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Craig V. Nelson

Take off Your Sunglasses: Embracing Light to Discover Truth

A number of years ago we had a student on campus who was enthralled with the power of evil. She had spent a long time studying what she saw as a pervasive and strong force that comes from the dark side. Talking with her reminded me of a scene in a Star Wars movie. You know the one. Near the end of that movie, the villain says to our young hero Luke Skywalker, “Only now at the end do you understand the power of the dark side.” Then the villain zaps our Luke with electric bolts that come out of his finger tips. The young student I talked with espoused that same philosophy. She believed that by studying the dark you could better understand the light. Her idea was that the contrast helped you better appreciate the good. 

You likely can see the danger and the lie in that are nested in that point of view. It is tantamount to saying that the Lord wants us to understand the brilliance of the sun by focusing our efforts on the shadows. In fact, this lie would tell us that the best thing would be or us to study deep shadows so we can see the contrast, and the deeper the shadow the better. 

But Christ does not ask us to study shadows. Instead, he wants us to turn to face the light. He said:

 “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. “While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of light” (John 12: 36-37).

The apostle Paul echoed the Savior’s words when he wrote:

“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thes. 5: 5).

What a great thing to say. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves that way, as children of light? Let’s say that you’ve gone back home for the summer and someone in your home ward asks you what you’re majoring in at college, and instead of saying accounting or interior design or some other field, you answer, “I’m studying light. I’m a disciple of light.” In fact, we could say that we spend so much time in the light that we’re beginning to get a Son-burn. But this is one burning that would be desirable, a kind of celestial burning.

Many of you are already having something like that happening in your life. The way you have chosen to live has changed your countenance. You’re somehow brighter, more radiant. Your personality glows. We have many visitors on campus who are impressed with your goodness and can sense it radiating from you. They say things like: “They have a glow about them,” “They shine,” “There’s a light that comes from their faces.” “They seem so bright.”

We know that this light is the light of Christ which burns in us, and if we live right, the light can intensify. The scriptures say it this way:

“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And again, verily I say unto you … I say it that you may know the truth, that ye may chase darkness from among you” (D&C 50: 24-25).

Notice the interesting connection that the Lord makes to light. Christ gives us instructions that we might know the truth to the end that we might chase darkness from us. Time does not permit today, nor, in fact, will we live long enough to exhaust the concept of light, but let’s take a few moments this morning to talk about light and its connection to truth and what that means to you as students in a College that specializes in learning by study and by faith.

The scriptures often combine the concept of light with truth.

 “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (D&C 84: 45).


“The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93: 36-37).

We know that there is a difference between learning and coming to knowledge of the truth. In fact, the scriptures note that some are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3: 7). To paraphrase one writer, “You can swim all day in the Sea of [Truth] and still come out completely dry. Most people do” (Norman Juster).

So what is truth? You may remember that Pilot asked that of Christ during the last day of the Savior’s life. But Pilot asked a rhetorical question and did not wait for an answer. He was a kind of moral relativist and didn’t believe in absolute truth, and certainly not in the kind of truth Christ could have given him (John 18: 37-38). We, on the other hand, want to know and understand truth that we might become full of light.

Fortunately for us, the answer Pilot could have received was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith as part of the restoration of knowledge (2 Ne 30: 5). Here’s the answer, and it has significant impact for you and me:

“And truth is the knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93: 24).

In other words, truth is a holistic understanding of things that takes into account the beginning, the middle and the end of a topic. It is a celestial viewpoint. It is seeing things as they really are, as they actually were, and as they surely will be. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to understand? Surely, if the College offered that kind of a course, Celestial Truth 101, we would sign up. 

In reality, it is a course you can take. In fact, it’s one you take every morning when you read your scriptures or every Sunday when you go to Church or when you pray with sincere desire and real intent (see Mormon 10: 3-4). 

When we spend time in this Celestial Truth 101 class, we learn that some things are much more important than others and we gain an understanding and viewpoint that helps us put other things into proper perspective. 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said,

“Some truths are salvationally significant and others are not. It is clear from the verses of scripture that some truths may turn out to have a place in a yet-to-be-revealed hierarchy of truth which the world doesn’t anticipate. The scriptures tantalize us by saying ‘all truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it.’ (D&C 93: 30) One even wonders if truths, like planets, might belong to a particular order. (See Abr. 3: 9) But we do not now know. No wonder we should not speak casually of ‘education for eternity” (The Inexhaustible Gospel, Ensign, April 1993).

I talked with a very educated geologist at another school some years ago who was decidedly not religious. He knew a great deal about geology, but did not see a divine hand in the creation of the earth, or in its geologic history, or in its more recent activities. My geologist friend’s perspective was too narrow. When I pointed out that the scientific community still referred to their founding principles as theories, and that maybe there were significant principles we did not yet understand, he quickly got defensive and ended the discussion. It reminded me of what Nephi wrote when he said,

“Wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built on a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall” (2 Ne. 28: 28).

Does that mean we should not learn about geology or geologic time? I don’t think so. The scriptures specifically mention geology in the things that we should learn (see D&C 88: 79). But in our learning, we should recognize that we don’t know it all, that there is still more to understand.

Elder Maxwell said,

“The role of secular knowledge is very important. Latter-day Saints should have all the genuine excitement others have in the traditional adventure of learning, including learning secular truths, and we should have a little more. In fact, when we are so learning and so behaving, we are truly ‘about (our) Father’s business.’ This should bring to us a special and genuine zest for learning” (ibid).

Again, this zest for learning requires a health sense of humility. There’s a little verse I like that says:

I used to think I knew I knew.
But now I must confess.
The more I know I know I know
I know I know the less.
         A. Ray Olpin

Part of discovering truth is realizing that we don’t know it all. With that knowledge comes the understanding that God is the source of all truth and that He gives knowledge to us as we demonstrate a willingness to obey His laws. And if we are willing, we can receive a fullness of light and truth. Christ said:

 “And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.

“He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (D&C 93: 26-28).

That is a tremendous promise. Now notice what follows in the next verses: The Lord defines intelligence as “light and truth” or, more instructively as “the light of truth,” (D&C 93: 29) and then says this:

“And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and elements inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93: 32-34).

In other words, true intelligence is the combination of light and truth, and light and truth, when they come to us, bring a fulness of joy. Many, if not most of you have had those moments when pure intelligence flows into you and you see a thing with new clarity, and the insight fills your heart with joy. Those are moments we live for, moments we study for, and moments we work for. In essence, we take off our telestial sunglasses so that we can see the full brilliance of truth and light.

This process usually happens a little at a time and in addition to personal efforts; it requires patient and willingness to wait for the Lord to give us a full understanding.

Let me share an example. In 1984, an antique documents dealer named Mark Hoffman, claimed to have purchased a letter purported to have been written by Martin Harris to W.W. Phelps. Mark Hoffman had a strong reputation as an amazing acquirer of rare documents so this letter had immediate interest. The letter said that Joseph Smith had been practicing "money digging" through magical practices, and that instead of the angel Moroni giving him the gold plates, it was, in reality, "a white salamander" that had appeared to Joseph. The letter showed every evidence of being authentic, so a member of the Church purchased the document and donated it to the Church. As you might imagine, when the press found out about the letter through an anonymous source, they had a heyday. Newspaper articles across the country ran headlines about Joseph receiving the gold plates from a white salamander, and the editorial sections and letters to the editor were not very complimentary of the intelligence of the Latter-day Saints. Suddenly it was a bit uncomfortable to be a member of the Church.

One national publication referred to the letter as “a fundamental crises (that) loom(ed) before Joseph Smith’s church” (Gnosis: A Journal of Western Inner Traditions, Spring 1995).

The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Sunday Times of London, and others jumped on the band-wagon for what was later called ''some of the most sustained and intense Latter-day Saints Church-bashing since the turn of the century'' (Mormon Official Castigates Press, New York Times, Aug. 9, 1987).

The press accused the Church of suppressing documents it found embarrassing or that did not agree with its doctrine. They found the Church leadership guilty of inaccuracies, distortions, bias, refusing to print letters of reply and other attempts to cover up. In short, they accused Church leaders of lying.

One New York Times article said: ''According to investigators, the church leaders purchased from Mr. Hofmann and then hid in a vault a number of 19th-century letters and other documents that cast doubt on the church's official version of its history.'' The Los Angeles Times ran an article in 1985 citing an unnamed source that said the Church had a secret history that varied from the official history. It was later revealed that Mark Hofmann was the confidential source of the story. 

Antagonists to the Church took delight in pointing out what they said would be the final downfall of the Church. 

This was at a time in the Church’s history that also saw other challenges. President Spencer W. Kimball was the prophet and President Marion G. Romney his first counselor, but both of them were too ill because of age to deal with the day-to-day events of Church leadership. That left President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was second counselor in the First Presidency, to deal with the issue. 

I had friends who had a hard time with this and some left the Church. The letter implied that the story of Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni really wasn’t about an angel after all, but a white salamander, and that Joseph really did claim to have magical powers that he used to dig for money. As strange as this sounds now to hear it, the letter then seemed very authentic.

For many it was a tough time. And it went on for several years.

I remember one conference during this time when President Hinckley spoke. It wasn’t his specific words that comforted me, but his confidence, his faith. When it looked dark for the Church, he exuded a quiet optimism. He said that he did not know all things, but he knew that the work was true and that it would go on, boldly and nobly as Joseph had prophesied. Those words were a great comfort to me. I realized I didn’t need to be able to answer every criticism, that I could wait to know the truth, but in the meantime, I could continue on in faith. 

President Hinckley said:

“We are familiar with stories that the work would fail. When the Book of Mormon came from the press, the crude critics said it would soon be forgotten. When troubles grew in Kirtland, the enemies said the work would fail. When the Saints were driven from Missouri, those who drove them said the Church would soon expire. When the Prophet and Hyrum were killed in Carthage, their murderers said it was the end of this thing. When in February of 1846 the wagons crossed the river into the Iowa winter, the enemies of the Church said that it could not survive. When the Saints found themselves in this lonely valley, with crickets devouring their crops, there were even some of them who thought it was all over.

But the work has gone forward. The Church has never taken a backward step since it was organized in 1830—and it never will. It is the cause of the Master. It is the church of God. It is his work established in this latter day. It is the little stone which was cut out of the mountain without hands, which should roll forth to fill the whole earth. God bless it as it moves forward on its great advancing course. And may each of us be found faithful and true and doing our part in advancing it” (April Conference 1984, The Miracle Made Possible by Faith).

Three years after initial press accounts of the so-called white salamander letter, Mark Hoffman was shown to be a liar and a murder. He ended up in prison and his letters were exposed for the forgeries they were. Critics were silenced, journalists embarrassed, and the Saints vindicated. I often wondered in those days about the people who had left the Church. Did they regret their short-sightedness? Did they realize what they had given up and did they wonder why their faith had not been stronger? Did they wish to return, or had they so justified their choice that they now were truly out of the Church?

President Henry B. Eyring said:

“Just as truth is given to us line upon line and the light brightens slowly as we obey, even so, as we disobey, our testimony of truth lessens almost imperceptibly, little by little, and darkness descends so slowly that the proud may easily deny that anything is changing” (A Life Founded in Light and Truth, Ensign, July 2001).

The Mark Hoffman event happened when I was not much older than some of you, but the same thing happens now. Today we hear of DNA evidence that purports to disclaim the truthfulness that Native Americans are descendants from Lehi. Also, popular opinion today casts doubt in the minds of others because of the Church’s stand on Proposition 8. They ask, how can any intelligent person support Proposition 8? I suspect that more anti-LDS sentiments will grow over this issue, and you may not always be able to explain things. In the days ahead it may become much less popular to be LDS and people may wonder about your intelligence. And there may be yet other issues more difficult than this. 

If we take, as our definition of truth, the transitory, temporary, limited view of man, then we will always be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. If we take a more celestial view, a long-range vista that defines truth as it really is, and as it really was and is to be, then we are humble and patient enough to wait for the arm of the Lord to be revealed. Then we can then say with the Psalmist:

“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill [temple], and to thy tabernacles” (Psalms 43: 3).

President Eyring said:

“Life will have its storms. We can and must have confidence. God our Heavenly Father has given us the right to know the truth. He has shown that the way to receive that truth is simple, so simple that a child can follow it. Once it is followed, more light comes from God to enlighten the understanding of His faithful spirit child. That light will become brighter even as the world darkens. The light that comes to us with truth will be brighter than the darkness that comes from sin and error around us. A foundation built on truth and illuminated by the light of God will free us from the fear that we might be overcome” (ibid).

Now, if you were paying attention, you will notice how the scriptures that talk about truth and light all point to Christ. They teach us that Christ is the “life and the light of the world,”(Mos. 16: 9) the “light that shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not,” (D&C 45: 7) “the true light, which lighteth every(one) who cometh into the world” (John 1: 9)

He is “the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is … the light of the moon, and the power by which it was made; as also the light of the stars … and the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings” (D&C 84: 6-11).

The light that illuminated the barges built by the Brother of Jared was literally the light of Christ. (See Ether 2: 18 – 3:6, 6: 2-3) The light that illuminates our lives also comes from Him. Let us turn toward the light and let the shadows fall behind us. Turn away from darkness and be children of light. Isaiah said in speaking of Christ, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined” (2 Ne 19: 2).

You may have some doubts and at times your faith may seem weak, but be patient. Let your faith guide you as you learn and patiently wait to understand the things that are not yet clear to you. In time, you will come to know, and your knowledge will be based in truth. And truth will “chase darkness away from you” (D&C 50: 25). Because “if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88: 67). Turn toward the light so that you do not “walk in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95: 6).

When I was younger I read a scripture that said that “darkness cover(ed) the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people” (D&C 112:23). It made me wonder: When heavenly hosts look down on us, do they see us partly in terms of light and darkness? If they do, what kind of light am I? Am I a speck of light, a mere pinpoint? That thought was not satisfying to me and there grew in me a desire to be much more than a small spot of light. I determined to do what I needed to do to have more light, to be brighter. I would ask, how bright is your light, and what can you do to make it more brilliant? Is there something holding you back? Are you hanging on to telestial sunglasses when it would be better to let them go?

As your light becomes more brilliant, you not only will bring blessings to yourself, you will become a light on a hill, a beacon to the world. There are hundreds of young men and women both in and out of the Church who desperately need and want someone to set an example for them. Your example can be a lamp to their feet and a guide to their way.

And you also can help each other while you are here. When you choose to live virtuously, to keep your language uplifting and clean, when you keep your commitment to the honor code, when you are honest, and kind and considerate and patient with others, you set an example that is too bright to ignore.

A few years ago Emily was a student here. Emily had suffered through a terrible car accident that, even after years of therapy, left her still unable to speak clearly, nor could she say more than a few words at a time. She had trouble walking and struggled with extreme fatigue. Reading was a chore and the physical effort it took her to stay up on her homework was nothing short of exhausting. We would often find her asleep in a chair late in the afternoon as she waited for her dad or mom to pick her up at the end of the day, and she was here every day, all day, and spent long hours into the evening doing homework.

But for all that Emily couldn’t do, there was such a light and spirit about her that we all wanted to be around her. She radiated love and strength. She would tell those with difficult challenges to “never give up” and she had an unflagging positive attitude. I can tell you, and I think I speak for many who know Emily; I have never met anyone quite like her. Her eventual graduation brought an outpouring of love from faculty, staff, and other students that seldom has been seen.

Before she graduated, we had Emily speak to a group of donors who gathered on campus. She spoke, and her dad repeated her words so that those in the audience could understand. It was a moving experience for everyone in the room. She brought a great spirit to the room and all of us shed tears. 

Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Commissioner of Education, was the speaker after Emily. He said that people often asked him what it was like to speak in General Conference after a General Authority. What they should ask him, he said with emotion, was what it was like to speak after Emily. He then made us an apostolic promise that those of us in that room would never forget that evening, worlds without end. That promise came because of the spirit, the love, and the light that came from Emily. 

Thankfully, no one here has the same challenges as Emily, but you have the same opportunity to have an impact for good, to be a light to the world. You can bring clarity, joy, hope, and love to such a degree that your impact will last far beyond this life. You can become someone who will impact others for good, worlds without end.

Our great hope and prayer for you is that you will turn to Christ. Please, step fully into the light. You have such potential for good. Turn away from darkness and doubt, and trust that God who gives you both light and truth. May God bless you to use your time at the College to that end, I pray.


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