Absolute Truth

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.

A Reminiscence: Gospel Unity in a Time of Bitter War

What I learned from one member in Belgium about gospel unity in a time of war.

In the summer of 1990, I was serving in Liege, a French-speaking city in Belgium. As part of our work we were visiting all the members we could find on the membership rolls. One day we found an elderly sister who had joined the Church as a young woman shortly before World War I broke out, due to her age she rarely attended meetings anymore. I don’t recall if this member was living in Liege at the time of the Great War, but German atrocities were notably severe in this area, in part because this area was thwarting the achievement of a key component of the German Army General Staff’s Schlieffen Plan for winning the war.

She told me an amazing story about how the gospel of Jesus Christ can transcend bitter divisions and deep wounds.

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Three Writing Samples

When scholars talk about authorship of scripture, sometimes they look at changes in tone, genre, setting, or perspective as evidence of multiple authorship.

Below are three samples of my own writing that inform my thinking about this. The total time span of these samples is roughly 25-30 years. If you didn’t know it was me, is there any way you would guess that these are the same author?

Scholars often describe a big problem in the field of Biblical Studies, a lack of external controls. In other words, they make judgment calls about shifts in genre, tone, perspective, setting, etc. indicating multiple authorship, without looking at known examples of these things in other places. Well, here’s a personal example. We could also do this exercise with restoration scripture, or with artistic materials like poetry and music. For example, U2’s October sounds nothing like Zooropa, but it’s exactly the same band, just 12 years apart. As people evolve, their communications evolve.

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Quotes and Scriptures on Conversion

True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. It is possible to have a testimony of the gospel without living it. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we believe and allowing it to create “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts.” In the booklet True to the Faith, we learn that “conversion is a process, not an event. You become converted as a result of … righteous efforts to follow the Savior.” It takes time, effort, and work. My great-great-grandmother had a strong conviction that the gospel was more important for her children than all that the world had to offer in the way of wealth and comfort because she had sacrificed, endured, and lived the gospel. Her conversion came through living the principles of the gospel and sacrificing for them.

-Bonnie L. Oscarson, Be Ye Converted

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Little Prayers

Sometimes I am embarrassed about the things I say in my prayers. Sometimes I’m embarrassed while I am still praying. Here I am, getting down on my knees to commune with the Creator of the Universe and the Author of the Plan of Redemption and what do I have on the agenda? Well, dear reader, I’m not going to tell you exactly. See above, re: embarrassment. But you can fill in your own examples: concerns about bills or work, fears about work, little worries about the future. Day-to-day problems that even I won’t remember a week from now.

There are times when shame washes over me, and I apologize for taking my Heavenly Father’s time up with such trivialities. Not that I think He’s really short on time, in a literal sense. If He can field billions of prayers a day, I’m sure He’s got a handle on the logistics. But sometimes when I realize how tiny my concerns are, it makes me feel small.

But I think my shame is misplaced.

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Positively Biased for Conference

If you are hitching your happiness to things being a certain way, it’s a setup for suffering.

-Tara Brach

As General Conference approaches, Latter-Day Saints are going to be hearing conflicting messages on social media, and they can generally be grouped into two themes:

  • General Conference is coming, and we get to hear teachings from prophets. Hooray!
  • General Conference is coming, so brace yourself. There will probably be things said that are harmful or insensitive. You need to steel yourself against the possibility of being hurt.

The first theme is one that views Conference as a time of rejoicing. It affirms that Conference speakers are good people and that their messages are inspired. Whatever they say, it will be for our good.

The second theme views Conference as threatening. It is neutral or negative about the motivations and/or divinely-ordained callings of the speakers, and it doubts the capacity of the hearer to process conference messages in a healthy way.

Both themes reflect bias, and bias is not a bad thing. Everyone brings their biases and worldviews to every part of life — including faith — and people who claim to be unbiased are just demonstrating another form of cognitive bias called the Bias Blind Spot. For a lengthy list of cognitive, emotional and other forms of bias, see here.

There is no such thing as an unbiased viewing of General Conference, but it is possible for us to be mindful of what we bring to the Conference experience and respond to our biases (and conference) in ways that lead to our growth.

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3 Nephi and The Revealed Christ

I finished the Book of Mormon again a few weeks ago. This year, I didn’t have a specific theme to focus on, but I knew I wanted to do a writeup of impressions, and I had a thought to focus on 3 Nephi. It’s maybe the spiritual summit of the Book of Mormon text, but to be honest in all my readings of the BoM, I’ve never really applied myself to understand that book like I have others.

Here at the outset, I want to make a claim about the Book of Mormon in general, and 3 Nephi in particular. If you have never heard of Marcion and his heresy, he was a theologian in the early Christian community who developed a strong position that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God who had come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. In Marcion’s thinking, The Jewish/Hebrew Jehovah was mean-spirited, ruthless, and cruel, while Christian Jesus of Nazareth was completely different: kind, loving, merciful, and so forth. Therefore, they could not be the same entity.

Parts of the Marcion heresy are still alive and well today, even among wonderful Christians around the world. But Latter-day Saints bring to our understanding a Book of Mormon witness that Jehovah and Jesus are one and the same. And 3 Nephi is the book where this reality is shown with the most clarity. 3 Nephi thoroughly destroys the Marcion heresy.

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How to be a Man

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 300th week, and we’re covering the Priesthood session of the April 1994 General Conference.

“We must be there with the lambs when we are needed.” That’s what Elder Lindsay learned in relating one of the most poignant stories I’ve read in General Conference. One morning his 6-year old son called Elder Lindsay at work to excitedly say that the ewe he was in charge of caring for had had her lambs. “Please come home and help me take care of them,” his little boy said, but Elder Lindsay was busy. He stayed at work, telling his son everything would be fine.

Two hours later his son called back. “Daddy, these lambs aren’t doing very well. They haven’t been able to get milk from the mother, and they are very cold. Please come home.” Again, Elder Lindsay refused. 

Then a third phone call. ““Daddy, you’ve got to come home now. Those lambs are lying down, and one of them looks very cold.” Elder Lindsay gave his son advice on how to take care of the lambs, but he stayed at work, not getting home until two hours later.

I drove into the driveway of our home and was met by a boy with tear-stained eyes, carrying a dead lamb in his arms. His grief was overwhelming. Now I tried to make amends by quickly milking the mother sheep and trying to force the milk from a bottle down the throat of the now weak, surviving lamb. At this point, Gordon walked out of the room and came back with a hopeful look in his eyes. He said, “Daddy, I’ve prayed that we will be able to save this lamb, and I feel it will be all right.”

The sad note to this story, brethren, is that within a few minutes the second lamb was dead. Then with a look that I will remember forever, this little six-year-old boy who had lost both of his lambs looked up into his father’s face and with tears running down his cheeks said, “Daddy, if you had come home when I first called you, we could have saved them both.”

The name of Elder Lindsays’ talks is “Feed My Sheep,” and as you can see he does not pull any punches with his own poor decisions.

“Dear brethren of the priesthood,” he concludes: 

Those who are entrusted as keepers of the Lord’s precious flock—we must be there with the lambs when we are needed. We must teach with love, principles of faith, and goodness and be righteous examples to the lambs of our Heavenly Father.

This sacred duty is a defining attribute of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint man and especially a Latter-day Saint father. We are to feed the sheep, and we are to do so with love.

Elder Wirthlin, in his talk Live in Obedience, described how young horses were taught to be obedient and related:

When I asked how the gauchos taught the horses to be so obedient, I was informed that their training started when the horses were colts. Each one learned from its caring mother and from other mature horses. The gauchos began training the colts when they were young, with kindness, never using force of a lasso or a whip.

Elder Didier taught in Remember Your Covenants that:

As a husband and father and later as a grandfather, I was and still am responsible for the development, temporal support, protection, and salvation of my family.

And:

The husband and wife serve as partners in governing their family, and both act in joint leadership and depend on each other. They are united in the vision of their eternal salvation, one holding the priesthood, the other honoring and enjoying the blessings of it. One is not superior or inferior to the other. Each one carries his or her respective responsibilities and acts in his or her respective role.

The were some stern aspects of the talk but–like Elder Lindsay’s self-effacing story–they were directed towards the audience of men. Elder Monson, in The Priesthood – A Sacred Trust, cited President John Taylor: “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty.” As Elder Lindsay’s little boy said, “if you had come home… we could have saved them both.”

Even on the topic of brethren who are falling short in their duty, however, the sternness is tempered with love:

Brethren, there are tens of thousands of priesthood holders scattered among you who, through indifference, hurt feelings, shyness, or weakness, cannot bless to the fullest extent their wives and children—without considering the lives of others they could lift and bless. Ours is the solemn duty to bring about a change, to take such an individual by the hand and help him arise and be well spiritually. As we do so, sweet wives will call our names blessed, and grateful children will marvel at the change in Daddy as lives are altered and souls are saved.

I am so grateful for what I was taught growing up in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. I learned from an early age what being a good man looked like. I learned that it meant the strength to be gentle, the humility to ask the Lord’s assistance to provide for my children, the compassion to recognize need, and the selflessness to give of myself.

I am far from perfect, but I thank God that at least I got the instructions, and I’ve had the chance to work to bend my stubborn, prideful, selfish nature to the beautiful, fulfilling work of service. The mistakes have all been mine–and so many remain–but for what good I’ve been able to offer my sweet children and my wife, the love of my life, I offer thanks to God for showing me the way.

We Love Best by Telling the WHOLE Truth

My friend and co-blogger Dan Ellsworth’s article in Public Square Magazine was prescient, given that just a few hours later Elder Holland’s address to BYU faculty and staff was published. Dan’s description of our tendency to hear what we want to hear as a form of idolatry is bracing but needed. “Ironically, one of our most persistent idolatries is the refashioning of the divinely revealed Christ into a sentimentally-appealing false Christ named ‘Jesus,’ who exists to make us all feel loved and happy,” he writes. I thought I would provide three examples of this trend I have noticed that buttress his point.

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Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice

This week, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement regarding facemasks and vaccines, that reads as follows:

 Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.

The First Presidency

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring

I’m writing for two reasons today.

The first is to congratulate the number of my friends who have strong reasons for opposing the vaccine, and have changed their tack in view of the prophet’s call. This letter is making a difference for folks, and I appreciate them for it. It takes faith and humility, and they will be better for it.

When I went to church today, I saw a great number wearing masks. The bishop addressed the issue directly, and kindly. He said “the overriding two concerns of the ward council are to follow the prophet, and to ensure that every member of this ward is treated like a member of our family.” There was kindness, there was following the prophet, and there was a special sort of camaraderie. I’m grateful to all who listen when the time comes to listen.

But that’s not the only reason I write.