The Work and the Glory is a nine-volume historical fiction series about Joseph Smith and the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The successful books also led to three Work and the Glory movies. In this interview, author Gerald Lund looks back on the series more than 30 years later—and reveals that it almost never got written.
Table of contents
- What do you remember about writing The Work and the Glory?
- How did your calling as a general authority affect the books?
- What did you think about the movies?
- How did you prepare for the movies?
- What’s the backstory for Why Isn’t God Answering Me?
- Why is revelation a recurring theme in your books?
- What’s the relationship between light, truth, and revelation?
- How else do choices affect revelation?
- What do you do when overwhelmed by fear?
- Which figures from church history inspire you?
- How are doctrine and revelation connected?
- Did any general authorities give advice when you were called to the Seventy?
- What advice would you give to someone who received a daunting calling?
- What would you ask Joseph Smith about revelation?
What does Gerald Lund remember about writing the Work and the Glory series?
Some of those memories are painful. The Work and the Glory almost never happened because I got in the Lord’s way.
I had just started a book that would become The Kingdom and the Crown and was working for the Church Educational System. My boss at the time said that a Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) donor wanted to speak with me about writing a novel version of the history of our church. I thought about it, but just didn’t have the time.
But then he came back again and said that this donor felt strongly about it. We went back and forth, and he said that I should at least hear the donor out. Finally, I said that I’d take a day to fast and pray about it, but that the answer would likely still be no.
I did what I said though, and prayerfully considered it. I ended up having my own experience where I learned that writing the story was something the Lord wanted to be a priority in my life.
There’s more to the story that I didn’t know until three years later. The donor’s name was Kenneth “Kim” Moe. He and his wife were converts to the Church. One day, they passed through the Salt Lake airport and picked up a thumbnail version of a church history. Years later, the missionaries taught the couple, and they joined the church.
Kenneth loved historical fiction. And he kept going back to that thumbnail version of our history, thinking that it would make a good story to share with nonmembers.
“I even tried writing it myself,” he later told me. “It’s obvious that I can’t do it.” (His wife humorously added, “That’s for sure!”)
I later found out that he worked on it for years. He finally went to a bookstore and bought all of the Latter-day Saint fiction books that he could find. He read them, and it turns out that he liked my style the best. That’s when he reached out to my boss in the Church Educational System to see if I would be willing to help.
Kim told me that he had been frustrated when I initially declined. But one night he had an inspired experience where he learned a couple of things. First, the Lord wanted him to make a story about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, he didn’t need to be the one to write it.
That’s why he was so persistent when I first said no. It was something he felt inspired to do.
I got a phone call from my stake president on the same night I received the inspiration to move forward with the books. My wife and I went to his office, and he called me to be a bishop. I can remember looking up to heaven and saying, “Really? You just told me to do this, and now I’m a bishop?”
I expected it would be difficult to serve in a demanding calling and write The Work and the Glory at the same time. Ironically, about two volumes in, I realized that I was writing faster than before I had been called as a bishop. That was a confirming feeling that I was doing the right thing. I’m fortunate to be the writer. But the power is in the story.
How did Gerald Lund’s calling as a general authority impact The Work and the Glory?
One day, I was attending church in my ward. I hadn’t yet been called to serve in the Quorum of the Seventy, but a current member of the Seventy was also in my ward. He spoke in our high priests group meeting about the concept of putting our hand in the Lord’s hands. He said that’s when great things can happen, but that if we keep trying to do it ourselves, not much will happen. He expanded on that with some verses from the Book of Mormon:
Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.Alma 26:12
I thought, “You know, obviously that’s true. Because I’ve sure done it, and nothing’s come of it.”
This happened in February. Two months later, only two days before General Conference, I got a call from President Gordon B. Hinckley’s personal secretary. (Through a strange coincidence, I had been called just seven months before to be a stake president at BYU, replacing the current president who’d had a heart attack.)
The thought came that I was about to receive a calling. But I thought, “No, I was just called to be a stake president.”
He called me to be a member of the Seventy. That blew my mind. I said to my wife, “I’ve only been a stake president for seven months. What have I done that brought me before the president of the Church?”
And, I also thought, “There goes any hope of writing.”
What does Gerald Lund think about The Work and the Glory movies?
The Work and the Glory movies turned out better than I feared. Here’s another story that was a confirmation for me.
All during that time, I was starting to have feelings that I should do something in the movies, and thought that The Work and the Glory would be a great choice. But it was also daunting, so I pushed the thought aside.
I had a little practical experience. I wrote the script for the old seminary video, for example, that was called The Lamb of God but is now To This End Was I Born. Eventually, I created a little informal group of friends and we talked about starting a media company. But it was obvious that we were amateurs playing with concepts far beyond our skills.
Over the years, many people asked me if they could purchase the rights to produce a movie version of The Work and the Glory. I declined because many of them were amateurs themselves. But I knew about Scott Swofford. He’d done a lot of IMAX stuff. When he asked, I said yes.
What else did Gerald Lund do to prepare for The Work and the Glory movies?
I went to the senior president in the Seventy and asked if I could do this. I suggested it may need to be brought before the First Presidency because my new calling as a Seventy could have implications. He took it to the First Presidency and they said that that would be fine as long as the script didn’t have anything problematic in it.
It then occurred to me that Heavenly Father just had to get me out of the way so that He could make this whole thing happen.
What is the backstory for Why Isn’t God Answering Me?
I was on the high council in a mid-singles ward and was still doing a lot of teaching. People kept asking, “Why isn’t God answering me?” So, I wrote it as a follow-up to that.
Why is revelation an important theme in Gerald Lund’s writings?
Revelation is how God communicates with us and prayer is how we communicate with him. I’ve written three books on revelation. In addition to Why Isn’t God Answering Me, I also wrote Hearing the Voice of the Lord and Divine Signatures. Everything ties back to an original experience I had as a boy.
I had a paper route when I was about 12 years old. In those days, you collected money from people and sent it into the Deseret News. They sorted the money and then sent you back your cut. One day, I was going along collecting as I was delivering. I kept a little pouch with cash and checks in it.
One lady told me that she didn’t have any money, but that she had a check for $27 that she could sign over to me if I had change. I’d never done that before, but I looked and had just barely enough to give her what she needed. So, she signed the check, and off I went. I got to the last house on my route an hour later, and someone else asked if I had any change. I did. But when I looked in my pouch the check was gone.
I was sick. Not only was it all of my earnings, but I or my family had to come up with the missing money to pay the Deseret News.
I walked all the way back my entire route, kicking over papers and looking in all the bushes. When I got near the start of the route, I knew I’d have to go back again. Then the thought came, “There is someone who knows where that check is. Why don’t you ask Him?”
It seems silly I hadn’t thought of that sooner. But I stopped right where I was, bowed my head on the handlebars, and said a prayer that was fervent but not very proper: “Heavenly Father, I have got to find my check!”
When I opened my ways, there it was not five feet from my bike stuck in a tumbleweed bush. It was a turning point for me in my concept of God answering prayers.
Over the years I had other things happen and thought it was like God autographing a blessing to me. That wording felt worldly, so I changed it to divine signatures.
So, my interest in revelation really started that day on my paper route as a 12-year-old boy. It was a simple but profound experience.
What is the relationship between light, truth, and revelation?
One definition of revelation is the same as intelligence. In other words, revelation is “light and truth” that is given to us in one form or another.
We think if we’re good, we get revelation, and if we’re bad we don’t. But I find revelation is so subtle in how it comes—and it comes in so many different ways. Elder Boyd K. Packer said our minds are a fine-tuned instrument, and that if we’re not careful, we can get a revelation that goes right over our heads. We don’t even recognize it for what it is. Or we can mistake our emotions for spirituals feelings.
We have this “instrument” that is the combination of our hearts and minds and soul. It’s so finely tuned that even if we yell at our wives or children, it diminishes our ability to recognize revelation. Even if it still comes, it goes by and we think that it’s just a personal thought. We never recognize it as being from God.
That’s intrigued me through all of these years. The more I watch the world around me, the more I think it’s true.
Everyone is given the Light of Christ. There are so many people in this world who are just good by nature. Many of them aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We see it all over. They do all of these wonderful things to be good. I think that their choices to do good enhances their sensitivity to revelation. The light they receive becomes more and more recognizable even though they can’t define it.
How else do choices affect revelation?
The other part of revelation is Satan’s role. He comes with all of his minions directly to this world with no bodily blocks (we’re human, tired, angry, and so on). His name, Lucifer, actually means Shimmering One in Hebrew. It means “filled with light.”
So, we ask, how could he be right there with God, with no veil over his mind, and make the choice that he did? Out of pride and rebellion and a lust to be the guy in charge, he fought against God. How do you explain that?
Lucifer was filled with “light” but he rejected the “truth.” It works in the same way with us. I’m not even sure anymore, to be honest, if the light is actually taken away from us. It may be that our sins dull our sensitivity to the light.
How does Gerald Lund respond when his efforts to replace fear with faith don’t seem to be working?
I have the advantage now of having been at this for a long time. Sometimes, it looks like things aren’t going to work for you. But experience tells me to hang on and not give up. I commonly pray that the Lord will show me anything I’m doing that blocks or diminishes the light in my life, and to help me get it out.
It’s often the simple things. Someone cuts you off when you’re driving down the freeway and you say a couple of things about him that aren’t very nice. You think that’s just a natural response. But even that might have a tiny diminishing effect on our ability to receive and recognize revelation.
What church history figures inspire Gerald Lund with their approach to revelation?
There are a lot. Certainly, Joseph Smith, who understood so much. But, it’s interesting to see it operating in people who weren’t faithful. Six of the original twelve apostles left. The stake president in Nauvoo swore with an oath that he would not sleep again until he killed the prophet.
How did they go from where they began to that?
Part of it is just choices. It goes back to the amount of light and truth we have. Even small things affect it.
One day, I prayed and said something like this: “Heavenly Father, You’ve given me so many blessings. Tell me how to repay you. I want to express my gratitude.”
The answer wasn’t in word, but in concept: “What can you give God who has everything? What are you possibly going to give Him that will pay Him back?” It was a startling thought. I realized there wasn’t anything. A little sadness came over me.
Then came this thought: “That’s true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t express your gratitude through service to others.” So, for the last three or four years, I’ve been asking Heavenly Father for opportunities to express that gratitude through service.
It’s been amazing. There have been a few quite dramatic experiences. But most of them are so simple. For example, one day I was going through the grocery store line and the young woman at the register looked tired. She was barely looking up at the customers as she pushed the groceries along. It was five minutes to 5pm.
When I got up there, I said, “It looks like you’ve had a long day.” Her head actually jumped up a little bit, and then she acknowledged that she was tired.
“Aren’t you about done?” I asked.
“10 minutes,” she said. “10 minutes.”
I told her that I hoped she had a good night and, smiling brightly, she said the same. It was such a tiny thing. But those are the things we want to do. I was able to express my gratitude to Heavenly Father by having a simple conversation with a tired grocery store worker.
How are doctrine and revelation connected?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, in his inimitable way, said that “doctrines drive discipleship.” If you put that with the concept I mentioned about turning toward and responding to the light, then not only does our light increase, but also our sensitivity to the light. The opposite is true too.
More and more, I’m trying to understand the importance of light and truth. Everywhere we look in the world people are pushing the light out. Social media is a good example of this.
Did any general authorities give Gerald Lund advice when he was called to the Seventy?
Not so much directly. But I learned from listening to them. When you’re a Seventy, they send you out with senior members of the Twelve to stake conferences or mission tours. That’s the teaching and tutoring process.
On my second trip, I was at a regional meeting with President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander. President Packer got up and announced to the 10 stakes in attendance that he was going to open the meeting for questions. “Elder Lund will take the hardest ones, Elder Neuenschwander the others, and I’ll answer the rest,” he said.
After about 20 minutes, one of the stake presidents said, “You’ve been in the Quorum of the Twelve for 42 years now. What can you tell us about how to receive personal revelation?”
President Packer turned to us and said, “You can sit down. That’s the question I’ve been waiting for.” He then taught them about revelation for the next 25 minutes.
Here’s the most important takeaway. He said that we’re so busy that we don’t have time to get revelation. He gave two recommendations. First, slow down. We’re going through this modern life at 90 miles per hour and we don’t have time to hear or recognize the voice of the Lord. Second, “listen to your wives.”
President Packer told the group that they come up with all of these ideas to move the stake forward. They sit down and write it all out and talk through it with their counselors. That’s all good, but President Packer said that before the stake presidents announce the changes in stake conference, they should first run it past their wives. That would bring them back to a more practical approach where revelation belongs.
He also said that one of the challenges of personal revelation is that the emotional and spiritual parts are intertwined, and that it’s easy to mistake one for the other.
I guess the bottom line is that we can learn from failure as well as success. When we make mistakes and don’t listen and do something dumb, we can learn from those too. And when we see how good it feels and how successful we are when we do something right, we can grow in our confidence.
What advice would Gerald Lund give a loved one who received a daunting calling?
I’d word it specifically to them. But in terms of making it on the covenant path all the way to the end, the doctrine is what matters. Doctrines drive the discipleship. But in terms of how to do that, it’s revelation. So, the focus is on how to learn from revelation.
And here’s the thing that’s most important. If we desire to do good, even if we move forward like a lumbering ox, then the Lord can teach us. If we get filled with pride or anger or jealousy, that damages our sensitivity to the light. That’s deadly.
Finally, it’s a lifelong process. I’m still marveling at the things I didn’t see in my earlier years. The Lord just keeps teaching us.
What would Gerald Lund ask Joseph Smith about revelation?
I’ve got a list of 500 things. I would be tempted to ask him to tell me everything he knows about intelligence and the premortal existence. But if I were wise, I’d say, “Tell me what you have learned about revelation, Joseph.”
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