Thoughts about the gift of certainty.
Over the last few days I attended the various events associated with my grandmother’s death. She had passed ninety years of age and had been slowly declining in both mental and physical capability for more than five years, but I felt the loss more than I had anticipated.
The night after her memorial service, all through the night (as witnessed by several wakings during then night) I had running through my head a few lines from Charles Wesley, to the tune “Lucas” by James Lucas:
“I have fought my way through;
I have finished the work thou didst give me to do.”
“Well and faithfully done;
Enter into my joy and sit down on my throne;
Enter into my joy and sit down on my throne.”
I was at times frustrated in my dream that I could recall neither the rest of the verse (including the intermediate lyrics) nor the rest of the verses of the hymn. But I was also impressed by the confidence and hope of the passage I did recall. Most of my memories of my grandmother are either of her wheelchair-bound and mostly incoherent or of her bustling about in a quirky way that did not always seem friendly to me. That this passage should come to mind was surprising, not in that it disagreed with my experience but it was not the image I had of her a priori.
As I have contemplated this experience over the days that have followed I have asked myself, “what manifestation could have been more comforting?” I imagined seeing her spirit manifest directly; I imagined a vision of the post-mortal realm; I imagined an angelic visitor, a surprisingly on-target comment from a stranger or church leader, a voice in my ear, and many other possible kinds of divine communication.
To my surprise as I contemplated these options I came to the tentative conclusion that the thing missing from the experience which I did have could have been missing from any of them, and that without it none would have provided more assurance. That missing element is described well by Joseph Smith after relating an experience he had with revelation:
I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:
“Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.”
I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.
Just as Joseph had no doubt about the origin of his answer but was left “without being able to decide” one key element, so in my experience there was one thing missing: confidence that it was intended by God to apply to my grandmother. “I was left thus, without being able to decide” if this was a message of general applicability or one targeted in particular to the person of my grandmother.
I have had that confidence in other divine manifestations. Some manifestations do come full-formed with divine certainty of application, while others are like my experience of last week in being a bit looser. Some are simple and clear. Some are clearly divine but not clear to understand. Some are clear in application but might be my own thoughts and emotions. These different kinds of clarity can apply to many different kinds of manifestations.
I have written before of miracles and recently of confidence in matters divine. These are topics with many areas to explore. But one of their characteristics seems to me to be the belief, the confidence, the certainty the Lord chooses to give us or withhold from us with the experience. Without that gift of certainty, angels are just space-aliens; with it, the simplest manifestation may carry glory beyond compare.