Perfect vs Unconditional Love

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave an excellent talk in the last General Conference about our Heavenly Father’s perfect love. As we know the love of God reaches all. We find the scriptures full of references of his undying love for His children. For example, in Jeremiah 31:3 we read “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” We see evidence of His love in what He has done for mankind. In John 3:16 we read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

However, there is a very important distinction that must be made. It is something which I have occasionally said and it must be clarified. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained “One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture.” I have often used this phrase but it can provide some incorrect meaning. God’s love is indeed unconditional in the sense that He will always love us but if we desire the full blessings of His love, that is down to us. We know that God is not a respecter of persons but also that no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson further clarifies by saying “Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,”3 “perfect love,”4 “redeeming love,”5 and “everlasting love.”” These scriptural expressions are much more appropriate. Because of the love of God, He has provided everything for us. Because of the Saviour, the cause of God’s love can redeem us.

As we make ourselves more open to this redeeming love, we can then be changed. We see an example of this in Mosiah 5:2 where the people of King Benjamin exclaim – “Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Whilst this feeling is often linked to conversion and a mighty change of hear, we do have to ensure we have this event, or feeling, on a regular basis. As we do this, the redeeming love of God changes us. This is what helps us become better. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

His love is perfect. His love is redeeming. His love is life-changing.

Be Thou Humble

The Three Relationships

I was recently in a discussion about the crisis of faith that can enter into every member’s lives. Those that attend the Lord’s house do so because of their faith in the Saviour Jesus Christ. However, those foundations of faith have been, are now being and will continuously be tested by turbulent trials and tribulations. Horrific events shake the world most weeks – the news never seems to cease. As we discussed how each of us could more safely navigate through these troubled times, our discussion become focused on three key relationships that, if we work on these, then we will become much more able to stay stable in our faith.

Having reflected on this, it became clear that we need to put all of our efforts into maintaining and strengthening these key relationships. One key attribute we need to do this is humility. I have studied the talk given by Elder Steven E Snow of the Seventy in the last General Conference in relation to this. We have a great deal of influence over the relationships we have in our lives – and these relationships could ultimately save our eternal lives in future times.

Fellowcitizens

The first key relationship we should develop is our relationship with fellow members of Christ’s Church. We read in Moroni 6:4-5:

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

When we are baptised into his Church, our Leader, our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, asks us to support one another. When members gather together, Christ is in their midst. As we develop a stronger relationship – a friendship – with those we share the same beliefs with, we have a wider network we can rely on when times become difficult. Not only this, but we can be sources of strength for others also.

As we develop our friendship with those around us in the covenant of Christ, we can remember the words of joy found in D&C 18:16:

“And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”

You do not know the beneficial impact you can have on the faith of those around you. I have learnt great lessons of faith from many other people. Lessons of love, care, concern, humility and faith. I’m sure you can think of many lessons you have learnt from others too. On the other hand…we can have negative experiences in this type of relationship.

Careless words, thoughtless actions and unintended misunderstandings can have devastating consequences in our relationship with fellow Saints. We know how these negative experiences can have a direct impact on someone’s faith (whether or not this is the main reason for a lack in faith). Most of you will have heard the experience of Thomas B Marsh. If not here it is in brief:

Thomas B Marsh was the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the latter days, at 35 years of age. Therefore, he would (if the same general rule of ordination followed as today) have become the next President of the Church after the Prophet Joseph Smith. He lived faithfully, serving missions and caring for members of the fledgling Church. However, in 1837, relationships among the Twelve had deteriorated. This actually highlights another need for humility – the main causes were inexperience and disagreements about their role and purpose within the Twelve. We find Christ chastising the original Twelve Apostles in the New Testament when He said in Mark 10:44 – “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”

Despite being successful in improving the humility of His brethren in the Twelve, Marsh fell victim to the spirit of pride, with an incident involving Marsh’s wife, Elizabeth, and Lucinda Harris, wife of George W. Harris. According to George A. Smith, the women had agreed to exchange milk from their cows for making cheese. But counter to their agreement, Elizabeth allegedly kept the cream strippings—the richer part of the milk that rises to the top—before sending the rest of the milk to Lucinda. According to Smith, the matter went before the teachers quorum, then the bishop, and then the high council, all of whom found Elizabeth to be at fault. Marsh, not satisfied, appealed to the First Presidency, who agreed with the earlier decisions. Further offended by this chain of events, the already frustrated Marsh was said to have declared “that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.”

Sometime in the fall of 1838, Marsh left Far West with his family and began actively opposing the Saints. He swore out in October 1838 that detailed his concerns about acts of violence and destruction he believed were being planned or carried out by members of the Church against their neighbors in Caldwell and Daviess counties, as well as stating his fear that “all the Mormons who refused to take up arms, if necessary in difficulties with the citizens, should be shot or otherwise put to death,” and that “no Mormon dissenter should leave Caldwell county alive.”

Following his excommunication in 1839, Brigham Young become the next President of the Quroum of the Twelve…and the rest is history.

Pride amongst fellowcitizens and Saints can be faith-shattering. Remember humility and love.

Family

The second relationship we cannot allow pride to enter is with our family. Elder Snow is very clear on this matter:

“Humility is essential to gain the blessings of the gospel. Humility enables us to have broken hearts when we sin or make mistakes and makes it possible for us to repent. Humility enables us to be better parents, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, neighbors and friends.

On the other hand, unnecessary pride can dissolve family relationships, break up marriages, and destroy friendships. It is especially important to remember humility when you feel contention rising in your home. Think of all the heartache you can avoid by humbling yourself to say, “I’m sorry”; “That was inconsiderate of me”; “What would you like to do?”; “I just wasn’t thinking”; or “I’m very proud of you.””

Have you ever had an argument with your spouse, parent or child and thought afterwards that it was the best thing to do? Was it ever better being right instead of recognising each have differing opinions and showing an increase of love?

Having said all this, we are human. Often, the original focus of our pride-filled ‘debate’ will be forgotten and at the end, the initial trigger of the argument will have been forgotten. At that moment we see 3 Nephi 11:29 fulilled:

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

I am certainly not perfect when it comes to having humility in my relationship with my family. We may be tempted to say that this shortcoming is only human, that it is something we can work on but will always be a problem. To that, President Dieter F Uchtdorf stated:

“Pride may be a common human failing. But it is not part of our spiritual heritage, and it has no place among holders of the priesthood of God. Life is short, brethren. Regrets can last a long time—some will have repercussions that echo through eternity. The way you treat your wife or children or parents or siblings may influence generations to come. What legacy do you want to leave your posterity?”

We are better than this. We can overcome pride in the home. It is not easy. However, if we desire to return to live with our Heavenly Father, we need our families. We must teach with love and humility. Parents must demonstrate humility to each other in front of their children. The way they see your interactions will have an impact on the spouse and parent they are in the future – affecting generations of your family line! Your pattern of humility (or pride) will echo into the eternities, for you and for them. And this will affect our faith…

God

The final relationship we must have the utmost humility in (and probably the most important) is with our Heavenly Father. We cannot develop a secure enough relationship with God if we are not humble. As mentioned, we are seeing many events in the world, as well as our personal lives, where we may be tempted to throw our hands up and question ‘Why?” Elder Snow said:

“Accident and illness, the death of loved ones, problems in relationships, even financial reversals can bring us to our knees. Whether these difficult experiences come through no fault of our own or through bad decisions and poor judgment, these trials are all humbling. If we choose to be spiritually attuned and remain humble and teachable, our prayers become more earnest and faith and testimony will grow as we overcome the tribulations of mortal existence.”

This is a scripture which I feel, for me personally, begins to convey to me to intense deep love our Father has for us. In Moses 7 we read:

“…Enoch was high and lifted up, even in the bosom of the Father, and of the Son of Man; and behold, the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth. And he saw angels descending out of heaven; and he heard a loud voice saying: Wo, wo be unto the inhabitants of the earth. And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains? And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever…and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep? The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood…”

However, what will be an even greater cause of sorrow to our loving Father, is that when these horrifying events occur, there will be some that turn away from Him because they have lost that relationship with Him – their faith is gone.

One such person that could have easily lost their faith was Job. Job had been blessed with great riches and a large family. However Satan felt that Job was still faithful as he lived in comfort. So, Satan set out to tear away all from Job – natural causes of death and destruction literally tore Job’s life apart. He ultimately ended up alone without a penny, with only his ‘friends’ left, who accused him of sin – because how else would those bad things have happened? However, Job had built a strong relationship with His God. As such, despite this great loss, he testified:

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:”

Invitation

I share with you today an invitation that could affect your life. I urge you today to reflect on these three key relationships: with members, your family and your God. In each of these relationships, I invite you to think of how you can strengthen each one of them, remembering humility will be vital.

Becoming Provident Providers

In December 2015 my family had to move home. This news was not welcome, nor was it in our plans in the near future. However the Lord has His purposes which we may not see at the time. So we began to look at the market and there was nothing in our price range we could afford other than small, 2 bed flats which would have our lively children running up the walls (due to a 22% rise in house rental prices). We knew we could not, and should not, justify agreeing to a place which we could not afford (more on that later). As such, our views stretched out further afield, we found a home in another area within our price range, it worked with travel etc…we went to look…instantly we felt this was the place which we needed to pursue. We did not like it (we would have to move away from Ward in which we resided in, the area itself was not very desirable, it had limited outdoor space) yet there was no denying the feeling that both Chrissie and I received…

We began to inform family and friends – and despite the disappointment felt by those close to us, we knew (and we kept checking!) that this was right. However, as days passed to a week, and as we began to make plans for the move to occur, the Lord had something else in mind for us. We may never know why we had to go through this experience, but we felt that suddenly, despite previous clear revelation guiding us to the place we found, we now felt it wasn’t right. We prayed and prayed together to make sure…and on the very next day a house that was more spacious was brought to our attention by our current letting agents, with a garden and at a significant drop in price to where we were having to move from and the other house we had found…for our small family, this was a miracle. It is not perfect, but we will never forget how the Lord directed us over those few weeks.

How does this link with ‘Becoming Provident Providers Temporally and Spiritually’? For me there is one simple key to becoming self-reliant in these two areas…complete, unwavering trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The blessings we received as a family from this experience were more than finding a house in a place we want to be (temporal things) – this experience has had a massive impact on our family spiritually. Our children, particularly our eldest son who wanted to be a part of our prayers and searching, had seen faith in action. We had come to know God and Jesus Christ more as we had discussed with them and also, we knew of a greater assurance their deep, abiding love that they have for our little family. They created worlds without number, their power can shift mountains and part seas and yet they are aware of our need to relocate down the road.

Temporal and Spiritual Hand in Hand

Of course, as we begin to consider how to become temporally and spiritually self-reliant in our homes, we have to remember this important principle: D&C 29:34 “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.” – all things we do to follow our Saviour are spiritual, despite their being possible temporal blessings, the two are linked together.

Temporal Providers

I first want to focus in on being better temporal providers. As with most areas of the Gospel – we can all improve on this. Elder Robert D. Hales stated that there are some debts that can be expected in our lives – he said “education, a modest home, or a basic automobile may be necessary to provide for a family.” However, we must not allow ourselves to be enticed to spend money we do not have on any other means that are not necessary for us. If we need furniture and we do not have the finances, look in areas where you can save money until the time comes you can afford a little more for your family. Elder Hales went on to say “Unfortunately however, additional debt is incurred when we cannot control our wants and addictive impulses.”

Notice how Elder Hales uses the ‘addictive’! This is a strong word, yet a prophet, seer and revelator used this language, we need to learn from it. He suggests the same escape route as with other addictions, turning to the Lord Jesus Christ.

How do we turn to the Lord to be temporally self-reliant? One of the major responses may be a confusing one to some, but not to those who have faith in Christ.

Tithing is a key part in becoming temporally self-reliant. In D&C 119:4 we find the reinstitution of this sacred law in these latter days…

“And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.”

Thus, tithing is not only found in the Bible and Book of Mormon for those of God’s children, but it is an important principle for us. Elder Robert D. Hales said “Tithing is the great equitable law, for no matter how rich or poor we are, all of us pay the same one-tenth of our increase annually, and all of us receive blessings so great “that there shall not be room enough to receive [them]”.”

We can all pay tithing. The Lord has seen fit to give us everything…we need the faith to trust in His guidance and show our faith by contributing 10% of the 100% He has blessed us with. Does that make it easy? Of course not! When discussing this very important principle with people I know who have had concerns, and these are people who want to serve and follow the Lord, their main concern is generally the same – “I/We cannot afford it.” We cannot afford NOT to pay our tithing. The members who have paid their tithing faithfully will testify that they have what they have because of the outpouring of blessings from heaven because of their obedience to this law.

In terms of being temporal provident providers, we have to be prepared to make sacrifices. How often have you wanted to buy or provide something to someone in your family or to someone you care for just to show that love? We are at the time we commemorate the birth of our Beloved Saviour Jesus Christ, and part of that worship involves the buying of gifts for loved ones, as the wise men did to the infant Son of God. We recently had what is becoming a more popular event in the UK (as with most things we decide to bring over from USA), Black Friday. As we reflect on this sacred time (Christmas, not Black Friday), are we planning a wonderful Christmas but staying true to being temporal provident providers?

Elder Hales shared a lesson he learnt in his early marriage years – “I was in the air force, and we had missed Christmas together…When I got home, I saw a beautiful dress in a store window and suggested to my wife that if she liked it, we would buy it.” Isn’t that great? He wanted to treat his darling wife to a gift. He continued that after his wife, Mary, tried the dress “After a moment the salesclerk came out, brushed by me, and returned the dress to it’s place in the store window. As we left the store, I asked, “What happened?” She replied, “It was a beautiful dress, but we can’t afford it!”…I have learned that the three most loving words are “I love you,” and the four most caring words for those we love are “We can’t afford it.”

…We are not meant to have everything we want. Mortal life was never meant to be a situation where we received anything we wanted whenever we wanted it. In fact, many of us have been blessed with a lot more than a number of people on this Earth. Are we living in our means and making sacrifices to ensure we are temporal providers?

Elder Hales gave a ominous warning to those who lack the self-control to not spend when it is not necessary, particularly when this spending leads to debt “Whenever we do this, we become poor temporally and spiritually. We give away some of our precious, priceless agency and put ourselves in self-imposed servitude. Money we could have used to care for ourselves and others must now be used to pay our debts.” If we spend where it is not needed and this leads to financial struggles, we have handed over our free will. We are, in a small fraction, no longer able to utilise our agency because we have placed restrictions on ourselves.

Spiritual Providers

This leads perfectly on to the other part of my focus – being spiritual self providers. In Mosiah 3:19 we read “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” Also, Alma taught his son, Corianton, in Alma 39:9 “Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.” (remember that lusts can refer to material coveting as well as sins of chastity). How can we ever hope to be like Christ and become ready to Celestial Kingdom, if we cannot control our desires and overcome the natural man?

Being spiritually self-reliant and being spiritual providers are two different things. I can be spiritually self-reliant, but if I do not share that with my children I am not being a provident provider. How can we spiritually provide?

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “Give a man to fish and you will feed him for a meal, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” This applies to teaching our children, our home teaching families, investigators…whoever…how to be spiritually provident. We have probably heard the verse before in D&C 68:25 “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”

Please note again a vital word in this verse – “understand”. It does not say “teach them the doctrine of repentance”, it says teach them to understand the doctrine. How do we understand the Gospel rather than just know it? We have to teach those in our stewardship how to ‘fish’, how to receive that spiritual self-reliance and how to receive their own witness.

The Value of Work

Work is an eternal principle, essential to our salvation. It has been so ever since the world began. God said to Adam “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…” (Genesis 3:19). He was given dominion and instructed to work.

Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires a form of work. We are taught repeatedly to ‘endure to the end’ – we would not have to endure if it was not work! However, we are given support through this spiritual work. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able,” (1 Corinthians 10:13). He does not expect you to “…run faster or labour more than you have strength…” (D&C 10:4) but we do need to work our hardest. This does not only apply to spiritual ‘work’ of course but also needing to apply ourselves to honest, diligent work to provide for those we love and to provide ourselves with development in this life.

Not only is work an eternal principle and a commandment, but in the long run it makes life a lot more bearable. As we lose ourselves in working, we can begin to forget our worries. For example, this is an important principle for missionaries. President Ezra Taft Benson taught “There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centred on the work of the ministry.” (PMG page 121) As we lose ourselves in work – life becomes more productive, manageable and enjoyable.

“Work is an antidote for anxiety, an ointment for sorrow, and a doorway to possibility…” President Uchtdorf taught. An interesting element to this topic is that God is more able to assist the person who puts their effort into a task or a problem than one who simply asks without putting their effort forward. The Lord said “…you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…” (D&C 9:8). Just as with the brother of Jared and Nephi – who both put their minds to tasks placed before them – we need to diligently work at our problem and then pray to the Lord to help with the rest. He will then fill the part that is required. “God is much more likely to assist the man who gets out to push than the man who merely raises his voice in prayer—no matter how eloquent the oration.” President Uchtdorf taught.

The need to fill our part with work can be linked to a principle taught in Moroni’s promise – “…ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ…with real intent…” (Moroni 10:4). We need to be willing to act on the answer God gives us, and what better way to help us be more willing to follow an answer by putting effort in to finding an answer.

However, with this admonition to work, we must remember the counsel “But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.” (Jacob 2:18) If we work in our employment or career for public recognition or worldly wealth then we are working for the wrong reasons. Our main priority should be working for our family – to build and fortify the home. This is the task that as priesthood holders we are commissioned to do. President Harold B. Lee said “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf also said “Let us not devote our God-given talents and energies solely to setting earthly anchors, but rather let us spend our days growing spiritual wings.” With the work we do, let’s not focus on worldly work. Whilst we do need to work to supply provisions for our home and family, we must not forget our debt to God in service to Him and spending time with our family to build eternal relationships.

As we work we will progress, be it mentally, physically or spiritually. As work will always improve us, it is an eternal principle. “He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” (D&C 93:28) As we work, we will grow bit by bit until that perfect day.

 

The Love of God

This entry is based on a Conference talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf in the October 2009 General Conference.

God’s love for us is infinite and all-encompassing. There is a vast array of evidence of this love and He does show it. “I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love…” (2 Nephi 1:15), “let us love one another: for love is of God…” (1 John 4:7), “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son,” (John 3:16) – these are just a few passages that describe the love of God. The miraculous thing is that He loves each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we are becoming.

President Uchtdorf said “I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly…He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.” God’s love extends to all of His children. Whether we accept it His love or not is a different matter – but he will always be there.

What does this ultimate love do for us? It is very important because we can then trust in God that He will protect and provide for us when it is when it is the best for us. God does not need us to love Him But oh, how we need to love God!” President Uchtdorf continued and went on to say For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.This is a powerful thought because that means if we truly love God (which includes keeping his commandments – see John 14:15) then we will become more like God – something which is taught in the scriptures that is a goal for us – “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).

Following President Uchtdorf’s talk at the same Conference was a talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. He said “Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children.” As God is perfect, He must uphold His laws and the consequences of them. He does this to protect all His children. If He allowed mercy to rob justice “…the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:22)

At some point we see God showing anger towards His children – some would say that if He truly was a loving Heavenly Father then He would not express any anger or punishment. How can wrath and anger be an evidence of perfect love? Elder Oaks affirmed “He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is. For this reason, God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love.” He went on to give the example of a parent being disappointed in a child’s behaviour, or even angry in a constructive manner – but doing it because they love the child and they want them to make the right choices now and later in life.

If we are truly wanting to fulfil admonition in John 14:15 to keep the commandments, we need the love of God. President Uchtdorf said “Divine love is the factor that transforms reluctant compliance with God’s commandments into blessed dedication and consecration.” If we link this principle with the thoughts presented by Elder Oaks – we learn that if we love God, we will understand why He asks what He asks. We see the blessings of commandments and, because we love Him and desire the blessings, our willingness to keep the commandments improves. Not only this, but as we see the results (the evidence of our faith), our faith increases and we are more willing to be obedient.

We are assured in scripture that we receive blessings for obedience to commandments – in D&C 130:21 it tells us “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” As God wants the very best for all His children, He has revealed these ways, these eternal laws (these commandments) that if we live our lives in obedience to them, we can receive what He has.

The love of God is everlasting, unchanging – as are His laws. Elder Oaks went on to say “The effect of God’s commandments and laws is not changed to accommodate popular behavior or desires. If anyone thinks that godly or parental love for an individual grants the loved one license to disobey the law, he or she does not understand either love or law.” That means that we don’t have to fear that God’s love for us or His laws will ever change – they are constant. This is another evidence of this love.

As disciples of Christ, we need to try and emulate this love in all that we do. President Uchtdorf explained this in a marvellous way. He said Love is the guiding light that illuminates the disciple’s path and fills our daily walk with life, meaning, and wonder. Love is the measure of our faith, the inspiration for our obedience, and the true altitude of our discipleship. Love is the way of the disciple.Love should be at the centre of all that we do. As we improve and increase our love we can become more Christ-like.

Witness of Christ

This article is based on an article given by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the March 2008 Ensign – Special Edition of Jesus Christ.

Whenever people talk about being a witness of Christ, we generally tend to think of prophets and apostles –“The Twelve…are called to be the Twelve Apostles or special witnesses of the name of Christ…” (D&C 107:23) and indeed they are Special Witnesses. However, when we are baptised, we covenant that we are willing to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places…” (Mosiah 18:9) and so surely we must have the capacity to become such witnesses of Christ. There are a number of ways we can do this.

First we need to gain the witness ourselves – it’s no good testifying of Jesus Christ if we don’t believe He is the promised Messiah ourselves! The most important, and powerful way we can receive that knowledge is through the power of the Holy Ghost. An example – in Matthew 16:16-17, Christ has asked His apostles who they believed Him to be and Peter answers “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee; but my Father which is in heaven.” Once we receive the same witness from our Father in Heaven from the Spirit – as Peter did – we become a witness of Christ with a sure testimony. We have many other testimonies which assist us. We have the scriptures, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon. We have the latter-day prophets and apostles. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said – “…this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God…” (D&C 76:22-23). The greatest witness we can receive, however, is that one mentioned of the Spirit. “…no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) – this testator is vital for us to receive our personal witness.

Another way we are witnesses of Christ is shown in the way is shown in the way we live or in our actions to others. Jesus taught “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14,16). When we set out to present our good works, we will have to be cautious. Whilst we aim to show “…a more excellent way,” (Ether 12:11) of living, we have to beware priestcraft. We have to act in a way that “thine alms may be in secret…” (Matthew 6:4) so that we don’t serve or show an example for praise, rather to bring people (and ourselves) closer to Christ. When we are baptised, we promise to take upon us the name of Christ, and what better way to do that than serve our fellow men as He did. We are to be ready to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” (Mosiah 18:8) so the people around us can feel supported and loved – for that is what Christ does.

Finally, we are a true witness of Christ when we help others come unto Him. Missionary work and reaching out to lost members are ways in which we can do this. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” (Matthew 28:19) was Christ’s direction to the apostles and it’s one that we, as disciples of Christ, must follow too – for how can we truly be thankful for the Saviour and His Atonement if we don’t want to share this wonderful message with others. President Howard W. Hunter, in an address to new Mission Presidents in 1994, said “Any time we experience the Atonement in our lives, we cannot help but have a concern for the welfare of others…A great indicator of one’s personal conversion is the desire to share the gospel with others.” Enos felt a similar way when he prayed for forgiveness from his sins. He said “it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren…” (Enos 1:9) – just as President Hunter said, Enos felt concern for the welfare of others. He had truly experienced the Atonement.

As we experience the wonderful blessing of the Atonement, we become a witness of Him and through our personal conviction, our Christ-like example to others and our desire to share this wonderful news to everyone – we will become powerful instruments in His hands.

True Nature of God

The concept of God has been played with and discussed so much over the centuries after Christ because there was no ordained mouthpiece, witness or prophet to have the authority to know him. Some believe He is an unknown entity out somewhere that we cannot relate to. Some state that He is a spirit. Some state that He does not exist and of course there are many other theories. Once we get past what He actually ‘is’ there is the matter of his personality. Some say He is just and unflinching in His judgement. Some say He is so merciful that He will lovingly welcome us back no matter our choices and again, multitudes of theories are in between those two. Thanks to latter-day revelation and our Heavenly Father’s love for His children – He has revealed His true nature to the Earth to help us put our trust in Him and believe on Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, who is in the express image of His Father in every way.

First, I want to look deeper at the physical (for He is tangible) aspect of God. There are few accounts where God our Heavenly Father has actually been witnessed – but from these and other scriptures we know God does have a body of flesh and bone. To begin with, Genesis 1:26-27 states “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him…”. A statement saying we are in the image of God – also the phrasing ‘let us make man’ also has significant meaning which will be addressed later. In latter-day revelation, Joseph Smith states “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s…” (D&C 130:22). If Christ was resurrected and had a perfected, glorified body, would it not make sense that His Father has the same, perfect, physical attribute?

Now, linked with the question of God’s physical attributes, the doctrine of the Godhead must be considered. Widely known, many Christians believe that our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are all one Being or entity. Bringing back the statement found in Genesis ‘let us make man’ we are led to question why use the plural pronoun? Obviously, there are more important revelations stating this, but this phrase in Genesis should cause us to consider the possibility that they are three distinct Personages. He was speaking to His Son, Jehovah at the time, in the process of the Creation. Stephen the martyr saw “…the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” in Acts 7:56. How could he have seen God and Christ separately and distinguish them if they were not separate? It could be argued that with God, anything is possible, but why confuse a dying disciple and generations of future Christians about His nature? We also have to consider that it is “…impossible for God to lie.” (Hebrews 6:18) so surely a scene that confuses the nature of Him would go against that. Jesus Christ Himself, spoke to His Father many times – one being the Great Intercessory Prayer. In that petition, Christ says “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…that they may be one, even as we are one…” (John 17:21-22) – does Christ want His followers to be one entity or Personage? Or is He referring to being one in purpose? If He wants us to be one, as He and His Father are one, then we are to be unified in purpose, as Christ is with the Father. The final (but not only) account of God and Christ together as separate Personages is the glorious appearance of them to the boy Prophet, Joseph Smith. After centuries of darkness and confusion, the truth of God was restored. He says “When the light rested upon me…I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description…One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other – This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.” Joseph Smith saw and heard God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, separate, distinct, visual and tangible Heavenly Beings. What more evidence could we need than from a prophet of God?

Now, let’s discover God’s personality. First, His omniscient knowledge. He sees all, He knows all. He even knows what choices we will make in certain conditions. To state briefly, as He is our perfect Father, He knows each and every one of His children better than they know themselves. Elder James E. Talmage says “God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions…” – however – “…Can it be said that the father’s foreknowledge is a cause of the son’s sinful life? The son…has reached his maturity; he is the master of his own destiny; a free agent unto himself.” (Jesus the Christ pg 29). Let it not be forgotten that, despite God knowing what we’ll do – we still decide and He allows our agency because He loves us! God makes perfect choices, therefore we can trust Him. In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Even when we think we know of a better solution for a situation – God sees the whole perspective of things and ultimately knows what’s best for us, like our earthly parents – only even more perfect!

God is also a just God. In Alma 42:22 it states “But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed…and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” Law is something that keeps things in order – without it, all would be chaos. God has to abide by certain laws, or commandments (such as never being able to lie), and we are the same. If we break a law, then the penalty must be be paid – otherwise, is that fair? God cannot allow the penalty not to be paid because He would violate laws. However, 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” so there is a way we can be forgiven and the outcome will be just. Through Christ. Isn’t it settling to know that if we are dealt with wrongly in this life, despite living the best we can, we will be paid back in the next life. God is just.

As previously mentioned, God is also merciful, as well as just. He loves us so dearly that, if He could and if it would benefit us in our progression, He would make sure none of us have to feel sorrow. However, that is the only way we learn and grow from our mistakes. But, He has provided a way for us to return to live with Him – as we follow the Gospel of Christ. There are many scriptures relating to the mercy of God – one is Alma 12:33 which says “If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon, through mine Only Begotten Son.” As stated, this mercy which God so wants to extend to us could only be brought about through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Alma explains “…the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins…that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” (Alma 42:15) God Himself, through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ, has made sure to provide a way for us to receive mercy – how much must He love us to provide that?

That, in fact, is another important attribute to consider – God’s love. As Peter testified “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34) – His love is unconditional and universal for all His children. He loves me just as much as He loves the vilest sinner ever, just as much as He has loved ancient prophets – we are all His loved sons and daughters. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16) says that He even offered His Beloved Son so we could return to live with Him again. God created this whole plan in the first place because He loved us – He wanted us to have everything He had for we are “…heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:17) and this He did for us to live happily for eternity with Him and our families. Part of this plan is the fact we have our moral agency – our ability to choose. “And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life…or to choose captivity and death…” (2 Nephi 2:27) said Lehi of old. Enoch was shown in vision God’s perfect love in allowing all – including wicked people – to have their agency. Moses 7:26-33 gives this account “And he beheld Satan; And he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed…And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept…And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?…The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands…and in the Garden of Eden gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said…that they should love one another…but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” Others use their agency for evil, negatively affect others and God weeps in His love for us – because, even though He has the power to end all suffering, He doesn’t want to take away agency because it is necessary and a loving God would not subjugate all against their wills – that is how much He loves us.

Also, because of His love, He wants to help us through mortality. That’s why He has given us prophets, scripture, families and a way to communicate directly with Him, through prayer. He hears and answers our prayers! One of the most commonly used scriptures “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…” (Matthew 7:7) states this, that God will answer, not in the way we want or expect sometimes – “If ye then…know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him.” (Matthew 7:11). He will answer the righteous desires of our hearts, because He really does love us!

God is also a God of order, He has things set perfectly, starting with His planned creation – the planets move in perfect form and animals have perfect adaptations and balance. All is put together as a master designer would have done. The Lord said, in His commandment to build a temple, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house…a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 88:119) Not only does He require things established in an orderly manner, but things need to be performed in the proper order and way too. “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Hebrews 5:4) “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?…and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23). Each of these verses speak of the authority needed to act in God’s name – even when good things are done supposedly in Christ’s name – He won’t recognise them – that is the importance of order in God’s all-knowing eye, otherwise, it would truely be chaos, and we inevitably would become lost.

Another important attribute of God is that He is all-powerful. It confuses me that people question or argue the virgin birth of Christ when, one, today the technology is available for people to procreate through assistance of scientific methods and, two, if God is there (which He is) and He is omnipotent – would something like that not be possible? We do not need to look far in the scriptures to see other examples of God’s power “…and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” (Exodus 14:21) ” Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God…Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water…” (1 Kings 18:38) “Stretch forth thine hand again unto they brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock them…I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and…the Lord did shake them…” (1 Nephi 17:53-54) “And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them…Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned…” (Helaman 12:13). If He were not all powerful – would we want to place our faith and trust in Him and His plan? It is because of His omnipotence we are able to place our faith in our Father’s plan and His Son who made the plan possible.

Finally, in all these attributes, God is perfect. He simply does not, can not and will not make a mistake. 2 Nephi 2:24, in relation to the Fall of Adam and Eve, says “…all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” Adam and Even did not surprise God when they took the fruit. It was part of His perfect plan. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) was Christ’s admonition to us – He wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t true and God wasn’t perfect. This final attribute makes it easier, once we believe it, to place our trust in Him. And He doesn’t change. “From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail.” (D&C 76:4), the same yesterday, today and forever – and that is why He, our Heavenly Father, also has the title of ‘God’.

Why is it important we come to gain a knowledge of these things for ourselves? Why do we need to know God’s perfect love? Or indeed He is a separate, distinct Personage? “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) From this we may understand that, in order to gain eternal life, we need to know the God whom we worship – not blindly. Also, as mentioned before, if we are indeed to be perfect, as Christ commanded us to be, we need to know what we are aiming for. Simply, like we need to get to know our earthly parents, we need to know our Heavenly Father. Whilst it is vital to study and learn of our Heavenly Father, we also MUST develop a relationship with Him through daily sincere prayer. In the most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson said “Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.” As we are taught by the Lord, we can come closer to our Heavenly Father, and then, we will truly become spiritually self-reliant.