Simultaneously on Both Sides of the Veil: Chiasmus in Elder Renlund’s “Family History and Temple Work: Sealing and Healing”

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

During the April 2018 General Conference I was particularly struck by a medical story told by Apostle Dale G. Renlund, who worked as a medical doctor prior to his calling as a general authority. He specialized in cardiology and transplant medicine, providing the chronic after-care for patients who had received heart transplantation surgery. He has drawn upon his medical experience in several prior talks, including his first address as a general authority where he used transplant medicine as a gospel analogy for maintaining the mighty change of heart, and his first talk as an apostle where he told the touching story of a patient who tragically died (including a role-reversal, where the parents of the patient provided comfort to him, the grieving doctor).

Elder Renlund’s April 2018 address tells of a heart transplant recipient becoming an important figure in the life of his heart donor’s family. This relationship is culminated in the temple sealing ordinance, where the transplant recipient acts as proxy for his heart donor as he is sealed to his parents. This story is told using a long-form textual chiasm:

A. “Todd, if you really do have to go, I promise I’ll see to it that your temple work gets done.” The next morning, Todd was declared brain dead. Surgeons
B. transplanted
C. Todd’s heart into my patient, a remarkable individual named
D. Rod. A few months after the transplant, Rod learned the identity of his heart donor’s family and began to correspond with them. About two years later,
E. Todd’s mother, Betty, invited Rod to be present when she went to the temple for the first time. Rod and Betty first met in person in the
F. celestial room of the St. George Utah Temple. Sometime thereafter, Todd’s father—Betty’s husband—died. A couple of years later, Betty invited
G. Rod to
H. vicariously
H. represent
G. her deceased son in receiving his temple ordinances. Rod gratefully did so, and the proxy work culminated in a
F. sealing room in the St. George Utah Temple. Betty was sealed to her deceased husband, kneeling across the altar from her grandson who served as proxy. Then, with tears streaming down her cheeks,
E. she beckoned for Rod to join them at the altar.
D. Rod knelt beside them, acting as proxy for her son,
C. Todd, whose heart was still beating inside Rod’s chest.
B. Rod’s heart donor, Todd, was then sealed to his parents for all eternity.
A. Todd’s mother had kept the promise she made to her dying son years before.

Notice near the center of the structure that “Rod” and “her deceased son” (Todd) are paired elements, nested within the sacred rooms of the “St. George Utah Temple”. Betty’s “promise” to have her son’s temple work done forms the outer pair of elements, surrounding the sacred events in the interior of the chiasm. The literal meaning of the words is thus reinforced by the symbolic relationships between paired elements of the literary structure.

The entire subject of temple work is chiastic, as living descendants research family history and perform vicarious ordinances for ancestors who are deceased, with the center point of the relationship being the House of God where the ordinances are performed.

temple chiasmus_3

Elder Renlund’s talk contains the following chiasms, all of which emphasize the relationship between the temporal and eternal blessings of temple work:

We can perform the ordinances vicariously in temples, and our
A. ancestors may choose to accept the ordinances. We are also encouraged to help ward and stake members with their family names. It is
B. breathtakingly amazing that, through family history and temple work,
C. we can help to redeem the dead. But as we participate in family history and temple work today,
C. we also lay claim to “healing” blessings promised by prophets and apostles. These blessings are also
B. breathtakingly amazing because of their scope, specificity, and
A. consequence in mortality.

The ascending half of this chiasm refers to the “breathtakingly amazing” effects of temple work on those who have passed through the veil, as ancestors who choose to accept the ordinances may be saved and sealed, producing consequences in eternity. The descending side shows the mirror image, describing the “breathtakingly amazing” blessings given in mortality to those who participate in this work.

The following chiasm builds off of a quote from Ezekiel chapter 47 on the ascending side to explain the meaning of the symbolic language of the scriptural passage on the descending side:

A. “[and] the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: … for
B. they shall be healed; and
C. every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” Two characteristics of the water are noteworthy. First, though the small stream had no tributaries, it grew into a
D. mighty river, becoming wider and deeper the farther it flowed. Something similar happens with the blessings that flow from the temple as individuals are
E. sealed as families. Meaningful growth occurs going
F. backward and
F. forward through the generations as
E. sealing ordinances weld families together. Second, the
D. river
C. renewed everything that it touched. The blessings of the temple likewise have a
B. stunning capacity to heal. Temple blessings can
A. heal hearts and lives and families.

The river of water flowing from the temple through the desert to heal the Dead Sea is symbolic of the blessings of the temple, which flow into the lives of temple patrons and their family members in both directions (ancestors and descendants) and on both sides of the veil.

Elder Renlund concludes his talk with a reiteration of President Nelson’s invitation for us to “sacrifice” more of our “time” to do this important work of “temple and family history”, nested at the center of a long-form chiasm between a repeated quote from C. S. Lewis. Also emphasized in this structure is the doctrine that the Lord is the ultimate source of all of the healing and sealing blessings of the temple. The relationship of these elements within the chiastic structure suggests that our willing sacrifice in temple and family history work is at the center of our opportunity to call forth the blessings of heaven to heal us and our families.

A. “The Blessed will say, ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.’” God will
B. strengthen, help, and uphold us; and He will sanctify to us our deepest distress. When we gather our family histories and go to the temple on behalf of our ancestors,
C. God fulfills many of these promised blessings simultaneously on both sides of the veil. Similarly, we are blessed when we help others in our wards and stakes do the same. Members who do not live close to a temple also receive these blessings by participating in
D. family history work,
E. collecting the names of their ancestors for temple ordinances to be performed.
F. President Russell M. Nelson, however, cautioned: “We can be inspired all day long about
G. temple and family history experiences others have had. But
H. we must do something to actually experience the joy ourselves.” He continued, “I invite you to prayerfully consider what kind of
I. sacrifice—preferably a
I. sacrifice of time—
H. you can make [to] do more
G. temple and family history work.” As you accept
F. President Nelson’s invitation, you will
E. discover, gather, and connect your family. Additionally, blessings will flow to you and your family like the river spoken of by Ezekiel. You will find healing for that which needs healing. Orson and Parley Pratt experienced the healing and sealing effects of
D. family history and temple work early in this dispensation. Betty, her family, and Rod experienced it. You can too. Through His atoning sacrifice,
C. Jesus Christ offers these blessings to all, both the dead and the living. Because of
B. these blessings,
A. we will find that we, metaphorically, “have never lived anywhere except … Heaven.”


Elder Renlund teaches through precept, story, and even the very literary structure of his talk, that the blessings of temple work are simultaneously distributed to people on both sides of the veil. Jesus Christ is the source of those blessings, as he is the central figure in the Plan of Salvation and the power by which families are sealed together in the temple.

(Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a guest author. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of