value. The glorious promises of eternal family, eternal increase, eternal joy and love. I want the gospel to be true, because I want to be with God, Christ, and my family forever.
And it is true! Let your heart rejoice, and be exceedingly glad!
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
 Alma 32:27
Cassandra Hedelius studied Political Science in Oklahoma and Law in Colorado. She currently lives in Aurora, Colorado and cares full time for her three young children and cat.