Of all the institutions in the modern world that have learned the art of give and take with the news media, religion has perhaps had the most difficult time adjusting. Religious matters, with all their miraculous narratives and complicated histories, don’t easily lend themselves to neat explanations. The demands and rigors of journalistic objectivity are not always aligned with the subjective nature of religious experience. So it is with Mormonism.
The enterprise of Mormonism goes far beyond any passing media narrative or sensation of the moment. It aims higher by seeking to explain the ultimate questions of existence: what it means to be a human being and what it means to belong to the larger human family. The longing for family connection — between those who have gone, those who are here and those who have yet to come — finds a home in the Mormon worldview and in the lives of Latter-day Saints who subscribe to it. Furthermore, as one comes closer to knowing divinity, one likewise comes closer to knowing oneself. No other place facilitates this process better than the temple. These sacred spaces serve as the point where heaven and earth meet, where the generations of mankind come together.
In his book titled The Complete Christian, Elder Robert S. Wood of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, and former international affairs advisor, recounts an experience he had with a Russian diplomat that illustrates this point. “In the mid-1980s,” he writes, “I participated in a series of discussions between officials from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The subject of the talks was the possibility of naval cooperation between America, Britain, and Russia.” On one of these occasions during the course of the negotiation process, Elder Wood happened upon the leader of the Soviet delegation, who was lost in deep thought. Their conversation turned to religion. The Russian diplomat then asked Elder Wood if he had ever heard of Joseph Smith. Taken aback by the question, Elder Wood answered that not only had he heard of Joseph Smith but that he was also a member of the Church he founded. Having been introduced to Mormonism by a book entitled A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, the Russian diplomat proceeded to offer his profound, sincere summary of this religion’s meaning:
“As I understand it, Joseph Smith brought together two ideas that are generally in conflict with each other and combined them in a remarkable synthesis. On the one hand, the Latter-day Saints believe that mortality is but a moment in eternity and that men and women do not spring into existence at birth and are annihilated at death. We existed before birth and shall persist after death. Moreover, there is a link between those who are yet to be born, those who now live, and those who have passed beyond the grave; there is, in fact, communication across those seeming barriers. Some who have lived have returned and communicated with the living, and there is a great cooperative enterprise that links the unborn, the living, and the dead, aimed at their mutual salvation and perfection.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “the Latter-day Saints seem very concerned with improving the lot of mankind in mortality. They do not believe that happiness is simply for another world but needs to be established here through common temporal as well as spiritual efforts. You seem to be community builders. You’re very pragmatic as well.”
As temples continue to be built around the world, barriers between generations fall. All mankind is interconnected and responsible toward one another. The separations and deprivations that time and place have imposed on humanity will ultimately be erased, allowing those who never heard of Jesus Christ an equal opportunity for salvation as those who did. Thus, in the words of Joseph Smith, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Moreover, “It is necessary that those who are gone before, and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us” (Times and Seasons 5:616).