“knowledge, and power, by revelation”

By: J. Stapley - October 13, 2008

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. Best wishes and condolences.

    Comment by Edje — 10/13/2008 @ 8:53 pm

  2. This was touching, J; thanks.

    Comment by Ben — 10/13/2008 @ 9:16 pm

  3. Our lives are never fully spent, there is never enough time within time.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — 10/13/2008 @ 9:30 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing this, J. My condolences.

    Comment by Christopher — 10/13/2008 @ 9:31 pm

  5. God bless you and yours, and thanks for passing on your insights.

    Comment by Norbert — 10/14/2008 @ 5:28 am

  6. What a comfort gospel knowledge is. Best wishes to all involved in this difficult time.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — 10/14/2008 @ 7:31 am

  7. Best wishes to you and all the grieving members of your friend’s family and community.

    The passing of those who have not lived any great length of time has been a constant theme in my life recently. Just this morning came news of another little boy who did not recover after a heart surgery. Regardless of the amount of knowledge and pre-existing hope, I’ve not yet seen people not go through a deep, trying period of shock and anger and doubt.

    The greatest surprise was that after being introduced to the threat of losing a child (a little boy who is playing here at my side), that it took at least a year and a half to feel that my feet were again somewhat on solid ground and that I had any sort of hold on the faith and hope that I had assumed was a steady, stable influence that would weather every storm and deliver me whole through every vicissitude of life.

    The process has seemed to strip away layers of what must have been cultural expectations and attitudes and, I hope, will allow “God [to] reveal something in reference to the matter.”

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Comment by Researcher — 10/14/2008 @ 8:50 am

  8. Thanks, all.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 10/14/2008 @ 9:13 am

  9. Dear Jonathan,

    Very sorry to hear of your loss. Best wishes to you and your family.

    Comment by W. Smith — 10/14/2008 @ 12:05 pm

  10. J. thanks for sharing. You’ve always been an example to me. You are one of the great ones.

    Comment by Matt W. — 10/14/2008 @ 1:31 pm

  11. I would also like to add my condolences and best wishes.

    Comment by Jared* — 10/14/2008 @ 9:09 pm

  12. I knew Michael. he was good and he will be missed.

    All of us who knew him at BYU mourn for his wife’s loss and celebrate his life.

    Thanks J. for the post.

    Comment by TrevorM — 10/14/2008 @ 10:43 pm

  13. Thank you for this. It is a rare gift to be able to make beauty of ashes and I believe these thoughts painfully do just that.

    Comment by BHodges — 10/15/2008 @ 12:03 pm

  14. J, My condolences as well. Your observation that we celebrate life at funerals makes those cases where someone dies young all the more difficult. I lost a brother in law a few years back to brain cancer, leaving a wife, one daughter in college, and three kids still in junior high and high school. That loss hit me harder than the loss of my parents, who were in their 80’s, and had indeed filled their lives. So much goes unfilled when one dies young, and it hurts. Despite all we know about the plan of salvation, we never have the answer to “why now?”.

    Comment by kevinf — 10/15/2008 @ 3:31 pm

  15. Wow. Thank you for this J. This gets right to the solemn heart of the gospel, and gives me much to ponder on.

    Comment by Clean Cut — 6/16/2009 @ 3:54 pm

  16. My condolences as well. I lost a niece a few years ago. My older sister and her husband have always been a model of what “good Mormons” should be. Their daughter was a young teacher and judging from the overflowing mourners, she was loved by all.

    She was traveling with a couple from Utah to the mid west to be the maid of honor. She was in the back seat of a SUV and the soon to be groom fell asleep at the wheel. The bride and groom were thrown from the vehicle, but Karen was wearing her seat belt and died at the scene.

    All that I can muster for the reason that she died and the couple lived? Heavenly Father missed her too much and called her home. Best wishes J.

    Comment by Howie — 7/31/2009 @ 7:50 am

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