President M. Russell Ballard stood at the Conference Center podium Sunday morning at a personal, mixed moment of grief and joy.
His wife of 67 years, Sister Barbara Ballard, died seven days ago. Tomorrow, on his 90th birthday, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his many loved ones will gather for her funeral.
Meanwhile, this month marks the 100th anniversary of his great-grandfather President Joseph F. Smith’s vision regarding the resurrection of the dead. That prophetic revelation — defined by its hopeful promise of eternity — would become the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. President Ballard wrote his conference talk weeks before Sister Ballard died Monday, Oct. 1.
Speaking somberly, it’s certain President Ballard’s thoughts were with both his late wife and his grandfather, who also knew great sorrow in his own life.
“My brothers and sisters, my talk was prepared sometime before the passing of my dear wife Barbara,” he said at the beginning of his remarks. “My family and I thank you for your love and outreach and kindness. I pray the Lord will bless me as I speak to you this morning.”
On October 3, 1918, a century ago, President Joseph F. Smith received “a glorious vision” about the redemption of the dead. The Church’s sixth president was not well. He would die a few weeks later. But on that day his thoughts were focused on Christ’s atoning sacrifice and the apostle Peter’s description of the Savior’s ministry in the spirit world after His crucifixion.
President Smith recorded: “As I pondered over these things . . . the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead.”
President Ballard referenced the many mournful moments his great-grandfather had endured in the decades preceding his essential revelation.
Joseph F. was a little boy when his father, Hyrum Smith, and his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, were brutally murdered in Carthage Jail. A few years later, his mother Mary Fielding Smith died. At 13, he was an orphan. Over the course of his 80-year life, he would lose many more relatives — including a brother, two sisters, two wives and 13 children.
“When his son Albert Jesse died, Joseph F. wrote to his sister Martha Ann, that he had pled with the Lord to save him and asked, ‘Why is it so? O. God why had it to be?’” said President Ballard.
“Despite his prayers at that time, Joseph F. received no answer on this matter. He told Martha Ann that ‘the heavens (seemed like) brass over our heads on the subject of death and the spirit world. Nevertheless, his faith in the Lord’s eternal promises was firm and steadfast.”
But “in the Lord’s due time,” the additional answers, comfort and understanding about the Spirit World came to President Smith through the vision received in the fall of 1918.
“That year was particularly painful for him,” he said. “He grieved over the death toll in the Great World War that continued to climb to over 20 million people killed. Additionally, a flu pandemic was spreading around the world taking the lives of as many as one hundred million people.”
And so it was, after having experienced a lifetime of intense sorrow, that President Smith received “the heavenly revelation” known as “the vision of the redemption of the dead.”
“The revelation he received on October 3, comforted his heart and provided answers to many of his questions,” said President Ballard. “We too can be comforted and learn more about our own future when we or our loved ones die and go to the spirit world by studying this revelation and pondering its significance in the way we live our lives each day.”
In the vision, President Smith saw his Hyrum and Joseph Smith for the first time in 74 years.
“We can only imagine his joy at seeing his beloved father and uncle. He must have been inspired and comforted to know that all spirits retain the likeness of their mortal body and that they are anxiously awaiting the day of their promised resurrection.
“The vision revealed more fully the depth and breadth of Heavenly Father’s plan for His children and Christ’s redeeming love and the matchless power of His Atonement.”
On the 100th anniversary of that vision, President Ballard invited all listening Sunday to thoughtfully read and re-read the revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 138.
“As you do so, may the Lord bless you to more fully understand and appreciate God’s love and His plan of salvation and happiness for His children.”
Concluding, President Ballard’s thoughts returned to his wife.
“How grateful I am today, my brothers and sisters, to know where my precious Barbara is, and that we will be together again with our family for all eternity.
“May the peace of the Lord sustain all of us now and forever.”