Monday, February 04, 2008

I just wanted to record a few thoughts about Gordon B Hinckley.

Wife of Bath and I went to the broadcast of his funeral Saturday, and it was a moving experience. My father died when I was 17, and my mother died about six years ago. I wasn't that close to my father, and my mother was clearly ready to go home. I didn't cry at either of their funerals, and wasn't really that upset at their deaths. Both had had long illnesses, and I was just worn out by the experiences.

President Hinckley's funeral was a very emotional experience for me. He touched me deeply in many ways. His practical wisdom and gentle humor was very endearing. Much of my vision of what it means to be married comes from his relationship with Marjorie. Several parts of the funeral just made me gasp out loud in tears. One was after his coffin was wheeled into the Conference Center and they showed the First Presidency with his empty chair. Another was at the end of the funeral after all the tributes about him, when after having watched his coffin placed in the hearse, without warning they cut to a documentary of him being with the people of the church around the globe, loving them and being loved by him.

I never actually met him, but I saw him in person three times. Once at a regional conference where he spoke with Sister Hinckley and twice at the dedication of the Raleigh NC temple. In all those occasions you could tell he really wanted to speak to and touch each person individually, but time and numbers just wouldn't permit.

At the funeral they recounted his legacy. They talked about the hundreds of thousands of miles he traveled. The growth of the church. The number of temples he built. The number of temples he dedicated. His warm and folksy humor. His love for the people of the church, and their love for him. His testimony of the restored gospel. His accomplishments were numerous.

Having said all that and despite my feelings for the man personally, it just seemed to me like there was something missing.

Given all his personal accomplishments, is all this really what prophets of the Lord are known by?

What does it really mean to be a special witness of Jesus Christ?

The one thing that seemed conspicuously absent to me was much discussion about his testimony of Jesus Christ. He obviously had a burning testimony of Joseph Smith and the "restoration" of the gospel, as we tell the story in the LDS church. His last General Conference talk, his last message before being called home, was essentially a recital of the Joseph Smith story. I counted, and there were 12 references to Joseph Smith and 6 to Jesus Christ. So, at least at the end, who was he a special witness of? He recited facts about Jesus Christ in his talks, and he clearly understood the mechanics of the atonement and Jesus' role as savior. It strikes me that the primary love he always expressed was his love for the church, the "restored" gospel, and Joseph Smith. A few years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer he gave what sounded so much like his eulogy that he included a disclaimer that it wasn't. In it, in his warm personal way, he talked about the many ways in which the church had blessed his life and the inspiring people he had met and served with as a result. Any serious discussion of the nature of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ seemed particularly absent, as though the saving relationship were the one with the church, the one that prepared us for judgment, and Christ was a distant figure we only meet at the end, the one with the scorecard in his hand.

In the Baptist bible study I go to we discuss the concept of saving faith. Their definition of saving faith is an understanding that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, and works are an inevitable byproduct of that faith. Unless we truly understand that we are saved through the atonement and not as a reward for our own works, we don't understand Jesus as our savior and we are not truly "saved". At this writing I'm not totally sure what I think of that, but it's an interesting concept to think about.

During the funeral, despite the love I have for Gordon Hinckley as a person, I found myself wondering whether he really thought he was saved by the atonement, or whether in his heart he felt saved by his relationship to the church, through the doctrines expounded by Joseph Smith, and through the ordinances performed through the priesthood authority of the LDS church. Did he really have "saving faith"? Only God knows for sure.

Gordon, God be with you until we meet again. I pray you had saving faith in Christ. Give my love to Marjorie, because I'm sure that wherever you are, she is there also. The alternative would be hell for you, whether it was the highest degree of celestial glory or not. Tell Jesus how much we love him, even though we don't show it very well or very often. Help him understand how hard it is to sort all this out sometimes, and encourage him to have compassion on us sinners who are just trying to figure all this out. Thanks for everything you did for us. Thanks for doing your best to lead us down the road you thought led to Christ, even if it was a long and circuitous path at times.


Figaro said...

CF, great comments. And I think you are very perceptive in defining Hinkley's testimony as being more about the "restored gospel" and church than about the Savior. Your faith and your hunger for righteousness continues to inspire me.

Guy Noir, Private Eye said...

the effects of Christ going AWOL in LDS practice ARE HERE; today, now. LDS gauge themselves NOT by Christian living, Christian standards, but by being advanced (males, that is) in the Morg. LDS ppl can't decide right/wrong without consulting some manual or leaders... they're LOST, for sure.