Thoughts of a Prophet – Hope for the Best
Gordon B Hinckley, the Mormon prophet, passed away on 27 January 2008. I have been thinking about what to say about a man who, at 97, was able to boast so much: a massive temple building programme; the oldest serving president; the popularising of Mormonism through TV, Radio and newspaper work (famously his numerous interviews with Larry King). What did the man think about his faith? What would be the abiding message of the spiritual leader of Mormons around the world?
In a press conference held to mark the occasion of his 95th birthday he offered his thoughts on long life and eternal prospects. It was significant that the leader of the only true church on the face of the earth, a man with “sole authority” to represent Jesus Christ, had little to offer by way of eternal hope, and made no mention of the work of Christ and the assurance of Salvation. Here was a golden opportunity to declare a message of hope but all he had to offer was hope for the best. With emphases added here are some of his remarks.
Life Goes On……..
When asked if he planned to celebrate his 100th birthday he replied that after he has lived as long as he can he plans to “cash in”. He went on to say that he had no worries about death for two reasons. The first is that he knows the church will be left in capable hands. The second his conviction that our existence continues beyond this life.
"The Church is organized in such a way that the transition from one president to another is a very simple, straightforward thing,” he said. “The one who succeeds me will have worked with me for a very long time. He'll know all I've tried to do and know all about it. Things will continue on much the same way we've tried to do."
Speaking of his own future, he said, "I have an assurance of immortality of the human soul. There's no question in my mind we'll go on living after we leave here. I don't dwell on it a lot. I just accept it and move forward.”
Compare this “conviction” of continued existence (notice no reason is given for his conviction. It must simply be a “feeling” he has) with the words of the apostle John:
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Or the words of Paul to the saints in Rome:
“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).
Or the words of Jesus in John’s gospel:
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24)
What a remarkable message! No wonder Paul was able to write so confidently to the saints in Rome, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
The Mormon prophet offered no such hope of peace, no such eternal assurance as is clearly taught in Scripture and we are left asking where exactly is the hope in the Mormon message?
We’re the Good Guys
Asked how he wanted people to view the church he leads he replied, "I'd like to speak to the whole world and declare the goodness of this Church and the strength of its programs and the desire of its leaders to cultivate peace and goodwill and harmony and good relationships among the diverse peoples of the world."
This is a familiar theme with this former Public Relations Officer who is always conscious of the image of the Mormon Church before the world. Compare this with Paul’s wonderful, Christ-centred and heaven-assured words in Ephesians.
“God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Paul further wrote, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord…May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:4).
While James considers that “friendship with the world is hatred towards God” (James 4:4), the Mormon prophet seeks to “cultivate peace and goodwill and harmony and good relationships among the diverse peoples of the world”. While Paul writes of “the heavenly realms” and “the coming ages” with confidence and anticipation Gordon B Hinckley offers nothing but a conviction that “we'll go on living after we leave here, [but] I don’t dwell on it a lot.”
What if This is As Good as it Gets?
To those Mormons who are facing trials in their lives he said, “My heart reaches out to all who are unfortunate, who have serious problems, who are bowed down with grief, who just seem to have so many difficulties. You just have to make the best of it. You do the very best you can with what you have and leave the rest to the Lord. And that's really all you can do.”
The message of Scripture is that, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul wrote that, being people who “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Far from making the best of it, the writers of the New Testament bore suffering with sure hope and in the certain knowledge that they, “participate in the suffering of Christ, that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13)
The message of Christianity is a sure hope of Salvation, peace with God, no condemnation for those who believe, life in Christ, and hope even through suffering. The message of Mormonism is hope for the best, life goes on, come and join the good guys and, if you suffer, make the best of it. Paul wrote that, “he who prophesies edifies the church…” (1 Corinthians 14:4). Does such a message as marked this prophets’ life edify? (1 Corinthians 15:19)
I hesitate to call a man a liar and, certainly, no laurels are handed out to those who “speak ill of the dead”, but I cannot let this moment pass without remarking that I think Gordon B Hinckley was probably the greatest Mormon dissembler since Joseph Smith. In responding to questions about the faith into which he was born, in which he grew up, and in which he worked all his life, he dodged questions time and again. Ever the PR man, he knew what people needed to hear and what was best kept under wraps and anyone talking to Mormons today will know that this, too, is part of his legacy, i.e. the widespread Mormon instinct to put a face on things, highlight the acceptable and obfuscate on the darker and more controversial aspects of the faith. Future presidents who want to take a more direct and forthright approach will have a hill to climb to overcome an ingrained habit of dissimulation. You can read more about Gordon B Hinckley’s rambling prevarications in an article called The Hinckley Timeline in the Reachout Trust Quarterly (85), in the Truth Restored section, here: http://www.reachouttrust.org/articles/quarterly/Quarterly85.pdf