A number of years ago one of our grandsons entered mortality. His tiny tabernacle had not been perfectly formed and his body was not adequate to sustain life. This precious little gift from God lived but an hour. The sorrow of the moment has now been softened by many hours of deep and reverent reflection.
Although the privilege of sweet association with the child has been deferred, there were also reasons for quiet rejoicing. The child was born in the covenant. His father gave him a name and a blessing during the child’s brief moments of life. And the lad received a body. That body, which he undoubtedly had been promised in the premortal estate, was gladly received and that child now has claim upon that body in perfected form as long as time shall last.
Dear students, my purpose today is to heighten your appreciation for something you may sometimes take for granted––your precious bodies, a gift far, far exceeding your present power to comprehend, indeed a gift for which you may have prayed a thousand times ten thousand times before you entered mortality.
If you could momentarily remember your earlier life by peeking behind the veil, you would once again shout for joy because you have a body. You lived for a very long time without one, undoubtedly admiring the bodies of your heavenly parents. Your spirit has now become happily bonded to your own body and the service and joy it provides. You will not willingly be separated from it, and when that day of separation comes you will be very eager for its return.
One of the profound truths of the plan of salvation is represented by this bold declaration from the Doctrine and Covenants: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). These exalted beings possess such bodies because they are necessary and desirable for them, just as they are for you and for our grandson, more so than any of us can presently understand.
There are some things that cannot be enjoyed without a body. Elder Melvin J. Ballard, grandfather of our current apostle M. Russell Ballard and also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reinforces this grand truth with this example:
“The soul of the musician may be on fire with divine harmonies, but he can never make others feel what he feels unless he is given the human voice, the organ, the violin, some instrument of expression; only then can he make others feel what he feels. So the spirit of man may have thrilled with desires and hopes and ambitions that never could have been experienced without a physical body. The joys of fatherhood would never have been ours without mortality; the joys that come in that dear companionship as husband and wife, and a thousand other joys of earth, never would have been ours without this mortal tabernacle” (Melvin J. Ballard––Crusader forRighteousness, Bookcraft, 1966, 155).
How grateful we are for the knowledge that the union of spirit and body constitutes a living soul, and only in that union is there fulness of joy (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-16; 93:33; 2 Nephi 9:13).
When we observe brothers or sisters temporarily deprived of any member or function of the body, even in the smallest degree, our hearts are extended to them. Their spirits are not impaired, but the absence of some faculty of the body brings a temporary deprivation of the full enjoyment and service it was intended to provide. In a different but very real way, we shall also experience deprivation when not part but rather the entirety of our physical bodies is separated from us through death (Moses 4:25; Genesis 3:19). We will then understand, as the scriptures testify, that separation is bondage (Doctrine and Covenants 138:50). We will anxiously look forward for the day of the resurrection, as did those viewed by President Joseph F. Smith in his great vision of the redemption of the dead (Doctrine and Covenants 138:14-17).
On one occasion while serving in the temple I observed a 12-year-old boy, dressed in white, who had come to perform proxy baptisms and confirmations. He was in a wheelchair, for he had been born without arms or legs. His spirit was whole and his small body was only temporarily deprived. He had come to the temple intending only to do confirmations, which at first appearance seemed quite convenient as he remained in his wheelchair. But, with encouragement from ordinance workers, he was taken into the font and there immersed as proxy for others who, if permitted to witness, must have wept at the honor of having such a special son of God baptized for them.
I imagined that this young man, in far greater proportion than myself and others, understood the great miracle of a body, complete and whole. He did not feel sorry for himself. His spirit soared and he bore a fervent testimony. He had learned to swim like a dolphin. He could write with a pencil in his mouth. He could attend to many of his own needs. He undoubtedly was also grateful for the heavenly assurance that someday his tabernacle would be added upon and perfected, in the image of his God. The boy’s name is Gabriel. For a brief moment we were blessed by the presence of our own angel Gabriel in the Bountiful Temple. He came without wings, or even arms or legs.
A few months ago I had the privilege of sealing another angel––a beautiful daughter of God––to her eternal companion. The girl had been born deaf. Except by the spiritual ear she had never heard Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”or Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”When children come into their family, she will never hear her baby’s cry, or its first spoken word, or its first talk in Primary. She is not handicapped, as she marvelously compensates in other ways. She is differentially blessed. Her children will be born in the covenant, she has an eternal companion, and she has a body with heaven’s promise of its someday perfection. We find comfort in these words from one of our fine Church leaders:
“I am convinced that no soul has ever been whipped into this mortal existence; that each one of us came willingly, cheerfully, and gladly; even though we might have known that we were to inherit a body that was crippled, maimed, and deformed, still we were glad to come. … We came gladly and willingly, for our eyes were not so much centered upon the sorrows and troubles of life as upon the grandness of that which lies beyond” (Melvin J. Ballard––Crusader for Righteousness, Bookcraft, 1966, 154-55).
Every time you look in the mirror you can witness the miracle of your mortal body, for you can see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and create. If you appreciated your tabernacle, you might often remain riveted at the mirror moving fingers, raising eyebrows, mouthing words, and generally rejoicing that this marvelous body so obediently responds to your will. The miracle would not be viewed less because it may be observed so often.
In the days of your more mature spiritual reflection you would also pause to glory in the power of creating bodies for others. This power of creation has been entrusted to you during mortality for a limited time, for with the passage of years it will be taken from you. The creative power is also entrusted to you for the limited purpose of creating physical bodies. But if you keep your covenants, God will someday grant you unlimited power to create both spirits and bodies. You will thereby become fathers and mothers of nations.
I believe that this present creative power is given in greater proportion to you sisters. One day heaven will come down and touch the earth when you feel life for the first time and become a co-creator with God. You will not sculpt or mold the intended tabernacle with earthly hands. You will not chisel it to its marvelous completion. You will not consciously choose the color of its hair or eyes, or its dimensions. But that little body will not only be created with you, it will be created within you. Then God will place a spirit in its little tabernacle, and the child, like you, will become a living soul. To create a Rembrandt painting or a Mozart symphony would be a marvelous thing, but such creative acts are not on speaking terms with the miracle of creating a physical body.
Dear young people, the most Godlike thing you will ever do is to use your bodies to create bodies for others. But this you could never do if you did not already possess a Godlike body of your own. Those who do not have the opportunity to exercise the creative power on this earth will be rewarded for their patience and faith through its expression in the life to come, and to their complete satisfaction.
Because the creative power is so sacred, you must carefully protect it. There is a great message in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. The lovely Rebecca, a virtuous Jewish maiden, had been singled out by the outlaw Brian de Bois-Guilbert for base reasons. She offered him her costly bracelets and collar as a ransom, but it was her virtue he intended to take.
When Rebecca perceived his immoral purpose she threw open the latticed window of her prison room and stood upon the parapet, with no barrier between her and the great distance below. “Remain where thou art, proud Templar, or at thy choice advance! –– one foot nearer, and I plunge myself from the precipice; my body shall be bruised out of the very form of humanity upon the stones of that courtyard, ‘ere it become the victim of thy brutality!”
The proud Templar had been disgraced. He replied: “Come down, rash girl! – I swear to earth, and sea, and sky, I will offer thee no offense.” Rebecca was exemplary in her desire to resist the forcible brutality of an unrighteous man.
Some of the great battles of the last days arise from Satan’s deprivations, and one of these is not having a body (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181; 297). Our temporary sorrow at the time of separation of spirit and body is greatly exceeded by Lucifer’s anguish at the permanent loss. Because the adversary cannot have a body, it is loathsome to him that any of his spirit siblings could ever have a fulness of joy by possessing a physical tabernacle. He knows that it is a great possession, giving us power over him. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181). Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles eloquently wrote:
“As an act of diabolic reprisal following [Lucifer’s] rejection in the council, his defeat by Michael and the heavenly hosts, and his ignominious expulsion from heaven [Rev 12:7-9], Satan planned to destroy the bodies in which the faithful spirits ─ those who had kept their first estate [Abr. 3:26] ─ would be born” (Jesus the Christ, 20).
Many elective abortions, causing the destruction of bodies prepared for righteous spirits, are part of Satan’s destructive plan. If Lucifer cannot destroy your body before birth, he induces you to thereafter defile or neglect it, through alcohol, drugs, inattention, or abuse, so that your enjoyment may be curtailed.
There are no bounds to Lucifer’s creativity in enticing you to neglect or misuse your body. This is not a casual matter to him. He is preoccupied with it. The adversary is especially jealous of your power to procreate. He uses all forms of modern media to strip the body of its spiritual beauty. He whispers to you to only measure your body’s worth by its worldly attractiveness. His pressure is unremitting for you to observe pornography, immodestly flaunt your body, and become obsessed with physical appearance. His laughter at your foolishness when you yield to his persuasions would make you shudder.
Satan intends to destroy your spirit through your body. He makes worldly enticements all look so attractive. Nevertheless, you may be certain who is the author of inducements to look at pornography, live immorally, experiment with improper substances, and violate, mark, expose, defile, or neglect your body. And that author is not your friend. As stated by President Boyd K. Packer:
“Our physical body is the instrument of our spirit. In that marvelous revelation, the Word of Wisdom, we are told how to keep our bodies free from impurities which might dull, even destroy, those delicate physical senses which have to do with spiritual communication” (“Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 14).
Young people, you came to this earth not only to receive bodies but also to learn to master them, which experience you never had until mortality. That, in part, is why mastery of the body is so hard. A newborn baby must learn the physical processes of focusing its eyes, sucking, coordinating hand movements, turning over, crawling, standing, and running. No one has to tell the child to do these things, for the instinct is heaven-instilled. There will be bruised knees along the way, but they will heal. These steps, however, are not the end of learning self-discipline over the tabernacle. The child must also learn to control and channel urges, avoiding eating the wrong types of food (or too much!), misusing the creative power, and unwisely marking or puncturing the body to keep pace with a modern fad. It is an unending battle to see whether the body conquers the spirit or the spirit conquers the body. Elder Ballard added these beautiful words:
“I have gained strength to say to the house I live in: ‘You cannot defile this tabernacle; I will have it clean; I will not have the windows darkened. I will not have this body defiled; it is my servant and it must be kept clean’” (Melvin J. Ballard––Crusader for Righteousness, 180).
Just as the evil spirits, cast out by the Master from borrowed homes, “begged a body,” even so you, in the premortal estate, viewing Father’s perfected tabernacle, may have earnestly coveted one. It was unthinkable to your innocent minds that such a treasure, if ever received, would be neglected or defiled or permitted through disrespect to prematurely age, become unclean, or decay. But some of you have already forgotten, and what a forgetfulness that is! Before you were born you may have observed that Father took care of His body and treated it with dignity and respect. Your resolve was to do the same. There was nothing casual about your premortal desire for a body, and there must be nothing casual about your present-day care of it.
The clay of your life is still warm, and habits that will govern the rest of your years are now forming. If you eat poorly, favor fast foods, rest inadequately, experiment with stimulating substances, and become casual in your appearance, then you will someday say with King Saul of Old Testament times: “I have played the fool, and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21).
Young people, you are the master here. You have the strength to say to the house you live in, “I will have you clean.” This includes both moral and physical cleanliness. You are a son or daughter of God, and cleanliness is interwoven into everything you are and do and must become. Elder Talmage gave us this insightful caution:
“We should look upon this body as something that shall endure in the resurrected state, beyond the grave, something to be kept pure and holy. Be not afraid of soiling its hands; be not afraid of scars that may come to it if won in earnest effort, or in honest fight, but beware of scars that disfigure, that have come to you in places where you ought not have gone, that have befallen you in unworthy undertakings; beware of the wounds in battles in which you have been fighting on the wrong side” (Conference Report, October 1913, 117).
These disfiguring scars and wounds often come through neglect of the body, or the irreverent marking, use, and immodest dressing of our sacred tabernacles.
To the exquisite sorrow of their parents, many infants, like our grandson, have passed away shortly following mortal birth. Their lives were not wasted, nor were the efforts of their mothers in bearing them. Although these children, in preparation for exalted living, will eventually require the tutelage and experience required for all of us, they returned home to the Father of their spirits, rejoicing that a primary purpose of coming to earth had been completely fulfilled. They now had claim on something absolutely necessary for their eternal happiness––a priceless body.
Righteous parents will never forget the child, and they will also never forget the sublime experience of begetting it. These God-given feelings will be renewed and enlarged in the next life when the parents embrace and nourish their child again as permitted by Father’s perfect plan. Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking at the passing of an infant, exclaimed:
“I wish I had a dozen children just like this one…. I wish I had a dozen that had lived only for a minute because I am so convinced of the eternity of things that life is going to be the eternal integrity of the family…. The child belongs to the parents to whom it was given” (Matthew Cowley––Man of Faith, Bookcraft, 1954, 268).
These are the proper and comforting sentiments of every parent pained by the seemingly premature loss of a child. In God’s great plan for our happiness nothing has ultimately been lost. Parents may rejoice that their sorrow is only temporary, for their ties to their child are eternal.
Those who have passed into the next life have undoubtedly renewed their intense desire for a body, but now more fervently for they have already had the mortal taste of its possession. They know that the spirit is most comfortable, even at home, when housed in a body. Then it is complete. They will be anxious to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection, not only because the timing of the resurrection dictates the type of body they receive but also because they will be impatient in waiting (Doctrine and Covenants 138:50).
Perhaps we desired bodies in the premortal estate, coveting not only their functional usefulness, but also their beauty. It is not important at this stage of our mortal journey that bodies be perfect, as even imperfect bodies are miracles. It is also of little eternal significance if at the present moment our bodies are not of the dimension and appearance we most desire.
These concerns may be deferred, for they shall happily be attended to by the One who gave us the tabernacle, in His time and to our complete satisfaction. The restorative and beautification miracle of the resurrection will refine every aspect of the physical tabernacle. We have claim to ultimate perfection, but for the present it quite suffices to have an imperfect body, coupled with the promise of its destiny (Doctrine and Covenants 138:17). Amulek promised, “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfected form” (Alma 11:43). Brigham Young taught:
“Those who attain to the blessing of the first or celestial resurrection will be pure and holy, and perfect in body. Every man or woman that reaches to this unspeakable attainment will be as beautiful as the angels that surround the throne of God” (Journal of Discourses 10:24).
The Prophet Joseph Smith saw the resurrected Adam and Eve. They were described as “the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind [I have] ever seen.” “Their heads were white as snow, and their faces shone with youth” (Words of Joseph Smith, 404, n42). You will be beautiful, too. The latter-day revelation that God has a body of flesh and bones speaks volumes to us (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). We must not be misled by the simplicity of the declaration. It proclaims one of the most profound truths of the gospel plan.
Joseph Smith testified, “There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones….We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it before God in the celestial kingdom” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181). You have received your marvelous body as a gift from God. This is a gift you very much desired. Now you must decide what you will do with this magnificent house you live in. If you can become its master, your potential to become like God is limitless.
I testify that these things are true and part of God’s great plan of happiness for His children. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.