As I have continued to study the words of President Nelson, I’ve been struck by his firm belief and conviction in the existence of absolute truth.
Perhaps no talk from President Nelson exemplifies this more powerfully than his introductory remarks from the most recent general conference.
“In that spirit, I invite you to listen for three things during this conference: pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ, and pure revelation. Contrary to the doubts of some, there really is such a thing as right and wrong. There really is absolute truth—eternal truth. One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth.”
I love the simplicity of this promise. There is truth. Prophets are called to teach it. We can rely on it and treasure it. There isn’t a different truth for me and for you. There is just the truth.
I grew up in a Jewish home. When I was a kid, I developed a lot of questions about what happens after we die. Around me I had family members sick or dying and so these questions had a fierce urgency. As I got older and talked about this topic with my parents and religious leaders, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a uniform answer. Everyone had their own views. Some believed in heaven and some believed in reincarnation and some believed there was nothing at all after this life. This confusion was deeply unsatisfying for me. While I appreciated the intellectual vibrancy of Jewish debate, I found that I could not find answers to the questions that I had, only more questions. I did not think that God could be the author of so much confusion and uncertainty.
One of the things that attracted me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the belief that there is absolute truth and that there are Prophets and Apostles on the earth who reveal that truth from God. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to listen to conference and hear servants of God declare his truth with power and authority.
As we get ready for General Conference next weekend, I hope that we will all look forward to learning pure truth. More than that, I hope that we will be grateful for the knowledge that there is absolute truth and that we know where to look to find it.
In the last several years I have noticed that Church leaders are increasingly speaking with great clarity about the role that the forming of eternal families plays in God’s plan. In 2015 after a General Conference full of talks about the family, I wrote about how the Family was increasingly being integrated into the Plan of Salvation as one of the pillars of eternity.
This is such an important endeavor. So many, even faithful and active members, may wonder why we spend so much time discussing topics related to marriage and families. If the doctrine of the family is not linked to the plan and to the atonement of Jesus Christ, then it will lac vitality and saving power.
I was delighted therefore to come across President Nelson’s October 1996 talk entitled simply enough The Atonement. This talk is full of really interesting insights about the plan of salvation. For instance, President Nelson speaks about the “the blessing of aging” which assures that we eventually are able to return to God a very unusual way of thinking about growing older.
But I am most grateful for some insights that come at the very end of the talk regarding the purpose of the Atonement and the Plan:
I am going to deviate a bit today from studying President Nelson’s General Conference talks since an Ensign article that he wrote has been the focus of quite a lot of attention this week as a result of what appears to be a renewed focus by General Authorities on its core message
In February 2003 then Elder Russell M. Nelson published an article in the Ensign entitled Divine Love. The core purpose of this article is to emphasize that while God loves us with an “infinite,” “enduring,” and “universal” love, his love is also in certain respects “conditional” because “the higher levels of love” and “certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.”
I have seen a lot of very intense reactions to this article. Some people suggest that if God’s love is conditional that means that he does not really love us or that his love is abusive in that it is exerted in a coercive way to compel us to obey.
The danger of making parental love conditional on compliance is something that I am very sensitive to. In my complex relationship with my father, I felt sometimes like if I did not do what he wanted he would not love me. Threats that he would disinherit me or cut me off were a part of our relationship even before I began looking into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and intensified after that. As a father I am very committed to making it clear to my children that I will never ever do that to them.
And yet I am comfortable with the way that President Nelson describes the love of God as not “unconditional” in nature.
Understanding why requires first exploring the history and origin of the concept of “unconditional love.” It also requires us to seek an accurate understanding of the nature and character of God.
One of the really rewarding things about studying the collected talks of a single Prophet or Apostle is seeing how they grow into their prophetic office and how their speaking style evolves over time.
As time passed, I have noticed how President Nelson has become so much more vulnerable and emotional in the things that he shares.
I have loved watching President Nelson lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the topic of addressing racism and intolerance in the world. His relationship with Rev. Amos C. Brown of the NAACP has been especially inspiring.
I was particularly touched a few years ago by President Nelson’s remarks at the Be One Celebration:
“Ultimately, we realize that only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of men and the true sisterhood of women. That understanding inspires us with passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.
It is my prayer and blessing that I leave upon all who are listening that we may overcome any burdens of prejudice and walk uprightly with God—and with one another—in perfect peace and harmony.”
I was therefore really struck by how President Nelson hit on this same theme decades ago using almost identical language.
Throughout his ministry President Nelson has been a powerful pro-life voice advocating for the sanctity of life and the need to prevent abortions. I’ve written previously about the strengths of the pro-life position relying on the words of President Nelson.
He first raised the subject in one of his first few sermons as an Apostle called Reverence for Life. President Nelson powerfully called abortion a “war on the defenseless—and the voiceless” and “a war on the unborn.”
Although I don’t suspect that these posts will always go in order, I wanted to start with President Nelson’s first talk as an Apostle called appropriately enough Call to the Holy Apostleship
President Nelson apparently did not know about his call until the Saturday of General Conference. This must have been a major shock for him. But he had been prepared for his call through a lifetime of service.
I’ve seen a lot of people posting about challenges that they are undertaking for lent. Reading these posts reminded me of a recent challenge regarding following the prophet with exactness that I received and I decided that it would make for a great lent challenge.