Keys to the Ministering of Angels

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Today in Priest Quorum we discussed the responsibilities and duties of Priests. Compared to Deacons and Teachers, Priests have three main additional responsibilities:

  1. Blessing the Sacrament
  2. Baptizing
  3. Helping ordain other Priests, Teachers, and Deacons

When I was Priest age, I stood in on ordinations of fellow Priests. It was always a wonderful experience; something that helped prepare me better for the responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood, namely, the laying on of hands. While ordinations are not a primary role of Priests, they are able to help from time to time.

Another part of our lesson focused on one of the blessings that Priests (and all Aaronic Priesthood holders) have – the keys to the ministering of angels (see D&C 13; D&C 107:20). We had a discussion about what this phrase means. Ministering angels can be seen or unseen; they can be not yet born, deceased, or mortal individuals.

One of my favorite stories from the life of Wilford Woodruff (that my father used to tell to my brother and me) was included in the lesson manual (although it’s a little different from the version I learned from Wilford Woodruff’s Leaves From My Journal):

President Wilford Woodruff experienced the ministering of angels when he was doing missionary work as a priest and was impressed to warn a formerly active Church member named Father Hakeman to repent and become active again.

“I was once moved upon to go and warn old Father Hakeman. … He had been in Jackson County during the persecution period. … We went a good deal out of our way for the purpose of visiting Father Hakeman. I had a vision the night previous, in which was manifested to me the trouble that lay before us, but that the Lord would deliver us. We arrived at his house on Sunday morning. He was taking breakfast. We had had breakfast at the place where we stayed overnight. I saw a Book of Mormon on his shelf. He did not seem to pay any attention to us, or to take any interest in us. I took up the Book of Mormon, and said, ‘You have a very good book here.’

“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘but it is a book that came from the devil.’

“That opened my eyes. He had been an elder; he had been in Zion; had been persecuted there and driven out; but I found that he had apostatized, and he was our enemy. I saw he would do anything he could against us.

“We left him and went to Brother Hubbard’s and stayed with him three weeks, during which we took our axes and cleared some land for him. I was strongly impressed three times to go up and warn Father Hakeman. At last I did so, according to the commandment of God to me. The third time I met with him, his house seemed to be full of evil spirits, and I was troubled in spirit at the manifestation. When I finished my warning, I left him. He followed me from his house with the intention of killing me. I have no doubt about his intention, for it was shown to me in vision. When he came to where I was, he fell dead at my feet, as if he had been struck with a thunderbolt from heaven. I was then a priest, but God defended me and preserved my life. I speak of this because it is a principle that has been manifest in the church of God in this generation as well as in others. I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousand of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it.

“I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood. Our young men, if they are deacons, should labor to fulfil that office. If they do that, they may then be called to the office of a teacher, whose duty it is to teach the people, visit the Saints and see that there is no evil or iniquity carried on. God has no respect for persons in this priesthood any further than as they magnify their callings and do their duty” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 297–98). (Source).

Wilford Woodruff, a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, was protected by God, by ministering angels. As a missionary I had similar, although much less dramatic experiences. I’ve felt ministering angels at other times in my life as well.

Heavenly Father loves each of us, His children. One of the strongest manifestations of this love is through the Priesthood. We are given access to some of God’s power. This power is given so that those who hold it can bless the lives of other people. But I want to return to what it means to hold the keys to the ministering of angels.

Keys lock and unlock objects. They allow the key holder to control access to things. Holding the keys to the ministering of angels means that those with the Aaronic Priesthood do not just receive the ministering of angels, they are able to call upon angels when needed. So instead of being passive recipients of the comfort and protection of angels, those with the Aaronic Priesthood can actively call for the blessings and comfort of angels. All of this, of course, if dependent upon worthiness and God’s will but God gives His priesthood to men so that they have opportunities to use His power, not independently from God but inter-dependently with Him. It’s a remarkable power that God gives to men.

On Suicide

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I just found out that one of my friends from high school days killed himself. I’ll call him Jacob (not his real name). What started out as a beautiful day quickly turned around. I knew that Jacob had been struggling with some issues (that’s an understatement) but the news came as a shock. While we were not close friends, we kept in touch through Facebook. Now he’s gone. And you know what? It’s not fair. Suicide is terrible, it is tragic. It does terrible things to those left behind. I can imagine the hurt and pain and despair that leads someone to do it but that doesn’t make it right. In some ways suicide is the ultimate form of free will; it is literally taking your life into your own hands and saying, “Thus far and no more.” However, while it is exercising free will, it does so in tragic circumstances. Jacob has gone to the other side. I don’t know what lies in store for him there. That’s between God and Jacob.

I’ve written a lot about death on this site. Some of the deaths I’ve written about have been tragic, others not at all. Jacob is now the third friend of mine who has taken his life. All of those deaths were completely unnecessary. Death comes to all but we need not and should not hasten it along.

While my primary interests are with the brain and with neuroimaging, I also do clinical work, including therapy. I’ve talked with people who have made attempts at taking their own lives. I have an acquaintance who has struggled for years with thoughts of taking his life. He’s told me that while he never made any attempts, there were days and weeks and months and years where he thought about it over and over. Why did he never take his life? He said that he was able to grab onto the bright days and persevere. He knew it was wrong and that it would hurt a lot of people so he did not do it. Plus, he had faith in God that things would get better in the future. Thankfully they have for him.

So what do we know about suicide from prophets? There are two really good articles that address the topic. One was given by Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, the other by Elder M. Russell Ballard, both in the 1980s. Pres. Benson said, “As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression” (Source). Pres. Benson then goes on and provides 12 things we can do to lift our spirits when we feel down even despondent. His suggestions are: repentance, prayer, service, work, health (focus on increasing physical health), reading (scriptures), blessing (priesthood), friends (family), music, endurance, and goals. While his suggestions are wonderful, they should not replace management by a competent mental health professional should that be necessary. However, by themselves, Pres. Benson’s suggestions would do a lot for depression. Many of them are not very different than what I tell my depressed clients but again, psychological and psychiatric care is vital in many cases. I also should add that not all depression is caused by sin but sin can cause depression, which is why repentance may be necessary in some cases. However, there is great power in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, power enough to overcome the deepest, darkest depression.

Elder Ballard’s article, Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not, is particularly powerful.

He states, “The act of taking one’s life is truly a tragedy because this single act leaves so many victims: first the one who dies, then the dozens of others—family and friends—who are left behind, some to face years of deep pain and confusion. The living victims struggle, often desperately, with difficult emotions. In addition to the feelings of grief, anger, guilt, and rejection which the victims of such a family feel, Latter-day Saints carry an additional burden. The purpose of our mortal lives, we know, is to prove ourselves, to eventually return to live in the celestial kingdom. One who commits suicide closes the door on all that, some have thought, consigning himself to the telestial kingdom.

Or does he? What is the truth regarding suicide?”

After noting that suicide is wrong, Elder Ballard provides this quote by Elder McConkie,

“The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve, expressed what many Church leaders have taught: ‘Suicide consists in the voluntary and intentional taking of one’s own life, particularly where the person involved is accountable and has a sound mind. … Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.’ (Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 771; some italics added.)”

Clearly, there are many things that need to be taken into account regarding the circumstances surrounding a suicide. My friend Jacob was passing through some severe trials – many severe trials. I cannot even fathom going through all he was going through. Elder Ballard talks about this as well:

“I feel that the Lord also recognizes differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance that led to despair and a loss of self-control?

Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth….

Suicide is a sin—a very grievous one, yet the Lord will not judge the person who commits that sin strictly by the act itself. The Lord will look at that person’s circumstances and the degree of his accountability at the time of the act. Of course, this gives us no reason to excuse ourselves in committing sins, nor will the Lord excuse us, if I understand correctly. We must constantly strive to do our best in emulating the Savior in every aspect of our lives. At the same time, however, let us remember that spiritual growth comes ‘line upon line,’ that the key—in the spirit world as well as in mortality—is to keep progressing along the right path.”

In short, we do not know all of people’s circumstances. Yes, many of us were hurt by Jacob’s actions; yes, what he did was wrong but we cannot pass final judgment on him, only God can do that. All that is left for us to do is mourn with those who mourn and provide what comfort we can. We can learn from this experience and try to help others who are struggling.

For those of you who might be struggling with your own despairing thoughts, I say to you, “Hold on!” The darkness is real, the despair is deep and painful, but there is reason to hope. “Hang on, hang on, when all is shattered, when all your hope is gone. Who knows how long? There is a twilight, a nighttime, and a dawn. We break, we bend. With hand in hand when hope is gone just hang on, hang on.” (Guster). After the darkness of night there will be day. If you are struggling with thoughts of ending your own life, please reach out to others.

Also, watch the following two videos to see what prophets have said about hope. Again, competent mental health providers can be extremely beneficial but true and lasting happiness is not found apart from Christ and His Atonement. We can find great hope in Christ. It might not be easy but hope can spring up even during the darkest night.

The Organization of the LDS Church – Part 2

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Under the apostles is the 1st Quorum of the Seventy. All members of this quorum are called and set apart by the apostles. Like the callings of apostle, all members of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy serve until the end of their lives. However, members of the 1st Quorum of Seventy have traditionally been placed on emeritus status around the age of 70. They are especial witnesses of the Savior Jesus Christ – especial differing from special by an e meaning that they bear the responsibility to witness to the earth of the divinity of the Savior. The responsibilities of missionary work and church administration are the same as the apostles. The Seventy are not apostles or prophets, seers, or revelators though. They typically serve throughout the world, directing the church and teaching the gospel. As a whole, the 1st Quorum of the Seventy hold all the rights and keys to the priesthood [I had a brief conversation with someone with authority for the matter and he said that individual Seventies hold no keys – they act under the keys of the Apostles; however, in the case that all the 1st Presidency and Quorum of the 12 all died at the same time – hypothetically – then the 1st Quorum of the 70 should collectively be able to exercise all the keys. This means that collectively they at least have access to the keys of the kingdom should it ever be necessary for them to have to exercise those keys such as if all the 15 apostles {1st Presidency and the Twelve} died simultaneously or in a short enough succession that a new prophet and new apostles could not be called].

Members of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve for 5 years. Their role is the same as those in the 1st quorum, the main difference is the length of calls (1st quorum is for life and 2nd quorum is for 5 years). Members of the 2nd quorum, like those in the 1st quorum can serve throughout the world to call and direct the church in those areas. Each quorum of Seventy can contain up to 70 members. As with the apostles, the most important role of the Seventy is as witnesses of Jesus Christ. They also spend a lot of time training new church leaders, meeting with church members, teaching, and doing administrative tasks. The quorums of Seventy are headed by a presidency of seven men, who traditionally have been called from the 1st Quorum, although members can be called from both 1st and 2nd quorums. These seven presidents of the Seventy hold priesthood keys, unlike the rest of the Seventy.

There are general officers of the church I’ll address later and other authorities but only the apostles (including First Presidency) and those in the first two quorums of the Seventy are General Authorities.

Currently there are 6 more quorums of Seventy. All those in these quorums are ordained as area authority seventies (now just called area seventies). They are not referred to as general authorities because their stewardship lies within the area in which they live and not to the whole church and world. The church organizes its members into a number of geographical areas – some are large and some are small (e.g., ones in Utah). Each area is presided over by an area presidency, comprised of three men who typically are members of the 1st or 2nd quorums of seventy. I’ll copy from Wikipedia:

“The Third Quorum members live and serve in the Africa Southeast, Africa West, Europe Central, Europe East, and Europe West Areas of the Church. The Fourth Quorum members live and serve in the Mexico North, Mexico South, Central America, Caribbean, South America North, and South America West Areas of the Church. The Fifth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Northwest, North America West, Idaho, Utah North, Utah Salt Lake City, and Utah South Areas of the Church. The Sixth Quorum members live and serve in the North America Central, North America East, North America Northeast, North America Southeast, and North America Southwest Areas of the Church. Members of the Seventh Quorum live and serve in the Brazil North, Brazil South, Chile, and South America South Areas of the Church. The Eighth Quorum of the Seventy live and serve in the Asia, Asia North, Australia, New Zealand/Pacific islands, and Philippines areas of the Church.”

Area seventies provide training and teaching to the members within the areas in which they live. They support the apostles and other seventy in their roles. They can call and set apart local church leaders under the direction of the apostles through the area presidency. Similarly to the general authorities, area seventies have a responsibility for missionary work. Until the mid-1980s, the LDS Church had quorums of seventies at the stake level. Men were set apart as seventies with the predominant role as stake missionaries. The role and responsibility of these seventies was markedly different than that of any of the Seventy today. The stake seventies were purely missionary focused. The Seventy today have larger administrative responsibilities.

Each of the six general areas of the church that the area seventies are called to serve in are broken down into smaller areas (the areas were mentioned above – Mexico North or Asia North, for example). Within each of these areas are a number of stakes. Stakes are the largest local unit within the church. Stakes are called stakes in reference to Isaiah 54:2, which reads, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (emphasis added). In each of the stakes within the church, there are a number of wards. Each ward typically has between 100 and 500 members but some can be a little smaller or larger. There are typically 7-9 wards in each stake. There are a couple caveats to this (i.e., districts and branches) but I’ll address those later.