Does God control who is Church President by ending life (using the â€œdeath card”)? Or does he control who is President by controlling the order in which Apostles are called? Of course, both can be true (or neither depending on your theological persuasion), but letâ€™s examine these questions systematically.
When a man is called to the apostleship, call him a natural successor if he is younger in age than all other living apostles with more seniority in the Quorum. The idea is that if all men lived to the same age, then only natural successors would ever become Presidents. Continuing the logic, if only natural successors became Presidents, then we could say that God has controlled the Presidentship by the order in which he called apostles and not by ending life. On the other hand, if most Presidents are not natural successors, then we could say that God has used the death card to control the Presidentship.
What do we observe? Iâ€™ll spare you all the birth, calling, and death date information for all men called to the apostleship and instead list only Church Presidents, if natural successor (*), and approximate death age.
Joseph Smith, 39
Brigham Young, 76
John Taylor, 79
Wilford Woodruff, 91
Lorenzo Snow, 87
*Joseph F. Smith, 80
*Heber J. Grant, 89
George Albert Smith, 81
*David O. McKay, 97
*Joseph Fielding Smith, 96
*Harold B. Lee, 74
Spencer W. Kimball, 90
Ezra Taft Benson, 95
*Howard W. Hunter, 88
*Gordon B. Hinckley
What does this all mean?
1. The face-value interpretation would be that God tended to use the death card in the first half of the Churchâ€™s history but used natural succession in the second half.
2. One big exception to this trend is Leeâ€™s early death (he was the youngest President to die since Joseph Smith!). This is consistent with the idea that Kimball was needed for the 1978 revelation.
3. One could also say that God is fairly hands off, and the trend of more recent natural successors is due to decreasing randomness in death ages due to medical advances.
Perhaps you can think of other interpretations. Of course, your personal theory will not likely be falsified by these data, so your belief should not be undermined no matter what it is. Moreover, the assumption that all men live to the same age is flawed. If, due to his knowledge of peopleâ€™s genetics, etc., God knows the exact age at which each person will die, then someone I label not to be a natural successor might actually be a natural successor from Godâ€™s eyes. This possibility undermines the interpretation of results, but, hey, this is meant to be a fun blog post, not a rigorous scientific study.
And what about the future? If the trend of having natural successors continues, then our future Presidents will be, in order, Elders Monson, Oaks, Hales (briefly), Holland, and Bednar. What are the Vegas odds on this prediction?