If we didn't know better, we might have trouble picturing the ancient patriarchs as cheery and friendly men. But the restored gospel clears this up. God doesn't call grumps to be his chief ambassadors. That would be bad press.
If the prophets were cranky, we could get the wrong idea about God himself.
Our Eternal Father, declared Heber C. Kimball, "is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being."
Jesus commanded us to "be of good cheer." He said, "I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance." Would he have asked such things of us in a stern voice, or with grim expression? Hardly.
Is he not the very personifying, the demonstration of his laws?
His good cheer blends perfectly with his humility. Thus Moroni reported that, "I have seen Jesus, … he hath talked with me face to face, … in plain humility."
"I am meek," said the Savior, "and lowly of heart."
Since the beginning, those who associated closely with the Lord's anointed have seen the humility and personal warmth of God himself shining through his servants.
No wonder Joseph Smith — who was both a mouthpiece and a visual aid clarifying the ways of God — could say that, among the Saints, "I am familiar with them and am playful and cheerful."
No wonder, as our eyes and ears follow today's First Presidency and Twelve, we find in them that timeless buoyancy, humility, and good humor that radiated from Joseph, Heber, and a host of others.
Heber said on one occasion, "I feel very cheerful and happy today. I do not feel any of that contractedness of mind that makes men selfish, penurious, cold-hearted, and of a sad countenance. I find that the more that I have of the Spirit of God, the more cheerful I am; and it is so with all men of God. I know that those Prophets who have lived in my day loved to tell stories and be cheerful: They delighted in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance. Father Smith was one of the most cheerful men I ever saw, and he was harmless as a child."
The "Father Smith" he spoke of was Joseph Smith's father, who served as Patriarch to the church until his death.
As with Father Smith, so with "the fathers" anciently. The influence of the Spirit, the demeanor of the priesthood and the ways of God are unchanging. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a positive and joyous being. So were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob themselves.
Of course, to make the heart glad with reassurance is the very office of a patriarch. It happens that the Greek word translated "gospel," "good news," or "glad tidings" (evangelion) also gives us the term "evangelist." These puzzle pieces are brought together by Joseph Smith's important insight, "An evangelist is a patriarch."
So, when we contemplate the likes of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we can consider this priesthood function, this sacred role of blessing and cheering, of gladdening hearts and delivering good news. We can think of affable men in our own stakes who are given this formal title, and, it is hoped, men and women in our own homes who are learning to be that way.
They have a certain kind of faith in common — faith that translates into good cheer.
And we can think of two others: God the Father and his Son. They are the very source and reason for our good cheer.
(References: Journal of Discourses, 4:222-223, 8:351; Doctrine and Covenants 59:15; Ether 12:39; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 524, 140)
Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" can be found in serialized segments on MormonTimes.com.