We Need Our Ancestors—and They Need Us

The word “fathers” appears 182 times in the Book of Mormon, usually meaning “ancestors.” For example:

  • On the title page, we read that one of the purposes of the book is “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers.”
  • Lehi was delighted to find “upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers” (1 Nephi 5:14-16).
  • The angel who appeared to Alma reproved him for not remembering the captivity of his fathers (Mosiah 27:16).
  • The Jaredite kings Orihah and Shule prospered because they remembered the great things the Lord had done for their fathers (Ether 6:30, Ether 7:27).
  • Mormon and Moroni both quoted a promise which Christ made to their fathers (Moroni 7:26, Moroni 10:23).

When Jesus visited the American continent, he quoted the following prophecy of Malachi:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord;

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

3 Nephi 25:5-6

Why is it so important for our hearts to be turned to our ancestors?

In his epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul provided a long list of people through the ages who had faith: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara and many others. The lesson seems straighforward: If they were able to obtain blessings by their faith, then so can we. But Paul ends on a different note:

These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:39-40

It’s a strange moral to an otherwise simple story. Why would our ancestors be unable to achieve their full potential without us?

In an 1842 epistle to the church, Joseph Smith commented on and expanded Paul’s observation. After teaching about the importance of performing baptisms on behalf of our deceased ancestors, Joseph wrote:

My dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.

Doctrine and Covenants 128:15

God loves all of His children, both the living and the dead. Somehow, in a way that isn’t obvious to us in mortality, we are all connected. Learning about our ancestors and serving them through performing religious rites on their behalf strengthens our relationship with them and helps us become a part of an eternal network of relationships.

Today, I will deepen my connection with my ancestors by learning more about them. I will remember that the relationships which will bring me eternal joy are not limited to people who are currently living.

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