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If modern science could wipe out all disease, even re-engineer our bodies so we wouldn’t die, would God’s plan unfold? No. Disease and death are part of the plan that we agreed to when we shouted for joy for the opportunity to come to mortality. The person who fights valiantly against cancer, but dies, does not lose the war. Instead, they enter into the only portal possible that leads to a glorious resurrection.
I just scanned chapter two of Teaching of Presidents of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball, which quotes from his landmark talk, “Tragedy or Destiny” If you have not read it lately or at all, I highly recommend it. Let’s look at some quotes:
“If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith.”
Read this next one without the word “early” and see how it applies to all death:
“If we say that early death is a calamity, disaster, or tragedy, would it not be saying that mortality is preferable to earlier entrance into the spirit world and to eventual salvation and exaltation? If mortality be the perfect state, then death would be a frustration, but the gospel teaches us there is no tragedy in death, but only in sin. “… blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. …” (See D&C 63:49.)”
Death is not a tragedy, but a graduation into far more glorious existence of learning, progress, and service. Speaking at a funeral, President Kimball once said:
“We are limited in our visions. With our eyes we can see but a few miles. With our ears we can hear but a few years. We are encased, enclosed, as it were, in a room, but when our light goes out of this life, then we see beyond mortal limitations. …
“The walls go down, time ends and distance fades and vanishes as we go into eternity … and we immediately emerge into a great world in which there are no earthly limitations.”
If I could choose to have my disease-ravaged body cured of cancer and live decades more in mortality, would I? No. Apart from my cancer, every cell in my body feels worn out. I will be so grateful to be free of illness and fatigue. I want to turn cartwheels and run up mountain trails and do so many things I haven’t been able to do! As much as I hate leaving my family, I totally believe I will have a glorious reunion with each one, especially my husband who so dearly hates to lose me. I look forward to leaving this vale of tears and chaos and corruption where Satan’s power is ever striving to destroy our peace. I greatly cherish the thought of being able to move on and enter a sphere where our desires to bless others are not limited by time or resource or weak bodies.
The Gift of Crisis
I’ve often marveled at the stories of spiritual growth and testimonies of God’s presence in times of crisis and tragedy. How many stories have you heard where people actually said they were grateful for such times? I’ve read so many stories even in the last year of people who saw cancer as a friend, even a blessing in their life because of the spiritual growth and closeness to loved ones that had happened because of it.
Years ago, I helped a clinical traumatologist put together a book called Sudden Trauma which included guidelines for facing tragedy drawn from his training and experience with a clientele that consisted entirely of those who had experienced some of life’s most horrific events. When I asked how he could deal with such things day after day he explained that crisis opens the door for more positive change than anything else, but of course people do not always look in that direction, but instead become bitter and closed to God and others.
From a gospel standpoint, we could say that the question is always whether we choose to turn to God and experience his great comfort and refining and teaching power, or choose to use our pitiful store of knowledge to question and fight reality and turn away from God. President Kimball said,
“In the face of apparent tragedy we must put our trust in God, knowing that despite our limited view his purposes will not fail. With all its troubles life offers us the tremendous privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, preparing to return and share God’s glory.9”
The certain verses of “How Firm a Foundation” teach all this so eloquently:
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
[See Hymns, no. 5]
The Inevitability of Death
President Kimball said,
“Everyone must die. Death is an important part of life. Of course, we are never quite ready for the change. Not knowing when it should come, we properly fight to retain our life. Yet we ought not be afraid of death. We pray for the sick, we administer to the afflicted, we implore the Lord to heal and reduce pain and save life and postpone death, and properly so, but not because eternity is so frightful. …
In the face of apparent tragedy we must put our trust in God, knowing that despite our limited view his purposes will not fail. With all its troubles life offers us the tremendous privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, preparing to return and share God’s glory.9”
Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood.
In the face of apparent tragedy we must put our trust in God, knowing that despite our limited view his purposes will not fail. With all its troubles life offers us the tremendous privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, preparing to return and share God’s glory.”
Amen and Amen