In 1912, on the island of Larsmo, just off the west coast of Finland, my paternal grandparents, Lena Sofia and Matts Leander Renlund, listened to missionaries from Sweden preach the restored gospel. Lena Sofia and Leander were baptized the following day. They found joy in their new faith and in being part of a small branch, the first in Finland. Unfortunately, life’s fortunes changed for them as disaster struck.
In 1916, Leander’s mother, who lived with them, died of tuberculosis. In 1917, Leander also died of tuberculosis, leaving Lena Sofia a widow and pregnant with her tenth child. That child, my father, was born 2 months after Leander’s death. More family members died of tuberculosis. Lena Sofia eventually buried seven of her ten children, in addition to Leander. It was a major struggle for her, an impoverished peasant woman, to keep what remained of her family intact.
I met Lena Sofia once in December 1963. I was 11 and she was 87. She was stooped from a life-time of hard labour. She was so bowed over that when she stood from a seated position, her height did not change. The skin of her face and hands was weather-beaten, as tough and textured as worn leather. As we met, she stood and pointed to a picture of Leander and said to me, in Swedish, “Det här är min gubbe.”
As I was just learning Swedish, I thought she had incorrectly used the present tense of the verb since she said, “This is my old man.” Since Leander had been dead for 46 years, I pointed out this apparent mistake to my mother. My mother simply told me, “You don’t understand.” She was right. I did not understand and would not for some years to come. Lena Sofia knew that her long dead husband was and would remain hers through the eternities. Because of the doctrine of eternal families, Leander had remained a presence in her life and part of her great hope for the future.
Before the Helsinki Finland Temple dedication in 2006, my sister checked to see what ordinance work was needed for our father’s line. What she found was a blazing affirmation of Lena Sofia’s faith in the sealing authority. Lena Sofia had submitted the family records for her deceased children, who were over 8 years of age when they died, so that temple work could be performed in 1938. This was at least four years before any formal classes were taught in Family History work in Finland. These were among the earliest ordinances submitted to a temple from Finland.
Over the course of human history, mankind has seen plagues, pestilences, wars, scourges and all sorts of inhumanity. Some ask the age-old question, “If God did exist, would He not have done something about all of these problems?” As a Church, we not only declare emphatically that there is a God in heaven, but that He has done something about it. Lena Sofia knew it and knowing it got her through her challenging life. She, like the Saints mentioned by Paul, “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them” (Hebrews 11:13).
God, our Heavenly Father, sent His Son to earth, to live and die as Jesus did and to resurrect the third day and ascend to heaven. He broke the bands of death and gave all mankind the opportunity to repent and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel.
Referring to the difficulties that mankind would encounter in life, Jesus Christ said, “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven ... that faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world...” (D&C 1:17-23) .
On September 21 and 22, 1823, Moroni appeared four times to the 17-year-old Joseph Smith. Moroni describes what the Lord was going to do about the world’s calamities. After informing young Joseph about the golden plates, Moroni began quoting prophecies from the Old Testament, beginning with the third and fourth chapters of Malachi. The last part of Malachi 3 discusses a concern by the people of God. Looking around and seeing that those that were less faithful nonetheless appeared blessed and happy, they asked God the question of what good it was to them that they had kept God’s ordinances. Malachi states that:
“... and the Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
“Then shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (3 Nephi 24:16-18).
God is saying that His people should not judge the benefit of living the gospel too soon because the time would come when one would clearly see the benefit. Malachi further states:
“ For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble... that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (3 Nephi 25:1).
Without the Lord’s intervention, individuals, no matter how happy and blessed they appear would have neither ancestry (root) nor posterity (branch). With the Lord’s intervention, however, the blessings of ancestry and posterity would be preserved, as explained by Moroni as he continues to quote Malachi:
“Behold, I will reveal to you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord;
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (Joseph Smith - History 1:37-39)
Without the sealing authority, the earth and every aspect related to it would “be utterly wasted” (D&C 2:3).
What is the Lord’s plan to deal with calamity? Restore the priesthood, restore sealing authority. These restorations ensure our eternal happiness.
While leaders do not establish quotas or reporting systems for temple attendance, members are encouraged to set personal goals for temple attendance. Each member determines his or her own level of participation in temple work. Members are encouraged to receive their own temple ordinances. Endowed members should then hold a current temple recommend and go to the temple as often as circumstances and family needs allow.
Unendowed adults and youth ages 12 and older, including new members, are encouraged to have limited-use temple recommends and go to the temple often to be baptized and confirmed on behalf of those who have died. Paraphrasing President Howard W. Hunter, (President of the Church June 5, 1994- March 3, 1995) members of the Church should establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants; every adult member should be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend; they should become a temple-attending and a temple-loving people; and should attend the temple as frequently as time, means and personal circumstances allow (Press Conference, June 6, 1994).
Present realities may make it so that a member cannot be sealed to a spouse or to parents or children. To those who find themselves in this situation, remain faithful and realize that if you do your part all the blessings that this Church and gospel have to offer will be yours. Nothing will be denied you. As you diligently work on your family history and attend the temple where possible, you will feel a comforting spirit that will speak peace to your soul that all is well and that the Lord is pleased with you.
Because the Lord knew the calamities, difficulties and challenges we would face, He restored His priesthood and His sealing authority to the earth. Searching out our family history and participating in temple ordinances will help us keep an eternal perspective, just as it did for Lena Sophia.