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:
My Lenten journey continues apace. I think I accidentally missed a day this week, so I only have 6 talks recorded. That’s too much ground to cover in a single post, so I’m just going to observe some overall feelings and then focus on one talk in particular, “Sweet Power of Prayer.”
I haven’t had any really grand revelatory moments so far, but I didn’t expect to. Instead, I’ve found that the talks I’ve been reading from President/Elder Nelson have given me unexpected help and insights with things I encounter throughout my week. I suspect that I won’t receive a lot of extraordinary confirmations about these talks because I haven’t yet met with anything that I don’t already recognize to be good and true–which is proven in the way they help me each day.
Sweet Power of Prayer
This talk stood out to me because some friends had recently published an article introducing work they are doing that I’m very excited about. They are striving to reexamine the traditions and assumptions in psychology through a gospel lens. They argue that psychological reasoning and therapeutic practices can be improved by consciously adopting a framework informed by revealed truths. As someone who has spent a lot of time undergoing treatment with a variety of mental health professionals–all of them LDS–I felt that a lot of good could come from consciously allowing the truths of our faith to inform mental health practices.
Unfortunately, a lot of people disagreed–even other members of our faith. It pained me to see people so quickly reject a faith-informed approach to healing, many of them claiming that it simply couldn’t be done because revealed truth would necessarily contradict empirical evidence. I have no doubt that there would be various tensions produced through trying to integrate gospel truths with science-based medicine, but it has also been my observation that such tensions ultimately bring forth our greatest knowledge and miracles. In President Nelson’s talk, “Sweet Power of Prayer” he provides a stunning example.
One of his patients was seeking surgical treatment that then-Dr. Nelson’s medical expertise had taught him was ill-advised. There was no currently available surgical treatment for his condition and Dr. Nelson told his patient, who was dying from heart failure, several times that he would not operate.
His patient, however, was a man of great faith. He sought guidance from the Lord about his condition and the Lord revealed to him that he should get help from Dr. Nelson, to whom he would reveal the way to help this man’s heart.
This man’s faith profoundly affected Dr. Nelson and he moved forward with the operation, not knowing beforehand how exactly he would help this man. Miraculously, during the operation, the Lord revealed to Dr. Nelson exactly what steps he should take in order to help this man’s failing heart valve, which had never been done before. The operation was a success and the man lived for many more years. Additionally, the medical world now had a new surgical procedure that would benefit countless more individuals with the same condition.
This was a profound example to me of the way great blessings of healing can be given to us as we pursue both the best knowledge available to us and the Lord’s guidance. President Nelson could not have performed that surgery without his extensive training. The operation which the Lord revealed to him still required a vocabulary of medical knowledge and skilled hands obtained over years of study and practice. But it used that knowledge in a new way that was not obvious to a man who had spent his entire career in the field of cardiac medicine–but who nevertheless believed that God was still God in his private as well as his public life. And the result was a miracle that has blessed many lives.
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.
With my friends Daniel and Meagan I am studying one General Conference talk given by President Nelson per day throughout the Lenten season.
I generally make it a practice to listen to a General Conference talk each evening while I load the dishes and my husband bathes our children. Typically, unless I have a reason for listening to a specific talk, I cycle through the talks from the past two general conferences. While this is a peaceful daily ritual, I wouldn’t say I’m incredibly committed, and often I forget or am mentally distracted by other goings-on in my home.
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.
For Lent this year, I am listening to/reading one talk each day from President Nelson. So far I’ve read his talks “Self Mastery,” “With God, Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” and “Living By Scriptural Guidance.” Here are some of my insights so far.
We tend to acknowledge the way that actions follow our convictions, but I think we sometimes under-estimate how convictions come from action. Fasting is an example of the latter. Then-Elder Nelson says that “Fasting fortifies discipline over appetite and helps to protect against later uncontrolled cravings and gnawing habits” and “faithful payment of tithing…defends you against dishonesty or shabby temptations.”
I have often felt it was important for me to fast, even when for health reasons (such as during pregnancy) I have not been able to do a traditional fast from all food and drink. I believe there is something very important to God about mastering our appetites, some of which are brain appetites (like craving our phones). During the times I have been unable to fast from food and water, I try and choose something that a typically use or crave a lot, such as sweets or digital media. Sometimes I will even extend the fast since it’s not something I need to live. It has been remarkable how much power these items have over me and how much more peace and control I feel when I loosen their grip on my life.
“With God, Nothing Shall Be Impossible”
What stood out to me in the talk is that President Nelson talks repeatedly about having faith. Obviously that’s a common theme in General Conference, but it stood out to me because he never explicitly mentions “faith in Christ.” I realized that this talk was given in the 1980’s and it occurred to me that the reason he probably never explicitly directs our faith to Christ was that, at the time, there weren’t a lot of conflicting cultural slogans about it. In our own day, people frequently meme-ify having faith in everything from fairy tale magic to your one true love or an impersonal universal intelligence. It struck me that prophetic language changes as our times change because the prophets must find ways of communicating eternal truths within our own cultural moment. God’s truths are eternal, but he sometimes changes the way he communicates them so that we can understand them.
“Living By Scriptural Guidance”
President Nelson here teaches that “because truth given by revelation can only be understood by revelation, our studies need to be prayerful.” He later adds “you cultivate such revelatory experiences by living according to the light already given you and by searching the scriptures with pure motives—with real intent to “come unto Christ.”
I’ve realized recently how often different social media influencers seem to find scriptural and prophetic support for their particular thing while others can use the same scriptures to mean something opposite. It struck me that the scriptures are only authoritative in our lives when we study them with the intent to learn God’s will, rather than searching out passages we can use to support our own will. President Nelson here teaches that we need the Holy Ghost to interpret the scriptures correctly in our lives. And that will only happen as we humbly set aside our own objectives and try to adopt the Lord’s. I think the Lord calls it having “an eye single to the glory of God.”
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.