Relief Society Teachings For Our Times from April 2008 General Conference
by Elder Robert D. Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
I am fascinated by history, especially thinking about how naturally we humans draw on our past to make sense of the present. Lately I’ve been following the archeological dig around Stonehenge that is challenging every textbook assumption and in doing so, has reaffirmed my personal testimony about our Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ and, somewhat interestingly, our Heavenly Mother as well as the Holy Spirit. Has anyone here been to Stonehenge?
For more than 4,000 years, millions of people like all of us have visited and viewed the monument. For those of you who have never visited, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the US. There is a small visitor’s center, you walk through a tunnel (where the highway is on top of you) and there is a paved, roped-off ‘road’ wide enough for a car to travel in a single file. Immediately visible is Stonehenge because it looks like every one of the textbook images you’ve ever seen. No fences or park wardens like you might find here. Just all these famous oversized rocks scattered about like bowling pins on top of a grassy knoll.
About 10 years ago, a British archaeologist happened to be visiting at the right time of day when a man’s face carved into the side of one of the rocks was clearly revealed to him. Who is it? We will never know. Why had no one ever seen it before – because now that I’m showing it to you, it’s really quite obvious, right?
One fundamental doctrinal difference between Latter Day Saints and other religions is our belief in the Godhead as three distinct entities: God, our Heavenly Father; His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. In building my own personal testimony about the Godhead, I felt a bit like that archaeologist – like it was hiding in plain sight. In many ways it is difficult to describe to others how obvious this is to me, but Elder Hales offers a superb talk in the April 2008 General Conference. He explains a great deal on our view as Latter Day Saints of the Godhead, referencing many New Testament scriptures. Elder Hales talks to us about building a testimony of God, the father and his son Jesus Christ.
He states, “People all over the world, of every creed and persuasion, search and struggle to know:
o Who is God?
o What is His relationship to Jesus Christ?
o And what is our relationship with Them?”
Those are fairly monumental and fundamental questions. We’re going to talk more about them later, but start thinking about it now: Who is God? Anyone?
There is probably no question that is as common to man as that of who God is. Gaining a testimony about anything of a spiritual nature is hard work. You cannot acquire it over a weekend. And contrary to my daughters’ belief, it isn’t found on tv, online or in a video game format. It takes weeks and months of study and prayer. It takes patience and perseverance.
Let me confess something to my sisters – I don’t know if you have an Apostle who speaks to you more than another, but I have to admit that my ‘favorite’ is Elder Ballard. Does anyone else feel that way or is it just me? When you are listening to the talks at the General Conference – are there some that you find yourself more drawn to than others? For me it is always Elder Ballard.
Ok, so in cross-referencing this talk, I picked up on what Elder Ballard said at the October General Conference in 2004:
“…a testimony of the reality of Heavenly father’s love of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and of the effect of His Atonement on every son and daughter of God brings about the desire to repent and live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
It also brings a confirmation to our soul of the Restoration of the gospel in these latter days Real testimony of these precious truths comes as a witness by the Holy Ghost after sincere and dedicated effort, including teaching in the home, prayer, scripture study, service to others and diligent obedience to Heavenly Father’s commandments. To gain and forever hold on to a testimony of gospel truths is worth whatever price in spiritual preparation we may be required to pay.”
I could spend the balance of my lifetime reading all the material that exists about the nature of God and of Jesus Christ. But I don’t have to. We are blessed to already have an authoritative source in our prophet. There is no confusion in our church. The doctrines, at least the ones I’ve read so far, are clear and consistent.
Elder Hales then talks about God and Jesus being separate distinct beings.
In one of the first Gospel Principles classes I took, the question was asked, “who is responsible for the creation?” and before I could blink, one of the gentlemen responded, “Jesus Christ under the direction of God, the Father.” After more study, I found a gospel classic from the 1909 First Presidency called “The Origin of Man”, which stated the doctrinal position of the Church that has never wavered in the past century which, when you consider what else HAS wavered in this past century, it’s a testimony to the power of the Lord’s church:
“God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” In these plain and pointed words the inspired author of the book of Genesis made known to the world the truth concerning the origin of the human family.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “the express image” of His Father’s person (Heb. 1:3). He walked the earth as a human being, as a perfect man, and said, in answer to a question put to Him: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This alone ought to solve the problem to the satisfaction of every thoughtful, reverent mind. The conclusion is irresistible, that if the Son of God be the express image (that is, likeness) of His Father’s person, then His Father is in the form of a man; for that was the form of the Son of God, not only during His mortal life, but before His mortal birth, and after His Resurrection. It was in this form that the Father and the Son, as two personages, appeared to Joseph Smith, when, as a boy of 14 years, he received his first vision.
That man was made in the image of Christ is positively stated in the book of Moses: “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. …
“And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them” (Moses 2:26–27).
Elder Hales quotes the 1st Article of Faith. “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” This is important. It’s the first order of business in his talk. God, the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ are separate, distinct entities.
He talks about Joseph Smith finding out through personal experience the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ by seeing them. Joseph’s experience guided Elder Hales through his boyhood. Joseph sought to know from the scriptures, God’s will.
Elder Hales shares specific scripture references supporting that they are two beings. He talks about Jesus being the literal Son of God: God’s introduction of His Son at baptism, Mount of Transfiguration, Christ’s appearance to the Nephites and also to Joseph Smith were the same. “This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him.” We are commanded to listen.
The truth about our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and my personal relationship to each is something I am just now beginning to appreciate. Prayer is migrating from something I did when all other options had failed me to an essential part of my daily life.
I have read and pondered these words: “I know with surety that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live. The Atonement is real. God the Father and Jesus Christ are distinct, separate, immortal beings. They know us as individuals, and They hear and answer our sincere prayers.” I had never before thought of my prayers being heard by THEM. Generally I thought of just of HE.
Elder Hales reminds us that Jesus is the only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our mediator with the Father. We open our prayers to our Eternal Heavenly Father and we close every prayer in Jesus Christ’s name. Have you ever thought about that? Why do you think we pray to Heavenly Father and close each prayer in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ? (Pause – Discuss)
What really does it mean to pray in the name of Jesus Christ? Who is this ‘Jesus’? The Bible Dictionary offers this enlightenment: “We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ–when his words abide in us.” Elder Hales clarifies: Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. He is our Mediator with the Father. He is the Savior who laid down His life for us and pleads our cause with the Father. Therefore, we pray to Heavenly Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son, is not the same being as His Father, but He is like His Father. He too is a glorified being of power and authority.
As I shared earlier, He participated with His Father in the Creation of the World and was responsible under the direction of his Father, to create all things on the face of the earth.
Jesus Christ is not the same being as His Father, but is like him in purpose. The oneness is oneness of purpose and love for His children. In the Garden, Christ made it clear that he was not performing His own work but that of the Father. Christ was not talking to himself while praying in the garden, but was calling upon his Father for strength. On the Cross, He cried, “Father into thy hands I commend my Spirit.”
Elder Hayes shares moving verses from the great Intercessory Prayer found in the Book of John in the New Testament. Listen to His words as He reports the obedient completion of His earthly mission to His Father in Heaven:
“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. . . .
“For I have given unto them [the disciples] the words which thou gavest me . . . , and they have believed that thou didst send me. . . .
“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. . . .
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.”
Through the course of the Savior’s ministry, the disciples did indeed become one but not in their physical bodies. They became one in unity of purpose and love. This is the oneness of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, spoken of in the scriptures. They too are distinct beings, but They are united in purpose, in Their love for us, and in the work They are doing on our behalf.
The Savior also prayed:
“O Father, glorify thou me . . . with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. . . .
“ . . . That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
“ . . . For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.”
Oh, how Jesus wanted us to know the Father as He did. He prayed:
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these [the disciples] have known that thou hast sent me.
“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
But what of our testimony? Testimony is a gift from God. We are encouraged to share it but not force it upon someone else because a personal testimony is granted by the Holy Ghost. It can aid others in gaining knowledge for themselves…”
If you are a mother blessed with children, think about how you can teach and encourage them to learn the gospel on their own. Bonds of friendship can be cultivated as you help friends or spouses or others who are just beginning to question the gospel or growing their own faith. Every time we state our testimony of Christ, we strengthen it. Every time we humbly state our beliefs, our convictions grow.
Christ lives as the only begotten of the Father. He will return to reign on this very earth. He has taken away the sins of the world for those who believe steadfast on His name. He brings the reality of the Resurrection. And as an Apostle, Elder Hales shares his testimony:
I testify that our Savior lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and He will come again on this earth to reign. He is Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, “full of grace, and mercy, and truth. . . . It is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.” He is the literal Son of God, who rose from the dead on the third day, bringing the reality of resurrection to all who will come to earth. I also testify that God our Eternal Father lives and loves each of us, for we are His children. So great is His love that He sent His Only Begotten Son into the world “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I testify of the truth of what is in the scriptures and what has been told to me and can be told to you by the Holy Spirit. It will be revealed according to your obedience and desires. The Savior taught us during His mortal ministry this great truth that applies to all of us: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”
BREAK INTO 4 GROUPS FOR STRUCTURED CLASS DISCUSSION
When I kneel down to pray at night, there is no doubt in my mind to whom I am speaking. I am praying to a loving Heavenly Father who has all power to help me and wants to do so. I feel his encouragement and love through the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been bestowed upon me. I received it by the laying on of hands from those who are authorized to administer that ordinance.
There is no confusion in my mind as to who Jesus Christ is. He is God’s only Begotten Son in the flesh, meaning that he is Divine. His Father was God and his mother was Mary. He is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Lord, My God and my King. I love Him. I worship Him. I serve him and I obey him. He is my friend. He suffered for me in the Garden of Gethsemane so I can repent.
The gospel is not complicated. We do not need to get hung up on intellectual pursuits that lead us nowhere. To me, the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ are a clear as the face carved into the hardest known stone on Earth more than 4 millennia ago – the gospel has always been there. Only now is it clear to me what it all means as I continue to build my personal testimony. How grateful I am to a loving Heavenly Father who sent his Son to redeem the world. It is a miracle. All I know is that when I repent and strive to be obedient that I am happy.
I leave this lesson with you to feast upon for the next month and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.