The necessity of opposites

“Without contraries is no progression.”
– William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1792

“By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”
– Joseph Smith

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, …righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

15 ….it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
– The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:11, 15-16

Understanding the whole requires knowing opposites

Brigham Young said it so succinctly: “What can you know, except by its opposite?” He said it in context of a discourse on death and resurrection, a topic that hit home yesterday as I attended and spoke briefly at the funeral of Joycelyn Wimmer and learned of the death of Keith Black, my friend and neighbor whom I home teach with my son. Here is the full paragraph from which Brigham Young’s quote is drawn:

What can you know, except by its opposite? Who could number the days, if there were no nights to divide the day from the night? Angels could not enjoy the blessings of light eternal, were there no darkness. All that are exalted and all that will be exalted will be exalted upon this principle. If I do not taste the pangs of death in my mortal body, I never shall know the enjoyment of eternal life. If I do not know pain, I cannot enjoy ease. If I am not acquainted with the dark, the gloomy, the sorrowful, I cannot enjoy the light, the joyous, the felicitous that are ordained for man. No person, either in heaven or upon earth, can enjoy and understand these things upon any other principle. (Journal of Discourses, 8:28)

My uncle’s brother, Leland Wimmer, spoke at Joyceln’s funeral. He shared a quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley that I had not heard before:

What a wonderful thing is death, really, when all is said and done. It is the great reliever. It is a majestic, quiet passing on from this life to another life, a better life. I’m satisfied of that. We go to a place where we will not suffer as we have suffered here, but where we will continue to grow, accumulating knowledge and developing and being useful under the plan of the Almighty made possible through the Atonement of the Son of God (funeral services for Robert G. Wade, Salt Lake City, Utah, 3 Jan. 1996; see Ensign, October 1996, p. 73).

Brother Wimmer also shared a Thorton Wilder quote that I liked: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning” (from Wilder’s 1928 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Bridge of San Luis Rey, p. 107).

On the idea of opposites being important, Wilder said it this way: “When God loves a creature he wants the creature to know the highest happiness and the deepest misery. He wants him to know all that being alive can bring. That is his best gift. There is no happiness save in understanding the whole.”

The scriptures teach that God’s “best gift” is eternal life, and Brigham Young was right: no person can enjoy and understand eternal life unless they taste opposition. As in all things, Christ is our example. He “ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:6)