"Prophets speak to us in our day because we desperately need them, and the Lord knows why. "
THE LORD KNOWS WHY
Ensign College Devotional
Assembly Hall, Temple Square
7th February 2023
Thank you for coming today. I can’t adequately describe the extent of my gratitude for you for being here and for those who participated so far and for the wonderful spirit they brought to our meeting this morning.
A few weeks ago, when I was preparing for this talk, I found myself in the middle of a game of hide and seek. My 4-year-old daughter Mary is very independent. She ran off to find her own hiding spot behind the sofa. My 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth is very attached to her mother. She decided they would hide together, and she found a great hiding spot right in the middle of the sofa. Here’s a reconstruction of the game. As the counting ended and the seeking started, she turned to her mother and said with some certainty, “he will never find us under here!”
Interestingly, I think I’ve playing that same game with the Savior for much of my life. That if I hid under that imaginary blanket and ignored Him for long enough, He would never find me. If I couldn’t see Him, He couldn’t see me, and I could carry on eating, drinking, and being merry. In reality, He knew exactly where I was, and He put people in my life to direct me towards Him.
That blanket can mean different things to different people. Really, it’s anything that distracts us from the Savior and His Gospel. It may be obvious - drink, drugs, immorality. But what about the less obvious distractions? Entertainment, shopping, video games, social media, even work. We all have them. As well as distraction, one of the adversary’s most powerful weapons today is the contamination of truth. And as our attention is drawn to the noisy misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies that surround us; we may be blinded to the subtle, quiet, insidious attacks on the precious truths of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s little wonder President Nelson is highlighting the need for our young people to serve missions.
My nephew James currently serves in the Bristol, England mission. Like other missionaries, he is following President Nelson’s counsel who has underscored “the urgent need for us to follow the Lord’s instruction to ‘go … into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’” [i] He is teaching people what President Nelson has called “pure truth.” [ii]
Many years ago, as a small boy, that same nephew was sat on the sofa with his toy puppy. James’ grandmother came into the room. James looked at his puppy, looked at his grandmother, and said, “That’s my dog. He’s a toy dog. He’s not real. Don’t tell him though because he thinks he’s real!”
James’ statement has never been more relevant. The lines between real and imaginary things are increasingly blurred. In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year wasn’t “pure truth,” it was “post-truth.” “Post-truth” is defined as … “[C]ircumstances in which objective facts are less influential … than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” [iii] We are now living in a post-truth era. In this world, we’re not just contending about what the facts are, but questioning whether truth is relevant at all.
And this has serious implications. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” [iv] It follows that this post-truth era might also be called a post-Christ era. And this is troubling. When claims proliferate that Christ is no longer relevant, you can be certain He has never been more so. Jesus spoke of these days: “Take heed” He said, “that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many … And many false prophets shall rise.” [v]
And we see them everywhere fighting for our attention. Sometimes we might wish we could throw that blanket over our heads, and it would all go away. It won’t. Celebrities, online influencers, market manipulators, actors, political figures, all seem to be pointing to themselves as the answers to all our problems. Living prophets, however, simply point us to God. As the new President of the Church, President Nelson said, “Our message to the world is simple and sincere: we invite all of God’s children on both sides of the veil to come unto their Savior.” [vi] A year later he warned, “as President of His Church, I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the Church … Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out.” [vii] And this is not new.
Remember Noah? Talk about time running out! It wasn’t raining when he was building the ark. That’s what made his divinely inspired venture so absurd. It’s too easy to dismiss counsel for which we find no reason. Faith requires effort and as President Nelson taught, “the Lord loves effort.” [viii] Sometimes that will involve setting aside our expectations to trust something, or rather Someone, much greater. If Noah teaches us anything, it’s that we can’t be selective on the prophet’s instruction. Noah knew to build an ark, and the Lord knew why.
It’s been said that one can only prepare as much as one has foresight. But foresight of a global flood requires the Lord’s input. Foresight isn’t such a problem for Him. He said, “I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end … the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.” [ix] Elsewhere He says, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” [x] It’s the combination of these two doctrines, first – the all-knowing nature of God, and second – the calling of a prophet as His mouthpiece, that makes the prophet’s words of inestimable value to the world. At times, lives depend on them.
Consider the Israelites. Taken to the point of the sea and trapped by Pharoah’s army. The situation made no sense. They said to Moses, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than we should die in the wilderness.” [xi] If there was ever a need for that blanket over the head in the hope it might all disappear, it was right then. I wonder how they felt when Moses parted the sea. Suddenly, it made perfect sense. Moses knew where to take those Israelites, and the Lord knew why.
Joseph Smith spoke of members in his day: “I have tried … to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them … fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.” [xii]
To many Christians of the day, the new doctrine wasn’t just a curious alternative, it was blasphemy, and Joseph Smith, a heretic. It can’t have been easy to adopt an entirely new belief system that conflicted with their customary faith traditions. However, it’s precisely when the prophet speaks against our established views that we get to show the Lord who we really trust.
Things didn’t get any easier for those early saints. As time moved on, so did they, often by armed militia. This was compounded when, amidst the financial panic of 1837, the Kirtland Safety Society, of which Joseph Smith was treasurer, folded. [xiii] Some investors lost almost everything, and trust in the prophet started to waver. It’s estimated that 10-15 percent of members in Kirtland withdrew from the Church. [xiv] This was an extremely trying time for Joseph Smith. Financially, no one lost more than him and the Church was on its knees. If anyone needed a blanket to throw over his head, it was Joseph Smith.
At the height of the commotion, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde were called to missions in Britain. [xv] Then Joseph received revelation to send the remaining Quorum of the Twelve. [xvi] This was totally bizarre. Why would Joseph send his best men abroad when the Church was in such crisis at home? Well, whilst apostasy was weakening the Church in Kirtland, the British mission saw unprecedented growth. By 1850, there were more members in Britain than in the United States. [xvii] Elder Holland said, “I think it’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of that first mission. You could say those British immigrants of the 1840s … and later the Scandinavian Saints who joined them … probably saved the Church numerically.” [xviii] Joseph was accused of neglect for the Church. However, it was those same so-called “irresponsible” decisions that, in the end, would actually save the Church. Joseph knew where to send those brethren, and the Lord knew why.
Under Brigham Young’s supervision the Church was still decidedly on the move and the trials continued. In the migration west around 4,600 saints lost their lives. [xix] Others suffered life-altering injuries from which they would never fully recover. Even in the Salt Lake Valley the land proved inhospitable and threats to life still alarmingly real, not least of all from the US military, against whom they would have an armed confrontation in 1857-58. [xx] As with the Israelites at the edge of the sea, you might forgive them for asking, what on earth are we doing here? Well, the Lord knew why.
It seems in hindsight, that the Lord wasn’t just building the foundation of His temple, He was building the foundation of His people. A people who would be worthy of the temple they were constructing. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants.
Brigham Young saw modest progress in his own lifetime. At the time of his death, the Church was still being attacked from all sides. Even his number one priority, the Salt Lake temple, was barely out of the ground. But in time, as the prophet Isaiah predicted, the church was “established in the top of the mountains … and all nations [did] flow unto it.” [xxi] With over 60 nations represented, Ensign College is a poignant reminder of this prophecy. [xxii]
John Taylor succeeded Brigham Young in 1880. Two years later, he received revelation to call Heber J Grant to the Twelve. [xxiii] At just 25 years of age, there was concern that the new apostle was too young and too business minded for his new role. However, in the financial panic of 1893, he secured loans that would save the Church from default and many members from financial problems. [xxiv]
Heber J. Grant became President of the Church at the end of World War 1. The flu pandemic was at its peak. The United States was already in recession, but this would be short-lived compared to a more severe economic dip starting in 1920. [xxv] But even this would prove meaningless compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s, which devastated economies around the world. World War 2 followed, and President Grant died just four months before its conclusion in 1945.
Thanks to his youthful age, Heber J Grant served as president for over 26 years, during some of the most trying periods of modern world history. During those unique periods of economic distress, it was precisely his business mindedness that would see the Church through difficult times. The concerns of members when he was called turned out to be the very reasons that would best serve them. President Taylor knew who to call in 1882, and the Lord knew why.
I’m amazed at how specific the Lord is in the calling of His prophets. On one occasion in 1990 I found myself sitting with my family in stake conference in the north of England. The visiting authority that weekend was Elder Neal A Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He said: “I feel impressed to leave you an apostolic blessing. I bless you within your families … that your children will feel of [your] love and will taste the sweetness of an LDS home … Family members may stray, but I bless you that this will only be for a season, and they will be drawn [back] by a remembrance of that sweetness … to return home.” [xxvi]
Back then, the principles of the gospel made no sense to my ill-conceived notions of what life was all about. They defied logic to my young, teenage mind. So, as Elder Maxwell predicted, I was one who sat in the middle of that sofa and threw that blanket over my head. My parents were devastated. The Lord’s doctrine can be difficult. Even His own disciples responded to His teachings with, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” [xxvii] It follows that the words of His prophets can be equally difficult.
For example, in 1995 President Hinckley gave a Proclamation to the World: “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” [xxviii]
To members of the Church the proclamation was nothing new. To many, a mere reassertion of existing doctrine. However, just five years later the legal definition of marriage was altered in the Netherlands. [xxix] Two years later Belgium followed suit. Canada and Spain joined them in 2005 and the trend snowballed to where over 30 countries have now changed the definition of marriage in their legal framework. The confusion is now so rampant that today, many consider the family proclamation as hate speech. As the Savior said of these times, “And then shall many be offended … And many false prophets shall rise.” [xxx] President Hinckley was not one of them. He knew the proclamation was needed in 1995, and the Lord knew why.
In 2001, one month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Hinckley addressed the Church and the world: “I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets … I cannot forget the great lesson of Pharaoh’s dream ... I cannot dismiss from my mind the grim warnings of the Lord … in the 24th chapter of Matthew.” [xxxi]
Matthew 24 lays out the calamities of the last days which have become so commonplace since 9/11. But remember Pharoah’s dream. As Joseph interpreted: “Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: And there shall arise after them seven years of famine.” [xxxii]
Almost seven years to the day following the 9/11 attacks on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers, one of the largest investment banks in the world, collapsed, marking the largest bankruptcy filing in US history. One month later, almost seven years to the day of President Hinckley’s address, President George W Bush signed a $700 billion bailout bill for the US financial system, which had been crippled by the subprime mortgage crisis, marking the beginning of austerity measures in the United States. [xxxiii] “I cannot dismiss from my mind” President Hinckley said, “I cannot forget … Pharoah’s dream”. President Hinckley knew what to say in 2001, and the Lord knew why.
Millions lost their homes to mortgage foreclosures and unemployment rose to almost ten percent. [xxxiv] In 2010 I found myself in London, financially destitute and spiritually bankrupt. I was driven back home to live with my parents. I guess I was “drawn by a remembrance” of that “sweetness of an LDS home” that Elder Maxwell spoke of 20 years earlier. Back home, I had a powerful compulsion to read the Book of Mormon. In the past I would have considered such an undertaking utterly pointless. It turned out to be the most transformative experience of my life. The comfort and joy that blessing has brought and still brings to the parents of wayward children in that stake is profound. So many stories of faith and redemption. I know Elder Maxwell was speaking for God – I am living proof of it. He knew exactly how to bless that stake, and the Lord knew why.
In October 2018, President Nelson announced: “We have become accustomed to thinking of ‘church’ as something that happens in our meetinghouses… We need an adjustment to this pattern. It is time for a home-centered Church.” [xxxv] Some just saw this as a subtle shift in emphasis. But along came Come Follow Me, the manuals for individuals and families, and an aligned Sunday School program.
Just 14 months later a cluster of patients in Wuhan, China began to experience shortness of breath and fever. They were suffering from what we now know as Covid-19. [xxxvi] Three months later the whole world was locked down. Suddenly, and without warning, church was almost exclusively held in member’s homes. I had a call from an elder’s quorum counselor to check on my family. He told me of some new converts his family knew from the Philippines. They were dumbfounded that families all over the world were locked down so soon after implementing a home-centered church. In talking of President Nelson, they simply asked, “how did he know?” President Nelson knew the adjustment was needed, and the Lord knew why.
Out of these scenarios a pattern emerges. The Lord asks His prophet to do certain things. He may not always know why. He never questions the instruction, he just does it. I think there’s a lesson for us here. It’s easy to follow when it makes sense. But there’s no test in that. How do we respond to prophetic counsel for which we find no reason? Surely this is the measure of our faith. Families who embraced home-centered church have seen blessings showered upon their homes in the pandemic. Those who listened to President Hinckley were prepared for the recession. And his proclamation on the family has brought clarity to an increasingly confused world.
The Savior said of our day, “ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.” [xxxvii] To my mind, my nephew James and his companions in Bristol are fighting in the most egregious war in human history. It’s a war of which we are all a part. Not the kind involving guns and bombs. It’s far more dangerous than that with much further reaching, even everlasting implications. We are fighting in a war of ideas and doctrines. It’s a war that won’t be won by violence, but by “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” [xxxviii]
The Savior compared our day to the days of Noah: “For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage … And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.” [xxxix] So, life just continued. Nothing new, nothing to worry about. Just ignore the prophet, sit on the sofa, throw the blanket over your head, and carry on as normal. But it wasn’t remotely normal. And the flood did come, and it was too late, and “so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” [xl] And as President Nelson has taught, “Time is running out.” [xli]
In closing, I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He lives. I know that He will come again to the earth, “clothed with power and great glory.” [xlii] I testify that President Russell M. Nelson is His primary voice of warning on the earth today and as such, speaks “pure truth.” He has most recently taught, “In coming days, we will see the greatest manifestations of the Savior’s power that the world has ever seen.” [xliii] Prophets speak to us in our day because we desperately need them, and the Lord knows why. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] R.M. Nelson, “Preaching the Gospel of Peace,” General Conference, April 2022
[ii] R.M. Nelson, “Pure Truth, Pure Doctrine, and Pure Revelation,” General Conference, October 2021
[iii] Oxford Dictionaries, “Word of the Year 2016”
https://languages.oup.com/word-of-the-year/2016/ . Retrieved 15 January 2023
[iv] John 14:6
[v] Matthew 24:4-5;10-11
[vi] R.M. Nelson, “Let Us All Press On,” General Conference, April 2018
[vii] R.M. Nelson, “Come, Follow Me,” General Conference, April 2019
[viii] R.M. Nelson, “New Year’s Day message,” Instagram, January 2022
[ix] Doctrine and Covenants 38:1-2
x] Doctrine and Covenants 1:38
[xi] Exodus 14:12
[xii] History of the Church, 6:184-85
[xiii] S.H. Partridge, “The Failure of the Kirtland Safety Society,” BYU Studies, 1972
[xiv] M.V. Backman, “The Heavens Resound,” 1983, p.328
[xv] History of the Church, 2:489–90
[xvi] Doctrine and Covenants 118:4
[xvii] R. Stark, “The Basis of Mormon Success,” BYU Studies, 1998
[xviii] T. Toone, “180 Years in England,” Deseret News, July 13, 2017
[xix] S.E. Black, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July, 1998
[xx] L.R. Hafen & A.W. Hafen, “The Utah Expedition, 1857-1858,” A.H. Clark Company, 1958
[xxi] Isaiah 2:2
[xxii] Ensign College website, “History and Background,” Copyright 2023
https://www.ensign.edu/ensign-college-history-and-background . Retrieved 15 January 2023
[xxiii] J.R. Clark, “Messages of the First Presidency, 1833-1964,” Bookcraft Inc., 1965
[xxiv] R.R. Walker, “Crisis in Zion: Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893,” BYU Studies, 2004
[xxv] V. Zarnowitz, “Business Cycles,” University of Chicago Press, 1996
[xxvi] Personal family records
[xxvii] John 6:60
[xxviii] G.B. Hinckley, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” General Conference, October 1995
[xxix] CBS News, “Gay Marriage Goes Dutch,” Associated Press, April 2001
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gay-marriage-goes-dutch/ . Retrieved 15 January 2023
[xxx] Matthew 24:10-11
[xxxi] G.B. Hinckley, “The Times in Which We Live,” General Conference, October 2001
[xxxii] Genesis 41:29-30
[xxxiii] D.M. Herszenhorn, “Congress approves $700 billion bailout,” New York Times, October 2008
. Retrieved 15 January 2023
[xxxiv] Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, 2010
[xxxv] R.M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,” General Conference, October 2018
[xxxvi] H.Zhu, L.Wei, P.Niu, “Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan,” Global Health Research & Policy, March 2020
https://ghrp.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41256-020-00135-6 . Retrieved 15 January 2023
[xxxvii] Matthew 24:6
[xxxviii] Doctrine and Covenants 121:41
[xxxix] Matthew 24:38-39
[xl] Matthew 24:39
[xli] R.M. Nelson, “Come, Follow Me,” General Conference, April 2019
[xlii] Doctrine and Covenants 45:44
[xliii] R.M. Nelson, “Overcome the World and Find Rest,” General Conference, October 2022
Image Sources (all online images retrieved 15 January 2023)
Slide: Hide and Seek, Family photograph
Slide: Post-truth definition, copied from Oxford Languages and Google
slide: Christ, by Heinrich Hofmann
Slide: Russell M. Nelson
Slide: Joseph Smith, by Alvin Gittins
Slide: Brigham Young, by John Willard Clawson
Slide: John Taylor
Slide: Heber J. Grant, by Hartsook Photo Studio
Slide: Neal A. Maxwell
Slide: Gordon B. Hinckley
Slide: Russell M. Nelson