When we hear the words, “Here am I, send me” we think of our Redeemer, as He volunteered to be our expiator (Abraham 3:27). How sublime. How tender. How terrible the price He would have to pay. Yet He was willing. In Holy Writ there is another instance of volunteering. The Prophet Isaiah used precisely the same expression when he agreed to undertake his earthly assignment (Isaiah 6:8). Jewish tradition has it that Isaiah died a martyr, as have so many of the prophets.
Who else volunteered for specific earthly assignments? Is it possible that you were among those who offered to fulfill a difficult obligation in mortality? Is it conceivable that many of us covenanted to play various roles as saviors on Mount Zion? If you knew that you had so agreed in the preexistence, would it give you some comfort today as you suffer through some of your trials?
Did you covenant before you were born to be a rescuer? This is one of the most wonderful traits we can develop. Many women seem to have an overabundance of this pure love of Christ. I wonder how many spouses covenanted, before they were born, to help an eternal companion overcome the fiery darts of the adversary? To live a life of discipleship despite physical or spiritual challenges?
Or how many agreed to be an example of righteous living to siblings or parents? Or to raise a special child who would need additional love? Is it possible that you volunteered for such an assignment in the preexistence?
Mordecai says to his niece, Esther, when she had to face potentially devastating adversity, “… and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b). If you knew that some of the hardships you are encountering in your life are related to promises and covenants you made in the pre-existence, would that change the way you looked at your life’s challenges? That this may be a vital part of what your earthly life is all about?
Adversity plays an important role in all of our lives. It helps us gain needed empathy.
President Henry B. Eyring taught: “With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity.” He explained how we can often forget our own challenges by succoring others and testified: “I know from my own experience that He can and will give us strength to rise through every trial” (“Adversity,” April 2009 General Conference).
Elder Carlos H. Amado likewise shared: “Those who suffer great adversity and sorrow and go on to serve their fellowmen develop a great capacity to understand others” (“Overcoming Adversity,” October 1989 General Conference).
Once again, we are to develop the pure love of Christ as disciples of Jesus Christ, here, during our mortal probation.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin testified: “In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser, and happier as a result… I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life” (“Come What May, and Love It,” October 2008).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “To carry forward his own purposes among men and nations, the Lord foreordained chosen spirit children in preexistence and assigned them to come to earth at particular times and places so that they might aid in furthering the divine will. These preexistence appointments, made ‘according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Peter 1:2), simply designated certain individuals to perform missions which the Lord in his wisdom knew they had the talents and capacities to do… The mightiest and greatest spirits were foreordained to stand as prophets and spiritual leaders … In all this there is not the slightest hint of compulsion; persons foreordained to fill special missions in mortality are as abundantly endowed with free agency as are any other persons” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 209, emphasis added).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell explained: “Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed… Whether foreordination for men, or foredesignation for women, those called and prepared must also prove ‘chosen, and faithful’ (see Revelation 17:14; D&C 121:34–36)… This doctrine brings unarguable identity but also severe accountability to our lives… It also reminds us that we do not have all of the data. There are many times when we must withhold judgment and trust God, even in the midst of ‘all these things.’ … We agreed to come here and to undergo certain experiences under certain conditions” (“Premortality, a Glorious Reality,” October 1985 General Conference).
President Spencer W. Kimball explained: “We made vows, solemn vows, in the heavens before we came to this mortal life. … We committed ourselves to our Heavenly Father, that if He would send us to the earth and give us bodies and give to us the priceless opportunities that earth life afforded, we would keep our lives clean and would marry in the holy temple and would rear a family and teach them righteousness. This was a solemn oath, a solemn promise” (Spencer W. Kimball, devotional address at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, 10 January 1975).
Another thought from Elder Dallin H. Oaks: “Many of us also made covenants with the Father concerning what we would do in mortality. In ways that have not been revealed, our actions in the spirit world influence us in mortality (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” October 1993 General Conference).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell also shared, “Brothers and sisters, the degree of detail involved in the covenants and promises we participated in at that time may be a much more highly customized thing than many of us surmise… A full understanding [of preordination] is impossible … [and we must] realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities—and heavier responsibilities. If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us” (BYU Devotional, 10 October 1978).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has: “Many of us also made covenants with the Father concerning what we would do in mortality. In ways that have not been revealed, our actions in the spirit world influence us in mortality” (Ensign, Nov 1993, 72).
Elder Orson Hyde considered: “The vail is thick between us and the country whence we came [speaking of the spirit world—GB]. We cannot see clearly−we cannot clearly comprehend−we have forgotten! … What did we agree to before we came here? … Then, if it be true that we entered into a covenant with the powers celestial, before we left our former homes, that we would come here and obey the voice of the Lord, through whomsoever He might speak, these powers are witnesses of the covenant into which we entered; and it is not impossible that we signed the articles thereof with our own hands−which articles may be retained in the archives above, to be presented to us when we rise from the dead, and be judged out of our own mouths, according to that which is written in the books” (JD 7:316, Orson Hyde, October 6, 1859).
Regarding the other side of the veil
President Wilford Woodruff taught: “The prophet Joseph Smith held the keys of this dispensation on this side of the veil, and he will hold them throughout the countless ages of eternity. He went into the spirit world to unlock the prison doors and to preach the gospel to the millions of spirits who are in darkness, and every apostle, every seventy, every elder, etc., who has died in the faith, as soon as he passes to the other side of the veil, enters into the work of the ministry, and there is a thousand times more to preach there than there is here. (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 77.)”
“One of the most commonly expressed sentiments of those who have glimpsed beyond the veil during a near-death experience is that each of us has a purpose for our lives here on earth. Many of these people were told that they could not stay in the spirit world because they had not yet completed their mission in mortality. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we know that there is indeed a purpose to our existence. We believe strongly that before we ever came here we were foreordained for specific purposes, assignments, and opportunities to grow personally and to serve and strengthen others. While we may not always know the specific nature or duration of every purpose for which we were sent to this earth, we will fulfill those foreordained missions if we live worthily” (What’s On the Other Side: What the Gospel Teaches Us About the Spirit World by Brent L. Top).
“And after many days shall they be visited” (Isaiah 24:22)
The principle of deliverance of the dead from their bonds of spiritual prison is among the most glorious to be found in the Holy Scriptures but has only come to be understood after the restoration of the Gospel in these latter days. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that just as the antediluvians had their day of deliverance and visitation from the bonds of spiritual prison, so would those who lived after them:
“The situation of the Christian nations after death, is a subject that has called forth all the wisdom and talent of the philosopher and the divine, and it is an opinion which is generally received, that the destiny of man is irretrievably fixed at his death, and that he is made either eternally happy, or eternally miserable; that if a man dies without a knowledge of God, he must be eternally damned, without any mitigation of his punishment, alleviation of his pain, or the most latent hope of a deliverance while endless ages shall roll along. However orthodox this principle may be, we shall find that it is at variance with the testimony of Holy Writ” (emphasis added).
Brother Joseph explained that those in spirit prison would not only be visited and have the gospel preached to them, but that the way was opened for them to be delivered from bondage (TPJS, p. 219). Infinitesimally few people have lived upon the earth at a time when the ordinances of salvation were available to them. It is hard to fathom the large number of people in the spirit world who have been preached to, who have accepted the glad tidings, and who are now waiting desperately for deliverance through vicarious ordinances. It is not surprising, then, the feeling of urgency expressed by President Russell M. Nelson for the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil. Which brings us back to possible covenants that we made before we were born.
Special Temple Accounts
I have read of several touching temple accounts where the departed spirits of the just have made their presence known. These have taken place where it was clear these individuals were being left out of the ordinances in the House of the Lord.
On one occasion, the person who was conducting the sealings stopped three times to ask an individual if she was not leaving anyone out of the list of sealings. On the third time, she shared that indeed there had been a child who died in infancy. This child wanted to be sealed and not be left out. My wife and I were invited to speak at a family history devotional where I shared this example. The next speaker, a temple sealer (and former Area Seventy and Temple President) spoke and testified that this is common occurrence at temples all over the world.
My wife and I were working to prepare names for the temple one day. As I was rewinding a microfilm my hand stopped suddenly. There, before my eyes, was the name of an additional daughter of one of the families we were preparing to take to the temple and do the work for them. I can also testify, then, that these departed spirits are very aware of our progress in their work.
President Russell M. Nelson admonished: “There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that [i.e., the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil]. … This is the mission for which you were sent to earth.”
For a time, I repeatedly asked myself why it was that I had such a need to testify of the divinity of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. After some time, the Spirit whispered, “Re-read your patriarchal blessing.” And there it was in black and white. Being a follower of Christ is something I do not take for granted. My father and paternal family are Jewish. My grandfather was a Lithuanian Jew; my grandmother, a German Jew. I cherish my testimony that the Holy One of Israel is Jesus Christ and that He has restored His Church upon the earth. My patriarchal blessing has given me much needed direction. We can turn to these blessings in order to better understand some of the covenants and solemn agreements we made before we were born.
Elder LeGrand Richards taught: “The patriarch, through the spirit of revelation to which he is entitled through his ordination, should be able to reveal in his blessing some of the special qualifications and purposes for which the individual member has come into the world at this particular time … to perform the mission for which we were foreordained” (see “The Patriarchal Calling” in LeGrand Richard Speaks, p. 247, and for similar quotes from Elder Richards about our possible pre-ordained missions, see “Understanding Who We Are and What We Can Achieve,” in Understanding Patriarchal Blessings by R. Clayton Brough and Thomas W. Grassley).
We must always have a spiritual ear open to receive inspiration regarding our life mission. On several occasions the Spirit has whispered to my heart, “Do this, it is part of your patriarchal blessing,” or, “this thing that has just happened in your life is a fulfillment of your patriarchal blessing.”
We can request other blessings to fill in specific gaps. I asked a beloved and righteous priesthood leader for such a blessing last year. I desired to know what I was supposed to do with my extra time, when I was not working on my temple and family history calling. This issue had become a worry to me as I had to choose from among many possible areas to focus on. My leader was mouth for a powerful blessing from the Lord in which I was admonished to kneel in powerful prayer. To my surprise, I was promised that the Lord would answer my question that very day. And that is what happened. This blessing, along with my patriarchal blessing, has been a great comfort to me.
Sometimes the Spirit will just outright tell us something about our earthly mission and covenants from the pre-existence. I will share two examples. My interest in the Hebrew Scriptures grew after I joined the Church. In my personal journal I talk about studying the great Prophet Isaiah as early as 1983. While the writings of Isaiah and the Prophets have always held a special appeal for me, it was in 1996, while reading the Book of Mormon, that the words of our Savior sank deep into my heart: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yeah, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah” (3 Nephi 23:1). This study has also helped me fulfill an important portion of my patriarchal blessing and continues to provide vital understanding as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I had for years wondered how it was that I was the only member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my family. I have two brothers and two sisters who are considerably better people than I am. How is it that I was so blessed to be a member, then, when no one else in my family was a member? I was pondering this question in Sunday School while I was a member of the San Javier Branch, in 2002. To my surprise, the Spirit whispered the answer: “Your ancestors chose you before you were born to make sure that their temple work would be carried out.” It is clear that I made covenants with these ancestors.
Knowing that I made commitments, covenants, and solemn agreements before I was born is very important to me. I have heard it said many times that an important part of our earthly test has to do with facing our challenges with a positive outlook. Perhaps we agreed to face some of these very challenges before we were born. In addition, many individuals made agreements or covenanted with the Lord and with their ancestors to do some specific things here on earth. What a splendid and awesome responsibility. I have a great desire to fulfill these covenants here in mortality. Who knows but that when certain earthly assignments were mentioned in the pre-existence, where no doubt the principle of moral agency also existed, that we also stood up to say, “Here am I, send me.”
I am indebted to the volunteers at Clay Gorton’s website (Ask Gramps) for collecting a few of the quotes from General Authorities on this topic. (President Gorton served as mission president in Argentina as well as president of the Missionary Training Center in Santiago, Chile. He passed away in 2008 and volunteers have taken over the job to write for the blog. No doubt he is among those missionary spirits working on the other side of the veil.) A few quotes also came from the Scott Woodward page, for which I am also very grateful.