Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “Our Heavenly Father’s Plan” Teaches Rather Than Inspires

Heavenly Father's Plan
Less spirit, more textbook

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] few weeks ago we revisited On the Way Home, the final video in the series of 6 Direct Gospel Message videos the church created between 1986 and 1992. Today the first shall be last as we take a look at Our Heavenly Father’s Plan from 1986.

The film opens with various individuals from all walks of life being asked “What is the purpose of life?” We hear various answers that range from “I couldn’t tell you” to “[Achieving] knowledge, [living] a good life and [serving] God.”

We then break away from the vocal pondering to visuals of people considering their role in life as we hear the strains of the Michael McClean classic I’ve Got to Find out Who I Am. “The melody’s familiar / I’ve heard this song before / It’s been around 10,000 years / Or maybe even more…I’ve got to find out who I am.”

We then hear a narrator as we see a yellow pick-up truck on a mountain road. As we zoom in we cut to a classic Utah bungalow. It’s the narrator’s grandmother’s house and he is remembering a time there for an Aunt’s birthday. He discusses life with his grandma who asks if he was happy. He says yes and she says the main purpose of live is to learn to live happily. Those words stuck with the narrator, but as he got older he learned how fleeting happiness can be. The image of the bustling home fades and we see the same home but now in a dilapidated state and listed for sale.

The narrator, a clean cut homage to the Brawny Paper Towel icon, appears and gets out of the truck in the mountains. He says sooner or later all people ask these questions, and he wants to take some time to share things that helped him understand Heavenly Father’s plan and Christ’s role in it. He hopes the thoughts and music we are about to experience will help the viewer as much as they helped him. Wait. Did he see this video and now he is IN the video? Inception!

We hear a soulful version of I am a Child of God as horses walk in the pasture and Brawny (narrator) gets them ready to ride. The young colt even walks beside its parent when the song gets to “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.”

Brawny loads up his horse for his mountain trail ride and camping and begins his lecture. The first concept is God is our father and we are all his children. He loves us and has developed a plan to help us reach our potential.

I’m taking a moment here to call a penalty on parallel structure. If you are going to use a phrase like” First Concept” and call it out specifically I would expect to hear a “Second” or “Third” concept. It works in writing but also in presentation and lectures. Elder Oaks does this a lot. This video presentation is essentially a lecture, and a few more “markers” would help people know where they are and what’s coming up. But I digress.

Brawny reminds us that part of the plan involves coming to earth and getting a body. We meet earthly parents through the miracle of birth and on the screen we see parents with a new baby while we hear a child sing My Heavenly Father Loves Me. We see the child touching a rose when the song mentions touching a velvet rose (the editors were ON it!) and the child gets older each time she swings back into the frame.

The narrator reminds us that we are here to learn and grow. Parents want what’s best for their children so they teach them step by step. We see visuals of kids learning in dance classes, at home and by serving siblings as a song about learning and growing underscores the visuals.

Brawny is back and he tells us free agency is an important part of the plan. Without freedom to choose we could never grow and learn. We often push this freedom of choice as we grow and search for answers but may not know what we are looking for. God knew we would struggle so he uses prophets like Moses and Isaiah. He teaches the prophets and commands them to teach us. We can know what the prophets are saying is true through prayer. As Brawny sets up his tent he says the hard part was “learning how to talk to my father in heaven—and to believe he would hear me and answer me in my heart.”

A woman’s sings the first verse of Michael McClean’s Will He Really Answer Me?: “Will he really answer me? / Will He see what my heart needs? / Will He have the time for me? / Will He really answer me?” Over the song we see various individuals, including the narrator—seeking truth.

Back to Brawny: “I was worried I wouldn’t get an answer.” We then switch to a male voice singing the next verse. “He’s never broken his promise, He’ll be there / He hears each word and each heartfelt thought in prayer. / He’s devoted to you, He’ll help you know what is true / That’s what He’s promised. That’s what He’s promised to do.”

Brawny said he struggled to know God’s voice. The two verses and melodies intertwine as we see Brawny at an earlier time hiking in the mountains and praying for answers. His prayer is answered and we see him and others breathe in relief. Brawny says “Nothing is as sweet, or real, or lasting than an honest answer to a sincere prayer.” We then hear the final lines of the song: “He answered me, He’ll answer you.” Brawny reminds us happiness is fleeting but hopes the viewer will be able to experience the peace of answers to prayer for herself.

We see mountain vistas and hear peaceful music. Brawny takes a minute to clarify that all this plan stuff is well and good, but we ALSO believe in the Book of Mormon! There were prophets in America. This “Brought to you by the Book of Mormon” moment lasts for all of 15 seconds.

Brawny lights a fire and he reminds us our agency can lead to sin, and our bodies will eventually die. Christ helps us overcome sin and death. We can take full advantage of this gift when we prayerfully acknowledge Christ and repent. “The strength and power of the Lord’s love is truly amazing.” We then hear I Stand All Amazed and see a montage of the miracles of Christ interspersed with paintings of New Testament scenes. Christ in a Red Robe, in Gethsemane, on Calvary, and appearing to Mary outside the empty tomb, and a crown of thorns falling to the dust.

Night has fallen, and to guard against the mountain chill Brawny has donned a jacket and added fuel to the fire. He says this is only the beginning of the plan and we can learn more about the role of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon and forever families. He invites the viewer to have a visit from representatives of the church if they found what he had to say interesting. Brawny then testifies of the happiness he has found in life and says we are all brothers and sisters because we share the same heavenly father. As your brother he wants to tell you “there are answers, and you are not alone.”

To conclude we hear Michael McClean’s You’re Not Alone. The song features an additional verse to what was published in the New Era to remind people of the purpose of the plan: “For you are a child of god and he has sent you here / has given you an earthly home with parents kind and dear / He’ll lead you guide you walk beside you, help you find the way. / And teach you all that you must do to live with him some day, / You’re not alone / Say it one more time / I’m not alone…”

The music fades as we close on the visual of Harry Anderson’s The Second Coming that eventually switches to a sunset and fades to black. No logo or call to action tag.

Our Heavenly Father’s Plan loosely follows the principles of the standardized missionary discussions that were published in 1986. Discussion 1, titled “The Plan of Our Heavenly Father” covers the plan of salvation, Christ’s role in the plan, how the plan has been revealed through Prophets, Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon, and the role of the Holy Ghost. The film covers most of these topics in some fashion but seeks to build common beliefs by leaning into the Plan of Salvation and Jesus. It rushes over many things because of time and is very didactic rather than emotionally involving. The film feels fairly manufactured rather than natural and relies mostly on the music to lift the narrative.

In my review of On the Way Home, I suggest as the church progressed in the series the videos became progressively better. I’m not saying that the earlier ones are awful, just that there is a marked improvement in style and storytelling between the first and the last.

Do you remember these videos? Do you have a favorite? Please leave comments here or on our Facebook page to let us know what you think and to list favorite videos you would like us to take out of the vault.

Thoughts musings and Trivia

  • Be sure to read the Vault’s other Direct Gospel Message video reviews. You can enjoy them however you like but here they are in chronological order: Our Heavenly Father’s Plan, Together Forever, What is Real, The Prodigal Son, Labor of Love and On the Way Home.
  • Free agency, as a term has fallen out of favor for use by church leaders teaching doctrine. Moral agency or just agency is the more appropriate term as “free” can imply a lack of consequence. LDSLiving had a good article about the evolution of this term.

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